Category Archives: Comparative Literature Events

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.

‘El Hermoso Juego’, or ‘The Beautiful Game’: Vicente Huidobro’s Creacionista Poetics and the Translation of Surrealist Automatic Poetry

A Report on Josué Rodriguez’s Colloquium Presentation
by Rudrani Gangopadhyay

On November 30th, Josué Rodriguez presented the second colloquium of the 2017-2018 school year on Vicente Huidobro’s Creacionista Poetics and the Translation of Surrealist Automatic Poetry. He began by providing a brief introduction of his dissertation project, tentatively titled “In Search of the Magic Equivalent: Colonial Critiques and Stylistic Appropriations of Surrealism in the Latin American Vanguards,” and then moved on to present his first chapter. Josué’s presentation on Creacionista poetics delved more into questions of influence, originality, and translation, rather than literary history.

Creacionismo was a short-lived experimental literary movement among Spanish writers in France, Spain, and Latin America, founded by Vicente Huidobro (1893 – 1948) in Paris around 1916. Huidobro was a Chilean poet who was simultaneously a Romantic, a surrealist, a cubist, a futurist, and was described as “a translator of European aesthetics and avant-garde influences”. For followers of Creationism, the poet’s role was to create a personal imagined world rather than describing the world of nature. This was achieved by bold juxtaposition of images and metaphors, and an use of original vocabulary consisting of idiosyncratically combined words. Josué argues that this movement, engaged inherently with notions of originality and genealogy of poetry, is one that translates other movements and therefore renders poetry as truly transnational and translinguistic.

Surrealism is an important influence on the Creationist movement, and in fact, Huidobro claims ownership of the surrealist style of automatic writing. Josué envisions Creacionismo as a part of a long-term teleological arc engaged with other avant-garde movements, and as a natural continuation of the larger movement of poetry. Like Walter Benjamin, Huidobro believed the task of the translator is to carry a text beyond borders and languages, and aimed to achieve precisely that in his own work. Josué shared  fascinating images of the first issue of the Creacion magazine (1921), and Huidobro’s statement in the same. The issue contained various kinds of texts (poetry, prose, musical scores) in different languages, and was truly a global text that aligned well with the universal scope of Creacionismo as imagined by Huidobro.

Josué concluded his presentation with a very interesting close reading of one of Huidobro’s short stories, ‘El Hermoso Juego’ or ‘The Beautiful Game’. The story, which is a sly criticism of surrealism, never explicitly mentions the movement, but its presence is easy to detect. In an audacious move, Huidobro engages with surrealism in a way that simultaneously critiques and celebrates it. The use of automatic poetry within the story is one of its noteworthy aspects. The use of automaticity as a strategy for textual production here allows a sense universal accessibility to the process of creation to prevail. The story also uses tropes of order and plays in deeply interesting ways that correlate to theorizations about creation as well as translation. Josué’s work focused on Creacionismo’s inherent need for translation rather than notions of originality and periodization. Huidibro’s work, he argued, is fundamentally not one movement but rather a synthesis of multiple avant-garde movements.

The presentation was followed by an enlightening round of questions and answers, pertaining particularly to anti-mimesis, and how it may relate to the process of translation. Josué also answered questions about theories of originality as well as about whether Creacionismo is somehow limiting. He stated that he would place poetry and translation in equal measure at the heart of poetry. Surrealism is a testimony to the fact that there is no such originality.

Congratulations to Josué 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.

Conversations on anti-colonialism

By Paulina M. Barrios

This past Monday, October 30th, Prof. Ania Loomba and Prof. Nelson Maldonado-Torres participated in a public conversation coordinated by Prof. Anjali Nerlekar with the support of the Comparative Literature and South Asian Studies Programs. The title of the conversation was Anti-colonialism and its trajectories: Postcolonial and decolonial thought, where both professors spoke of their professional trajectories and how they intersected with postcolonial studies and decolonial thought. Both had different ways of presenting their main arguments leading to a lively and dynamic conversation, provoking occasional laughter or thoughtful looks and speedy note-taking. The framework of the conversation was the course offered this semester by Prof. Nerlekar Introduction to Literary Theory, where graduate students discuss leading theorists and aim to establish a theoretical framework for their own projects.

With this in mind, Prof. Maldonado-Torres decided to move beyond the texts and trace his interactions with postcolonial studies. He began with an anecdote of how his anglo-American writing tutor in graduate school suggested that he must know postcolonial studies, leaving him feeling a bit perplexed about the assumption, and marking his first contact with its authors and theory. Moreover, he pointed out that postcolonial theory helped him frame a response to the provincialism of Western philosophy and a critique of the eurocentrism present in Puerto Rican nationalism. Similarly, Prof. Loomba was told to read postcolonial authors by a fellow academic, once her PhD studies had been completed in England. In speaking of her own trajectory she explained her parents were Marxists, described herself as a political child and a feminist from the second wave of feminism in India. It was in England that “I discovered race for the first time and realized how terribly colonialized I was, the peculiar thing in India is that you don’t see race, which now I would say is exactly the coloniality we were all taught”.

However, both argued that Postcolonial theory has limitations that may be pushed further. Prof. Maldonado-Torres focused his critique on four general limitations; it did not fully address eurocentrism, it was a theoretical movement that wasn’t grounded on current social movements, and it excluded lived experience. He tied his final critique with his own analysis of Puerto Rican nationalism, “I realized that the provincialism of Puerto Rican nationalism was matched by the complicity with colonialism of forms of knowledge that used criticism as refuge of the closed forms of repression”. Prof. Loomba responded first by emphasizing that she is not a postcolonial specialist, and that the work she has published on postcolonial studies has been as someone who uses this theory and engages with it in a critical way. She further pointed out that she would separate Edward Said from the other theorists, however, she used him to point out how postcolonial theory sometimes simplifies its analyses by not including the “traditions of patriarchy, race structures, and class structures that predated colonialism”.

Both professors closed their discussions by presenting their own proposals on how to engage with both the limitations and useful elements of Postcolonial Studies. Prof. Maldonado-Torres discussed his work in area studies, spoke against what he termed “the infantilization of area studies”, and supported the project of an academy linked to social movements. He then presented the background of the end of the Cold War and indigenous movements in the 90s as key for leading to Anibal Quijano’s term of coloniality and “to the notion that modernity and coloniality are a global system of power that orchestrates relations between different countries but also inside the different countries”. Prof. Loomba framed her response by pointing towards elements that should be rescued, such as the idea of multiple histories. However, she stated postcolonial studies were too presentist, and didn’t go sufficiently far back in their analyses. She also spoke against the American academy’s obsession with creating new fields and asked to move beyond the term ‘postcolonial studies’. She strongly urged for an inclusion of ideas that are emerging within the Third World and not use the same 4 or 5 authors, “that are taken up by American presses and canonized here”.

At the end of both presentations, there was a short question and answer session. One example of a question that came up focused on how this discussion might translate into pedagogical tools or strategies to bring decoloniality into the classroom. Both professors answered by stating two options: the first focused on strategies in the classroom, such as, working with students on a more horizontal level and leading creative efforts within the classroom; the second focused more on content, bringing in authors that are not generally discussed in American academia or constantly integrating discussions surrounding race and/or gender into courses. Both professors  ended the conversation leaving the room buzzing and inspired to productively question our own colonialisms/colonialities.

Call for Papers: “LOVE IN TRANSLATION” Graduate Student Conference 2018

LOVE IN TRANSLATION

Comparative Literature Program at Rutgers

Graduate Student Conference

March 2-3, 2018

Rutgers University, New Brunswick

Keynote Speaker: Professor Sandra Bermann, Princeton University

Translation workshop by Professor Susan Bernofsky, Columbia University

CALL FOR PAPERS

The biennial graduate student conference at the Rutgers University Program in Comparative Literature seeks to understand how love figures in and is transfigured by translation. The conference invites participants to think about how love disrupts and transforms the ways in which literary imagination functions across languages, time, space, borders. Some of the questions we aim to address are: 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?

Graduate students interested in presenting their research at Love in Translation are asked to submit an abstract of 300 words that addresses the conference theme.

Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

  • Love and the ethics of translation
  • Love and literary pedagogy as translation
  • Love in the text
  • Love, translation, popular culture
  • Love, translation, world literature
  • Love, translation, activism
  • Love, translation, gender
  • Love, translation, environment
  • Love, translation, genre
  • Love, translation, borders (textual, epistemic, geographical/geopolitical)

The deadline for paper proposals is 11:59 PM on December 15th, 2017. Please e-mail all proposals to Conference Co-Chairs Penny Yeung or Rudrani Gangopadhyay at rucomplit2018@gmail.com . All submissions should include the title of the paper, the abstract, and the name, affiliation, and email of the author.

More details about the conference can be found at the conference website.

Consuming and changing the landscape in Luoyang, China: Qingfeng Nie’s graduate colloquium

By: Mònica Tomàs White

On October 3rd, fifth-year comparative literature doctoral student Qingfeng Nie presented the first graduate colloquium of the 2017–2018 school year: “Luoyang, its landscape and its elites, 581–960”. Qingfeng’s approach to studying third- to fourteenth-century Chinese literature is informed by historical geography and archeology; appropriately, his research—based on a corpus ranging from boastful epitaphs to verse by the “movie star” poets of the day—examines the physical changes the city of Luoyang underwent as it plunged towards the modern age. He argues that “the changes in landscape determined and reflected the roles Luoyang played in the Chinese empire from the Sui to the Five Dynasties”.

Although often overshadowed by capital Chang’An to the west, Luoyang enjoyed a strategic position in the empire: it marshalled the resources of prosperous regions to the southeast and housed some of the nation’s most privileged officials. In so doing, it forged a distinct identity for itself that came to challenge imperial authority. Qingfeng’s project traces the city’s physical and social evolution through the reign of Empress Wu—the only female emperor, who leaned on the city to build legitimacy—through the An Lushan Rebellion—when the Tang dynasty began to lose power—on to famous poet Bo Juyi and his associates’ residency in the city, and finishing with the tearing down of the previously ubiquitous inner-city walls.

In the interests of time, during this talk Qingfeng focused on Bo Juyi. The author of over 1000 poems, Bo Juyi (sometimes spelled Bai Juyi) was a high-ranking official whose salary apparently far outstripped his duties. He lived close to several other officials, who roamed the city “consuming and changing the landscape” through a sort of public performance. City folk would gather to watch them boat down the river or being carried to and from their villas on litters. This performative leisure was hardly accidental: it formed a crucial part of the poet’s identity as an “in-between hermit”. Previously “greater hermits” had been known to detach inwardly, while still at court, and “lesser hermits” had lived in exile in the countryside. Bo Juyi’s formulation allowed him to live close enough to the capital to enjoy certain cultural and material benefits, while living far enough away (and with a light enough workload) to enjoy solitude and contemplation if desired.

In a poem, Bo Juyi extolled “claiming as many benefits as one can for his own benefit”. His poetic construction of leisure was heavily influenced by Buddhist thinking, particularly the conception that all is transient and there is no real meaning to emotions. This allowed for a certain detached playfulness. In-between hermits were encouraged to seize those pleasures immediately at hand, but dissuaded from “painstaking pleasure-seeking”: they adopted a “worldly attitude vis-à-vis the tragic transience of pleasure”. As time passed, Bo Juyi’s poetry came to be known across the four corners of the empire and in neighboring nations, building Luoyang’s reputation as a city for in-between hermits.  As local identity and agency grew, challenges to the capital rose.

After his talk, Qingfeng answered questions on the history, poetry and characters of Luoyang, and received recommendations on theorists that might speak to his work. Thank you and congratulations to Qingfeng—we look forward to learning more!