Tag Archives: Comp Lit Events

Symposium: Africa, Europe, and the Mediterranean Migration Crisis

By: Gabriele Lazzari

On Friday, October 16, Rutgers University hosted a one-day symposium focused on the current migration crisis in the Mediterranean. Sponsored by several departments and programs in the School of Arts and Sciences, the symposium brought together scholars, activists, journalists, and visual artists from several institutions and locales in order to address an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, in which millions of people, mainly from Africa and the Middle East, are fleeing from political oppression, civil war, and economic depression. In trying to understand the complexity of this crisis, despite the reduction of media representation, the speakers engaged with political, historical and epistemological implications, which expose, with tragic clarity, unresolved questions related to colonialism, neoimperialism and European identity.


Cristina Lombardi-Diop discusses the crisis from the perspective of “Italy’s southern front”

The first session, titled “Histories, Causes, and Contexts of the Current Crisis,” addressed the genealogy of the crisis and its current implications. Cristina Lombardi-Diop (Loyola University) focused on the notion of the border and on its shift from a mere geographical category to a locus of epistemological and spiritual negotiations in the experience of African migrants. Ousseina Alidou (Rutgers University) stressed the importance of global and local networks of solidarity to oppose the structural violence to which African youth is continuously subjected. Amadou Kane-Sy (artist and activist) discussed how, through his art, he tries to rearticulates geopolitics of knowledge, and to denounce neoliberal policies in countries such as Senegal and Congo. Kassahun Checole (publisher of African World Press Inc.) placed his own migrating experience within the broader history of Eritrea, a country that, despite its relative smallness, thousands of people leave every day to escape from a brutal military regime.


R. Daniel Kelemen explains the current policies of the European Union

The second session, titled “Contemporary Trajectories,” was introduced by Rhiannon Noel Welch (Rutgers, Italian Department), the main organizer of the symposium. The first speaker was Cristina Giordano (UC Davis), who explained how ethno-psychiatry can help us illuminate the incompatibility between the temporality of trauma experienced by migrants and the temporality of the state and of biomedical categories. Harouna Muonkaila (Abdou Mounouni University, Republic of Niger) focused on the trans-Saharan routes, stressing how the externalization of European migration policies in central Africa is reinforcing inequalities, exploitation, and illegal smuggling of migrants. Jean-Baptiste Sorou (Gregorian University of Rome and University of Tanzania) retraced the history of decolonization in the African continent and maintained that only education and cultural projects (in which he himself is involved) can guarantee a future for Africans in Africa. R. Daniel Kelemen (Rutgers University) discussed how the European Union is (mis)managing the crisis and explained how the current policies the EU is trying to enforce are a response to a structurally unsustainable situation. Ayten Gündoğu (Columbia University), drawing on Hanna Arendt’s notion of “stateliness,” proposed that the current crisis, by exposing the borders of humanity, has shattered the façade of the European project and has revealed its true politics of “expulsion from humanity.”


The artist Nikolaj Bendix Skyum Larsen presents his project “End of Dreams”

An art exhibition and a discussion with two visual artists concluded the symposium. The participants had the opportunity to see the works of Amadou Kane-Sy and Nikolaj Bendix Skyum Larsen, whose art addresses the affective consequences of migration through photography, video production and installations.

Film Series: Screening of Ousmane Sembène’s Black Girl

By: Melina Gills

On October 8, a group of undergraduate and graduate students, from fields as diverse as Engineering and Women and Gender Studies, gathered in Tillett Hall to watch the 1966 Senegalese film widely considered to have ushered in “African cinema.” Forty-nine years later, with a restoration that screened at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Black Girl (La noire de…), directed by world-celebrated filmmaker Ousmane Sembène, has lost none of its emotional punch and political power. In the midst of enjoying the pizza generously funded by the GSA, we were quietly enraptured by Sembène’s rhythms, images, and thought-provoking juxtapositions.

With the haunting image of a mask that travels from Senegal to France, back to Senegal again, Sembène paints a vivid world of loneliness, suffering, and the bonds between living and dead that ultimately stand as an unscathed form of resistance to the oppressive forces that will be undone by their own inhumanity. The final breaking of the fourth wall epitomizes Black Girl’s challenge to any spectatorial detachment, emphasizing the need for communal viewing and debate. After the screening, we eagerly discussed the film, especially marveling at its still very relevant portrayal of a woman’s experience in a country from which she is barred as an equal, welcomed only as cheap or free labor, an advanced form of slavery.

What changes between colonialism and its supposed “post” era? This is one such question rigorously addressed by the film and one that will be raised at the Comparative Literature department’s upcoming annual graduate conference, which will explore “decolonial thought.” This semester, the screenings of the Comparative Literature Film Series, of which that of Black Girl was the first, anticipate the central ideas and concerns to be discussed at the conference. Future films include Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2011, Thailand) and a still undecided film.

Ryan Kernan Brown Bag: Langston Hughes in Translation

On Wednesday October 14, Ryan Kernan, Assistant Professor of English and Affiliate Faculty in Comparative Literature, presented his research at a Brown Bag lunch. Professor Kernan approached the recurring question of the relationship between Langston Hughes and Nicolás Guillén through the figure of Cuban writer, translator, and political activist José Antonio Fernández de Castro. By focusing on Fernández de Castro, Kernan argued for a comparative reading that does not fetishize difference by promoting untranslatability but rather uses intertextuality to read the political resonances of translated texts.

Kernan brown bag

The presentation began with a reading of a political cartoon that established the terms of racial debate in Cuba in the period before Hughes’ Spanish translations. Then, Kernan focused on Fernández de Castro’s pseudonymous translation of Hughes’ “Brass Spittoons.” Kernan close read the poem in English and Spanish translation in order to identify the places where Fernández de Castro deliberately chose words that diverged from Hughes’ version in order to recast the poem with an explicitly proletariat political orientation. By considering the importance of Fernández de Castro’s work on this translation as well as his larger orchestration of the poetic relationship between Guillén and Hughes, Kernan’s comparative reading traces the way that black internationalism was formulated in a specific local context. Kernan argued that when critics claim that something is untranslatable or incomparable, this claim often reveals a lack of imagination. In contrast, his reading of the differences that emerge in Hughes’ Spanish translations offer fertile sites of comparative work on black internationalism.

Fall 2015 Events Calendar

Keep checking back for updated information about Comp Lit’s Fall 2015 events. All events will take place at 195 College Avenue unless otherwise indicated.


10: Welcome Back Party! (4:30-6:30)

11: Seminar – Nicholas Manning (Paris-Sorbonne), “Beyond Person and Persona: Poetic Sincerity as Modern Myth” (11:30-1:30, place TBD); Manning is the author of Rhétorique de la sincérité. La poésie moderne en quête d’un langage vrai (Paris: Honoré Champion, 2013)

24: Lecture – Rita Bannerjee (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München), “Translating the World: Performing the Avant-Garde in South Asian Literary Modernisms”

29: Steve Walker (Comp Lit), Brown Bag Lunch (12-1:30)


1-2: 19th Century Workshop: “Family/Law” with keynote by Janet Halley (Harvard Law)
2: A conversation with Sianne Ngai (Stanford) and Rebecca Walkowitz (English and Comp Lit): “Theory and the Job Market” (3-5, Murray 302)

13: Nicky Agate (MLA) “Web Presence” workshop for graduate students (2-4)

14: Ryan Kernan (English and Comp Lit) Brown Bag Lunch (12-1:30)

20: CCA Archipelagoes Seminar: Gallery Show “From Island to Ocean: Caribbean and Pacific Dialogues”


3: Enmanuel Martínez, potluck and graduate colloquium

10: Evelyn Anuss (German) Brown Bag Lunch (12-1:30)

10: CCA Archipelagoes Symposium: “Caribbean and Pacific Studies: Archipelagic Thinking Beyond Area Studies

12: Seminar- Jeanne-Marie Jackson (Johns Hopkins) “Comparison Beyond the Global Frame” (4:30-6:30); Jackson is the author of the forthcoming South African Literature’s Russian Soul: Narrative Forms of Global Isolation.

Also, keep checking back for more information on the upcoming Spring 2016 graduate student conference: March 3, 2016: Urban (De)Coloniality & Literature with keynote speaker José David Saldívar

Year-End Celebration

On May 8, 2015, Comp Lit faculty and students honored graduating B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. students. Recent graduates and their families  gathered to enjoy food and conversation at the end of the year celebration. Graduate Director Professor Andrew Parker and Acting Undergraduate Director Professor Ben Sifuentes-Jáuregui recognized the graduating students and wished them luck in their future endeavors.