Describe your book
Murujuga – Rock art, heritage and landscape iconoclasm is an ethnographic account of an iconoclasm – the destruction of images – in the largest rock art site in the world – Murujuga (Western Australia).
Why did you decide to publish it with a university press?
For two reasons mainly. On the one hand, iconoclasm is an academic topic which deserves to be published by a university press. On the other hand, I had never published with a university press before and I wanted to go through the process. Although it took a long time before the book was published, I think I made the right decision as the work of the editors certainly shaped my book into a much better form. As an academic myself, I was also influenced by the fact that within academic circles it is well regarded to publish your book with a university press.
Do you enjoy the writing process?
I do and I do not. The writing process for this book took a long time and the first draft – my book is based on my PhD thesis – was achieved under a lot of pressure. Further revisions were done in a much more relaxed ambient and I certainly enjoyed writing with a clearer mind. I think it also depends on what you are writing. If you are writing an article, for example, the writing process might take less time than a book, but the satisfaction of seeing it published in a journal is perhaps less than seeing your book published in a prestigious press.
What is your favourite book? Why?
I don’t have a favourite book. My favourite academic book, however, is The Power of Images by Professor David Freedberg (Columbia). It was the book that prompted me to study images and their destruction. Freedberg’s study is, to date, the most comprehensive study that answers one of the most basic, albeit significant, questions in the history of humankind: why are we so moved by images to the point that we destroy them in some cases?
As for non-academic books, I have several books which I really enjoyed reading them. Noticias del imperio [News from the Empire] by Fernando del Paso is one of my all-time favourite ones. The story of the emperor Maximilian and his wife Charlotte who arrived in Mexico supported by the French army and their tragic end, is one of the best historical novels ever written. The starting paragraph, detailing all the noble lineage of Charlotte from Belgium, is just an absolute masterpiece of language in its own right. Lemonov by Emmanuelle Carriere is another favourite of mine. How an author follows and writes the life of another writer across the 20th and 21st centuries is a masterpiece of auto-fiction and certainly one of the best books in this new century. Borrowed time by Svetlana Alexievich is also a great book that details one the of the most fascinating episodes in recent history – the end of the Soviet Union and its transition to capitalist Russia under Putin.
What is the best piece of advice anyone has ever given to you?
This is going to sound cliché, but I cannot remember one that has been useful. Perhaps because academia is quite a difficult place to navigate and where rules constantly change. I have been told to follow a certain path at times but in many occasions I have seen colleagues following that path and being disappointed. So I tend to follow my instincts and my wife’s advice. She’s quite clever trying to figure it out what the next step is.
What piece of advice might you give to young academics looking to follow in your footsteps?
Academia is a very strange place to be at the moment. I would hope to give an optimistic advice but given the current situation I think that anyone who still has a job can be considered lucky. Some people say that you should follow your passions in terms of research and in the end, everything will be fine. Perhaps that was true a few decades ago, but now I think it’s more of a mixed bag: follow your research interests with passion but also be aware of the different opportunities and challenges out there.
Who inspires you?
Researchers with novel, original and innovative ideas. I tend to shy away from people who do not take risks because they are comfortable in their sits and they take everything for granted. I am always inspired by people who tell me that I can’t do certain things or that I am not ready to undertake specific tasks. Their negativity really inspires me to become the researcher I am.
To be honest, I don’t know. I just hope I can return to New York sometime next year to finish my truncated fellowship at Columbia University.
Jose Antonio Gonzalez Zarandona is an Associate Research Fellow at Deakin University, Australia and Centro de Investigacion y Docencia Economicas, Mexico and author of Murujuga: Rock Art, Heritage, and Landscape Iconoclasm, published by the University of Pennsylvania Press (2020)