Tag Archives: Comp Lit Events

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!  

Connected Academics Workshop at Comp. Lit.

By: Gabriele Lazzari

On Thursday, March 30th, students and faculty from Comparative Literature gathered to attend a workshop, organized by Tara Coleman and Carolyn Ureña and titled “Becoming Connected Academics: Career Diversity and Comparative Literature.” Both Carolyn and Tara have recently defended their dissertations, and have been fellows of the MLA Connected Academics Proseminar, an initiative that this blog has been covering since its inception.

The purpose of the workshop was to discuss with students and faculty the valuable work that the Proseminar has done in the last two years of introducing Ph.D. students to various career paths after graduation. The first misconception that was addressed during the workshop is the negative connotation often attached to the label “Alt-Ac” (Alternative Academic), which some still perceive as the alternative (read, second) choice, unwillingly accepted by those who fail to land an (increasingly chimeric) tenure-track job. Tara and Carolyn stressed instead that students should think of other paths as leading to equally legitimate and potentially satisfying careers. Most importantly, they explained how the Connected Academics Proseminar has offered them instruments to reframe their academic and non-academic experience so as to be competitive in a wider job market, highlighting that the skills we usually associate only with a job involving teaching and research can be valuable assets also outside academia.

The workshop stimulated a lively conversation among its attendees. It was noticeable that Jerome Kukor (Dean of the Graduate School-New Brunswick) and Dorothy Hodgson (Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs) decided to participate. Their brief interventions emphasized the importance of an organic interaction between Rutgers administration and the graduate student body for the promotion of career diversity. More than anything else, support from the different Departments and the Graduate School is of vital importance to the success of graduate students, regardless of what career path they end up choosing.

During the workshop, effective ways of exploring jobs and entering the “alt-ac” conversation (as early as possible!) were discussed. Carolyn and Tara presented with great clarity and enthusiasm the objectives and structure of the Proseminar, offering students extremely valuable instruments to start exploring on their own, as well as practical suggestions. Among them: attending panels and networking events organized by the Proseminar each year at the MLA Convention; understanding the importance of social media (particularly LinkedIn and Twitter) in building an eclectic and appealing profile; reading job ads to assess what skills we might already have and which ones we would need to work on.

In this regard, Tara and Carolyn pointed out that each field a graduate student might be interested in (NGOs, publishing, not-for-profit agencies, foundations, administrative roles within academia, etc.) has different requirements and expectations; once again, getting acquainted to them early on is crucial. Realistically, this might require extra-work during our graduate years (volunteering, internships, collaborations etc.) but the payoff–being able to choose a career depending on one’s affective, economic, and intellectual needs–will be surely worth the effort.

Fall 2016 Colloquium: “Comparative Colonial, Postcolonial and Decolonial Studies: Some Meditations”

By: Penny Yeung

On Wednesday November 9, from 4:30 to 6 pm, we gathered in our new seminar room in the Academic Building to inaugurate this year’s colloquium series. Titled “Comparative Colonial, Postcolonial and Decolonial Studies: Some Meditations,” the colloquium featured a panel of four student and faculty speakers—Annabel We, Enmanuel Martínez (En. Mar.), Rafael Vizcaíno, and Professor Anjali Nerlekar—all of whose work engage in dialogue with these theoretical frameworks.

Fourth-year student Annabel We outlined how postcolonial and decolonial theory inform the methodology of her inquiry, particularly in her interrogation of privileged forms of knowledge production resulting from histories of colonial subjugation. That decolonial thinking and decolonial agents have existed alongside hegemonic Western epistemologies led Annabel to propose a shifting of the geography of reason. This critical orientation runs through her research on Japanese settler colonialism in Korea in the early 20th century, indigeneity in East Asian contexts, and the engagement of post-Liberation South Korean intellectuals with decolonial thought as it proceeded from the 1955 Bandung Conference. In this regard, Annabel proposed that literary studies could helpfully draw from the methodologies of area studies, which have historically been more attentive to and embracing of non-Western scholarships and epistemic genealogies.

En. Mar., sixth year Ph.D. candidate working on colonial and queer theory, presented from his dissertation’s second chapter, tentatively titled “Race, White Middle-class, Gay Male Desire and the Urban Archipelago of New York City in the 1970s”. En. Mar. began by examining the rhetoric of modernity in President Obama’s speech on June 24, 2016 naming the Stonewall National Monument to commemorate the modern gay civil rights movement in the US, and reading that alongside language that appears on the monument’s website. Citing the integral role played by two transgendered women of color in gay rights activism of the 60s, En. Mar. argued that the rhetoric surrounding the monument, by reimagining the modern LGBT movement to begin and end with the Stonewall riots of 1969, reveals a coloniality at work which renders the participation of these gender non-conforming agents invisible. Moving on to a close reading of Andrew Holleran’s 1978 novel Dancer from the Dance, En. Mar. looked at how a colonial logic underlies the problematic desire the novel’s gay white male characters have for Puerto Rican males, exoticizing the latter’s bodies through a gaze that operates through racial and class compartmentalization. He argued that from these popular and public accounts we continue to see the dark underside of colonial modernity, as per Walter Mignolo, in its failure to acknowledge queer people of color in historical representations of gay modernity.

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Next, third-year student Rafael Vizcaíno, whose focus is on Latin-American and Caribbean studies, spoke about taking specific historical contexts such as the Haitian revolution and the Zapatistas struggles in Mexico as the locus of enunciation in his engagement with decolonial theory. As a theoretical framework emerging from material practices and which seeks to impact lived realities, decolonial thought, Rafael proposed, involves an actional aspect in its interrogation of systems of oppression set in place by colonial domination. This notion importantly informs his own research and teaching. A philosopher by his undergraduate training, Rafael discussed how the interdisciplinary nature of Comp Lit allows him to attempt a decolonial reading of philosophy, bringing Frantz Fanon into conversation with German critical theorists as Hegel; Walter Benjamin with feminists of color; as well as reading Caribbean writers Sylvia Wynter and Édouard Glissant for a productive blurring of philosophical and literary discourses in search of a better “beyond.”

Finally, one of our faculty members, Professor Anjali Nerlekar, presented on her work which examines the formulations of the Indo-Caribbean in literary and non-literary texts, its claims on space and identity in Trinidad, and its trans-oceanic connections with the Indian subcontinent, Europe and North America. Taking the Caribbean as a point of departure, Anjali spoke about the ways colonial, postcolonial and decolonial studies figure specifically in the theoretical lineage of her project, but underlined how such neat divisions are necessarily complicated, for example, through her reading of Harold Sonny Ladoo’s No Pain Like This Body (1972). Anjali gave a brief historical overview of the complicity between British abolition of slavery and the emergence of a new form of indentured servitude which brought in poor, illiterate Indians from the subcontinent to serve as replacement labor. She outlined how these migratory trajectories resulted in a society of segregated cultures and its accompanying stereotypes: the recalcitrant, tradition-bound Indian vis-à-vis the upwardly mobile, Westernized Afro-Caribbean. Anjali highlighted how theorizing from the position of the novelist would allow us to see the critical import of both postcolonial and decolonial discourses upon the novel’s concerns: while a linguistic analysis, harking to postcolonial studies, would show a Hindi-influenced creole that reinforces the Indian/Afro-Caribbean divide, the narrative is elsewhere critical of Indian traditions as an inadequate account of Indo-Caribbean reality. Thus both theoretical frameworks, emerging from different geographical loci of enunciation, are critical for addressing the questions of nationalism, citizenship, and indigeneity arising from geographically-specific patterns of migration.

Following the presentations, a short discussion was moderated by Professor Yolanda Martínez-San Miguel. As this first colloquium wrapped up, many of us continued our conversations and mid-semester catch-up over dinner from Delhi Garden.

Vicente L. Rafael’s Book Talk: “Motherless Tongues: The Insurgency of Language amid Wars of Translation”

By: Gabriel Bamgbose

On Tuesday, October 25 2016, Vicente L. Rafael, a professor of History and Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Washington in Seattle, graced Yolanda Martinez-San Miguel’s Comparative Literature graduate seminar, Introduction to Literary Theory: From World Literature to Pluriversality, with his visit to discuss his latest book, Motherless Tongues: The Insurgency of Language amid Wars of Translation, published by Duke University Press this year. The conversation took place in the Comp Lit Seminar Room. Yolanda opened the floor with an introduction of the guest, his intellectual project, and a question of how the book came into being. Rafael explained that the book was rather accidental, unlike his previous book projects, which were well conceived as a unified project and followed through as such. By this he meant that the book was a product of series writing for lectures and invitations. Moreover, it was a product of several years of involvement with Translation Studies. He talked enthusiastically about how his involvement with the Nida Institute and the Summer Institute of Linguistics had been instrumental in his intellectual project in Translation Studies. He provided a general background on the complicated linguistic and cultural context of the Philippines, which he explained as a plurilingual world. Of importance is the historical “fact” that there was no monumental culture (as opposed to the situation of China or India) in the Philippines, until the arrival of the missionaries and colonialism–of course multiple colonialities–that produced an environment of political instability, economic dependency, lack of ideology or, ironically, excess of ideologies, and identitarian undecidability as an existential condition, which should not be seen as a mark of shame but as a critical resource to draw on.

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With the background provided, the stage was set for students in the class to engage him with questions. The conversation glided from the concept of the accidental, the uncanny, and the repressed in the context of language, translation, and identity as central themes of the book; the notion of the literary and the gift of language with its force in his writing style; the issues of language and power relations, and the status of slang as a subversive language belonging to no one, yet available to everyone; the question of translation, conquest/war, untranslatability, and machine translation; the hegemonic status of English, the “wildness” of accent, and the semiotic power of sonic monstrosity; translation and the practice of self writing; language, memory, code switching, and creolization; to the idea of mistranslation as a structural necessity, the condition for the possibility of translation, as well as its continuity and change in different contexts. The conversation vigorously benefitted from putting Rafael’s ideas in critical conversation with the work of other scholars in Translation Studies and Comparative Literature, especially with the work of Emily Apter. The conversation, colored with wide-ranging ideas that drew on the diverse interests of the students, began at 2:00 pm and ended at 5:00 pm.

Everyone working on the politics of language and translation will find Rafael’s Motherless Tongues a very useful resource. And the fact that it presents powerful arguments crafted in a beautiful language also makes it an enjoyable read!

 

Brown Bag Talk with Louis Sass. “Lacan: The Mind of the Modernist”

By Rudrani Gangopadhyay

 

Professor Louis Sass (Rutgers GSAPP, Clinical Psychology) delivered the first Brown Bag Lecture of the year on “Lacan: The Mind of the Modernist”, much of the material of which came from his 2015 essay by the same name, published in Continental Philosophy.

Prof. Sass’s lecture was primarily aimed at providing an intellectual portray of Lacan by focussing the incorporation of modernist perspectives in the French psychoanalyst’s work. As a contrast, Professor Sass provided a background on Freud, who was anchored in a pre-modernist vision and was much more Cartesian and Kantian in his approach. Lacan, on the other hand, was far more skeptical of the naturalist preferences associated with Freud, and chose instead to transform as well as supplement the latter’s work.

The lecture focussed on two general issues with regards to Lacan’s work: the first being Lacan’s appreciation of the paradoxical nature of the human experience, as demonstrated by his concepts of the Self as well as that of Desire. The second issue was that of “transcendental subjectivity” in Lacan, consisting of the “Imaginary”, the “Symbolic”, and the “Real”, which together make up his Triad of Registers. In trying to offer a synthesis of both the dynamic and the ontological dimensions of the human condition in his idea of the conflicted yet interdependent Registers making up his Triad, Lacan also demonstrates a need to be understood in Heideggerian terms.

In contrast to popular belief, Prof. Sass’s lecture also repeatedly emphasized Lacan’s affinities with phenomenology, contradicting the widespread belief that Lacan is a deeply anti-humanist thinker. Rather, Lacan’s work seems to demonstrate an influence of hermeneutic forms of phenomenology, following Heidegger’s ideas on the ontological modes of Being.

Many Things to Remember: Comp Lit Year-end Celebration

By: Coco Ke Xu

Pictures by: Carolyn Ureña

Around two o’clock in the afternoon, the Comp Lit House on 195 College Ave. was already filled with a happy crowd of people. Students, faculties, families and friends greeted and talked to each other in a relaxing atmosphere over delightful refreshments. Balloons and decorations were everywhere, making the house even more homelike and welcoming.

Towards half past three, the celebration of graduating comp lit students began. Graduate director Prof. Andrew Parker announced graduating comp lit majors and minors first. Among four majors and 11 minors for the year 2016, Nicoletta M. Romano received highest honors for her dissertation titled “Exploring the Contemporary Phenomenon of a Postcolonizing Italian Reality through la letteratura migrante,” while Naser Albreeky and Catherine He received Honors degree for their respective dissertations “Poetic Forms, Daring Allegorization, and Contrasting Histories: All-Andalus and the Sephardic in the Poetry of Darwish and Lorca” and “The Nature of Language and East-West Dialogue.” Afterwards, graduating MA candidate Melina Gills and PhD candidate Ben De Witte were also awarded and commended for their hard work at comp lit. Graduating students received their diploma and special comp lit graduation souvenir packages from prof. Parker, as well as rounds of warm applause, toasts and best wishes from all that were present to share this unforgettable moment.

The year 2016 is not only marked by the 250th anniversary of the university, but also by major changes in comp lit. For the department will have to say goodbye to both the pleasant old house at 195 College Ave. and our retiring beloved faculty and friend Marilyn Tankiewicz, who has been working at comp lit for more than 10 years and has won the heart of all who have studied and worked here. We will remember all the happy hours spent at comp lit this past year, and we look forward to much more to come in the future.