By: Carolyn Ureña, Fourth Year Ph.D Candidate
One of our most cherished traditions at Rutgers Comp Lit is the graduate student colloquium. Held twice a semester, the evening consists of a potluck dinner to which both faculty and graduate students make culinary contributions, followed by a scholarly presentation by an advanced graduate student. Whether it consists of an excerpt from an upcoming conference paper or a dissertation chapter-in-progress, the colloquium is a much anticipated rite of passage and an opportunity to socialize with friends and faculty outside of the classroom. Given the wide range of topics studied by folks in Comp Lit, the bi-semester colloquia call us “home” from our various commitments, courses, and projects across the campus for a night that highlights the collegiality of our program.
First up this semester (Spring 2015) was fourth year Ph.D. candidate Lina Qu, whose presentation “Hungry Women and Women’s Narratives of Hunger” could not have been a more fitting subject after enjoying a delicious meal together. The multicultural fare included homemade arroz con pollo, falafel, mattar paneer, roasted cauliflower, and a beautiful fruit and custard tart, among other sweet and savory additions.
The intellectual main course was Lina’s presentation in which she discussed the metaphorics of hunger in contemporary Chinese literature. Drawing on the tendency to universalize images of third world starvation in politically expedient yet problematic ways, Lina’s work offered a “historicized and gendered reading of Chinese women’s storytellings about their experiences with starvation,” thereby shifting our attention toward women’s understanding of their own subjectivity. By honing in on the representation of women’s hunger – be it for food (as in Lina’s presentation) or intimacy and self-care (as in her project at large) – Lina’s work sought to illuminate how gendered and classed conceptions of who is allowed to take on the social roles of providers or consumers ultimately serve or subvert Chinese nationalist and collectivist discourses.
Lina’s attention to the ways embodied experiences of hunger manifest in literature and film drew many interesting questions from her audience, including how we might define the boundary between need and desire, as well as the perennial question for comparative literature scholars: why literature? And why this literature? Both concerns usefully linked back to Lina’s discussion of the eroticization of female hunger, for as she reminded us, not only is the open mouth a conduit to the stomach; it also serves as a portal for stories about oneself. That women’s stories about themselves remain a threatening prospect, across cultures, was something we could all sink our teeth into.