All posts by Gabriele Lazzari

Connected Academics Proseminar: September 2016

This is the first in a series of posts about the Modern Language Association’s 2016-2017 Connected Academics Proseminar  written by Connected Academics Proseminar Fellow Carolyn Ureña.

Carolyn is a Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Literature and a 2016-2017 Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellow. Her dissertation develops a critical framework for understanding the ways in which a sustained encounter between disability studies, the medical humanities, and the racial phenomenology of decolonial theorist Frantz Fanon can generate new conceptions of health and healing.

 

Last year our very own Tara Coleman, who now holds a tenure track position at LaGuardia Community College, participated in the inaugural MLA Connected Academics Proseminar. This year, I’m excited to carry the torch and share what I learn with our readers in as close to real-time as possible. To read more about Tara’s experience, check out my two-part interview with her from Spring 2016.

The Andrew W. Mellon funded MLA Connected Academics initiative seeks to expose doctoral students in language and literature to the variety of careers available to people with Ph.D.s. In light of the changing job market, now more than ever it is essential to think more broadly about the kinds of work we imagine ourselves doing after we graduate. The exciting news is that many professional organizations–like the Mellon Foundation, the MLA, and the American Council of Learned Societies–are encouraging graduate students to consider the wide variety of careers for which you will be qualified. The more prepared you are for what may come, the better your chances of finding meaningful and fulfilling work after the Ph.D.

Career Exploration as Prototyping

Although many graduate students imagine an academic career in linear terms (undergraduate degree, grad school, tenure track faculty position, Assistant, Associate, then Full Professor), the reality is that most career paths are not so straightforward. Enter the concept of “career exploration as prototyping.” This means trying new things–teaching, volunteering, taking on small projects in new fields or industries–as a means of exploring what you like and what you don’t like to do.

You might be wondering how time consuming or worthwhile it might be to explore different career paths, and ultimately this will be a question of your own schedule and interests. However, keep in mind that developing new skills–like running workshops, managing groups of people, and developing a budget for a project–can be very useful for your job search, both on and beyond the academic job market. If you do pursue the academic path and land your dream job, depending on your institution you will find yourself advising undergraduates as well as graduate students, and you will be in a much better position to encourage their exploration if you have done some of it yourself.

Seek Opportunities to Expand Your Skillset

Part time work and projects can also enable you to write more convincingly in your job materials about your ability to manage teams and projects. My own experiences as a research assistant, as a teacher for Prep for Prep , and as Fellowship Advisor at GradFund  have not only given me greater confidence as a researcher, teacher, and writer; working in these roles allowed me the opportunity to creatively engage a different part of my brain. These experiences enriched my dissertation by encouraging me to rethink how my project can impact my community, while also allowing me to hone my ability to describe my work succinctly to a wider range of audiences.

Join the Conversation

The conversation about exploring alternative or complementary careers is not new, which means there are a good number of resources to help you begin to explore different paths. Initiatives like the MLA’s Connected Academics work to make this conversation more visible, and one easy way to get involved is to follow related groups on social media, such as @MLAConnect and the #withaPhD  hashtag on Twitter. When you meet with other graduate students, take some time to ask them about their interests outside of their research. Explore the MLA’s excellent list of job sites  for positions in Business, Government, and Not-for-Profit Organizations to get a sense of what kinds of careers are possible. And, finally, check out this eye-opening list of transferable skills for Ph.D.s in the Humanities  from the MLA Commons blog for Connected Academics–it will help you understand how your teaching experiences, for example, have prepared you to “devise and implement metrics for success” and “keep detailed administrative records.” You might be surprised to learn how qualified you already are!

 

 

Brown Bag Talk with Louis Sass. “Lacan: The Mind of the Modernist”

By Rudrani Gangopadhyay

 

Professor Louis Sass (Rutgers GSAPP, Clinical Psychology) delivered the first Brown Bag Lecture of the year on “Lacan: The Mind of the Modernist”, much of the material of which came from his 2015 essay by the same name, published in Continental Philosophy.

Prof. Sass’s lecture was primarily aimed at providing an intellectual portray of Lacan by focussing the incorporation of modernist perspectives in the French psychoanalyst’s work. As a contrast, Professor Sass provided a background on Freud, who was anchored in a pre-modernist vision and was much more Cartesian and Kantian in his approach. Lacan, on the other hand, was far more skeptical of the naturalist preferences associated with Freud, and chose instead to transform as well as supplement the latter’s work.

The lecture focussed on two general issues with regards to Lacan’s work: the first being Lacan’s appreciation of the paradoxical nature of the human experience, as demonstrated by his concepts of the Self as well as that of Desire. The second issue was that of “transcendental subjectivity” in Lacan, consisting of the “Imaginary”, the “Symbolic”, and the “Real”, which together make up his Triad of Registers. In trying to offer a synthesis of both the dynamic and the ontological dimensions of the human condition in his idea of the conflicted yet interdependent Registers making up his Triad, Lacan also demonstrates a need to be understood in Heideggerian terms.

In contrast to popular belief, Prof. Sass’s lecture also repeatedly emphasized Lacan’s affinities with phenomenology, contradicting the widespread belief that Lacan is a deeply anti-humanist thinker. Rather, Lacan’s work seems to demonstrate an influence of hermeneutic forms of phenomenology, following Heidegger’s ideas on the ontological modes of Being.

Thank you, Marilyn!

In the picture: Marilyn Tankiewicz (left) and Professor Elin Diamond

By: Shawn Gonzalez

I had the privilege of sitting down to speak with Marilyn Tankiewicz, Administrative Assistant at Comp Lit, before her retirement in July and asking her about her experience at the university. Marilyn began working at Rutgers in 1990 in the libraries, where she did payroll and administration. Then, she worked briefly in the Chemistry department, before coming to Comparative Literature. After working in various parts of the university, Marilyn became an excellent source of advice for graduate students about how to navigate the university, and her guidance is greatly missed. Before leaving, she offered us two pieces of advice: “Be patient. Understand that whatever mistakes get made, they can be fixed,” and “You get more done by talking to someone in person.” She says that when you need a problem resolved, try to go to the person’s office, instead of sending an email.

While working at Rutgers, Marilyn earned her bachelor’s degree in Women’s & Gender Studies. She said, “It was a good major for where I was at that time in my life.” After staying home to raise her children and take care of her parents, Marilyn brought a different perspective to discussions than many of her classmates who were just out of high school. She looked back fondly on the experience of working with a diverse group of classmates. Marilyn also minored in Psychology and Labor Relations, which allowed her to develop her interests in those fields. She described graduating with honors as one of her proudest moments, and she celebrated with family members who threw her a surprise graduation party.

Marilyn said she would miss working at Comp Lit. Her favorite part of her job was watching new students come into the program. She enjoyed seeing how they gradually became more comfortable as they developed over their time at Rutgers. However, she was very excited for her upcoming retirement. She plans to travel with her husband, enjoy hobbies like painting and playing golf, and volunteer at a local hospital. She also hopes to start a book club. We thank Marilyn for all of her help over the years, and wish her the best of luck with her plans for retirement—especially the book club!

Grad Student Summer: Institute for World Literature in Cambridge, MA

By: Ke (Coco) Xu

After Beijing (2011), Istanbul (2012), Cambridge/ Boston (2013), Hong Kong (2014), and Lisbon (2015), this summer the Institute for World Literature met again at Harvard. Since its inauguration in Beijing, this summer program has been a place where genuine thinking and heated debates about world literature are happening. Led by David Damrosch, 14 scholars and over 150 student participants from more than 30 countries gathered for intellectual exchanges over the course of four weeks.

This year, the program ran from June 20th to July 14th. Each participant had the chance to choose two from a total of 14 seminars, each of which met four times a week for two consecutive weeks. The seminars were led by prominent scholars in the field; some held broader thematic concerns, such as Eric Hayot’s “The Small and the Large” and David Damrosch’s “Grounds for Comparison.” Some represented more specific topics, such as Bruce Robbins’ “Cosmopolitanism, Atrocity, and Time” and Reine Meylaerts’ “Multilingualism, Translation and World Literature.” Participants were also expected to attend colloquia, panel discussions, and lectures, where they had more time to talk about interests and concerns of their individual research experiences.

As one of the founding members, Rutgers has always been part of this growing program. With Rebecca Walkowitz’s seminar “Close Reading and World Literature” and up to four graduate student participants, Rutgers contributed greatly to this year’s IWL event. Participating as a graduate student from comparative literature, I found the experience at IWL especially valuable for the scope of its theoretical concerns, as well as for the cultural diversity that it represents.

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Each compressed in two weeks, the two seminars required intense work and preparation. However, IWL granted its participants with free and unlimited access to the Harvard libraries and museums, which proved to be very convenient for study and research. In class, I benefited a lot from professors’ theorization of world literature and the various perspectives that the diversity of my classmates’ cultural background made possible. Thanks to the event’s general atmosphere of friendliness, openness, and generosity, discussion and conversation went beyond the classroom. During office hours there were always lines in the waiting room, and before and after classes small gatherings of chatting students were everywhere to be seen.

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Another indispensable part of the IWL experience are smaller meetings called colloquia, where participants with similar research interests get together to talk about their ongoing work each week. In my group “World Literature and Translation II,” there were 12 students and scholars. When it was my turn to present, I gave a presentation on the Chinese artist Xu Bing and received many interesting responses. In a more casual atmosphere, colloquia provided participants with an opportunity to think together and help each other, which eventually opens up new perspectives and brings back unexpected inspirations.

In addition to seminars and colloquia, twice a week the IWL hosted lectures and panel sessions given by participating and guest professors. These events  allowed all participants of the program to gather together and meet each other. Many graduate students found the two panels on publication and the job market helpful, and the warm responses during Q&A sessions confirmed the success of the lectures. (Here is a link to the video of some of the lectures of IWL Harvard 2016.)

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The panel on the job market.

As a bonus for the hard-working participants, IWL also arranged optional museum visits and beach outings, an addition to the fun of staying in Boston. Given the intensity of the program, in recollection I consider the closing of IWL in the middle of this July a start, rather than an end, of a quest for the answers to the many questions the Institute has made me ponder about. I will definitely keep thinking about the themes we have discussed during a very productive month in my future studies, and I look forward to keeping in touch with the friends and colleagues that I have met during the program.

 

Grad Student Summer: Barcelona Summer School

Decolonial Dialogues in Barcelona

by Rafael Vizcaino

From July 11 to July 21, 2016, I attended the Decolonizing Knowledge and Power: Postcolonial Studies, Decolonial Horizons Summer School, organized by the Center of Study and Investigation for Decolonial Dialogues in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. This is an intensive school organized by international faculty that attracts around 60-100 students from around the world each year, primarily doctoral and master students, young faculty, advanced undergraduates, and other professionals in related fields (particularly education and the arts). While attendees come from many different areas within the university and outside, and hail from all continents of the world, what we all share is a deep interest in processes and projects of decolonization (plurally construed). Because we shared the project of decoloniality, our interactions were an incredibly rich resource that allowed us to learn from and challenge one another in the spirit of solidarity. It is safe to say that there is no equivalent space of such strength, at least in the United States.

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The audience (picture by Nelson Maldonado-Torres).

The School consists of two or three intensive lectures a day, each lasting at least two hours. And between lectures was the time for general collective discussion, be it of the reading materials, the content of the lecture, or other concerns one may have. During spare time, people also organized into groups based on discipline or area of work/interest, and discussed in more detail how one’s area specifically relates to the decolonial project, or what kind of work one is doing to enact such relation. Days were very intense, as discussion tended to continue over lunch and dinner, and then lecturers unofficially held “office hours” in the buzzing Plaza del Sol in the neighborhood of Gracia. This was a great opportunity to interact with such thinkers on a one-on-one basis in a relaxed setting, as well as an ideal time to get to know one’s colleagues.

This year, Ramon Grosfoguel (UC Berkeley) opened the School with an introductory lecture in which he situated the historical context of the rise of coloniality as a pattern of power, going back well beyond the commonly held standard for such rise (the so-called “discovery” of the Americas in 1492) to the rise of Christendom in the Roman Empire during the 4th century of the Common Era.

barcelona-pablo-photo-1Ramon Grosfoguel (picture by Pablo Gonzalez).

During the first week, our very own Nelson Maldonado-Torres gave a series of lectures titled “10 Theses on Coloniality and Decoloniality,” where he outlined the analytics of coloniality and illuminated on three interrelated spheres where decoloniality takes place: theory, arts, and activism.

barcelona-zingisa-photo-2Nelson Maldonado- Torres (picture by Zingisa Mqalo Nkosinkulu).

Linda Alcoff (CUNY) also gave a series of lectures, titled “Decolonizing Epistemology.” Alcoff highlighted the importance of epistemology and normativity for the project of decoloniality, as the modern/colonial horizon relies on these elements for its own justification. Moreover, Stephen Small (UC Berkeley) gave a lecture on “Black Europe,” focusing on the politics of race in Great Britain, and Dew Baboeram (IISR) held two sessions on “Decolonizing the Mind,” where he put forward a critique of critical sociological theories from the perspective of epistemic decolonization.

barcelona-pablo-photo-3Linda Alcoff (picture by Pablo Gonzalez).

The second week saw new lecturers with Enrique Dussel (UNAM) who presented a series of talks on many of the themes of the Philosophy of Liberation: a new vision of world (political) history, an ethical critique of capitalism following a groundbreaking reading of Karl Marx, an alternative vision of politics and political philosophy, and an analysis of the notions of interculturality and transmodernity for the near future.

barcelona-pablo-photo-4Enrique Dussel (picture by Pablo Gonzalez).

Ruthie Gilmore (CUNY) too held a series of seminars, focusing on the recently deceased Cedric Robinson’s Black Marxism. Gilmore brought to the school a refreshed radical politics that is as relevant as ever, given the contemporary status of racial politics and their material ramifications in the United States, as well as the constant rise of neoliberalism in all corners of the world. Sabelo Ndlovu (UNISA) closed the School’s schedule with two lectures on “African Decolonial Thought,” in which he mainly looked at the pitfalls of postcolonialism as a lens through which to understand the reality of the continent of Africa.

barcelona-pablo-photo-5Ruth Gilmore (picture by Pablo Gonzalez).

While all sessions were beneficial to my intellectual interests, I am very satisfied to have discussed the work of Enrique Dussel with other voracious readers (and critics) of him, as well as to have had the privilege to have many one-on-one conversations with Dussel himself. These discussions were a continuation of an exchange started here at Rutgers University when he visited the Latino Caribbean Studies Department in April of 2015, that then continued at a philosophy conference at Villanova University in April of 2016. These have re-energized me to continue doing the work that I am doing, as well as given me many lines of thought to explore this year and beyond as I prepare to put together my doctoral dissertation. Yet, besides holding these theoretical concerns, in Barcelona I also managed to connect with local activists who are in one way or another realizing, on the ground, some of the aspects of the discourse and practice of decoloniality at many levels: Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain, Europe. They are anti-gentrification activists, activists in defense of migrant rights or minorities within Europe (such as the Romani people), as well as those interested in the independence of Catalonia from Spain. Of particular importance to my own developing interests in discourses of citizenship, migration, racialization, and coloniality, was meeting some of the actors involved with the Espacio del Immigrante, a health/socio-cultural center in an occupied flat in the rapidly-gentrifying neighborhood of El Raval. This is a center that for approximately two years has been providing free healthcare to undocumented migrants to counteract the actions of the Spanish government that has made it illegal for undocumented migrants to receive basic care at public hospitals (language classes and seminars on critical thought are also held among other events). While I was in Barcelona the local police force had orders to evict those inside the Espacio (an extension of 45 days was granted at the time of this writing). This event made me grasp the complicated socio-political atmosphere currently in Barcelona, beneath the city’s public appearance as the most progressive city in Europe open to refugees. Put simply, these interactions with local activists were as important and thought-provoking as were the series of lectures I attended at the School. They were another decolonial dialogue, not unrelated to those I had at the Summer School.

Overall, the Decolonizing Knowledge and Power: Postcolonial Studies, Decolonial Horizons Summer School is a crucial space in the development of the decolonial project. The project is a plural endeavor, not without its internal critiques, that seeks to challenge the abundant colonial legacies across all levels of experience in our shared world. I am grateful to both the Program in Comparative Literature and the Graduate School at Rutgers University that supported my trip. I definitely encourage anyone interested in processes and projects of decolonization to attend this School. The best time to apply is during the fall semester, as it increases one’s chances of receiving travel support from the university and/or external sources. The deadline for applications is usually early in the following year. For more information, this is the School’s website.

New Grad Student Profiles, Fall 2016

The multilingual community of Comp Lit has just welcomed three new graduate students. If you want to know about their backgrounds and current interests, these are their promising profiles. Welcome to Rudrani, FJS, and Penny!

 

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Rudrani Gangopadhyay joined the Department of English at Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India, after moving to the city from Toronto, Canada, and received her BA (Honours), MA, and MPhil from the program. She grew up hearing about the experiences of migration from both sides of her family, who had been displaced by the Partition of the South Asian subcontinent in 1947. This, combined with her own experience of passing through borders and cultures, greatly shaped her intellectual ventures as she went on to feel more and more drawn to the study of both how migration operates in literature, as well as how the events during the migration are later recollected and archived. In migration, she found a theme that connected world literature – through tales of transatlantic slave trade, that of indenture, accounts of diaspora, settler colony narratives, and of course, memories of the Partition – and took courses and seminars to study each of these. This, combined with an interest in Archives and in the Digital Humanities, led her to apply for and receive a fellowship from the 1947 Partition Archive in Berkeley, California. She served as an Oral History Apprentice for the Archive, recording the accounts of live witnesses of the Partition. She went on to use this work in her MPhil thesis, “Crowdsourcing the Partition: Memory as Archive and Archive as Memory.” While completing her MPhil, she also received a fellowship from the University Grants Council to work as a Centre for Advanced Studies Fellow on the ‘Shakespeare in Bengal’ project, which examined how the texts of Shakespeare survived through cultural migrations. As a Masters student, Rudrani worked as a student researcher for the UK-India Education and Research Initiative-funded project on ‘Envisioning the Indian Society,’ which studied cross-cultural exchanges in Indian cities and how they changed through colonial and post-colonial times. At Rutgers, Rudrani hopes to expand on her study of how the memory of the Partition is survived in the South Asian literary and cinematic imagination. She also hopes to expand her research to other geographical areas, and see how memory and migration interact in Caribbean literature.

 

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F. Joseph Sepulveda attended the Honors College at Rutgers-Newark where he received a B.A. in English literature and took courses on US Latino/as, race, and gender and sexuality in W&G studies and English. Before returning to Rutgers he did his M.A. in English at the University at Buffalo where he was fortunate to work closely with Carrie Bramen on Latino/a literature. He credits the faculty at Rutgers and UB for shaping his current interests in diaspora/ migration studies, race, and comparative Ethnic American studies. At the moment, he is interested in following up on a published essay he wrote on Junot Diaz’s novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by exploring the use of ethnic humor and satire in his work in relation to that of another NJ- raised author, Philip Roth, and the Haitian- Canadian writer Dany Laferrière.

 

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Growing up in Hong Kong, Penny read from a hodgepodge of literature, primarily from the English and Chinese canons. Very early on, she developed a love for the rich, imaginative worlds one encounters in novels, which led her to pursue fiction writing at Northwestern University. Following graduation, Penny worked as an English teaching assistant in the Alsatian city of Colmar, France, indulging her travel bug along the way. She pursued translation and copyediting upon returning to Hong Kong. Prior to coming to Rutgers, Penny spent four months working for a non-profit, Very Hong Kong, an explorative community project that combines art and urban development by inviting local creatives to transform underused public spaces. She is now eager to continue her research interests in geocriticism and Romanticism, and hopes to further explore the relationship between literature and politics, as well as transnational dynamics of the novel in a Sino-French context. Penny also holds an M.A. in Comparative Literature from King’s College London.