Tag Archives: Comp Lit Events

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.

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.

Decoloniality Workshop Series: “A Critical Genealogy on Mobility: From Master-Slave Dialectics to Relational Praxis”

By: Thato Magano

The Decoloniality Workshop held its second meeting of the spring semester on Thursday, March 8th, 2018, to discuss Jeong Eun Annabel We’s dissertation chapter, “A Critical Genealogy on Mobility: From Master-Slave Dialectics to Relational Praxis.” Annabel framed her discussion around the complex questions related to how a multivocal reading of Hegelian dialectics can be productive in thinking through nonalignment movement(s) of Cold War geopolitics. Reading Takeuchi Yoshimi, Ernst Bloch, Aimé Césaire, Frantz Fanon, and Ch’oe In-Hun together, Annabel’s approach is to think through questions of mobilization towards decolonization in order to examine how these thinkers conceptualized imperial mobilization in early to mid-twentieth century, and consequently, the problematics they identified in imperial conceptions of movement. Locating questions of modernity, coloniality, mobility and relationality alongside each other, Annabel worked with these thinkers’ theorization on movement to situate transpacific and indigenous sovereignty within the Afro-Asian conference at Bandung in 1955 and argued that a “new understanding of movement based on relational praxis emerges from this paradigm, challenging imperial model(s) of mobilization.”

Thinking along with Japanese thinker Takeuchi Yoshimi on mobilization and Hegel’s master-slave dialectics, Annabel proposed that a critical tracking of movement to conversion for the “slave” becomes essential to the project of decolonization in order to understand how this “movement”, which she reads as transformation, can also be seen as a “confrontation with mobility: the directionality of recognition, whether horizontal (slave-slave) or vertical (master-slave), is determined by the colonial mobilization of the slave.”

For Annabel, these forms of mobilization presented a challenge to Cold War movements that sought alignment with Cold War liberalism’s colonial roots, built as it is with colonized resources and enslaved populations of the world. In situating the Afro-Asian conference at Bandung in 1955 and nonalignment movements within this framework, productive questions can then be asked about the epistemic challenges posed to (neo)liberal democratic capitalism’s failures to deliver a real redistributive praxis.

Professor Nelson Maldonado-Torres served as the discussant for the workshop and asked Annabel to critically consider how she might mobilize mobility in the chapter as it relates to the entwinement of intellectual work and military work as the thinkers she is thinking through served in the military. The discussion afterwards centered on the topics of Pan-Asianism, decolonization, and nonalignment.

The next meeting of the Decoloniality Workshop will be held on April 11, 2018, where Professor Carlos Decena (Latino and Caribbean Studies & Women’s and Gender Studies) will present material from his current book project. For more information, visit the workshop’s website at https://decolonialityworkshop.wordpress.com.

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.

“Tri-University Junior Scholars Workshop” (Penn State, Cornell, and Rutgers) on Comparative Chinese Studies

(Symposium title: Peripheral Archives: The Past and Future of Sinophone Literature and Culture)

By: Coco XU

On Friday, October 6th, Rutgers comp lit/Asian studies graduate students Lina Qu, Virginia Conn, Penny Yeung and Coco Xu participated in a Tri-University symposium titled “Peripheral Archives: The Past and Future of Sinophone Literature and Culture.” Spearheaded by Prof. Xiaojue Wang from Rutgers Comp lit& Asian Languages and Cultures, Prof. Shuang Shen from Penn State Comp lit& Asian Studies, and Prof. Andrea Bachner from the Comp lit department at Cornell, graduate students, post-doc, exchange scholars and professors from three universities gathered in State College, PA for the very first of what is expected to be a series of annual workshops on Comparative Chinese Studies.

During the first half of the symposium, Lina gave a talk titled “From Bumming in the World to Homecoming to Faith: the Documented Path of Global Mobility and Displacement of Zhang Ci.” Using contemporary diasporic Chinese female independent filmmaker Zhang Ci as an example, she complicates our understanding of belongingness and offers a heterogeneous notion of home and homecoming through a close reading of three documentary films Bumming in Beijing: The Last Dreamers (1990), At Home in the World (1995), and The Faith of Ailao Mountain (2015). Her presentation received enthusiastic comments and suggestions from the audience and generated discussions on literary production and circulation processes, marginality and urban-rural interconnections as well as affective and the biopolitical controls of the body in diasporic experiences of global displacement.

Besides Lina, five other graduate students, post-docs and assistant professors from Penn State, Cornell, UPenn, and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore gave presentations on respective topics spanning from global Sinophone literature(s) to peripheral archival studies, with six faculty members from Rutgers, Cornell, and Penn State serving as discussants. Responding to existing scholarship on postcolonial studies as well as global Anglophone and Sinophone studies, discussions centered around the deconstruction and redefinition of concepts like “cultural China” and “Chineseness”. In order to complicate the understanding of national and cultural identity as well as making an intervention in broader scholarly conversations on the making of global imaginary, our discussion challenges the ethnocentric paradigm of center- peripheral thinking and seeks to reexamine “the peripheral” through lenses of non-linear temporality and inconsecutive spatiality. Also, an emphasis on archive is played out through inclusive studies of different medias, examinations on the production, circulation and consumption of cultural artifacts and media, as well as discussions on affective effects of interactions with multiple archives as part of the literary experience.

The one-day symposium took on a workshop format. Open to graduate students and scholars from comp lit and related fields from three aforementioned universities, the symposium seeks to provide a platform for inter-university exchange as well as academic community building. With pre-circulated papers inside the group, we were able to fit six short presentations followed by comments from designated discussants as well as extensive discussions among participants. The workshop format allows the presenters to reach out to an audience of similar academic interests and a wide range of expertise in order to collect critical comments from different perspectives. It also proves to be immensely productive in generating interactive and in-depth discussions between the presenter and the participants.

Looking forward, we expect to continue the conversation between comp lit and Asian studies departments across the three institutions through more tri-uni symposium/ workshops held by respective universities in a rotating manner. Sponsored by Asian Studies and Comp lit at Penn State this time, the next session is to be held at Cornell next fall with the following session at Rutgers in two years. We are looking forward to expanding and developing our conversation on comparative Chinese studies with more exciting projects in the coming meetings.

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!