Introducing The Humanities Institute’s 2024 Deep Read: Hernan Diaz’s Trust

The Deep Read program will kick off in Spring 2024 and culminate with a live event featuring Hernan Diaz on campus Sunday, May 19. 

Hernan Diaz’s bestselling and Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Trust, The Humanities Institute’s latest Deep Read selection, is one of the most talked-about, praised, and bestselling works of historical fiction of the past few years.

Lauded by Barack Obama as one of his favorite books of 2022, Trust will give Deep Readers a chance to delve into this year’s technology theme, reflecting the Humanities Division’s strong commitment to exploring the ethical implications of tech.

The Humanities Institute (THI) picked Trust because it explores financial technology from an historical perspective, while also providing a profound reflection on how power and wealth shape the stories we tell ourselves about the global economy, said University of California, Santa Cruz Associate Professor of Literature Zac Zimmer, who is co-leading this year’s Deep Read program with THI Managing Director Irena Polić and was part of the book selection committee. 

“Each of the four sections brings a shift in perspective and understanding,” Zimmer said. “Without giving away too much, I can say that artistic expression is at the heart of this novel, whether it be the contours of literary biography or the dissonance of modernist chamber music.”

THI’s latest Deep Read selection pulls readers in from the first pages. Diaz adds intrigue and complication by presenting the story, initially, as Bonds, a ‘bestselling 1937 novel’ that exists only within Diaz’s metafictional universe. 

As it turns out, there are other ways of presenting this story, inviting readers’ questions about how much “trust” can be placed in each competing narrative. 

The novel anticipates the contemporary financialized world in which wealth and power fund art, and where this money in turn allows art to produce aesthetic truth, Zimmer continued.

 “Those truths, however, can sometimes feel very different from the commodities that the patrons thought they were purchasing,” Zimmer said. “What do we do when raw economic and technological power exerts its desire on the shape of our stories? Whom do we trust?”

Zimmer is currently teaching a class called “Artificial Intelligence and Human Imagination,” which  counts towards the Humanizing Technology certificate.

Both Trust and Zimmer’s course deal with human imagination in and against structures and systems. Deep Readers of Trust will look at how a humanistic  approach to the subjects of technology and finance can help humans navigate this difficult reality and live ethically in a period of ongoing climate crisis.

The Deep Read activities will include regular weekly emails that will unpack different aspects of the book.

There will be online forums to ask questions and connect with fellow Deep Readers, and a salon in which participating professors will lead a discussion with UCSC students and other members of the Deep Read community joining either virtually or in person. 

UCSC students, faculty, staff, alumni, and members of the broader community are all welcome to participate.

The tech focus of this year’s Deep Read reflects the Humanities Division’s deep commitment to exploring the social, environmental and ethical implications of tech through an historic and contemporary lens, said UCSC Humanities Dean Jasmine Alinder. 

Alinder is the principal investigator for the Humanities Division’s new Humanizing Technology certificate programmade possible with a $149,500 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. 

This initiative offers a new set of specially designed Humanities General Education (GE) courses that address the moral and social implications of new technologies. Students work collaboratively to envision a different kind of tech future, one that addresses issues such as racism rather than perpetuating them.

“Hernan Diaz’s Trust reflects and expands on the goals of the certificate program, which gives students humanistic tools to explore the risks, implications and drawbacks of new technologies,” Alinder said. “Like the courses in the Humanizing Technology certificate program, the in-depth discussions around Trust will demonstrate the essential value and urgency of humanistic thinking to explore society’s most pressing issues."

“There is widespread concern that the speed of contemporary technology has outpaced our ability to understand its impacts, but humanistic scholars - as well as novelists like Diaz - can bring the discussion to a human level, using a combination of creativity, artistic practice, and analysis to envision more just and equitable solutions and futures,” Alinder said.

“This is a book, ultimately, about the technological infrastructure undergirding modern finance, and how those atop the financial pile exploit structural flaws in that infrastructure to get ‘edge’ and maintain their primacy,” said UCSC Linguistics Professor Pranav Anand, faculty director of THI.

“What is most exciting for me about this book, though, is that it doesn't wear its debt to technology on its sleeve,” said Anand who is co-principal investigator of the Humanizing Tech initiative, along with Deep Read program coordinator Laura Martin. “Rather, it's cleverly structured as a kind of mystery novel (or really a form of the kind of archival research many humanists engage in), where readers slowly piece things together for themselves as they navigate the fragmented, genre-bending text.  In this way, rather than embedding us in the financial world from the get go, we start on the outside (where most of us are with respect to the modern financial industry), and slowly make our way further and further in, each of us constructing our own personal narrative as we try to make the various pieces make sense.”

The Deep Read program will kick off in Spring 2024 and culminate with an event featuring Diaz on campus Sunday, May 19.  Sign up at The Humanities Institute’s Deep Read page. THI will distribute 1,200 free copies of Trust —1,000 to students and 200 to Deep Readers across the U.S. 

The Deep Read Program is made possible through the generous support of the Helen and Will Webster Foundation. 

Visit this website to learn more about the Deep Read program and to sign up for updates.