Tag Archives: Comp Lit Students

When the Divine Wind Blow On Ye: The Spirit of Bandung and Transpacific Becoming

By Virginia Conn

As the official Imperial Japanese Navy marching song from the Second World War played in the background, Comp Lit students and guests took their seats around the table, greeting each other and settling in for the third and final graduate student colloquium, one of the last big events of the semester. Comp Lit students had a chance to happily catch up with each other’s memories of the last few weeks. As Annabel would go on to explain, the marching music was used to mobilize the imperial troops during World War II, which tied into her paper’s overall discussion of military mobilization.

For Comp Lit’s third colloquium, Jeong Eun Annabel We presented an in-work chapter from her dissertation, titled “When the Divine Wind Blow on Ye: The Spirit of Bandung and Transpacific Becoming.” While resisting the easy joke that we were all blown away, I think it’s safe to say that everyone present was extremely impressed by the depth and breadth of Annabel’s research, to say nothing of the deftness with which she wove together numerous and disparate weighty concepts.

Focusing on the novel The Typhoon by Ch’oe In-Hun, Annabel explained that her dissertation, broadly construed, was about how the effects of military mobilizations are used to control movement, affect, and bodies, and situates the novel at a crossroads of thinking about decolonial movements across the transpacific. While Cold War structures have continued to exist long past the ostensible thaw—structures such as the military occupation of the Pacific and East Asia, the peninsula’s division into South and North Korea, and the cyclical threats of nuclear devastation that continue to this day, among others—the Pacific region continues to be erased even as it is strategized upon. Annabel’s dissertation, then, asks, what kind of work has to be forged out of imperial militarization towards decolonizing knowledge production?

Beginning with the invocation of a curse from Shakespeare’s The Tempest to consider the wind as a colonial curse that brings one into conflict, The Typhoon returns to the 1940s to cast new light on 1970s Cold War regimes and, in doing so, decenters neoliberal modes of knowing and engages with the recruitment of colonial populations that were previously imperially mobilized. Written in Korean in 1970s South Korea, the novel is a work of speculative fiction/alternate history about an alternative historical trajectory that critically maps the nature of political and military mobilization.

Annabel’s intervention into this novel and its place within the process of decolonial praxis was to situate it at the forefront of several separate and significant political scripts. Each rewritten script functions as a theory of movement, performing the dual task of assessing the coloniality of military mobilization and offering transpacific becoming as an alternative movement towards decolonization and Korean reunification.

This literary analysis in and of itself would have been fascinating enough, but Annabel went on to situate the novel within and against the backdrop of the spirit of solidarity and decolonial movements (such as the Afro-Asian People’s Solidarity movement, Asian-African conference on Women at Colombo, Non-Aligned movement at Belgrade, etc.) inspired by the Bandung Conference in 1955. While both the political spirit wrought by the conference itself and the project attempted by Cho’e each had their limits, Annabel invited us to see how they both challenged historiography. The presentation concluded with the question: how could one have lived as if one has no regrets for the fact of one’s mobilization? Annabel suggested that the task is that of thinking mobility in the postwar juncture.

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.

An International Workshop: “The Social Lives of Keywords: Lenses on China”

By: Lina Qu

In January, I participated in the international workshop “The Social Lives of Keywords: Lenses on China” in Hong Kong. The four-day workshop from Jan 9th to 12th was a preparatory meeting to produce the inaugural volume for the Chinese-English Keywords Project (CEKP). As encapsulated by its initiator, Professor Louisa Schein (in Anthropology and Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers), CEKP is “a growing global network of scholars interested in tracking the multivalence, conceptual incommensurabilities, and generative gaps that emerge when key concepts travel between English and Chinese.” The project has garnered substantial interest from transnational academia, and recruited a good many world-known scholars from the United States, Europe, mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan to contribute to its multivolume publication. The goals are to capture the heterogeneity of keyword meanings as they migrate between sites and social contexts, and to take the “social lives” of keywords as lenses on China.

Since 2016, I have been selected to be one of the core members of the growing project. I moderated at the International Symposium “Conceptualizing Ethnicity—Why China is Different from the U.S.” at Rutgers and shared my work at the two-day workshop “Keywords in Social and Cultural Theory.” I was also included in the roundtable “The Social Life of Keywords: Embracing Conceptual Dynamism between Chinese and English” at the international conference of the Association for Asian Studies in 2017. I was appointed the editor-in-chief of the bilingual newsletter of the Chinese-English Keywords Project. We have produced and circulated the inaugural issue last August.

Sponsored by a grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, the Hong Kong workshop followed upon the previous workshop at Rutgers in March 2017, and provided a precious opportunity for global scholars in China studies to convene and discuss key concepts and theories on the theme of “ethnicity (minzu) and nation (guojia).” The fourteen participants were Zhang Yinong of Shanghai University, Naran Bilik of Fudan University, Guan Kai of Minzu University of China, Cheung Siu-woo of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Tim Oakes of University of Colorado, Boulder, Pal Nyiri of Vrije University Amsterdam, Charlene Makley of Reed University, Chen Junjie, Luo Yu of City University of Hong Kong, Megan Steffen of Tsinghua University, Derek Sheridan of Brandeis University, Louisa Schein, Qu Lina, and Kao Ying-chao of Rutgers University. I was honored to be one of only two graduate students invited, the other twelve members including established scholars and senior professors in humanities and social sciences. The workshopping was organized with an innovative methodology: drafts of preliminary entries on one keyword or a pair of keywords were circulated ahead of time, and then, at the workshop, members of participation not only made suggestions to each other but also collectively built the entries. Drawing on their own experience and expertise, respondents offered other meanings, sources, histories, and personal or professional anecdotes to be considered and incorporated into the entries. Each entry was presented by its “curator,” brainstormed with the whole group, and further developed in the breakdown group discussions. The method of outsourcing deployed in the process of developing each entry mirrors the social life of keywords, which derives its momentum from the diversified, contextualized, and even personalized usage of language.

Besides the fourteen participants, local scholars also contributed a great deal to the success of the workshop. In the afternoons of Jan 10th and 11th, Hong Kong professors were invited to the group discussions: Barry Sautman and Yan Hairong of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Chen Juchen, Ling Minhua, and Wu Ka-Ming of Chinese University of Hong Kong, Travis Kong of Hong Kong University, and Lucetta Kam of Hong Kong Baptist University. They offered valuable insights on the theoretical framework, publishing strategy, and potential readership of the keywords project, as well as flagged intriguing new keywords in their own fields of study. The brainstorming session in the afternoon of Jan 11th sparked animated discussions and paved the ground for the second volume on the theme of “gender (xingbie) and sexuality (xing).” Working with index cards, all the participants spoke out and wrote down relevant keywords in both Chinese and English, and then categorized them into different but interconnected topical groups.

The workshop was held at the beautiful Royal Park Hotel in Shatin district, with wonderful catering services. As a hub of global cuisine, Hong Kong offered us an amazing range of choices in dining. Whether at the hotel breakfast buffet, the Cantonese restaurant, or the dessert bar, the participants made it a great venue to exchange scholarly insights, as well as to build personal connections. The workshop concluded on a friendly and happy note, with each of the members being rewarded with fruitful new thoughts, unforgettable memories and a durable network of committed colleagues.

Presenting at the MLA 2018

By: Shawn González

The 133rd MLA Annual Convention, on the theme of States of Insecurity, was held on 4–7 January, 2018, in New York. One of our recent PhDs, Shawn González, presented on her current work at the conference. The Comp Lit Blog editors interviewed Shawn about her experience:

Could you tell us a bit about the panel you were involved in and the work you presented on?

I presented on a panel called “Teaching, Theorizing, and Reading Caribbean Texts,” sponsored by the MLA’s Graduate Student Caucus. The panel topic was unique, because it incorporated both literary criticism and pedagogy, which sparked some unexpected questions about genre and audience.

My paper “Theorizing Caribbean Multilingualism in the Classroom” emerged from my experience teaching the bilingual Nuyorican poet Tato Laviera in Latino and Caribbean Cultural Studies, a course cross-listed in Comparative Literature and Latino and Caribbean Studies at Rutgers. I argued that Rutgers students who approached Laviera’s poetry from a variety of linguistic backgrounds offered an opportunity to rethink questions of ideal readership from the perspective of a multilingual community with a range of linguistic proficiencies. It is evident that the presence of bilingual students can enrich the reading experiences of monolingual students who could not otherwise understand Laviera’s Spanish-dominant poems. However, based on my observations of student discussions, I proposed that the presence of monolingual students was similarly productive as it prompted bilingual students to consider which portions of Laviera’s text were accessible or inaccessible to a monolingual readership. This paper is part of my developing interest in how undergraduate literature classrooms can be harnessed to consider issues of accessibility and readership in multilingual literature. My thinking on these topics was productively challenged through conversation with other presenters, both those who focused on pedagogy and those who focused on literary analysis.

Did you attend any other panels that were particularly interesting?

My favorite panel was “The Rise of Latinx Literature for Youth” moderated by Marilisa Jiménez García with presentations by Cristina Rhodes, Ashley Perez, and Sonia Alejandra Rodríguez. The panelists considered texts for young people ranging from Gloria Anzaldúa’s bilingual picture books to contemporary young adult novels. Each presentation posed questions about how authors represent the agency of young Latinx characters as they navigate difficult situations that might be considered age-inappropriate in mainstream children’s literature. The presentations were followed by a vibrant discussion that considered the role of the supernatural, authority figures, and the convention of happy endings. I left the panel with a list of new writers whose work I’ve been enjoying since the conference.

Are there other aspects of the conference that might be of interest to graduate students?

In addition to literary criticism panels, the MLA includes presentations about pedagogy, professionalization, and public humanities issues. MLA Connected Academics also hosts a variety of events at MLA including a career fair.

Finally, any advice for first-time MLA attendees?

Look out for the CFP from the Graduate Student Caucus. Their panels can be a welcoming forum to present at the MLA for the first time.

‘El Hermoso Juego’, or ‘The Beautiful Game’: Vicente Huidobro’s Creacionista Poetics and the Translation of Surrealist Automatic Poetry

A Report on Josué Rodriguez’s Colloquium Presentation
by Rudrani Gangopadhyay

On November 30th, Josué Rodriguez presented the second colloquium of the 2017-2018 school year on Vicente Huidobro’s Creacionista Poetics and the Translation of Surrealist Automatic Poetry. He began by providing a brief introduction of his dissertation project, tentatively titled “In Search of the Magic Equivalent: Colonial Critiques and Stylistic Appropriations of Surrealism in the Latin American Vanguards,” and then moved on to present his first chapter. Josué’s presentation on Creacionista poetics delved more into questions of influence, originality, and translation, rather than literary history.

Creacionismo was a short-lived experimental literary movement among Spanish writers in France, Spain, and Latin America, founded by Vicente Huidobro (1893 – 1948) in Paris around 1916. Huidobro was a Chilean poet who was simultaneously a Romantic, a surrealist, a cubist, a futurist, and was described as “a translator of European aesthetics and avant-garde influences”. For followers of Creationism, the poet’s role was to create a personal imagined world rather than describing the world of nature. This was achieved by bold juxtaposition of images and metaphors, and an use of original vocabulary consisting of idiosyncratically combined words. Josué argues that this movement, engaged inherently with notions of originality and genealogy of poetry, is one that translates other movements and therefore renders poetry as truly transnational and translinguistic.

Surrealism is an important influence on the Creationist movement, and in fact, Huidobro claims ownership of the surrealist style of automatic writing. Josué envisions Creacionismo as a part of a long-term teleological arc engaged with other avant-garde movements, and as a natural continuation of the larger movement of poetry. Like Walter Benjamin, Huidobro believed the task of the translator is to carry a text beyond borders and languages, and aimed to achieve precisely that in his own work. Josué shared  fascinating images of the first issue of the Creacion magazine (1921), and Huidobro’s statement in the same. The issue contained various kinds of texts (poetry, prose, musical scores) in different languages, and was truly a global text that aligned well with the universal scope of Creacionismo as imagined by Huidobro.

Josué concluded his presentation with a very interesting close reading of one of Huidobro’s short stories, ‘El Hermoso Juego’ or ‘The Beautiful Game’. The story, which is a sly criticism of surrealism, never explicitly mentions the movement, but its presence is easy to detect. In an audacious move, Huidobro engages with surrealism in a way that simultaneously critiques and celebrates it. The use of automatic poetry within the story is one of its noteworthy aspects. The use of automaticity as a strategy for textual production here allows a sense universal accessibility to the process of creation to prevail. The story also uses tropes of order and plays in deeply interesting ways that correlate to theorizations about creation as well as translation. Josué’s work focused on Creacionismo’s inherent need for translation rather than notions of originality and periodization. Huidibro’s work, he argued, is fundamentally not one movement but rather a synthesis of multiple avant-garde movements.

The presentation was followed by an enlightening round of questions and answers, pertaining particularly to anti-mimesis, and how it may relate to the process of translation. Josué also answered questions about theories of originality as well as about whether Creacionismo is somehow limiting. He stated that he would place poetry and translation in equal measure at the heart of poetry. Surrealism is a testimony to the fact that there is no such originality.

Congratulations to Josué 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.