Tag Archives: Comp Lit Students

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

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

By: Coco XU

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

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

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

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

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

Consuming and changing the landscape in Luoyang, China: Qingfeng Nie’s graduate colloquium

By: Mònica Tomàs White

On October 3rd, fifth-year comparative literature doctoral student Qingfeng Nie presented the first graduate colloquium of the 2017–2018 school year: “Luoyang, its landscape and its elites, 581–960”. Qingfeng’s approach to studying third- to fourteenth-century Chinese literature is informed by historical geography and archeology; appropriately, his research—based on a corpus ranging from boastful epitaphs to verse by the “movie star” poets of the day—examines the physical changes the city of Luoyang underwent as it plunged towards the modern age. He argues that “the changes in landscape determined and reflected the roles Luoyang played in the Chinese empire from the Sui to the Five Dynasties”.

Although often overshadowed by capital Chang’An to the west, Luoyang enjoyed a strategic position in the empire: it marshalled the resources of prosperous regions to the southeast and housed some of the nation’s most privileged officials. In so doing, it forged a distinct identity for itself that came to challenge imperial authority. Qingfeng’s project traces the city’s physical and social evolution through the reign of Empress Wu—the only female emperor, who leaned on the city to build legitimacy—through the An Lushan Rebellion—when the Tang dynasty began to lose power—on to famous poet Bo Juyi and his associates’ residency in the city, and finishing with the tearing down of the previously ubiquitous inner-city walls.

In the interests of time, during this talk Qingfeng focused on Bo Juyi. The author of over 1000 poems, Bo Juyi (sometimes spelled Bai Juyi) was a high-ranking official whose salary apparently far outstripped his duties. He lived close to several other officials, who roamed the city “consuming and changing the landscape” through a sort of public performance. City folk would gather to watch them boat down the river or being carried to and from their villas on litters. This performative leisure was hardly accidental: it formed a crucial part of the poet’s identity as an “in-between hermit”. Previously “greater hermits” had been known to detach inwardly, while still at court, and “lesser hermits” had lived in exile in the countryside. Bo Juyi’s formulation allowed him to live close enough to the capital to enjoy certain cultural and material benefits, while living far enough away (and with a light enough workload) to enjoy solitude and contemplation if desired.

In a poem, Bo Juyi extolled “claiming as many benefits as one can for his own benefit”. His poetic construction of leisure was heavily influenced by Buddhist thinking, particularly the conception that all is transient and there is no real meaning to emotions. This allowed for a certain detached playfulness. In-between hermits were encouraged to seize those pleasures immediately at hand, but dissuaded from “painstaking pleasure-seeking”: they adopted a “worldly attitude vis-à-vis the tragic transience of pleasure”. As time passed, Bo Juyi’s poetry came to be known across the four corners of the empire and in neighboring nations, building Luoyang’s reputation as a city for in-between hermits.  As local identity and agency grew, challenges to the capital rose.

After his talk, Qingfeng answered questions on the history, poetry and characters of Luoyang, and received recommendations on theorists that might speak to his work. Thank you and congratulations to Qingfeng—we look forward to learning more!  

New Grad Student Profiles, Fall 2017

This academic year we welcome four students from a variety of educational backgrounds and interests to our comparative literature community at Rutgers! Meet Monica,Paulina, Thato and Yuanqiu.

Mònica Tomàs White is interested in the humanities that lie beyond the human, whether it be animals and the environment, posthumanism, the supernatural, or the insane. She developed her ideas about theory as a tool for improving life on Earth while completing her BA in Comparative Literature and French at UC Berkeley, and MA in Gender Studies at the University of Barcelona, the latter been her hometown. Having mostly studied within the Spanish and French national traditions, she now hopes to explore other geographies at Rutgers, particularly Latin America and East Asia.

Paulina Barrios joins us from Mexico, having grown up in both the U.S. and Mexico she has always been interested in the intersections between cultures and languages. She became interested in literature at an early age, and this finally led her to completing a B.A. in Comparative Literature with an emphasis on International Relations at Colorado College. Her interest in literature also intermingled with a restlessness regarding the inequality and misogyny she saw throughout society, thus guiding her focus on women writers in Latin America and West Africa who point to and protest the unequal, and oftentimes violent, contexts they live in. After finishing her Masters in African Studies at El Colegio de México, she decided to pursue a life-long dream of working in the non-profit sector in Mexico, and developed her translating skills, at times tying in both aspects in her professional life. At Rutgers, she plans to deepen her knowledge of feminist theories and methodologies, as well as analyze the use of literature across social projects in Latin America and Africa. Her goal is to eventually broaden the connections between academia and activism, as well as show how crucial literature can be for people’s lives.

A self-diagnosed functional scoptophobian, Thato Magano recently obtained his MA in African Literature from the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in South Africa. While completing his MA, a research essay exploring the utility of women’s writing in democratic South Africa, “Voicing Matty and escaping the spectacle of social absurdity: On Makhosazana Xaba, The Suit and The Stories It Inspired” was selected for presentation at the inaugural Narrative Enquiry for Social Transformation (NEST) colloquium and subsequently chosen for publication in a forthcoming special issue of the interdisciplinary leading Africanist journal, Social Dynamics. In August 2017, Thato and two co-curators published a student activism resource, Publica[c]tion, informed by their active involvement in the #FeesMustFall movement. A mix of narrative styles – long form, poetry, music, criticism – Publica[c]tion is a unique archive of recent student activism in South Africa as it features contributions from all 24 institutions of higher learning and is independently funded, self-edited and freely available (in broadsheet). At the centre of Publica[c]tion are questions about form, content, language, publishing and pedagogy. His short stories, “A What?” appears in Queer Africa 2: New Fiction Anthology (May 2017) and “Parallels of Yesterday” was shortlisted for the Best Short Story Prize in Long Live the Short Story, The Short Story is Dead Vol.2 Anthology (Feb 2017). His poem “How Dare You?” features in Gentle Dust, a collaborative video installation project by several art practitioners between South Africa, UK and the Netherlands. Currently on show in Rotterdam until the end of October, a new single-channel video will be shown at the 10th Berlin Biennale in 2018. He is founding partner of Vanguard Magazine, a multimedia pan Africanist, queer, and womanist platform centering the experiences of young Black people in South Africa and the diaspora. In a life far removed from his current, he obtained his undergraduate degree in Communications and taught at the University of Pretoria for a brief period before pursuing a career in brand management at Cadbury South Africa. Thato comes to Rutgers with these experiences, and hopes to expand his interdisciplinary practise as academic-activist-creative while exploring conceptions of race, gender, sexuality, nationalisms and affect in dystopian narratives/literatures.

Yuanqiu Jiang majored in Astronomy during his first two years at Nanjing University, China, after which he changed his major to Physical Geography & Resource-Environment, while simultaneously training in Chinese Language & Literature as his minor. Although he majored in astronomy and geography, he would not claim to be an expert on either of these two disciplines, but he does remain superficially interested in the natural sciences, and by superficially he means textually and rhetorically.

In 2015 he was admitted as an “undergraduate-in-residence” at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Humanities & Social Sciences,  at Nanjing University, where he was mentored by French writer J.M.G. Le Clézio. During the same program he attended a short course held by French philosopher Bernard Stiegler. These two programs contributed largely to his interest in post-war French theories and in looking at Chinese literature outside of the Chinese tradition(s).

Yuanqiu’s native language is Wu Chinese, a dialect used in Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang (he comes from Jiangsu). His “bilingual” (Wu Chinese and Mandarin) experience makes him pay close attention to the phonetics found in Chinese. At an early age, he was trained by his grandfather to practice calligraphy, which initiated his interest in Classical Chinese writing. At Rutgers, Yuanqiu intends to develop his research on all the fields mentioned above, as well as discover new dimensions for doing literary research.