Tag Archives: Comp Lit Students

My experience taking the Ph.D. Qualifying Exams (Part One)

By María Elizabeth Rodríguez Beltrán

Last May, I took my Ph.D. exams, and I’ve got to say, they were a lot of fun. I know that “fun” would not be the preferred word for most to describe the experience of Ph.D. students taking their qualifying exams, and of course, I faced moments of exhaustion, anxiety, and stress along the way. But what follows is a brief account of some of the steps I took to make the best out of my exams. Most of the things I share and recommend here apply specifically to students in the Rutgers Program in Comparative Literature due to the nature of our exams. However, I think that any Ph.D. student who reads this post can benefit from some aspect of the process and preparation.

I was able to develop some practices that helped me create a healthy rhythm before, during, and after my exams because I had three amazing graduate students—now doctors—giving me advice: Dr. Carolyn Ureña, Dr. Shawn Gonzalez and Dr. Enmanuel Martínez, who also went through the same program as I did. They were incredibly generous and kind to share their experience preparing and taking the exams. In different ways, they helped me to organize myself and reduced some of the anxiety that the exams provoke. Thus, all the steps I took for my exam preparation are no more than a combination of their suggestions and my ideas. I am very grateful for their counsel.

I should begin by saying that I am not a very good exam-taker. Ever since I can remember, I tend to freeze when taking anything that resembles an exam or that relates to the word ‘test.’ My mind goes blank for at least the first ten minutes, and sometimes I need to do some breathing exercises to avoid hyperventilating during any standardized test, or even during a class quiz that I know I’m prepared for. I know that many will relate to this feeling. Exams are anxiety provoking for me, which makes it more important to carefully prepare for them and develop strategies that allow me to succeed, without having a minor mental or emotional breakdown.

First, start reading before your lists are finalized. If you know that there are books or articles that must make it into your exam questions and/or project (or that are required, or that you have discussed with your committee at some point), get a head start on them, because the process of finalizing the list and getting it approved might take longer than you think.  After you have your approved list of texts, which you have agreed upon with your advisor and/or committee, make sure you add up the number of pages each book has (or the length of each film). This will help when you create a timeline of what-to-read-when that fits your weekly schedule. For example, if you teach and go to meetings on Tuesdays, you might not be able to read as much as another day when you don’t have to commute to campus. Therefore, on Tuesdays you may choose to read the three 40-page articles instead of the 500-page novel. You will be able to gauge that schedule division if you know the length of your texts in advance.

On note taking: While reading for exams (or for anything really!), I realized that making marginal notes on pages of the text proved to be unhelpful, especially considering that you have a limited time to write down your exam answers. Shawn’s advice was that I type down a few key quotes from each text on a searchable document (Microsoft Word document was her and my way to go!), as well as my thoughts about them. Creating this document was useful when searching for particular terms and connecting them with the respective authors and their texts.

Another piece of advice that came from both Carolyn and En.Mar. was to write down my thoughts on my readings at the end of each reading day. This helped me make connections not only between the texts but also between my own ideas, and it also generated a record of what I had read. This also proved to be useful given that the more time passed, the more difficult it was to remember what I had read. My notes helped later to recall the main arguments of each text, along with my impressions of them.

As you begin to conclude your readings and the exam date approaches, you will start to see which texts are the most pivotal in developing your ideas, and which others will serve the more extended project of the dissertation but not necessarily be cited directly on the exams (because you cannot cite the dozens of texts you read!). This shorter list will help you to make sure you have those texts at hand during the time of the exams, and that you extend that book reservation at the library!

As I explained before, exams are anxiety provoking for me, so knowing this, I decided early on that I needed to take my exams in a space conducive for writing with the least possible amount of distractions. This “space,” of course, might mean different things for different people. For me, as moving preparations had filled my apartment with boxes for a few weeks, at that point it meant a place outside my home but not too far from it. I also did not want to deal with cooking during my exams, but at the same time, I knew I needed healthy meals to fuel me throughout that weekend. Thus, I knew I needed to find a place where I would be provided with homemade meals and snacks throughout the day, and where I could easily schedule moments of rest.

This place also needed to be spacious enough to allow me to change rooms when I needed to walk away from my desk. I found Easton’s Nook, which met each one of my requirements (and more!). I made a reservation for the weekend of my exams a few months in advance and saved enough to cover the costs. Nadine and Jacquie, the co-owners of Easton’s Nook, are simply wonderful. Nadine’s cooking and company made my stay unforgettable and created a peaceful and motivating environment that helped me push through the mental exhaustion that writing for long periods of time can bring.

If for you that writing space means home, a/the local library or somewhere else, make sure that for that weekend (or week) you do meal prep a few days before, so that cooking takes you the least amount of energy and time. Also, make sure that you have some tea and/or coffee around and some of your favorite snacks for in-between meals. A colleague of mine had different family members bring her homemade meals to her writing space at scheduled times during the day, and they did this for the whole weekend. They would leave the food at her door and walk away!—and return to pick up the containers later, so she didn’t have to deal with cleaning either. If you have family or friends nearby, talk to them and see if you can figure out something similar for your exam period. If these are not possible options for you, many food delivery websites now allow you to schedule your deliveries days in advance from your favorite take-out places, and this could also be a possibility. Otherwise, if you plan your time well, you might be able to take care of all aspects of your food yourself, but just make sure you think through your schedule ahead of time.

[Series to be continued]

Literary and feminist summer in Mexico and Brazil

By Paulina Barrios

Looking back to this summer seems so far away it is hard to think that it only happened a few months ago. The first thing that comes to mind is sunshine and walking around different cities. I started the summer at home, enjoying warm weather and dog-sitting, as I planned out the field research I would do. My general goal this summer was to reconnect with colleagues across feminist movements in Mexico and visit feminist collectives and organizations that use literature in their projects. However, I was also interested in establishing new contacts and learning more about cartoneras and decolonial thought. As a follow up on my class on Spanish American short stories with Prof. Marcy Schwartz, and thanks to her support, I contacted cartonera groups and interviewed them about their work. I wanted to understand if there were any connections between self-narrative and storytelling efforts and self-publishing. Additionally, following a recommendation from Prof. Nelson Maldonado-Torres I applied to the summer school on Decolonial Black Feminism in Bahia, Brazil and was accepted. Although I had initially planned to do research in 8-9 cities in Mexico it slowly became clear that this was overly ambitious considering time and funds. For example, I hadn’t factored in time for transcribing and processing the data, traveling more than two or three times a month would be unrealistic. I also needed time to reach out to people and buy plane tickets that were quickly escalating in price. Therefore, in May I set up my geographic trail for the summer; between June and July I would visit five cities in Mexico, and end the summer at Bahia and Sao Paulo in Brazil.

San Cristobal, Chiapas

I loved my summer work since it gave me the opportunity to watch independent theater productions, learn how to make books out of cardboard, speak with activists, visit new places, and rethink my research project. My time in both countries added new concepts and ideas to my incipient dissertation project such as space, race, self-publishing, decolonial feminisms, and positionality. I was particularly struck by the origins of cartoneras (simply put, these are editorial groups that make cardboard-based artisanal books) and the different aspects that inspire their work: independent editing, responding to editorial monopolies, socioeconomic issues in Latin American countries, the aim to socialize literature that would otherwise be inaccessible to people, bringing literature and craft together, participating in youth-driven projects, etc. In addition to visiting groups in Mexico I was able to speak with Dulcineia Cartonera in Sao Paulo, which is located next to a recycling site. Seeing the different spaces that cartoneras work in (editor’s homes, small bookstores, rooms/offices next to recycling sites, loaned spaces, etc) made me think of the centrality of space in literary production and activism. This relates in part to the physical space of where cartoneras do their work and hold their workshops, for example, but also space as related to performance and theater.

Space also came up when I spoke to theater companies or LBTQ collectives and organizations that use theater as part of their creative and activist work. In some cases these groups choose to use public spaces and the street. In others, part of their activism involves having a space of their own for their and others’ performances and theater productions. Hence, this experience led me to rethink the concept of space, and the practical elements attached to having a physical space for activist groups. In some cases, groups do believe that having a physical space benefits their work, and in others they see their mobility as a positive aspect. Not only this, but many groups spoke about the threat of shrinking space for both cultural projects (specifically in the case of Guadalajara) and feminist or human rights activist work. Thus, space arose as both an issue and an opportunity regarding physical space and the concept of space in a less tangible fashion.

The final element of my summer, the decolonial feminism school, was a crucial addition to my research project’s theoretical framework. Held from August 6-10 in Cachoeira, Bahia (Brazil), the Decolonial Black Feminism Summer School is described on their website as “an initiative exploring Black Feminist Thought from a Trans-American perspective”. They further aim to generate a regional discussion surrounding black feminisms that have risen out of the continent, reframing intersectionality around race and inequality, as well as adding decolonial analyses of capitalism and patriarchy. The sessions focused on black feminist thought in the United States taught by Prof. Kimberle Crenshaw, Brazilian black feminist history taught by Prof. Angela Figueroa, and Latin American decolonial feminisms taught by Prof. Karina Ochoa. In addition to the academic training, the personal exchanges between participants was a wonderful experience, and I had the opportunity to meet fellow graduate students, activists, and professors. The school also included afternoon or evening walks throughout Cachoeira, meeting

Memorial das Baianas in Salvador, Bahía

local cultural and activist groups, as well as a samba presentation-invitation to participate. The spiritual element of the exchanges and learning is difficult to put into words but made this into one of the most thought-provoking experiences of my life.

The funds granted by the Program in Comparative Literature, the Center for Latin American Studies, and the Off-Campus Dissertation Development Award were crucial for my work in Mexico and my participation in the summer school in Bahia. After this summer I was left with many questions, new ideas, and a conviction that academy and activism should be in constant communication and that we need more ‘South-South’ exchanges. My summer work has already extended into my second year under the PhD program in Comparative Literature, inspiring many of my classes and triggering conversations around my future dissertation project. In the future I hope to maintain a constant communication with decolonial and black feminisms, further my understanding and use of ‘space,’ as well as continue to put Brazil and Mexico into conversation.

Rapport d’Été 2018

Par: Thato Magano
Où: Dakar, Senegal
Quand: Juin 28 – Août 12, 2018

Pour l’été, J’ai visité le Sénégal pour apprendre le Français à l’Institut de Français pour les Étudiants Étrangers (I.F.E) de l’Université Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar (UCAD). Le cours était un cours intensif pour débutants, offert du lundi au vendredi, de huit heures du matin à midi et demi, pendant six semaines. Parallèlement aux études de langues, j’ai effectué des recherches sur les Cultures Matérielles de l’Afrique de l’Ouest ainsi que l’activisme des droits des LGBTQ/Queer. Mon voyage au Sénégal est venu d’une étude indépendante sur la Migration Bantu avec le Professor Ousseina Alidou au Printemps l’année dernière. 

[For the summer, I visited Senegal to learn French at the French Institute for Foreign Students (I.F.E) of the Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar (UCAD). The class was an intensive beginners’ course, offered Monday to Friday from 8 am to 12:30 for six weeks. Along with language study, I did research on the Material Cultures of West Africa and LGBTQ/Queer rights activism. My trip to Senegal came from an independent study on Bantu Migration with Professor Ousseina Alidou in the Spring last year.]

The study explored how cultures, customs, traditions, and languages of the Bantu gave rise to similar or distinct markers of community and citizenship, and to determine if and how these markers have endured the legacies of colonialism in order to provide space for comparative study of sub-Saharan African life in contemporary time. As a result, I began to reconceptualize my conception of comparative studies as it related to Africa, increasingly thinking about what is lost culturally and what remains across time, space and history as a result of this balkanization. 

J’ai choisi d’étudier le Français against this backdrop of history, understanding how French and Portuguese colonization continue to impact the borders of the continent, and the reach of French as a language on the continent in order to access the breath of literature produced in parts of Francophone Africa for the purposes of comparative study. The Postcolonial Laboratory project at UCAD hosted me while I was at the university, and former Rutgers Fulbright Fellow, Professor Saliou Dione’s hospitality was indulgent in its allowance. Each day, after class, the schedule was different as I mainly invested my time in investigating the cultural similarities to be found between parts of West Africa (Senegal, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Mali) and Southern Africa (the ethnic groups of the Zulu, Xhosa, Tsonga, Vhavenda, Ndebele in South Africa, Zimbabwe). 

“….

What is the price of water when your family’s history is still unaccounted for, lying at its source from the beginning of colonial time only to find you walking around with bottles of Kiréne to your hearts content?

In Flint, Michigan, the water from their taps is golden. 

It’s a metallic luminance that marks their graves with names borrowed from the South. 

Children die in multiples in Bolivia while Nestle is maximizing profits and expanding its footprint

….”1

At the Postcolonial Laboratory, I was involved with organizing the third annual African and Postcolonial Studies Laboratory International Conference, themed “Migration, Literature, Society”, and I also presented my paper, “Fucking [With] The Family: The Queer Promise in Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions.” I also attended the West African Research Center’ (WARC) 4th International Conference themed, “Bridging the Gap: Black Studies Across Social, Geographical, Epistemic, and Linguistic Lines” where an array of presenters across the diaspora spoke to the kaleidoscope of the experiences of racialization and race across temporal and geographic planes. I also delivered a lecture to the Year III Baccalauréat Postcolonial Studies, titled ‘‘Overview of South Africa’s Literary Landscape: An Alternative Archive.’’ 

Visiting Musée Theodore Monod d’Art Africain de l’Ifan Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar (Musée IFAN), which houses the largest permanent collection of customary ceremonial artefacts of the Bantu, ranging from the observation of fertility rites, circumcision and marital initiation, and harvest time celebrations, en conversation avec le conservateur Malick Ndiaye, I explored the parallel and complex philosophies of being human as it relates to the uses of the artefacts. I also learnt about Senegal’s involvement in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. It seemed not coincidental then that musée IFAN is located in the arrondissement Dakar-Plateau, next to Assemblée Générale, dans un quartier appelé, PLACE SOWETO. South Western Townships (SOWETO), is arguably South Africa’s most famous anti-apartheid resistance symbol, being the site of the 1976, June 16th Student uprising, and home to the Mandela and Tutu families, and many anti-apartheid activists. 

“…

What does unhappiness look like in an unspoken country?

…”2

J’ai aussi visité les archives nationales to investigate the masquerade cultures of the Diola, and how the cultural significance of the Kumpo Masquerade forms a long-standing tradition of collapsing the gendered taxonomies that have been imposed on the body, as well and its role in mediating the metaphysical, as the Kumpo represents an encounter with the divine. I was also fortunate to witness a Kumpo ceremony in the South of Dakar and fully participate in the cultural symbolism of the encounter. I was also able to visit Monument de la Renaissance Africaine, standing at 49 meters, atop Collines des Mamelles outside of Dakar, it is the tallest monument in Africa currently. Overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, depicting a family negotiating the future and the past, the monument is a remembrance of the lives lost to the Atlantic Slave trade. Perhaps the grandest highlight of my time in Dakar were my successive visits to Île de Gorée, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that houses Maison des Esclaves, built by the Afro-French Métis family, estimated between 1780–1784. Maison des Esclaves is deemed one of the oldest houses on the island and is now a tourist destination that shows the horrors of the slave trade throughout the Atlantic world.

“…

In my father’s house there’s a chain in a cabinet whose strings tighten my feet from moving. 

The neck braces mutilate my throat when I look into the Atlantic. 

I want to scream, like the little boy, I want to purge my heart, but my eyes refuse to let my mouth open. They muffle my screams into dried sockets that hold their tears from the wooden floors refusing to make them shine. 

My grandmother says if I even let one escape, master will come pleasure himself so now I keep smiling and taking photographs with my sunglasses on and I write on the walls stitching broken pieces to hold myself together

3

J’ai aussi visité au Musée Léopold Sédar Senghor, Ancien Président de la République du Sénégal et au Président Poète. A personal highlight was watching two world renowned Senegalese musicians in concert, Youssou N’Dour and Ismaël Lô, and meeting the renowned Burundian singer, Khadja Nin, whose music formed a substantive soundtrack to my formative years in Bophuthatswana, before South Africa’s homelands were integrated into the landscape of its provinces upon its first democratic vote in 1994. My encounter with Khadja Nin was in attendance at the Universite Populaire de l”Engagement Citoyen (UPEC, The Peoples University of Citizen Engagement), themesd “Citoyenneté et Droit Décider”, a five day conference that focused on citizen movements and popular forms of activism across the continent, to create a space for activists to share best practices and community for issues ranging dictatorship, neoliberalism, corruption and media freedom. The South African started, anti-neo liberal and colonial university movement, #FeesMustFall, was represented. I had the opportunity of sharing the activist collection I co-curated with two other activists in South Africa, Publica[c]tion, which is now freely available for download on Amazon. 

“someone is calling my name at the edge of the earth

my mother said I must never respond to these voices 

because, I will never come back to her if I do

I’ve resisted for so long, I lost my body in her eyes 

now in the water I can see what my face was meant to look like 

when I put my foot in the water, the sky commands the earth and a storm is brewing

the strikes of lightning charge into my veins and overwhelm my body, and my heart stops for minutes I do not know how to count

 

my friend once told me that often while driving, they imagine what the impact of crashing against a wall would feel like on their body 

I wake up in the deep of the water and I scare myself at how I delight at my death every time this happens.”4 

Avec l’apprentissage du Français, j’ai écrit de la poésie de la lourdeur de visiter l’Île de Gorée,

which I share with you, embedded in this reflection. All of my extra-curricular learnings and meetings with Professors was facilitated by the hospitality of former Rutgers Fulbright Fellow, Professor Saliou Dione, and the Postcolonial Laboratory project at Cheikh Anta Diop University. Je veux remercier ma famille d’accueil, Madame Cisse et ses enfants, qui m’a permis de saisir le langage aussi vite que je l’ai fait. I also thank the Rutgers Center for African Studies and Program in Comparative Literature for their generous support with funding to undertake this project. 

 

Notes
1   Magano, Thato. 2018. Water as/is Commodity. Unpublished.
2   Magano, Thato. 2018. Spoken Silences. Unpublished.
3   Magano, Thato. 2018. The House of Métis. Unpublished.
4   Magano, Thato. 2018.The End of the World is Pleasure. Unpublished. 

 

Material Cultures in Ancient China

By Yuanqiu Jiang

After a six-week summer course of reading knowledge in German at Rutgers, I headed back to China to research further on material cultures in ancient China. The modifier “ancient” itself renders “China” as a geographical and political entity hard to delineate; hence the term is used solely for the purpose of expediency.

Fig. 1 Pottery Figures in The Oriental Metropolitan Museum (Nanjing)

The main focus of my research was put on women’s apparel, which, along with its owners, is a popular theme in classical Chinese poetry. Based upon the Confucian ideology “Interactions between Heaven and Mankind” 天人感应, “abnormal” clothing sometimes was believed to be ominous. The dress in Fig. 1 might be an example of “frugal upper [body], affluent lower [body]” 上检下丰, criticized in the Book of Song 宋书 as an emblem of “weak emperor (upper) and licentious courtiers (lower)”. Early Tang, arguably the only period throughout Chinese history when a group of women were visibly at the top of the dynasty’s power hierarchy, was an easy target for historians to make a moral judgment on women’s apparel, using the term “clothing anomaly” 服妖. Fig. 2 is a concrete example of this type of clothing anomaly.

Fig.2 Pottery Female in Men’s Clothes in the National Museum of China (Beijing)

Besides gender, ethnicity also played a central role in terms of marking people(s) physically. For example, one feature associated with Yue 越 people is “sheared hair, tattooed body” 断发文身. Erica Brindley includes “an ancient image of a so-called ‘Yue’ person at the Zhejiang Provincial Museum” (Figure 6.2, p. 159) as a possible illustration of this ancient stereotype (I was not able to find the same statue or anything similar in this museum) in her book Ancient China and the Yue. Not surprisingly, these physical markers reflect the center-periphery relation between the northern empires and their southern others. Fig.3, from the perspective of porcelain-making, gives a glimpse of the conflicts among different peoples: “ . . .  the centralized empire despised the economies and cultures south to Yangtze River, damaging the once flourishing production of the Original Porcelain 原始瓷 in the Yue state . . . ”.

Fig. 3 A History of Conflicts from the Perspective of Porcelain-Making in the Zhejiang Provincial Museum (Hangzhou)

On the other hand, it was also interesting to see how the National Museum of China incorporated the ethnic cultures into the “unified multi-ethnic” regime (Fig. 4), silently erasing the conflicts among different peoples and the sometimes violent process of sinicization.

Fig. 4 A Short Introduction to Ethnic Cultures in the National Museum of China (Beijing)

The research on material cultures in ancient China has made me reflect further on “Chinese” aesthetics. Combining gender and ethnicity together, (imagined) female personae from peripheral regions (Chu/Xiang, Yue, Wu, etc.) have fascinated Chinese poets for centuries. Given the tradition that male writers often write in a female voice, the performative aspect of literature has come to the surface. In addition, I’m also pondering on the possibility of exploring the performativity of gender and ethnicity more literally. In other words, how poetics is attired in the texture of gender and ethnicity, and vice versa.

NEW GRAD STUDENT PROFILES, FALL 2018

Rutgers Comp Lit is delighted to welcome four students to this year’s incoming cohort. Meet Amanda, Milan, Yingnan, and Phil.

Amanda González Izquierdo was born in Havana, Cuba, and has lived in Miami, Florida for the past nine years. Surrounded by palm trees and cafecito, she has spent several years thinking about how to speak of diaspora and what languages are available to speak of the various ways in which feelings and traumas of diasporas of various kinds are experienced. Amanda completed her BA at Florida International University, where she majored in English, minored in Philosophy, and completed a certificate in Latin American and Caribbean Studies. The research she plans to partake in while at Rutgers situates itself in the dialogue between continental philosophy (focusing on deconstructive ethics) and postcolonial Caribbean theory and literature. She hopes that her work will raise questions about postcolonial and diasporic experiences, the role that language plays in the fashioning of postcolonial identities, and the challenges and the ethical imperatives of bearing witness in the Caribbean.

 

Milan Reynolds’s interests revolve around processes of memory, identity and language. His work is rooted in postcolonial theory, conceptualizing silence within narratives, and the psychology of displacement and nostalgia. His mother moved from Italy to the U.S. as a teenager, and his own relationship to Italian culture developed through frequent trips, language acquisition, and translation. He has worked as an actor, musician and composer, in guitar repair, and ceramics. Sound, in its many forms, is incredibly important to him. A California transplant to New York, he completed a BA at NYU Gallatin, working on interdisciplinary projects that explored the borders between history and literature. Living in New York City has reinforced his belief in the importance of diverse communities and platforms for alternative narratives. He is involved in immigrant advocacy within his neighborhood. Milan is excited to join the Comparative Literature Department at Rutgers and develop research on transnational literature and cultural production in Italy and the Mediterranean. He has predominantly interacted with European and Latin American texts, so is excited to deepen his knowledge of Middle Eastern and North African sources.

 

Yingnan Shang majored in English literature in her undergraduate years at Peking University. Her major field of interest was clustered around modern and contemporary fiction and critical theory. While receiving graduate training at King’s College London, her interest in modernity and the city took shape within writings that contribute to the understanding of cultural conditions in modern metropolis. She took particular delight in reading urban literature and architectural history in the mid-nineteenth century and the twentieth century. She investigated a range of literary and cultural issues not unrelated to social and political concerns: the “mass”, resistance, and changing concepts of heritage, memory and nostalgia, amongst others. For her MA research in comparative literature at Dartmouth, Yingnan worked with contemporary visual artists in the art history department to investigate cyber-surveillance and digital activism. She studied the representation of shapes and forms with color relations, as well as the figure-ground relationship in Cézanne’s paintings in studio art. In her own abstract paintings, she worked with creative mediums and techniques to achieve a sense of complexity in representing urban space. Her experience working with city documentaries extended to an interest in experimental documentary and the intersections of cinema and art. In future practices, she hopes to experiment with unconventional ways of expressing alternative subcultures and urban aesthetics through independent filmmaking.

 

Phil Yakushev is interested in exploring how literature under capitalism deals with issues of crisis, memory, and madness. Born in Russia and raised in California, he received a BA in Comparative Literature, Politics, and Philosophy from NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. He is currently working on a novel that follows a Russian-American family over multiple generations. At Rutgers, he is studying Russian, German, and American literatures of the last 40 years.

Love in Translation: The Conference

A Report by Thato Magano, Paulina Barrios, Shawn Gonzalez, Rafael Vizcaíno, Rudrani Gangopadhyay, and Penny Yeung

On March 2nd and 3rd, 2018, the graduate students of the Rutgers University Program in Comparative Literature organized their biennial conference on “Love in Translation.” The co-chairs, Rudrani Gangopadhyay and Penny Yeung, hoped that the conference theme would foster conversations about how love figures in and is transfigured by translation by way of thinking about how love disrupts and transforms the ways in which literary imagination functions across languages, time, space, borders. Some of the questions the conference hoped to (and did) address were the following: 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?

The first panel of Friday, on the “Poetics of Translation,” commenced after introductory remarks by the conference co-chairs, by the Program Chair Prof. Andrew Parker, and the Graduate Director, Prof. Anjali Nerlekar. The first paper was by Paul Franz, a doctoral candidate at the Department of English at Yale University. His paper, “To leave my love – alone: Alliances and Realignments in Geoffrey Hill’s versions of Anne Hébert,” examined the complex history of the English poet Geoffrey Hill’s translation of a poem by the French-Canadian poet Anne Hébert, by studying the affiliations between Hill and Hébert as an effort to create an international counterpublic resistant to American hegemony. Paul explored the fact that Hill typically performed Hébert’s poem alongside Shakespeare’s Sonnet 66, which employed a similar litany structure, yet which introduced the key term—“love”—absent from Hébert’s account of popular resistance to Fascist authority. The other two papers were presented by Rutgers Comparative Literature’s own doctoral students, Josué Rodriguez and Penny Yeung. Josué’s paper, ‘The Ethics of Translation in Vicente Huidobro’s “El Hermoso Juego,” or “The Beautiful Game”’,  examined Vicente Huidobro’s microficción, or micro-fiction, “El Hermoso Juego,” or “The Beautiful Game,” (1940) as an example of how Huidobro’s movement, Creacionismo, is able to performatively render Surrealism’s aesthetic, cultural, and political codes in its playful appropriation of automatic writing. Huidobro’s familiarity with the stylistic and cultural codes of the French movement allowed him to playfully build what Gayatri Spivak called an inhabitable textual world for the other in her 1992 essay “The Politics of Translation.” This ultimately embodies a shift from the ideals of revolutionary love towards an ethical relationship to the other, one that foregrounds a text’s access to all through its universalized translatability.The last paper of the panel, presented by Penny, was titled “Partial Translation and World Building,” and argued in favor of “partial translation” through theoretical and creative engagement, by way of her own translations of several poems lifted from French academician Dany Laferrière’s book, L’art presque perdu de ne rien faire (The Nearly Lost Art of Doing Nothing), an untranslated work. By considering Dennis Tedlock’s proposition of a poetics of translatability in his eludication of Mayan poetics, and KE Bishop’s argument that a relationship of metonymy and contiguity, and not metaphor and comparability, underlies a written text and its invisible, unwritten text, she argued that rather than destroying networks of signification, a partial translation can partake in a more hopeful endeavor of world-building.

The second panel of the conference, titled “Queerness” saw two presentations from Duncan McKinnon, a Rutgers University senior in the Comparative Literature and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies programs, and Lubna Abdul-Hadi, a PhD student in the Translation Instruction and Research Program at Binghamton University. The panel kicked off with Duncan’s paper “Feeling the Erotics of Queer Diaspora: Translating the Sensorial in Zami by Audre Lorde and The Book of Salt by Monique Truong.” Duncan’s paper explored how the sensorial, as a medium that exceeds the discursive, can be translated to understand the meanings and experiences between bodies and subjectivities in relation to love and lovemaking in the texts. For Duncan, because the protagonists are often failed by the discursive as a result of the social and economic conditions that impact their lives, they see translating the sensorial facilitating an escape of the limitations in their experiences across linguistic, national and racial difference. Lubna’s paper “Love, Hatred, to Love Again – Translating Female Same-Sex Relationships in Medieval Arabic Literature” explored how the translation of Western hegemonic categories of identification presented limitations of language for non-normative sexualities in the Arab-Islamic community. Exploring the limitations of the western norms of sexuality identification as they have come to be understood under the banner of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans- gender, Questioning/Queer, + (LGBTQ+), Lubna turned to Medieval texts exploring female same-sex sexuality to show the expansive vocabulary that existed to think through and identify same-sex sexuality. Her work then, propositions how a turn to the past might be productive to contemporary conversations in the Arabic world in relation to same-sex sexuality. Prof Preetha Mani was the discussant for the panel and spoke to the interconnecting themes of both papers as it relates to translation. In one sense, there is an investment in translating what cannot be easily translated as it demands bringing the inexpressible to the fore, while in the other, there is a recognition of the limitations of bringing to the fore that which is translated. Prof Mani further inquired on what queering translation might look like and how scholars might relate to the practice of translation approached from a queered perspective. The panel engaged in a lively debate around temporality and periodization, translation in the Arab world and how translation might enable a return to the self. 

The third, and final, panel for Friday focused on the “Ethics and Politics of Translation.” The panel included presentations from three different graduate students: Coco Xu from Rutgers University presented ‘On the Ethics of Translation’; Ali Almajnooni from Binghamton University presented on ‘Empire, Drones, and the End(s) of Translation’; and Tuhin Bhattacharjee from New York University presented on ‘The Tragic in Translation: Planetarity and a New Ethics of Reading’. The three presenters shared thought provoking works that questioned the role of translator, how they build bridges, but also constitute threats; translation as an inter-cultural interaction, part of a ‘politics of love’; as well as reflections on temporality and translation. Ali began with his presentation, which focused on an analysis of the drones the United States has been using in the Middle East and how this may be a reflection of a transition from using translation as a form of conquest of ‘the other’ towards a complete rejection of comprehension, an annihilation of ‘the other’. Coco’s presentation followed, which sought to respond to the pessimism and frustration that oftentimes accompany translation studies with a refocus on curiosity. She focused on the idea of translation as hospitality, world construction, and productive curiosity. Thus, considering translation as the moment of reaching a new world and inhabiting ‘in-betweenness’. Tuhin closed the table suggesting a move towards a format of comparative literature that would be planetary instead of global. Through this focus connections with ‘the other’ would be through love and tragedy, with translation as part of this risk and tragedy surrounding the ethical and political connection with others. After the presentations, Prof. Janet Walker congratulated the presenters on their papers and followed with some comments on the panel as a whole, as well as specific observations for each of the presenters. She began by reflecting on how ethics surrounds translation, translators, and the praxis itself. Related to Ali’s reflection on empires, US imperialism, and language, Prof. Walker stated that his link to drones as well as the hierarchy and distancing from the other they establish was particularly interesting. She added also how critical languages are constantly being defined by the State Department and how U.S. citizens are incited to learn them, thus emphasizing the politics behind language. Regarding Coco’s work she linked the element of curiosity to subversiveness and how it was viewed as dangerous by empires throughout the world, connecting this text to the first presentation. Finally, she ended with comments on Tuhin’s use of Spivak, bringing in the tragedy of knowledge, the pessimism of the intellect, and optimism of the will. The questions and discussion that ensued were a testament to the quality of the presentations, focusing on broad topics such as machines/drones, mediation and distance in translation, the specificity of translation, audience and translation, bilingualism and self-translation, ethics surrounding translation, linguistic choice and the politics behind this, among many others.

The first day of the conference concluded with a keynote lecture by Sandra Bermann entitled “Love in Translation: Let Me Count the Ways.” Professor Bermann’s lecture centered on tracing several trajectories for considering the relationship between love and translation. She began by introducing a poetic perspective on this issue through readings of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, W.H. Auden, and Adrienne Rich. Then, she introduced a translation studies perspective, considering the role of love and gender in the work of various translation theorists. Next, she approached this question from the perspective of recent changes in the field of comparative literature. This portion of the lecture challenged the audience to question how translation has been marginalized by the field’s commitment to reading in the original and to reconsider the role of translation in future directions of the discipline. After establishing these different trajectories, Professor Bermann proposed migration both as a way of theorizing translation and of imagining how translation can contribute to the future of comparative literature. This case study drew on the previous trajectories to consider the role of love as a hopeful response to the contemporary linguistic landscape. Professor Bermann’s presentation was followed by a lively discussion that considered how these ideas related to the day’s other presentations. These questions continually returned to the role of translation in graduate students’ teaching, research, and plans for their careers.  

The first panel of the conference’s second day was titled “Transgressions.” Amritha Mohan from the University of Hyderabad (India) presented a paper titled ‘Love in the Call of God: A Translation of Sithara S’s Daivavili’ where she analyzed the task of translation as a “manifestation of the creator’s madness” and sought “to emphasise on the importance of translating non-mainstream love narratives, putting into context the resistance they face from the mainstream Malayalee society, thereby making them as an act of protest in itself.” Karen Jallatyan from the University of California Irvine presented a paper titled ‘Diasporic Love: Writing the Impossibility of Translation in Krikor Beledian’s The Palimpsest Man’, where he illustrated the “the impossibility of fully encountering, thus translating, the other.” For Jallatyan, “Beledian’s work suggests that in the face of catastrophe, love, as enchantment with, faith in and dependence on the other, consists in liberating the alterity of the other in one’s self and in others.” At last, our very own Maria Elizabeth Rodriguez Beltrán presented a paper titled ‘Decolonial love in the US Virgin Islands’, where she asked, “what happens when incest becomes a symbol of liberation from colonial powers and opens the possibility for decolonial love?” For Rodriguez Beltrán, Tiphanie Yanique’s Land of Love and Drowning “makes use of several Biblical figures and transforms them by feminizing and reversing them as a way of decolonizing western religion.” The subsequent discussion, moderated by 4th year PhD Candidate Rafael Vizcaíno and started by the sharp commentaries of Professor Nelson Maldonado-Torres, centered on the issues of love in the time-space of catastrophe, diasporic subjectivity, and secularism.

The last panel of the conference’s second day was titled ‘Task of the Translator’. Kiawna Brewster from the University of Wisconsin-Madison presented a paper titled ‘Censoring Love in Translation: In Defense of the Translator’s Preface’, where she illustrated the importance of the Translator’s Preface by considering its role in rewriting the course of literary history and promoting cultural understanding. She examined the Prefaces to Lara Gochin Raffaeli’s translation of Gabriele D’Annunzio’s decadent Italian novel Il Piacere in order to illustrate the morality of translations. Raffaeli tries to introduce the 19th century text for the first time without sanitizing or purging it in any way, thereby undoing the problematic liberties taken by translators. Mariam Rahmani from the University of California Los Angeles presented a paper titled ‘What to do when sexuality doesn’t translate? The Pitfalls of Pronouns and Other Questions’. Ther paper presented an excerpt from a work in progress —an authorized translation of Mahsa Mohebali’s award-winning novel, Don’t Worry (originally in Persian: Negaran nabash, 2008) —and reflected on the difficulties of translating with attention to the politics of gender and sexuality. Some of the questions she explored through her reading include: how English gendered pronouns limit narrative possibilities and unwittingly force an identity-based framework on texts that do not adopt such a conceptualization of gender and sexuality in the original? How does a translator negotiate questions of distance and familiarity? The final paper was presented by Jan Steyn from Cornell, whose paper was titled ‘The Conjugal Translator’. Steyn’s paper explored the Maryse Condé-Richard Philcox author-translator marriage, and reflected on how Philcox’s textual philandering shows how he justifies his infidelity through his conjugality. The subsequent discussion, moderated by 2nd year PhD student Rudrani Gangopadhyay, and was started by the sharp commentaries of Prof. Anjali Nerlekar, centered around the questions of the presence of translator as well the translator’s gender. Questions that came include: can the notion of conjugality in translation degendered? How can slangs and curses be translated? What is the role of paratexts in translation? 

The conference concluded with a translation workshop led by Professor Susan Bernofsky. Professor Bernofsky led the group through a series of activities that engaged participants in thinking about translation from various angles. In one activity, sets of two texts—one original and one its translation—were placed side by side but unidentified, and participants were tasked to determine which text was which. More often than not the group was divided in opinion, and having access to both the source and target languages did not necessarily make the evaluation easier. This sparked lively discussion on what marks a translation, while also providing ample examples that counter the notion of translations as inferior texts. Another activity simulated the operations of an editorial board. The group was given different translations of the same text to look at and had to decide which was the preferred version as well as what editorial changes might be made to improve upon them. It was later revealed that all the versions were drawn from published translations of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. The group compared the strategies employed by different translators and reflected upon the varying aesthetics these decisions created. Professor Bernofsky also shared learning moments from her own wealth of experience as a translator, such as how to deal with rhythm, wordplay and repetition, and the glossing of untranslatables with no direct equivalent in the target language. The three-hour workshop provided a forum for conference attendees to reflect on translation theory through its praxis, and for those who are practicing and aspiring translators, it was an occasion to brainstorm strategies to deal with the many practical challenges of the craft.