All posts by Rudrani Gangopadhyay

Rapport d’Été 2018

Par: Thato Magano
Où: Dakar, Senegal
Quand: Juin 28 – Août 12, 2018

Pour l’été, J’ai visité le Sénégal pour apprendre le Français à l’Institut de Français pour les Étudiants Étrangers (I.F.E) de l’Université Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar (UCAD). Le cours était un cours intensif pour débutants, offert du lundi au vendredi, de huit heures du matin à midi et demi, pendant six semaines. Parallèlement aux études de langues, j’ai effectué des recherches sur les Cultures Matérielles de l’Afrique de l’Ouest ainsi que l’activisme des droits des LGBTQ/Queer. Mon voyage au Sénégal est venu d’une étude indépendante sur la Migration Bantu avec le Professor Ousseina Alidou au Printemps l’année dernière. 

[For the summer, I visited Senegal to learn French at the French Institute for Foreign Students (I.F.E) of the Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar (UCAD). The class was an intensive beginners’ course, offered Monday to Friday from 8 am to 12:30 for six weeks. Along with language study, I did research on the Material Cultures of West Africa and LGBTQ/Queer rights activism. My trip to Senegal came from an independent study on Bantu Migration with Professor Ousseina Alidou in the Spring last year.]

The study explored how cultures, customs, traditions, and languages of the Bantu gave rise to similar or distinct markers of community and citizenship, and to determine if and how these markers have endured the legacies of colonialism in order to provide space for comparative study of sub-Saharan African life in contemporary time. As a result, I began to reconceptualize my conception of comparative studies as it related to Africa, increasingly thinking about what is lost culturally and what remains across time, space and history as a result of this balkanization. 

J’ai choisi d’étudier le Français against this backdrop of history, understanding how French and Portuguese colonization continue to impact the borders of the continent, and the reach of French as a language on the continent in order to access the breath of literature produced in parts of Francophone Africa for the purposes of comparative study. The Postcolonial Laboratory project at UCAD hosted me while I was at the university, and former Rutgers Fulbright Fellow, Professor Saliou Dione’s hospitality was indulgent in its allowance. Each day, after class, the schedule was different as I mainly invested my time in investigating the cultural similarities to be found between parts of West Africa (Senegal, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Mali) and Southern Africa (the ethnic groups of the Zulu, Xhosa, Tsonga, Vhavenda, Ndebele in South Africa, Zimbabwe). 

“….

What is the price of water when your family’s history is still unaccounted for, lying at its source from the beginning of colonial time only to find you walking around with bottles of Kiréne to your hearts content?

In Flint, Michigan, the water from their taps is golden. 

It’s a metallic luminance that marks their graves with names borrowed from the South. 

Children die in multiples in Bolivia while Nestle is maximizing profits and expanding its footprint

….”1

At the Postcolonial Laboratory, I was involved with organizing the third annual African and Postcolonial Studies Laboratory International Conference, themed “Migration, Literature, Society”, and I also presented my paper, “Fucking [With] The Family: The Queer Promise in Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions.” I also attended the West African Research Center’ (WARC) 4th International Conference themed, “Bridging the Gap: Black Studies Across Social, Geographical, Epistemic, and Linguistic Lines” where an array of presenters across the diaspora spoke to the kaleidoscope of the experiences of racialization and race across temporal and geographic planes. I also delivered a lecture to the Year III Baccalauréat Postcolonial Studies, titled ‘‘Overview of South Africa’s Literary Landscape: An Alternative Archive.’’ 

Visiting Musée Theodore Monod d’Art Africain de l’Ifan Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar (Musée IFAN), which houses the largest permanent collection of customary ceremonial artefacts of the Bantu, ranging from the observation of fertility rites, circumcision and marital initiation, and harvest time celebrations, en conversation avec le conservateur Malick Ndiaye, I explored the parallel and complex philosophies of being human as it relates to the uses of the artefacts. I also learnt about Senegal’s involvement in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. It seemed not coincidental then that musée IFAN is located in the arrondissement Dakar-Plateau, next to Assemblée Générale, dans un quartier appelé, PLACE SOWETO. South Western Townships (SOWETO), is arguably South Africa’s most famous anti-apartheid resistance symbol, being the site of the 1976, June 16th Student uprising, and home to the Mandela and Tutu families, and many anti-apartheid activists. 

“…

What does unhappiness look like in an unspoken country?

…”2

J’ai aussi visité les archives nationales to investigate the masquerade cultures of the Diola, and how the cultural significance of the Kumpo Masquerade forms a long-standing tradition of collapsing the gendered taxonomies that have been imposed on the body, as well and its role in mediating the metaphysical, as the Kumpo represents an encounter with the divine. I was also fortunate to witness a Kumpo ceremony in the South of Dakar and fully participate in the cultural symbolism of the encounter. I was also able to visit Monument de la Renaissance Africaine, standing at 49 meters, atop Collines des Mamelles outside of Dakar, it is the tallest monument in Africa currently. Overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, depicting a family negotiating the future and the past, the monument is a remembrance of the lives lost to the Atlantic Slave trade. Perhaps the grandest highlight of my time in Dakar were my successive visits to Île de Gorée, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that houses Maison des Esclaves, built by the Afro-French Métis family, estimated between 1780–1784. Maison des Esclaves is deemed one of the oldest houses on the island and is now a tourist destination that shows the horrors of the slave trade throughout the Atlantic world.

“…

In my father’s house there’s a chain in a cabinet whose strings tighten my feet from moving. 

The neck braces mutilate my throat when I look into the Atlantic. 

I want to scream, like the little boy, I want to purge my heart, but my eyes refuse to let my mouth open. They muffle my screams into dried sockets that hold their tears from the wooden floors refusing to make them shine. 

My grandmother says if I even let one escape, master will come pleasure himself so now I keep smiling and taking photographs with my sunglasses on and I write on the walls stitching broken pieces to hold myself together

3

J’ai aussi visité au Musée Léopold Sédar Senghor, Ancien Président de la République du Sénégal et au Président Poète. A personal highlight was watching two world renowned Senegalese musicians in concert, Youssou N’Dour and Ismaël Lô, and meeting the renowned Burundian singer, Khadja Nin, whose music formed a substantive soundtrack to my formative years in Bophuthatswana, before South Africa’s homelands were integrated into the landscape of its provinces upon its first democratic vote in 1994. My encounter with Khadja Nin was in attendance at the Universite Populaire de l”Engagement Citoyen (UPEC, The Peoples University of Citizen Engagement), themesd “Citoyenneté et Droit Décider”, a five day conference that focused on citizen movements and popular forms of activism across the continent, to create a space for activists to share best practices and community for issues ranging dictatorship, neoliberalism, corruption and media freedom. The South African started, anti-neo liberal and colonial university movement, #FeesMustFall, was represented. I had the opportunity of sharing the activist collection I co-curated with two other activists in South Africa, Publica[c]tion, which is now freely available for download on Amazon. 

“someone is calling my name at the edge of the earth

my mother said I must never respond to these voices 

because, I will never come back to her if I do

I’ve resisted for so long, I lost my body in her eyes 

now in the water I can see what my face was meant to look like 

when I put my foot in the water, the sky commands the earth and a storm is brewing

the strikes of lightning charge into my veins and overwhelm my body, and my heart stops for minutes I do not know how to count

 

my friend once told me that often while driving, they imagine what the impact of crashing against a wall would feel like on their body 

I wake up in the deep of the water and I scare myself at how I delight at my death every time this happens.”4 

Avec l’apprentissage du Français, j’ai écrit de la poésie de la lourdeur de visiter l’Île de Gorée,

which I share with you, embedded in this reflection. All of my extra-curricular learnings and meetings with Professors was facilitated by the hospitality of former Rutgers Fulbright Fellow, Professor Saliou Dione, and the Postcolonial Laboratory project at Cheikh Anta Diop University. Je veux remercier ma famille d’accueil, Madame Cisse et ses enfants, qui m’a permis de saisir le langage aussi vite que je l’ai fait. I also thank the Rutgers Center for African Studies and Program in Comparative Literature for their generous support with funding to undertake this project. 

 

Notes
1   Magano, Thato. 2018. Water as/is Commodity. Unpublished.
2   Magano, Thato. 2018. Spoken Silences. Unpublished.
3   Magano, Thato. 2018. The House of Métis. Unpublished.
4   Magano, Thato. 2018.The End of the World is Pleasure. Unpublished. 

 

A Particular Place and a Particular Time: Communism, Science Fiction, and their Co-Constitution

In his contentious 1972 description of science fiction as “a literary genre whose necessary and sufficient conditions are the presence and interaction of estrangement and cognition, and whose main formal device is an imaginative framework alternative to the author’s empirical environment,”¹ Darko Suvin ushered in an era of renewed debate about the classificatory role of an historically malleable genre. Yet, the central tenant of this categorization—estrangement of cognition from the known—is drawn from the Russian остранение (ostrenanie, or defamiliarization), itself already a central tenant of Russian Formalism as a genre. Ostrenanie, a central concept in Russian Formalism’s attempt to describe and define what constitutes literaturnost’ (литературность, or literariness), already functioned as a linguistic neologism with the double meaning of “making strange” and “putting aside.” To embody literariness at the level of the text is to inherently make strange and to decenter, to make the art itself recognizable as such. Thus the terminology of definitions utilized by Suvin already glosses its origins and, in doing so, elides any new formal definition of SF as a genre in and of itself, existing outside of—if contingent on—the realm of literature formally defined. To locate SF’s defining characteristic in the exact same categorization schema as those outlining literature as a whole, without allowing for additional classificatory markers, allows SF as a genre to remain in the liminal genre periphery that no amount of theorizing has yet been able to satisfactorily crystallize into a rigorously-definable framework. If, then, the defining features of SF as such are estrangement from the known taking place within a framework outside the author’s extant circumstances, then such estrangement may occur at the level of text, through technological extrapolations, or by transgressing or presenting unfamiliar national boundaries.

  Each of these potential avenues for estrangement—textual, technological, national—were explored, analyzed, and problematized at the first annual International Conference on Science Fiction and Communism, held May 26-27, 2018 at the American University in Bulgaria (AUB) in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria. The conference’s focus on communism as a modifier of and literary foundation for the development of science fiction offered an ideological avenue into the question of estrangement—if we in the West are used to thinking of SF as an inherently Western genre, what happens when we decenter it from those national, linguistic, and ideological boundaries? How does it change the nature of the questions being asked or the methods used to analyze its output, reception, and conditions?

As a unifying framework, the conference postulated SF not as an outcome of state policy or propaganda, but rather as an active agent in a complex and (in many cases) ongoing relationship between various communist regimes and public reception. As a genre often credited with voicing political and social critiques not possible in more “realist” genres, the conference took as its a priori theoretical positioning that SF is uniquely positioned to directly engage with the polemics of ongoing clashes between capitalism and communist ideology.

Yet it is not only the case that SF was and is uniquely positioned to comment upon ideological regimes, but also, numerous conference presentations recognized that as a mediated ideology, communism itself borrowed heavily from futuristic and technologicized visions of alterity, utilizing SF images, metaphors, and tropes to position itself as “the bearer of a bright future that had already arrived.” In adopting SF as a source of political discourse and as a framework for the communication of political ideals, various communist regimes were complicit in popularizing the genre itself. 

In addressing such a broad spectrum of interests, the conference—which was a multi-city affair—opened in Sofia, the capital city of Bulgaria, a country with a surprisingly science fictional history of robotics and cybernetics. To celebrate the opening of the conference, a cocktail party was held at a downtown gallery, including a meet-and-greet with local academics, science fiction experts, writers, artists, and fans. The exhibition on display was appropriate for setting the mood; “Fantastika in a Time of Communism” displayed archival and artistic SF works from the socialist period in Bulgaria. There was also space wine!

Following the close of the first night’s party, participants were transported two hours outside of Sofia to Blagoevgrad, a city in southwestern Bulgaria that is home to the American University in Bulgaria’s campus. Over the following weekend, participants presented on a variety of fascinating panels, beginning with “Science Fiction East and West: Communication or Divide?,” “Soviet Science Fiction,” “Space Conquest in Communist Children’s Literature,” “The Film Perspective,” and “No God in Cosmos.” Perhaps of most interesting note during the first day was a notable divide between those participants who took it as a given that communism as a system was irredeemably corrupt (if not outright evil) and their occasionally vocal clashes with the conference hosts, who attempted to steer the discussions towards a recognition of the ways in which communism was (or could be) beneficial despite the harm that its implementation had caused in the past. Disagreements along these lines led to volatile and exciting exchanges between participants.

Following a productive first day of presentations, the second day opened with a panel on “Narrowing the Dialogue: Case Studies” and concluded with “Science Fiction and Ideology.” I’m biased, of course, since this panel included my own presentation, but obviously they saved the best for last.

My presentation—“The Quotidian Utopia of China’s Lian Huan Hua”—was unique in that it was the only conference presentation dealing with a communist regime outside of the Soviet and Eastern European context, focusing instead on literary ephemera popular in mid-20th century communist China. As an explicit tenant of Mao’s modernization strategy during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, literary strictures produced a mode of narrative utopianism that Nathanial Isaacson has identified elsewhere² as a “quotidian utopia.” The quotidian utopia was a mass-produced vision of a utopian future brought about through decidedly non-fantastical means and promulgated to the public as a mode of implied development, rather than a narrative centered around an advanced technological system—that is, a utopian future for the nation was not described nor presented to the public as science fiction as such, yet retained its eye for future progress through quotidian means. 

What’s important to note here is the fact that such literatures have not, historically, been recognized as belonging to the strictly-defined genre of science fiction because their setting is firmly in the present. One valuable example of this mass production of quotidian utopian literature were the serialized booklets known as lian huan hua (连环画) or “linked serial pictures.” The lian huan hua were used as a tool of education and propaganda in the state’s move towards modernization, and as a result there were innumerable examples of the impact of trains, mining, agricultural improvements, electricity, telephone lines, and shipping techniques on the development of the country and on individual lives. By combining public health and public works propaganda with narrative and images, the lian huan hua were used as pedagogical tools for children, peasants, and the illiterate, and as such the narratives being presented are idealized in the extreme. This does not detract from their value as historical artifacts, however, and indicates the method by which the publishers sought to establish and shape mass opinion of the nation-building process.

In my presentation, I argued that the lian huan hua are no less science fictional simply because their future utopian dreams now seem to us to be rather commonplace for having (largely) been achieved; on the contrary, their use of innovative technologies to bring about a scientifically-advanced modern Communist society and their wide dissemination to the people renders this brand of quotidian utopian fiction an unparalleled attempt to bring the masses to the future through literary means. The fact that much of this body of text is dismissed as propaganda or not treated as worthy of academic investigation is an oversight on par with the dismissal in the Western canon of science fiction as an inconsequential genre literature. The shift in emphasis to the utilization of mass technologies exemplified by the lian huan hua is symptomatic of a still-extant utopian drive in Chinese Communist literature that, despite increased state crackdowns on the freedoms afforded authors and the broad social denigration of non-realist imaginaries condemned as bourgeois, the science fictional imaginary continues to produce.

Finally, the conference concluded with a keynote speech by Darko Suvin himself. Professor Emeritus at McGill University, Canada, Darko Suvin is widely recognized as one of the most prominent figures in the development of science fiction studies, and as previously noted, is responsible for the development of cognitive estrangement as a method of categorizing and analyzing science fiction as a genre. Over a conference call, he engaged with many of the papers that had been presented and additionally shared some of his own thoughts. As had by now become characteristic of this conference, the exchanges were often contentious—both intellectually-grounded and deeply emotional, many participants had significant personal stakes in their ideological positions. For many, the realities of extant communist regimes could not be discussed with any sort of cognitive dissonance—far from being fictional, they were real, lived experiences that, no matter how strange or estranging they might be, did not offer insight into a world that wasn’t, but a world that had been and continued to be a possibility. Their arguments served as a reminder that what makes something strange or fantastic is often as much a matter of historical positioning as technological development. 

A complete video of each panel can be found at the American University in Bulgaria’s website here: https://www.aubg.edu/news/aubg-hosts-inaugural-science-fiction-and-communism-conference-1465 or on youtube here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLJhqXzj2SATibzhnJ8KOE1RL6GgpR_s2i

Notes
¹ Suvin, Darko. Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1979)

² Isaacson, Nathaniel. “Science Crosstalk in China’s Shifting Cultural Field.” Talk given as part of the Science Fiction and Asian Histories panel at the 2016 ACLA Conference. Harvard University, 2016.

On Queer Rights and Spaces in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

By Joseph Sepulveda

In the June of 2018, I interviewed Juan Cid over the course of a few weeks, a leader in the LGBTQ movement in the capital of the Dominican Republic, who was at the time preparing for a number of talleres (workshops) and LGBTQ events in celebration of gay pride. Meeting in La Zona Colonial at a typical Dominican restaurant, La Meson de Bari, we spoke about the past and future of the queer organization in the island. One of the central questions that motivated my interest in Cid’s work was to figure out how the city has developed alternative spaces and institutions to support LGBTQ people. I had learned through an internet search that Cid was the person to speak to about LGBT activism in the capital, and when I visited in June and listened to all his prospective activist projects over the next few weeks—it was one of the most striking facts to learn that his activism was pro bon.  Indeed, Juan’s official work is as an editor and producer, and his support for the LGBTQ community through IURA , his organization, is supplementary. He has worked with the well-known and critically acclaimed performance artist, novelist, musician, in short, the all around do-it-yourself artist that is Rita Indiana as well as working in editing “sensaciones virales” (viral sensations) like “Salón Belkys.” In his career, he has captured a number of awards and been featured in international cinematic festivals in Amsterdam, Cuba and others.

The 1970/80s, according to Juan, were distinguished by an increased cultural freedom and the existence of a number of gay nightclubs within the city, including Aire, that no longer exist. But what predominated were a number of exclusive clubs serving a more elite gay community. Santo Domingo continues to have a number of gay night spaces today, many of which are frequented by people across class and racial differences, and situated in the most tourist area in La Zona Colonial, but Cid suggests that many alternative night time social spaces have closed over the years. Contemporaneously, however, the city has found a strange ally in the US, at once supportive of today’s struggles for the human rights values of LGBTQ people and yet the most neo-imperial force in the history of the Caribbean in 20th century, including in the Dominican Republic, where it has effectively curtailed and undermined the democratic processes within the island through numerous occupations. US organizations provide some monetary aid and the US has had an openly gay, Wally Webster, championing gay rights and visibility in the island.  Despite aid and the support of US political figures, Cid reports a lack of social and health data that would help serve the LGBTQ community, including hard to get numbers about the number of suicide rates affecting the community. At a meeting for LGBTQ allies held at El Centro Cultural de España in Santo Domingo in June 14th, Cid addressed this and the most pressing concern of the movement at the moment: a bill that would prevent discrimination against people because of their sexual orientation and sexual/ gendered difference. The taller was at once a pedagogical service aimed at teaching the broader public a more inclusive language about sexual and gender variance but also a tool for allowing members both within and outside the community to communicate in a shared space to address the common struggles around sexual/ gender difference. It was instructive to listen to young Dominicans united in a community center to better understand the evolving issues and variance in language and experiences of the LGBTQ coalition since it represented the ties that do exist within and outside the community as well as the exceptional strides in activism that the city continues to make through efforts made by people like Juan. Spaces like this remain crucially important as networks that do outreach and produce change through dialogue.  Beyond this type of community engagement Juan hopes that the future of the LGBTQ community in the city would allow for the creation of more “safe spaces” for LGBTQ youth and social programs as well as a shelter to serve homeless LGBTQ people.

The focus on what was there and what was no longer there in terms of recognizably queer or gay spaces (and cultural centers like el Centro Cultural de España that enable conversation) also intersected with a larger question I posed about the different political and memorial markers that exist throughout the city. On the one hand, Santo Domingo memorializes one of its longest running, and for some one of the most corrupt symbols of the continuation of el Trujillato (a period of political despotism headed by dictator Rafael Trujillo (1930-1961), presidential figures whose policies led to the migration of waves of economically- deprived Dominicans and the shifting of the economy toward tourist industries in the 70s. On the other, the city remembers and similarly has erected monuments and named streets and important geographical markers to the memory of Juan Bosch, whose short government in 1963 was defeated by a US-led invasion and military coup, which eventually resulted in Balaguer’s return to power for much of the late 21st century.  

I want to close with reflections on the critical thought of a queer Dominican artist, the novelist, Rita Indiana. In May 31, 2018, she gave the keynote address in el Centro Leon in Santiago, Dominican Republic where she spoke on a piece with the wonderful title, “Skaters and Drag Queens: Dominican Cultural Ecology ‘Do-It-Yourself’” (Skater y Drag Queens: Ecología Cultural Dominicana). Indiana begins with an anecdote about her childhood: receiving a gift sent to her apartment in Santo Domingo from her deceased father in the diaspora who was assassinated in the Bronx. The gift—a Walkman with a Guns and Roses cassette— arrives late, after the father’s death, as if from the beyond or, more logically, a sign that “el correo dominicano era una mierda.” The lecture centers, however, on Indiana’s experience in the evolving countercultural spaces that sprang up out of nowhere, impromptu, spontaneously, and organically in  Santo Domingo vastly developing through the labor of Haitian hands and under the “las caducas ideas del progreso” (the expired notions of progress) of president Balaguer. Indiana lyrically describes the space of the developing city as one of constant “excavacion y construccion” mirroring “el cover de una banda de metal , una series de avenidas hostiles que conduction al centro de su universo: el skateboard shop”  There, and in an abandoned commercial center turned into a skate boarding ring “desadaptados” (non-conformists) like Indiana would converge ; these were punks, skateboarders, hippies, and fans of metal, all part of different subcultures who were colonizing empty spaces, coalescing in them in order to produce an alternative cartography to that of the traditional city. Consuming pirated videos of skateboarding and horror shows, the commercial center also became a site for selling t-shirts, getting tattoos and hanging out. This space, whose owner no one knew, was transformed into a communal cultural center through the ingenuity of its adolescent members. Likewise, the skateboarders transformed the concrete of the city’s patrimonial monument El Plaza de la Banderas, a symbol of patriarchal power and veneration of the state, at the intersection of Churchill and John F. Kennedy into an impromptu skating ring, transforming the city of Santo Domingo into an alternative urbanscape with new possibilities, that is until the police eventually showed up. The nights, Rita Indiana, navigated the gay scene of disco free, “una version caribena de la Ariel de la Tempestad de Shakespeare” a space where the body and gender not the street was being undone (desdoblada) and remade by its performers. For both skateboarders and drag queens, Rita asserts, the body and its transformation is the main protagonist. In the face of a lack of social and cultural support, institutional access, both drag queens and skateboarders learn to make do by claiming and restructuring what’s already there. This I came to see firsthand when I visited a bar in a residential neighborhood in Gazcue, near the old colonial section of the city, where a home was transformed at night into a club for mostly gay patrons. When the night was over, and as we were leaving, the club was slowly becoming again someone’s home. Whoever the owner was had turned this home into a social space if only for a few hours, making do and repurposing what exists to make something spectacularly queer in the heart of Santo Domingo.  

Spotlight Series: Danel Roldan

During the  “Love in Translation” conference, the organizers received a lot of feedback on the wonderful poster design. So the conference co-chairs and blog editors, Rudrani Gangopadhyay and Penny Yeung decided to interview the artist behind the poster, Danel Roldan.

Editors: What was the process of coming up with this like? How long did it take you to kind of do it from start to finish would you say?

Danel: I was actually working on those over the winter break in DR. I was initially going with a really modern style. [Maria] Elizabeth hated it because it was mainly looking like a parody of the ‘I Love New York’ stuff. I was thinking of a juxtaposition of what love is. It encompasses every emotion … so I started thinking of love in translation and I was thinking of what is that because love is translated by everyone individually into so many things. As you are growing in relationships, love brings out different facets. What does it mean to put that onto literature or any creative process? Once I arrived onto the [image of the] ink and the pen as the instrument of translation, I sort of got it all.

Someone once asked me what I like about the process, and I said I hate the process. You spend half the time belittling yourself, then you arrive at that one moment of I’m a genius. You hate the process and then you love the process. I came to the ink and the pen, then the heart. That was main thing. And all the circles, which is like  doodling, like somebody trying to come up with something. That’s what any creative process is like, till you see the semblance of something. The poster is trying to translate that process – there’s this pen dripping ink, and then there’s a heart, but also there’s a scar in the heart. Creation is passion, and any time you are trying to create something, you’re going to suffer for that. That’s what I tried to put in the poster. It is the juxtaposition of love and passion and suffering, because you are suffering to create, suffering for what you’re passionate about.

Then there was the 100 languages in which the word love and the phrase ‘I love you’ shows up. Part of me did not want to put in the languages within brackets, but I did so people would know what language it is?

Editors: We were also wondering about some of the other ideas that you considered before you arrived at this one.

Danel: Something that I was thinking about was the work of Jackson Pollock. Basically a lot of ink splatters, but a resemblance of something, like it is a little translated. That idea that you start off with a sketch but there’s a slow morphing. When I draw something I have no clue how,  I just start to doodle. So the Jackson Pollock thing was about trying to capture the translation mid-process. These splatters could have also been link symbols of love.

Another idea I had was that of a rose, but in a type collage. The 100 languages in different tones of red, but when I started doing it it was taking way too long. It looked so great but it would take weeks.

Editors: You talked about hating the process, or having this love-hate relationship with it but now that you are done, would you be able to retrace the process of this final design.

Danel: First I tried it with actual ink. I was fighting with the practical side and then the artistic side. Again, it was just the time thing, and I can’t do it, so it was just then digitizing it, but also going towards like ideas, like sketchbook, just going with the pencil and just trying to translate a heart in different ways. So first I tried the whole heart was in ink, was mainly like a shadow of ink … it was getting forth that idea of sketching things out. I was trying to bridge the idea of accidental creativity and actual purposeful creativity so if I had use the ink splatter heart it would have been more like “oh, serendipity!  like oh, it just happened,” as opposed to you like admitting I’m toiling, I’m part of this, I’m trying to do this. I was trying to doodle with pen and paper, pencil and paper that way.

Another idea was that of an inkwell that tipped over and made a spill that looks like a heart which was what I was going to do if we did tote bags or bookmarks. If there was another part of the campaign it would have resembled that.

Editors: You do a fantastic job of translating the ideas we had on paper. Was there anything different in creating this poster design for a bunch of academics than the work you have done before? Big differences in designing for different target audiences?

Danel: So I forget the details of other poster which I had made for some professors. It was about slavery and in the civil rights movement. The slaves were free, but they were still enslaved because mentally they were like, what is freedom? We fought so hard for it yet we don’t know what it is; what would you do with freedom? You’re free but you still depend on this kind of thing you know? And some slaves thought that I am here by choice and I could always leave. I interpreted it as slavery of the brain, and the professors didn’t really like the idea. The word itself was made out of “IBM,” and it is sort of like a pictogram, a translation of a word, so that’s what I did, and they were like I don’t think people would get it. Well, they would if they read into things and translated them. If you won’t, then it’s not for you. This is not for a casual audience, you’re going to have to work with this thing, which I thought an academic audience would.

The professor wanted something more literal. After a few months,  I was like, aw man, why didn’t I see it? It was just as simple as putting in a bird cage: just the outline of a bird cage, a bird on the inside, and the birdcage actually open, which brings forth the message, with the word at the bottom. The bird is free but not, because of the bird cage. It’s different [to work with academics] because if you’re an educational institution, then I would imagine your whole purpose is to challenge people’s minds with the material and in your marketing you sometimes don’t. To me, if an educational institution is not doing that it is a little strange.

Editors: So you’re saying in this case, your art didn’t quite translate the way you thought it would. 

Danel: The projects are like my kids and my kids can go anywhere. It’s like what you instill in your students  speak to what kind of teacher are you. This is a challenge definitely … but that’s the system of education. I’ve also worked on some book covers for Pearson, and it was along the lines like that. It wasn’t subtle covers: it was about civil rights movement and it was a very political “poster-y” poster. It was three books, one on the government, one on signs, one on a different subject  and they all had to be unified so I was like this is cool. So when I pitched the idea, I was thinking it would be a phenomenal idea, it’s going to allude to the subject matter and be symbolic. The guy that I worked with said this is phenomenal, but then there were different editors, and one was like “what is this? No, no, it’s too artsy, too symbolic.” Again, it’s the same argument … but you’re an educational institute, and students will go where they go.

Editors: Anything else you would like to say to the readers of the Comp Lit blog? 

Danel: I hope that people dig the poster and Love in Translation is a success.

 

The Love in Translation  conference organizers would  like to thank Danel Roldan for his wonderful poster design and Maria Elizabeth Rodriguez Beltran for assisting in the creative direction.

Love in Translation: The Conference

A Report by Thato Magano, Paulina Barrios, Shawn Gonzalez, Rafael Vizcaíno, Rudrani Gangopadhyay, and Penny Yeung

On March 2nd and 3rd, 2018, the graduate students of the Rutgers University Program in Comparative Literature organized their biennial conference on “Love in Translation.” The co-chairs, Rudrani Gangopadhyay and Penny Yeung, hoped that the conference theme would foster conversations about how love figures in and is transfigured by translation by way of thinking about how love disrupts and transforms the ways in which literary imagination functions across languages, time, space, borders. Some of the questions the conference hoped to (and did) address were the following: How is love translated? Can love be a methodology in translation? Is it a hindrance or is it generative? Is love a theme or a product of translation?

The first panel of Friday, on the “Poetics of Translation,” commenced after introductory remarks by the conference co-chairs, by the Program Chair Prof. Andrew Parker, and the Graduate Director, Prof. Anjali Nerlekar. The first paper was by Paul Franz, a doctoral candidate at the Department of English at Yale University. His paper, “To leave my love – alone: Alliances and Realignments in Geoffrey Hill’s versions of Anne Hébert,” examined the complex history of the English poet Geoffrey Hill’s translation of a poem by the French-Canadian poet Anne Hébert, by studying the affiliations between Hill and Hébert as an effort to create an international counterpublic resistant to American hegemony. Paul explored the fact that Hill typically performed Hébert’s poem alongside Shakespeare’s Sonnet 66, which employed a similar litany structure, yet which introduced the key term—“love”—absent from Hébert’s account of popular resistance to Fascist authority. The other two papers were presented by Rutgers Comparative Literature’s own doctoral students, Josué Rodriguez and Penny Yeung. Josué’s paper, ‘The Ethics of Translation in Vicente Huidobro’s “El Hermoso Juego,” or “The Beautiful Game”’,  examined Vicente Huidobro’s microficción, or micro-fiction, “El Hermoso Juego,” or “The Beautiful Game,” (1940) as an example of how Huidobro’s movement, Creacionismo, is able to performatively render Surrealism’s aesthetic, cultural, and political codes in its playful appropriation of automatic writing. Huidobro’s familiarity with the stylistic and cultural codes of the French movement allowed him to playfully build what Gayatri Spivak called an inhabitable textual world for the other in her 1992 essay “The Politics of Translation.” This ultimately embodies a shift from the ideals of revolutionary love towards an ethical relationship to the other, one that foregrounds a text’s access to all through its universalized translatability.The last paper of the panel, presented by Penny, was titled “Partial Translation and World Building,” and argued in favor of “partial translation” through theoretical and creative engagement, by way of her own translations of several poems lifted from French academician Dany Laferrière’s book, L’art presque perdu de ne rien faire (The Nearly Lost Art of Doing Nothing), an untranslated work. By considering Dennis Tedlock’s proposition of a poetics of translatability in his eludication of Mayan poetics, and KE Bishop’s argument that a relationship of metonymy and contiguity, and not metaphor and comparability, underlies a written text and its invisible, unwritten text, she argued that rather than destroying networks of signification, a partial translation can partake in a more hopeful endeavor of world-building.

The second panel of the conference, titled “Queerness” saw two presentations from Duncan McKinnon, a Rutgers University senior in the Comparative Literature and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies programs, and Lubna Abdul-Hadi, a PhD student in the Translation Instruction and Research Program at Binghamton University. The panel kicked off with Duncan’s paper “Feeling the Erotics of Queer Diaspora: Translating the Sensorial in Zami by Audre Lorde and The Book of Salt by Monique Truong.” Duncan’s paper explored how the sensorial, as a medium that exceeds the discursive, can be translated to understand the meanings and experiences between bodies and subjectivities in relation to love and lovemaking in the texts. For Duncan, because the protagonists are often failed by the discursive as a result of the social and economic conditions that impact their lives, they see translating the sensorial facilitating an escape of the limitations in their experiences across linguistic, national and racial difference. Lubna’s paper “Love, Hatred, to Love Again – Translating Female Same-Sex Relationships in Medieval Arabic Literature” explored how the translation of Western hegemonic categories of identification presented limitations of language for non-normative sexualities in the Arab-Islamic community. Exploring the limitations of the western norms of sexuality identification as they have come to be understood under the banner of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans- gender, Questioning/Queer, + (LGBTQ+), Lubna turned to Medieval texts exploring female same-sex sexuality to show the expansive vocabulary that existed to think through and identify same-sex sexuality. Her work then, propositions how a turn to the past might be productive to contemporary conversations in the Arabic world in relation to same-sex sexuality. Prof Preetha Mani was the discussant for the panel and spoke to the interconnecting themes of both papers as it relates to translation. In one sense, there is an investment in translating what cannot be easily translated as it demands bringing the inexpressible to the fore, while in the other, there is a recognition of the limitations of bringing to the fore that which is translated. Prof Mani further inquired on what queering translation might look like and how scholars might relate to the practice of translation approached from a queered perspective. The panel engaged in a lively debate around temporality and periodization, translation in the Arab world and how translation might enable a return to the self. 

The third, and final, panel for Friday focused on the “Ethics and Politics of Translation.” The panel included presentations from three different graduate students: Coco Xu from Rutgers University presented ‘On the Ethics of Translation’; Ali Almajnooni from Binghamton University presented on ‘Empire, Drones, and the End(s) of Translation’; and Tuhin Bhattacharjee from New York University presented on ‘The Tragic in Translation: Planetarity and a New Ethics of Reading’. The three presenters shared thought provoking works that questioned the role of translator, how they build bridges, but also constitute threats; translation as an inter-cultural interaction, part of a ‘politics of love’; as well as reflections on temporality and translation. Ali began with his presentation, which focused on an analysis of the drones the United States has been using in the Middle East and how this may be a reflection of a transition from using translation as a form of conquest of ‘the other’ towards a complete rejection of comprehension, an annihilation of ‘the other’. Coco’s presentation followed, which sought to respond to the pessimism and frustration that oftentimes accompany translation studies with a refocus on curiosity. She focused on the idea of translation as hospitality, world construction, and productive curiosity. Thus, considering translation as the moment of reaching a new world and inhabiting ‘in-betweenness’. Tuhin closed the table suggesting a move towards a format of comparative literature that would be planetary instead of global. Through this focus connections with ‘the other’ would be through love and tragedy, with translation as part of this risk and tragedy surrounding the ethical and political connection with others. After the presentations, Prof. Janet Walker congratulated the presenters on their papers and followed with some comments on the panel as a whole, as well as specific observations for each of the presenters. She began by reflecting on how ethics surrounds translation, translators, and the praxis itself. Related to Ali’s reflection on empires, US imperialism, and language, Prof. Walker stated that his link to drones as well as the hierarchy and distancing from the other they establish was particularly interesting. She added also how critical languages are constantly being defined by the State Department and how U.S. citizens are incited to learn them, thus emphasizing the politics behind language. Regarding Coco’s work she linked the element of curiosity to subversiveness and how it was viewed as dangerous by empires throughout the world, connecting this text to the first presentation. Finally, she ended with comments on Tuhin’s use of Spivak, bringing in the tragedy of knowledge, the pessimism of the intellect, and optimism of the will. The questions and discussion that ensued were a testament to the quality of the presentations, focusing on broad topics such as machines/drones, mediation and distance in translation, the specificity of translation, audience and translation, bilingualism and self-translation, ethics surrounding translation, linguistic choice and the politics behind this, among many others.

The first day of the conference concluded with a keynote lecture by Sandra Bermann entitled “Love in Translation: Let Me Count the Ways.” Professor Bermann’s lecture centered on tracing several trajectories for considering the relationship between love and translation. She began by introducing a poetic perspective on this issue through readings of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, W.H. Auden, and Adrienne Rich. Then, she introduced a translation studies perspective, considering the role of love and gender in the work of various translation theorists. Next, she approached this question from the perspective of recent changes in the field of comparative literature. This portion of the lecture challenged the audience to question how translation has been marginalized by the field’s commitment to reading in the original and to reconsider the role of translation in future directions of the discipline. After establishing these different trajectories, Professor Bermann proposed migration both as a way of theorizing translation and of imagining how translation can contribute to the future of comparative literature. This case study drew on the previous trajectories to consider the role of love as a hopeful response to the contemporary linguistic landscape. Professor Bermann’s presentation was followed by a lively discussion that considered how these ideas related to the day’s other presentations. These questions continually returned to the role of translation in graduate students’ teaching, research, and plans for their careers.  

The first panel of the conference’s second day was titled “Transgressions.” Amritha Mohan from the University of Hyderabad (India) presented a paper titled ‘Love in the Call of God: A Translation of Sithara S’s Daivavili’ where she analyzed the task of translation as a “manifestation of the creator’s madness” and sought “to emphasise on the importance of translating non-mainstream love narratives, putting into context the resistance they face from the mainstream Malayalee society, thereby making them as an act of protest in itself.” Karen Jallatyan from the University of California Irvine presented a paper titled ‘Diasporic Love: Writing the Impossibility of Translation in Krikor Beledian’s The Palimpsest Man’, where he illustrated the “the impossibility of fully encountering, thus translating, the other.” For Jallatyan, “Beledian’s work suggests that in the face of catastrophe, love, as enchantment with, faith in and dependence on the other, consists in liberating the alterity of the other in one’s self and in others.” At last, our very own Maria Elizabeth Rodriguez Beltrán presented a paper titled ‘Decolonial love in the US Virgin Islands’, where she asked, “what happens when incest becomes a symbol of liberation from colonial powers and opens the possibility for decolonial love?” For Rodriguez Beltrán, Tiphanie Yanique’s Land of Love and Drowning “makes use of several Biblical figures and transforms them by feminizing and reversing them as a way of decolonizing western religion.” The subsequent discussion, moderated by 4th year PhD Candidate Rafael Vizcaíno and started by the sharp commentaries of Professor Nelson Maldonado-Torres, centered on the issues of love in the time-space of catastrophe, diasporic subjectivity, and secularism.

The last panel of the conference’s second day was titled ‘Task of the Translator’. Kiawna Brewster from the University of Wisconsin-Madison presented a paper titled ‘Censoring Love in Translation: In Defense of the Translator’s Preface’, where she illustrated the importance of the Translator’s Preface by considering its role in rewriting the course of literary history and promoting cultural understanding. She examined the Prefaces to Lara Gochin Raffaeli’s translation of Gabriele D’Annunzio’s decadent Italian novel Il Piacere in order to illustrate the morality of translations. Raffaeli tries to introduce the 19th century text for the first time without sanitizing or purging it in any way, thereby undoing the problematic liberties taken by translators. Mariam Rahmani from the University of California Los Angeles presented a paper titled ‘What to do when sexuality doesn’t translate? The Pitfalls of Pronouns and Other Questions’. Ther paper presented an excerpt from a work in progress —an authorized translation of Mahsa Mohebali’s award-winning novel, Don’t Worry (originally in Persian: Negaran nabash, 2008) —and reflected on the difficulties of translating with attention to the politics of gender and sexuality. Some of the questions she explored through her reading include: how English gendered pronouns limit narrative possibilities and unwittingly force an identity-based framework on texts that do not adopt such a conceptualization of gender and sexuality in the original? How does a translator negotiate questions of distance and familiarity? The final paper was presented by Jan Steyn from Cornell, whose paper was titled ‘The Conjugal Translator’. Steyn’s paper explored the Maryse Condé-Richard Philcox author-translator marriage, and reflected on how Philcox’s textual philandering shows how he justifies his infidelity through his conjugality. The subsequent discussion, moderated by 2nd year PhD student Rudrani Gangopadhyay, and was started by the sharp commentaries of Prof. Anjali Nerlekar, centered around the questions of the presence of translator as well the translator’s gender. Questions that came include: can the notion of conjugality in translation degendered? How can slangs and curses be translated? What is the role of paratexts in translation? 

The conference concluded with a translation workshop led by Professor Susan Bernofsky. Professor Bernofsky led the group through a series of activities that engaged participants in thinking about translation from various angles. In one activity, sets of two texts—one original and one its translation—were placed side by side but unidentified, and participants were tasked to determine which text was which. More often than not the group was divided in opinion, and having access to both the source and target languages did not necessarily make the evaluation easier. This sparked lively discussion on what marks a translation, while also providing ample examples that counter the notion of translations as inferior texts. Another activity simulated the operations of an editorial board. The group was given different translations of the same text to look at and had to decide which was the preferred version as well as what editorial changes might be made to improve upon them. It was later revealed that all the versions were drawn from published translations of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. The group compared the strategies employed by different translators and reflected upon the varying aesthetics these decisions created. Professor Bernofsky also shared learning moments from her own wealth of experience as a translator, such as how to deal with rhythm, wordplay and repetition, and the glossing of untranslatables with no direct equivalent in the target language. The three-hour workshop provided a forum for conference attendees to reflect on translation theory through its praxis, and for those who are practicing and aspiring translators, it was an occasion to brainstorm strategies to deal with the many practical challenges of the craft.

 

From Hip Life to Real Life: Hip Hop and the Performative Inscription of New Social Relations in Nigeria

On February 28, 2018, third-year PhD student Gabriel Bámgbóṣé organized a talk on Nigerian hip hop for his class.  This is a review of the event by one of his students, John O’Meara.


As a mathematics student born and raised in New Jersey and of almost entirely Irish descent, I walked into this discussion with virtually no knowledge of Nigerian music and/or culture. However, aided by the exploration of African myth and the study of duality and synthesis of humankind and the world, it became evident that music is a universal language and that, despite geographical boundaries, there are many subtle connections between what I have grown up with and the topics discussed in the lecture by Michael Tosin Gbogi, a PhD candidate in the Interdisciplinary Program in Linguistics at Tulane University, New Orleans. The distinctiveness of Nigerian hip-hop notwithstanding, cultural markings, emceeing, deejaying, and breakdancing remain global markers of the genre. Gbogi’s main argument is that Nigerian rap/hip-hop is a reappropriation of the musical form that was originally domiciled in the Africa and became globalized after transplantation through the Middle Passage. In a thorough exploration of the social and cultural signatures of Nigerian hip-hop through cultural, literary, and linguistic lenses, I was able to see both the vast divergences and the many similarities that exist between both Nigerian and American styles of music and the visual stimuli that they present.

Nigeria hosts the second-largest hip-hop scene in the world, both in the mainstream and in the underground counterculture. The genre was first heard in Nigeria in 1981. However, by 1985 with the military regime and the economic crises of the structural adjustment regime, art suffered greatly because of the continuous violence that lasted until 1998. Many artists left the country to seek greater opportunities and found their own success elsewhere while paying homage to their homeland. The hip-hop scene reemerged with the first mainstream song “Shako Mo” by the Remedies. In this piece, the rappers feign an American accent, which might be an effort to gain a larger audience through relatable features to American English.

Gbogi questions the idea that Nigerian hip-hop music is very vapid and almost completely limited to “dance music” that partygoers may enjoy while in the club. He argues that the art goes much deeper in terms of context and meaning; Nigerian artists adopt hip-hop as a sonic instrument of agency, featuring mostly artists from poor or working-class backgrounds. Additionally, Nigeria is a heavily stratified society with respect to class relations. The youths therefore take inspiration from hip-hop in their yearning for an escape from the trying times of poverty. In Reminisce’s (feat. Olamide and Phyno) “Local Rappers,” the term “local” means poor. Thus, there is a sense of duality existing in the word, defined as both of lower socioeconomic status and grafted at the same time with a sense of belonging to the artists’ community. This demonstrates the highly effective reaction of hip-hop music (as a cultural binder and a means for success) to social problems.

However, the counter to this point of view is that globalization reduces one’s authenticity: the ability to “keep it real.” Gbogi introduces this second dimension as the use of language by one group to achieve hegemony over other groups. This suggests that language as a concept incorporates into its focus such issues as language norms and general cultural beliefs. For example, the Nigerian rapper Ruggedman incorporates Nigerian slang (pidgin) without imitating an American accent in order to maintain the sense of national belonging. In a similar manner, the song “Ehen” introduces themes of pushing back against the music of previous artists through a fusion of language and grammar of the “mother tongue” with languages often representative of the lower class.

Slang is generally described as an oppositional language that members of a minority group use to mark their difference from both established order and a more established diction. Onomastics, ethnic “shout-outs” to ghettos/neighborhoods, furthers this theme of relating to the audience. This is defined as “ghetto naming,” which exists as a method of class crossing as displayed in Wizkid’s “Ojuelegba,” named after the low-class neighborhood in Nigeria. Wizkid creates a narrative that states that he is a part of his people, though he finds a way out of poverty and achieves success despite his initial condition. Although there exists some narrative that consigns the past to the past and presents current events in the immediate present, it still follows that leading principle best outlined by Lord of Ajasa: “You can’t be doing hip hop if you’re not true to yourself, if you are not real.” With the synthesis of all these exploratory findings, I was able to leave the lecture far more enlightened and worldly, understanding that we are all truly one on this planet through the scope of intercultural traversing by music.

 

About the author
A first-generation American on his father’s side, John O’Meara will be the first in his family to graduate from college with a bachelor’s degree. This May, he will earn his BA in Mathematics, as well as minors in English, Computer Science, Music, Economics, and a certification in Recording Arts. In his spare time, he loves to read, particularly the works of medieval writers focusing on the topic of dissent; his favorite work of the genre is Piers Plowman by William Langland. Additionally, John is an avid songwriter and poet, performing in the many underground scenes throughout the city of New Brunswick. Upon graduation, he hopes to attend graduate school for Financial Mathematics and continue in his effort to become a certified Associate of the Society of Actuaries. While in school, John is a bartender at the local restaurant, The Stirling Hotel. A lover of all gin, his favorite cocktail to sip after a long day is a Tom Collins.