Many Things to Remember: Comp Lit Year-end Celebration

By: Coco Ke Xu

Pictures by: Carolyn Ureña

Around two o’clock in the afternoon, the Comp Lit House on 195 College Ave. was already filled with a happy crowd of people. Students, faculties, families and friends greeted and talked to each other in a relaxing atmosphere over delightful refreshments. Balloons and decorations were everywhere, making the house even more homelike and welcoming.

Towards half past three, the celebration of graduating comp lit students began. Graduate director Prof. Andrew Parker announced graduating comp lit majors and minors first. Among four majors and 11 minors for the year 2016, Nicoletta M. Romano received highest honors for her dissertation titled “Exploring the Contemporary Phenomenon of a Postcolonizing Italian Reality through la letteratura migrante,” while Naser Albreeky and Catherine He received Honors degree for their respective dissertations “Poetic Forms, Daring Allegorization, and Contrasting Histories: All-Andalus and the Sephardic in the Poetry of Darwish and Lorca” and “The Nature of Language and East-West Dialogue.” Afterwards, graduating MA candidate Melina Gills and PhD candidate Ben De Witte were also awarded and commended for their hard work at comp lit. Graduating students received their diploma and special comp lit graduation souvenir packages from prof. Parker, as well as rounds of warm applause, toasts and best wishes from all that were present to share this unforgettable moment.

The year 2016 is not only marked by the 250th anniversary of the university, but also by major changes in comp lit. For the department will have to say goodbye to both the pleasant old house at 195 College Ave. and our retiring beloved faculty and friend Marilyn Tankiewicz, who has been working at comp lit for more than 10 years and has won the heart of all who have studied and worked here. We will remember all the happy hours spent at comp lit this past year, and we look forward to much more to come in the future.

 

MLA Connected Academics Proseminar: An Interview with Tara Coleman (part 2)

By: Carolyn Ureña

This is the second part of our interview with Tara Coleman, who participated in the MLA Connected Academics Proseminar. You can read the first part here.

Are there any industries that you were surprised to learn actively recruit humanities Ph.D.s?

I’m not sure if they actively recruit PhDs, but I was surprised to hear that consulting firms love to hire people with a humanities background, because they value the research and communication skills we have. In general, I heard many people from the business world attest to the ways in which their humanities training has helped them find success in their fields.

It seems like a lot of industries don’t necessarily go out looking for PhDs, but it isn’t as uncommon to find them there as you might expect. For example, independent (a.k.a. private) high schools often have quite a few PhD-holders. Research librarians may have a PhD or a Master of Library Science. If you work in any role that is a part of or has dealings with higher education, having the PhD demonstrates that you intimately know the field and how people in it think. It might not be the main reason you get a job, but it can be an asset if you can show you have that on top of other skills needed for the position.

As a bit of a side note, many of us agreed that we had not paid enough attention to humanities centers and foundations before doing the proseminar. When we think about alternative career paths, the same options always pop into our heads: publishing, university administration, high school teaching. But there is an entire humanities infrastructure that supports the work of scholars in a university, and/or brings that work to the public at large. The people who work in humanities centers and foundations, or in archives and research institutes affiliated with universities, do work very similar to that of tenure-track scholars, and yet as graduate students we don’t tend to have a lot of contact with them. These were some of the most exciting positions to me.

Could you tell us about any interesting connections you see between your involvement in the proseminar and your experience as a grad student in Comp Lit?

Hmmm…interesting question! I think that being in Comp Lit and knowing that I would not have the same training as a candidate in, say, Chinese Studies or Film Studies for jobs in those areas, I have always been aware that my advantage would come from having a different combination of experiences, so I have been thinking about developing a diverse skill set all along. Being involved with Comp Lit activities like graduate student conferences and the old Exit 9 were part of that. I’ve also been clear-eyed about the challenges I would face, so I have been mentally prepared for this process. Plus, Comp Lit students have to be creative and industrious in a general sense, which is what you need if you decide to pursue a connected or alt-ac career.

Do you have any advice for graduate students regarding the kinds of opportunities or experiences they should think about cultivating during grad school in order to remain open to and be competitive for an alt-ac job search?

I won’t spend a lot of time on this here because there is a lot to say, and I will be doing a workshop in the fall on just this topic. At that time I will also be able to point you to a lot of resources that my proseminar colleagues are working on now, so stay tuned and come to the workshop in the fall! In the meantime, though, I would suggest two things for anyone who may already be interested in a particular field: make use of your summers and breaks to yes, work on your research and writing so that you can finish on time, but also to start gaining experiences that might help you. For instance, do some volunteer work or write a few blog posts or find out if there are any conferences coming up in the area for that field and go to them. If you have no idea where to even start, we will talk about that in my workshop, but a good place to begin is at the Connected Academics website: connect.commons.mla.org.

 

MLA Connected Academics Proseminar: An Interview with Tara Coleman

By: Carolyn Ureña

Tara Coleman is a Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Literature currently finishing up her dissertation on lyricism in contemporary Chinese-language film and poetry. She participated in the inaugural Connected Academics Proseminar this year and attended the MLA convention in January as a representative of the seminar. She is eager to share some of what she has learned, so we thought we would start by asking her a few questions. This is the first part of our interview.

What is the MLA Connected Academics Proseminar?

Connected Academics is a new initiative of the MLA which seeks to broaden the range of professional trajectories on the radar of graduate students. By improving connections between PhD-holders in different fields, they also hope to better integrate work in the humanities from different sectors. It is essentially the MLA’s “alt-ac” group, but they prefer to talk about “career diversity” over “alt-ac,” because “alt-ac” is a bit of a problematic term. Most people use it to refer to alternative academic careers (like working in a university library rather than as a professor) though some use it to refer to alternatives to the academic path altogether (like working in publishing). Whichever way you use it, there has been a lot of pushback against the implication that these careers are “alternative” or “non-traditional” when we know that around half of PhD graduates in the humanities work off of the tenure track, either in a non-tenured university position or outside of academia altogether. Plus, “alt-ac” implies that these careers are a “Plan B,” as if everyone wants a tenure-track job at an R1 university, when that is not always the case.

This year I was part of the Connected Academic project’s first proseminar, which provided PhD students and recent graduates the chance to explore career options firsthand. There were around 20 of us, all from the New York metro area. We applied last summer (the application for next year’s proseminar is due by June 1) and we met six times over the academic year. It was such an empowering and affirming experience, and it helped me stay sane while I was on the academic job market. Although many of us felt a lot of anxiety and frustration about our job prospects at the beginning, it was great to think about options and consider what we really want out of our professional lives, whatever we end up doing. It’s also helpful for those who do land tenure-track positions to be aware of these things for when they advise students of their own down the track.

Each proseminar session met at a different organization in NYC and began with a panel made up of people with humanities training who work there. The panelists talked about what they do, how they got there, and how we might pursue a similar position. The sessions also included short workshops in which we learned specific skills related to the job search, like networking, reading job ads, writing resumes (as opposed to CVs), etc. We broke up into smaller groups for site visits to additional locations and we each conducted a few informational interviews with people in positions that interested us. We shared what we learned through blog posts.

What kinds of places have you visited and what kinds of people have you been able to get to know through your involvement with the proseminar?

Sites included the CUNY Futures Initiative, the New York Public Library, Bard High School Early College, the Frick Collection, the Association of American Publishers, NYU Press, Ithaka S+R (a nonprofit consulting firm for the academic community) and a few different humanities centers and foundations. In addition, I met quite a few alt-ac people at the MLA convention, where two poster-style sessions allowed attendees to just go up and chat with people about their careers.

We met people in all stages of their careers, with degrees from various language and literature fields (and a few historians too). Everyone’s story was different, but they all had to explore and try things out before figuring out what worked for them, and they all had to be open to a certain element of chance and circumstance. They were always encouraging and willing to be a resource for anyone who wanted to further pursue a career in their area. It was especially helpful to hear from people who had recently graduated, because they had practical advice on how things work now. For example, we heard from someone who found out about a postdoc on Twitter and had an interview before the position even appeared on the traditional job list.

Mostly, I think the best contacts I have made have been with the other seminar participants. They are a really inspiring group. Many of them have a range of work experiences and skills in addition to their academic training, and we developed a strong camaraderie in our short time together.

Comp Lit Alumni: Vaughn Anderson

Vaughn Anderson graduated in 2015 with a dissertation titled “Disappearing Acts: Octavio Paz, John Cage, Haroldo De Campos, and the Silent Turn in Contemporary Poetry.”

Since I lugged my last suitcase of books back to Alexander Library almost a year ago (my final act of closure), I’ve spent a lot of time writing and thinking about graphic musical notation. This so-called “eye music” was a brief fad in the 60s and early 70s. Composers, painters, and poets created scores where any act of musical interpretation first demands formal analysis of visual elements and close reading of text, often in several languages. Performance requires multiple competencies. And what I quickly discovered, when I sat down to piece together a critical bibliography about these works, is that almost nobody has written about them. Everyone seems to assume that this is someone else’s area of specialty.

This is what’s made my formation as a scholar unique: not that I’m more widely competent, but that I’m more comfortable venturing outside and between my areas of concentration. Throughout my time in Comp Lit, I was allowed and encouraged to change. I started as a scholar of urban studies, and then moved to science fiction. At various points my passions included eco-criticism, literary translation, graphic novels, intermedia, and avant-garde poetics. I took grad courses in Spanish, Portuguese, Art History, and any number of other cross-listed disciplines. Eventually I wrote a dissertation that focused on hemispheric American poetic networks during the Cold War, but it drew life and inspiration from all these other areas. I take pride in trying to wear my entire hat collection all at once, and I’m glad I surrounded myself with people who thought this was a good look for me.

 

[Cover image: a score from Cornelius Cardew’s Treatise Handbook, 1967]

Urban (De)Coloniality and Literature: A Retrospective

By: Rafael Vizcaíno and Jeong Eun Annabel We

On March 3, 2016, the graduate students of the Rutgers University Program in Comparative Literature held their biennial conference. This year’s conference, titled “Urban (De)Coloniality and Literature,” sought to push back against what we (the co-chairs) thought was a limited reception of the project of decoloniality within literary studies (e.g. that the project is geographically restricted to the Americas, temporally restricted to the 15th and 16th centuries, and heavily dependent on Hispanophone contexts). We also wanted to uphold comparative literature as an institutional space within the U.S. university where divergent forms of knowledge production can meet to analyze a specific issue of social relevance. The conference participants brought together ethnic studies, women and gender studies, area studies, philosophy, history, anthropology, religious studies, indigenous studies, as well as literary and cultural studies. They were invited to focus on an aspect of coloniality that in our view remains understudied: the coloniality of the city, as reflected in patterns of gentrification, mass surveillance, and the criminalization of racialized populations.

The first panel, “Remapping the Urban and Reclaiming Lives,” examined different decolonial imaginaries emerging from urban settings, ranging from San Francisco’s Mission district’s Chicanx public art, French-colonial plantation cities and Maroon utopianism, and Canada’s settler-colonial urban space unsettled by the Idle No More movement of First Nations peoples. Cynthia García (Stanford), Fadila Habchi (Yale), and Allyse Knox (Stony Brook) challenged the colonial intensifications of these urban spaces and offered for our analysis the multiple media through which a decolonial reclamation of the city might take place. As the panel’s discussant Professor Dinzey-Flores (Rutgers) highlighted, the physicality and materiality of space serves as a necessary context to analyze this endeavor.

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The second panel, “Genealogy and Decolonial Epistemology,” brought together different trajectories that have inspired decolonial work: Native kinship and intimacy, the moment of Pachakuti (rupture), and Black women’s creative (“demonic”) possession of space. Invigorating and also challenging other genealogies of decoloniality, Nicole Eitzen Delgado (NYU), Gabe Sanchez (Albany), and Alexandria Smith (Rutgers) demonstrated the contribution of wide ranging theoretical and practical sources to decolonial thought. Comp Lit’s very own Professor Yolanda Martinez-San Miguel (Rutgers) was this panel’s discussant. Raising the methodological question of comparison vs. relationality, she urged us to attend to the fundamental opacity in this epistemic endeavor.

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The third panel, “The Anthropological of the Inter-Space” further reflected on interdisciplinarity as the discussion focused on how anthropological subjects get created in in-between-spaces. Spaces considered were the New World, Okinawa’s military bases, and taxi dance halls in the 1920’s U.S.A. Dana Francisco Miranda (Connecticut), Ariko Shari Ikehara (Berkeley), and Monica Stanton (Princeton), pushed one another to address different time periods and modalities of control and invention in inter-spatial contexts. Professor Carter Mathes (Rutgers) traced “Man as the glue to anthropological normativity” in all three papers and offered additional contexts to consider, such as the (super/sub)human otherness of racialized subjects, as seen recently in Darren Wilson’s description of Michael Brown.

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The last panel, “(De)Colonial (Ab)use of the Theological and the Spiritual,” both credited and challenged secular and non-secular foundations of decoloniality. Lucas de Lima (UPenn), Foster J. Pinkney (UChicago), and Daniel José Camacho (Duke), traced queer, anti-violent, and indigenous deployments of liberation theology and spiritual practices. Their papers illustrated the importance of furthering a critique of both secularism and of theology’s complicity with coloniality in a global and comparative/relational perspective. Professor Carlos Decena (Rutgers) offered an intense and provocative discussion on the limits of theologies of liberation and the need to further look at their often covered over queer underside.

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Professor José David Saldívar (Stanford) was the conference’s keynote speaker. His talk, “Negative Aesthetics and Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” proposed that a negative aesthetic found in Díaz’s work helps explain the global presence of U.S. ethnic literature. Professor Saldívar began by sharing his on-site research in New Jersey since Díaz himself lived in Parlin, NJ, and attended Rutgers College as an undergraduate. Rutgers Comp Lit graduate students Carolyn Ureña and Enmanuel Martinez offered responses to Professor Saldivar’s talk. The ensuing discussion touched on Dominican Republic’s place within the modern/colonial world as well as the relation between the concepts of americanity and coloniality.

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The critically interdisciplinary exchange the conference generated reflexively encourages us to expand the theoretical frameworks of comparative literature as a discipline. Moreover, it urges us to expand the scope of decoloniality as a critical-intellectual project connected to social movements throughout the world. As Rutgers celebrates its 250th year anniversary, the themes of this conference also speak to Rutgers’ own colonial history and the ongoing gentrification of New Brunswick. Committed to various communities and projects, the conference presenters and participants were able to use this conference as an occasion to share research and insights across disciplinary boundaries and physical distance. The conference gave all of us a glimpse of the exciting work of emerging scholars, work that speaks to many of our current predicaments and signals a new generation of researchers who seek to challenge existing modes of thought and stimulate new conceptual frameworks and social movements.

We would like to once again express our deepest gratitude to all presenters, organizers, discussants, administrators, and university staff, without whom the conference could not have materialized. The same goes for our sponsors: The Rutgers Graduate Student Association, The Centers for Global Advancement and International Affairs, The Program in Comparative Literature, The Department of Latino and Caribbean Studies, The Department of Asian Languages and Cultures, The Advanced Institute for Critical Caribbean Studies, and The Department of African, Middle Eastern, and South Asian Languages and Literatures.

 

 

 

 

 

Rosi Braidotti Lecture: Posthuman Feminism

By: Bernabe Mendoza

On February 18th, the Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Columbia University hosted the fascinating and influential feminist philosopher Rosi Braidotti, who lectured on Posthuman Feminism. The backdrop to her talk was her classic feminist text Nomadic Subjects (1994, extensively revised in 2011), as well as her latest book The Posthuman (2013). But rather than focus on these texts, the first half of her lecture centered on the feminist genealogy of this term and how it is we got to this present, troubled moment of the post-human. In other words, what were the historical forces that impelled us to move away from Eurocentric humanism that configured the human vis-à-vis White Bourgeois Man. She correctly asserted that we lack a set of terminology for thinking beyond the “human” and how this further problematizes humanity’s future. The second half of her talk focused on recent and creative feminist responses to this problem of the human, which included Sue Austin’s Deep Sea Diving and Lu Yan’s Uterus Man.

Despite having read both of Braidotti’s texts cited above and finding them interesting, I was not sure what to expect from her lecture, but I was pleasantly surprised. She was engaging, energetic and funny, and throughout her lecture was aware of her embedded, embodied and situated location as a European feminist, which I found refreshing. She remains a complete and unapologetic Deleuzian focused only on the disturbing present and readily admits that she has no will or desire for thinking futurity or utopia. For the Q&A after the lecture, I voiced my concern and discomfort with the very term “post” human, and how it mimics and reifies humanism’s expulsion of so many people from the category of the human. Later, she thanked me for the warm intelligence I had brought to the table, and I likewise found her incredibly warm and fiercely intelligent. While I may not agree with everything she had to say, I know for sure her heart is in the right place and fighting the same fight against the dehumanization of the nonwestern world (along with western women) by the colonizing mind. I look forward to hearing her speak again.