All posts by Rudrani Gangopadhyay

Junot Díaz’s Place-Based Imagination and the Scales of World Literature

A report on Gabriele Lazzari’s colloquium presentation
by Rudrani Gangopadhyay

On March 19th, Gabriele Lazzari presented the first colloquium of the spring term on Junot Díaz’s place-based imagination and the scales of world literature. Gabriele explored how, in Díaz’s fiction, the local gets inscribed in multiple sites whose boundaries are blurred, leading to a complex shifting spatial imagination that constantly transitions from the microcosm that the characters inhabit to the macroscopic scale. Díaz’s fiction and historical imagination, Gabriele argued, is “place-based but not place-bound,” suggesting that while his works are deeply site-specific, they are not deterministically attached to places.

Díaz’s fiction, as well as his own unique position within larger frameworks of institutional and publishing geographies, redefine the binary of the global and the local. His book belongs to the New York–based publishing sector; his educational background, too, is predominantly North American. These factors would usually shape his readership in a certain way. However, one of the unique things about Díaz is the invocation of multiple readerships in his works. On the one hand, he addresses readers who understand the smatterings of Spanish in his writing as well the Dominican cultural specificities. On the other hand, however, his works also invoke a kind of reader who treats literary objects as anthropological souvenirs. These multiple readerships complicate the already vexed dichotomy between the categories of the local and the global in Díaz’s works, which constantly oscillate between local groundedness and global circulation.

Another way in which Díaz’s fiction redefines the scales of what should be considered local and global is by the ways in which he locates narrative and political histories. A single correlation of story-location is impossible in his fiction, as the Dominican Republic and the United States are relentlessly connected. Spaces cannot be thought of in isolation because they are a part of a larger entangled narrative totality—a spatially and temporally expansive whole. Personal histories and acting global forces become a way for narrative movements to be articulated in spatial terms, while the condensation of centuries of history within a single sentence does so in terms of temporalities. The use of historical depth and geographic expansiveness in the narrative marginal also naturally accompany questions of scale. In his presentation, Gabriele puts forth a question about how texts themselves are involved in scale-making. This happens in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, for example, where the narrative transitions between the microgeography of the home to the regional geography of New Jersey—as continents become inextricably linked with the archipelagic connection of Dominican Republic—lead to a kind of decontinentalizing in Oscar Wao’s world. The use of the Fukú americanus curse, so central to Díaz’s narrative, becomes an epitomization of the spatio-temporal expansiveness of his writing. Acting as a chronotopical force, it connects Africa, Latin America, United States on the one hand, and blurs the distance between Paterson and Santo Domingo on the other. The lines between the personal and the systemic too are blurred in the process.

Gabriele concluded that Díaz’s mode of temporal imagination does away with place-bound essentialism despite having a place-based consciousness. His fiction articulates the rejection of nativist ties with places that Amir Mufti and Rebecca Walkowitz write about. Going beyond monoculture and monolingual notions of belonging and existing simultaneously in different cultural and linguistic geographies, Díaz represents these disruptions formally by creating intertwined fictive universes which are filtered through the voice of the localized narrator. Ultimately, Díaz’s place-basedness allows for a rethinking of the categories used to think of contemporary fiction.

The presentation was followed by an enlightening round of questions and answers, pertaining particularly to multiple readerships as well as to multilingualism and translingualism. Gabriele also answered questions about whether Díaz should be considered a singular example of this particular kind of intervention in our understanding of the local and the global, or if he is part of a larger trajectory of contemporary writers. According to him, other writers like Bolaño might be a part of such a larger line-up, but Díaz is a very particular case because of his biographical position as well as they way in which he uses language in his works.

Congratulations to Gabriele on his excellent presentation! We are very thankful to him for sharing with us a slice of his fascinating work, and we look forward to hearing more about it.

Discussing Keywords in Sound: A look into second session of the Sound Studies Reading Group

by Coco Ke Xu

On the morning of February 22nd, the sound studies reading group held its second meeting on the sixth floor of the Academic Building. Led by Prof. Carter Mathes from the English department, Prof. Eduardo Herrera from Musicology, Prof. Andrew Parker from Comparative Literature and Prof. Xiaojue Wang from East Asian Languages and Cultures, the reading group gave graduate students from Rutgers a chance to think and discuss together key issues concerning the emerging field of sound studies from a multidisciplinary perspective.

Following the initial meeting held on January 25, the second meeting of the reading group continues the discussion on a recent edition of the anthology Keywords in Sound (Duke, 2015). The book covers twenty key words in sound studies, including: acoustemology, acoustics, body, deafness, echo, hearing, image, language, listening, music, noise, phonography, radio, religion, resonance, silence, space, synthesis, transduction and voice.

During the discussion, professors and graduate students from different disciplines contributed their unique perspectives and offered up new ways in thinking about sound related subjects. When discussing the wireless nature of radio, Prof. Wang pointed out that during the early years of Chinese diaspora radio served as a means to unite different dialect-speaking Chinese communities through broadcasting the same material in different Chinese dialects at different timeslots during the day. Prof. Parker brought up the nostalgic tone of Walter Benjamin’s “The Storyteller” and proposed a none-logocentric reading of broadcasted sound. As a nice segue into the next key word “religion”, Comparative Literature PhD candidate Virginia Conn noticed that church services in foreign languages sometimes bring up similar feelings in people and noted the difference between “religious” and “spiritual” reactions towards sounds. Connections are also made between different keyword entries. When looking at the word “silence”, Prof. Herrera reminded us to think back at other entries like “deafness” and “echo”. The new sound projecting as well as active noise cancellation technologies open new possibilities for us to reflect on the critical relationships between silence, sound and noise.

The meeting concluded with a catered lunch from Delhi Garden, during which discussions continued in a casual atmosphere. The remaining two meetings of the group for this semester will take place on March 22 and April 26 respectively, with more focus on how scholarship on sound studies informs and inspires individual works of group members. Anyone who is interested in the topic and would like to join the conversation should reach out to Prof. Carter Mathes, who will be arranging individual presentations for the next meeting.

Decoloniality Workshop Series: “’What Is Past Is Prologue’: Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Empire Building(s) at the U.S. National Archives.

By Josué Rodriguez

On Wednesday, January 31, 2018, the Decoloniality Workshop Series continued with a discussion around Enmanuel Martinez’s dissertation chapter draft, “’What Is Past Is Prologue’: Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Empire Building(s) at the U.S. National Archives.” Enmanuel’s presentation examined the quote chiseled at the base of a statue named “Future” located at the entrance to the National Archives Building in Washington D.C., stating “WHAT IS PAST IS PROLOGUE.” In highlighting the archival space as a central node for concepts of empire, war, national identity, Cold War politics, and coloniality, Enmanuel’s paper asked us to consider several questions: “what is the context, [what] is the reason, for which Antonio’s fraught words are inscribed onto the physical surface of the National Archives Building; and conversely what content, which is to say resonance, does Antonio’s statement project onto our understanding of the history (and future) of the National Archives Building?”

As Enmanuel described effectively through the help of photos and videos, the enshrinement of the Charters of Freedom in the National Archives Building on December 15, 1952 through military escort exemplifies the crossing of colonial and archival powers in an expression of Cold War political theater. As he argues, “the space of the National Archives Building emerges as a national stage over which the U.S. American government rehearses and projects its global-imperial aspirations and anxieties, respectively. We must thus recognize the U.S. National Archives as a domestic archive whose arrangement is shaped no less by imperialism abroad than it is by nationalism at home.” Symbolic performativity and architectural place coalesce to reveal the archive as a key component in the construction of the same global project that allowed the US to solidify its continuing hold on several insular territories in the Pacific and Atlantic during 20th century, island territories such as the Philippines, Hawaii, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

Comparative Literature PhD candidate Annabel We served as respondent. She considered the temporal resonances of the US’s pre-1952 imperial history as further ways of thinking through the Shakespearean quote and noted the difficulty of historians relying on the very archives they critique and examine, such as that of the US National Archives and Record Administration (NARA). Other attendees offered helpful suggestions on the paper’s structure. For example, one student asked that Enmanuel to further develop his analysis of Antonio, the power-usurping villain of Shakespeare’s play, through Rutgers University Professor Nelson Maldonado-Torres’ work on the “paradigm of war.”

In his responses to questions from the group of attendees, Enmanuel reminded us of the need to distinguish carefully between archive studies and library and information science. Enmanuel also helped us understand his own plans for the dissertation chapter moving forward. As he continues to develop his comparative analysis of the inscription on the statue “Future” and Shakespeare’s The Tempest, he hopes to draw upon Edward Said’s work on misreading, as well as Walter Benjamin’s writing on quotations as interruptions.

The Decoloniality Worshop (organized by Rafael Vizcaíno [Comparative Literature, Rutgers University]) is a space for junior scholars at Rutgers University to receive constructive feedback  in an intimate community setting. This workshop series builds upon recent graduate student–organized events at Rutgers University and is focused on decolonial thought and criticism. Most recently, the inaugural Decoloniality Roundtable took place in May 2017. In March 2016, the Urban (De)Coloniality and Literature conference was held as the Program in Comparative Literature Biennial Graduate Student Conference.

The Decoloniality Workshop has a complete lineup for the Spring 2018 semester and is in the plan of continuing through the 2018-19 academic year. For more information, visit the workshop’s website at https://decolonialityworkshop.wordpress.com