Tag Archives: faculty research

Decoloniality Workshop Series: “Kusch en el trópico: Phagocytosis and Transculturation in the Work of Irka Mateo”

By F. Joseph Sepúlveda with editorial input by Rafael Vizcaíno

Before the end of the Spring 2018 semester, the Decoloniality Workshop held its fourth meeting of the year, where Professor Carlos Decena (Latino and Caribbean Studies, Women and Gender Studies) gave a talk titled “Kusch en el trópico: Phagocytosis and Transculturation in the Work of Irka Mateo.” Professor Decena started his discussion by contextualizing how his current research project, which seeks to attend to “needs that are not scholarly,” follows up on his previous work Tacit Subjects (Duke University Press, 2011). An intervention within Latinx and sexuality studies, the tacit subject resists the dominant paradigm of “coming out” and visibility within North American queer theorizing. In Professor Decena’s work in progress, this framework is deployed to understand how Dominicans experience the sphere of the sacred/divine, beyond a Judeo-Christian understanding.

Grounded on ethnographic experiences in rural Dominican communities, Professor Decena spoke of how some people retain the memory of indigenous Taino figures (e.g. Anacaona) through a relationship with the land which could be understood as tacitly sacred. Professor Decena presented imagery showcasing elaborate religious shrines inside Dominican homes, which include a ritual practice of the “feeding of stones” that is often associated with Afro-Caribbean Santeria. These practices, however, also point out the persistence of indigenous Taino beliefs within Dominican culture, against the dominant historiography within the island.

Professor Decena specifically addressed the musical/visual production of Irka Mateo, a Dominican folk musician whose work seeks to retrieve the importance of indigenous symbols and practices. Mateo’s work illuminates and strives to remedy a long-standing belief in the total annihilation and disappearance of the indigenous population within the Dominican Republic. Professor Decena’s focus on figures like Mateo points to the multiplicity of Dominican racial identity and permits rethinking Dominican racial and cultural heritage as more complex than previously imagined. This has the potential to challenge some of the island’s most repressive national mythologies, including what Dominican historian April Mayes calls the Hispanist nationalism of the Dominican elites.

The Decoloniality Workshop is a space for junior scholars to present work in progress and receive constructive feedback in a relaxed and committed community setting. In the Fall of 2018, Haruki Eda (Sociology) will open the 2018-2019 line-up. Please visit https://decolonialityworkshop.wordpress.com/ for more information about past and future events.

Relational Undercurrents: Contemporary Art of the Caribbean Archipelago

A report on the Brown Bag Lunch by: Yuanqiu Jiang

On January 17, 2018, the Program of Comparative Literature hosted its first Brown Bag Lunch of the spring semester. Professor Michelle A. Stephens, Dean of Humanities, also an affiliate faculty member of the program, gave a talk on the book she newly coedited with Professor Tatiana Flores (Art History and Latino and Caribbean Studies), Relational Undercurrents: Contemporary Art of the Caribbean Archipelago. Along with the book, an exhibition was curated by Professor Flores for the Museum of Latin American Art (Long Beach, CA).

Both the book and the exhibition focus on contemporary visual arts produced in the Caribbean islands, around which a conceptual framework is built. This framework, Professor Stephens suggests, challenges traditional area studies such as American Studies and Caribbean Studies. In addition to posing “a critique to the continental,” Relational Undercurrents also pushes Caribbean Studies to reconceptualize the Caribbean itself: it is more than ex-colonies; and compared with only taking the relations between ex-colonies and the respective metropoles into consideration, the assemblage of seas, continents, and islands enables us to investigate ties and associations that look beyond those defined by colonialism. Through its internal complexity and inexhaustible particularity, the Caribbean, as an assemblage, makes possible a variety of new perspectives. In turn, new understanding of places beyond the Caribbean would also emerge.

Professor Stephens further introduced the four main sections of the book. The first is conceptual mapping. A personalized mapping of landscapes articulates a Caribbean that modifies, counters, and challenges the cartography imposed by colonial powers. The second is perpetual horizons, the horizon being a shared theme and trope among many of the artists. Different artists mobilize the horizon differently: some may view it as a symbol of freedom, others may focus on its function of bridging the islands. The third is landscape ecologies. Rather than (re)presenting a romanticized or exoticized landscape, what emerges in artists’ visualizations are wild, messy, sometimes even uncanny. In a move that de-familiarizes paradise and beach tropes often ascribed to the Caribbean, harsh realities such as oil drilling and garbage in the sea are shown. The last section, on representational acts, addresses the figuration of the human body, including race and gender. The political and interactive staging of the impacted body is an essential component in the visualizing and theorizing of contemporaneity.

The talk was followed by an extremely lively discussion. Scholars from different disciplines shared their experiences and critical understandings of the term “archipelagic.” Professor Stephens pointed out that oceanic studies share a similar conceptual framework with continental studies, which is why the assemblage mentioned before is important: it disrupts these studies materially and metaphorically. The discussion also demonstrated that “archipelago” does not designate a locale-fixed notion, nor is it a term solely used in Euro-American academic discourses, suggesting its far-range applicability.

The book, the talk, and the discussion all gave manifestation to the comparative and collaborative (frame)works Professor Stephens presented on. Thank you to all participants, and congratulations to Professor Stephens and Professor Flores!

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.

2014-2015 Brown Bag Lunch Series

Comparative Literature’s Brown Bag Lunches highlight faculty research throughout the year. During a series of brief lunchtime meetings, faculty and students gather for presentations by faculty members about recent research projects. These presentations, along with graduate student potlucks, provide an opportunity for members of the Comp Lit community to gather together and learn about their colleagues’ research.  The 2014-2015 series featured:

Professor Ousseina Alidou – September 23

Professor Ben Sifuentes-Jáuregui – October 21

Professor Yolanda Martinez-San Miguel – November 18

Professor Preetha Mani – April 15

Professor Elin Diamond – April 22

Professor Anjali Nerlekar – April 28