Category Archives: Faculty and Staff

Brown Bag Lunch on “Istanbul 1940 and Global Modernity”

by Rudrani Gangopadhyay

Comp Lit’s Brown Bag Lunch series returned this Spring on February 14th with Professor Efe Khayyat (CompLit, AMESALL) presenting his brand-new book Istanbul 1940 and Global Modernity: The World According to Auerbach, Tanpinar, and Edib. The book poses —and answers—a question about who else was in Istanbul at the same time as Erich Auerbach, and what alternate genealogies of Comparative Literature could have been traced on the basis of their work, had the one tracing back to Auerbach not been institutionalized by the Academy. In interpreting Auerbach’s work against that of his colleagues at Istanbul University in the 1940s, Ahmed Hamdi Tanpinar (1901-1962) and Halide Edib (1884-1964), Khayyat’s book simultaneously sheds new light on Auerbach’s work and on modernity in the non-European world.

Auerbach’s work, of course, draws upon Western literary cultures and Christianity, demonstrating a clear genealogy that can be traced all the way from the Gospels to Virginia Woolf. One of the things that Khayyat’s book sets out to do is to see how the genealogy looked from the Muslim world, and if there could be similar continuities between the Quran and modernist poetry. To do this, the book turns towards Auerbach’s illustrious Turkish colleagues—Tanpinar was a critic, poet, and novelist, and Edib was a feminist, a humanist, a soldier, a novelist, and a historian—and their works, which focus on Islamicate cultural histories in the Middle East and South Asia. Auerbach’s interest was in realism, and he went all the way back to The Bible to find a humanistic origin for it. Similarly, from Tanpinar’s perspective, there was a way one could, and should, read the Quran as literature that shows a continuity between it and contemporary literature. Edib, on the other hand, was interested in a comparative view of the literary histories of South Asia and the Middle East.

Interestingly, even though these figures were working together at the same university at the same period of time and were covering literatures of a large part of the world, they do not mention each other in any of their work. Khayyat’s book brings these three figures together and interprets their works as part of a collective. Thus, he opens up new dimensions to conversations about comparative literature, literary modernity, translation, and world literature. Congratulations to Professor Khayyat on this important and timely intervention!

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.

Relational Undercurrents: Contemporary Art of the Caribbean Archipelago

A report on the Brown Bag Lunch by: Yuanqiu Jiang

On January 17, 2018, the Program of Comparative Literature hosted its first Brown Bag Lunch of the spring semester. Professor Michelle A. Stephens, Dean of Humanities, also an affiliate faculty member of the program, gave a talk on the book she newly coedited with Professor Tatiana Flores (Art History and Latino and Caribbean Studies), Relational Undercurrents: Contemporary Art of the Caribbean Archipelago. Along with the book, an exhibition was curated by Professor Flores for the Museum of Latin American Art (Long Beach, CA).

Both the book and the exhibition focus on contemporary visual arts produced in the Caribbean islands, around which a conceptual framework is built. This framework, Professor Stephens suggests, challenges traditional area studies such as American Studies and Caribbean Studies. In addition to posing “a critique to the continental,” Relational Undercurrents also pushes Caribbean Studies to reconceptualize the Caribbean itself: it is more than ex-colonies; and compared with only taking the relations between ex-colonies and the respective metropoles into consideration, the assemblage of seas, continents, and islands enables us to investigate ties and associations that look beyond those defined by colonialism. Through its internal complexity and inexhaustible particularity, the Caribbean, as an assemblage, makes possible a variety of new perspectives. In turn, new understanding of places beyond the Caribbean would also emerge.

Professor Stephens further introduced the four main sections of the book. The first is conceptual mapping. A personalized mapping of landscapes articulates a Caribbean that modifies, counters, and challenges the cartography imposed by colonial powers. The second is perpetual horizons, the horizon being a shared theme and trope among many of the artists. Different artists mobilize the horizon differently: some may view it as a symbol of freedom, others may focus on its function of bridging the islands. The third is landscape ecologies. Rather than (re)presenting a romanticized or exoticized landscape, what emerges in artists’ visualizations are wild, messy, sometimes even uncanny. In a move that de-familiarizes paradise and beach tropes often ascribed to the Caribbean, harsh realities such as oil drilling and garbage in the sea are shown. The last section, on representational acts, addresses the figuration of the human body, including race and gender. The political and interactive staging of the impacted body is an essential component in the visualizing and theorizing of contemporaneity.

The talk was followed by an extremely lively discussion. Scholars from different disciplines shared their experiences and critical understandings of the term “archipelagic.” Professor Stephens pointed out that oceanic studies share a similar conceptual framework with continental studies, which is why the assemblage mentioned before is important: it disrupts these studies materially and metaphorically. The discussion also demonstrated that “archipelago” does not designate a locale-fixed notion, nor is it a term solely used in Euro-American academic discourses, suggesting its far-range applicability.

The book, the talk, and the discussion all gave manifestation to the comparative and collaborative (frame)works Professor Stephens presented on. Thank you to all participants, and congratulations to Professor Stephens and Professor Flores!

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.

Spotlight Series: Fatimah Lakisha Fischer

As a way of learning a little more about faculty and staff members associated and/or connected to Rutgers and our program in Comparative Literature, we have created a “spotlight series” where we interview one of these members, and highlight some of their educational background and personal accomplishments through a post.

 

Last March, we welcomed Fatimah Lakisha Fischer, the new Comparative Literature Program Coordinator. In addition to earning a BA in Communication with a minor in Journalism, and her Masters in Organizational Change in Business Management, from College of Saint Elizabeth (CSE), Fatimah’s work has been enriched by her BA’s concentration choice in Technology and Advertising. Through her major and concentration, she learned how to use different types of editing software, such as News editing software and other editing techniques used in advertisement and journalism.

Before coming to Rutgers, Fatimah worked as an Administrative Assistant in the Educational Opportunity Fund Program (EOF) at College of Saint Elizabeth in Morristown. During her 13 year tenure in EOF, Fatimah worked as a building marshal, played a key role in the mission and values committee for the college, assisted in their budget committee, and also used her journalist skills to work as one of the editors, reporter, and writer for the college newspaperThe Station,” where she wrote a minimum of three articles a month. While doing all of this, Fatimah also hosted and produced her own talk show, “Table Talk with Tina,” where she invited different guests to talk about current events in the world of music and entertainment for about 30 minutes. This show was transmitted from 2005 until 2008, as a public access show through Cablevision.

Her passion for news reporting goes hand in hand with her passion for music, which have led Fatimah to not only work as a staff reporter for the sports publication “Eagle’s Nest,” and write her own entertainment news blog, but also work as an intern for the WBGO Jazz radio station, where she continues to volunteer to this day.

Fatimah’s love for music and beautiful voice did not only encouraged her to pursue and earn a certification as a recording engineer, as well as obtaining a (currently valid!) FCC RP/DJ’s license, but also earned her a place as the singer for the US national anthem at the Newark Bears stadium, and for the Somerset patriots at TD bank ballpark in 2013. Thankful for these opportunities, she says that her dream as a singer is to someday sing the national anthem at Madison Square Garden, for which she will use her experiences of working as the choir director at her local church for 15 years.

Now at Rutgers she says, “I feel excited experiencing so much diversity among the student body and faculty in Comparative Literature and across the university”. She adds, “I love working with students from different cultural backgrounds. [to give a small example] The other day I was so curious to see that they use military time on their phones.” Fatimah sees many opportunities to continue to grow and learn at Rutgers. She plans to obtain her Doctorate in Education (EdD) at Rutgers in a near future, for she desires to “never stop learning.”  Fatimah looks forward to having a “long extended career at Rutgers”, and to further her education, for as she acknowledges “there is empowerment throgh education!” Fatimah, Welcome to our Comp. Lit. team!