Tag Archives: Graduate 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.

From Hip Life to Real Life: Hip Hop and the Performative Inscription of New Social Relations in Nigeria

On February 28, 2018, third-year PhD student Gabriel Bámgbóṣé organized a talk on Nigerian hip hop for his class.  This is a review of the event by one of his students, John O’Meara.

As a mathematics student born and raised in New Jersey and of almost entirely Irish descent, I walked into this discussion with virtually no knowledge of Nigerian music and/or culture. However, aided by the exploration of African myth and the study of duality and synthesis of humankind and the world, it became evident that music is a universal language and that, despite geographical boundaries, there are many subtle connections between what I have grown up with and the topics discussed in the lecture by Michael Tosin Gbogi, a PhD candidate in the Interdisciplinary Program in Linguistics at Tulane University, New Orleans. The distinctiveness of Nigerian hip-hop notwithstanding, cultural markings, emceeing, deejaying, and breakdancing remain global markers of the genre. Gbogi’s main argument is that Nigerian rap/hip-hop is a reappropriation of the musical form that was originally domiciled in the Africa and became globalized after transplantation through the Middle Passage. In a thorough exploration of the social and cultural signatures of Nigerian hip-hop through cultural, literary, and linguistic lenses, I was able to see both the vast divergences and the many similarities that exist between both Nigerian and American styles of music and the visual stimuli that they present.

Nigeria hosts the second-largest hip-hop scene in the world, both in the mainstream and in the underground counterculture. The genre was first heard in Nigeria in 1981. However, by 1985 with the military regime and the economic crises of the structural adjustment regime, art suffered greatly because of the continuous violence that lasted until 1998. Many artists left the country to seek greater opportunities and found their own success elsewhere while paying homage to their homeland. The hip-hop scene reemerged with the first mainstream song “Shako Mo” by the Remedies. In this piece, the rappers feign an American accent, which might be an effort to gain a larger audience through relatable features to American English.

Gbogi questions the idea that Nigerian hip-hop music is very vapid and almost completely limited to “dance music” that partygoers may enjoy while in the club. He argues that the art goes much deeper in terms of context and meaning; Nigerian artists adopt hip-hop as a sonic instrument of agency, featuring mostly artists from poor or working-class backgrounds. Additionally, Nigeria is a heavily stratified society with respect to class relations. The youths therefore take inspiration from hip-hop in their yearning for an escape from the trying times of poverty. In Reminisce’s (feat. Olamide and Phyno) “Local Rappers,” the term “local” means poor. Thus, there is a sense of duality existing in the word, defined as both of lower socioeconomic status and grafted at the same time with a sense of belonging to the artists’ community. This demonstrates the highly effective reaction of hip-hop music (as a cultural binder and a means for success) to social problems.

However, the counter to this point of view is that globalization reduces one’s authenticity: the ability to “keep it real.” Gbogi introduces this second dimension as the use of language by one group to achieve hegemony over other groups. This suggests that language as a concept incorporates into its focus such issues as language norms and general cultural beliefs. For example, the Nigerian rapper Ruggedman incorporates Nigerian slang (pidgin) without imitating an American accent in order to maintain the sense of national belonging. In a similar manner, the song “Ehen” introduces themes of pushing back against the music of previous artists through a fusion of language and grammar of the “mother tongue” with languages often representative of the lower class.

Slang is generally described as an oppositional language that members of a minority group use to mark their difference from both established order and a more established diction. Onomastics, ethnic “shout-outs” to ghettos/neighborhoods, furthers this theme of relating to the audience. This is defined as “ghetto naming,” which exists as a method of class crossing as displayed in Wizkid’s “Ojuelegba,” named after the low-class neighborhood in Nigeria. Wizkid creates a narrative that states that he is a part of his people, though he finds a way out of poverty and achieves success despite his initial condition. Although there exists some narrative that consigns the past to the past and presents current events in the immediate present, it still follows that leading principle best outlined by Lord of Ajasa: “You can’t be doing hip hop if you’re not true to yourself, if you are not real.” With the synthesis of all these exploratory findings, I was able to leave the lecture far more enlightened and worldly, understanding that we are all truly one on this planet through the scope of intercultural traversing by music.


About the author
A first-generation American on his father’s side, John O’Meara will be the first in his family to graduate from college with a bachelor’s degree. This May, he will earn his BA in Mathematics, as well as minors in English, Computer Science, Music, Economics, and a certification in Recording Arts. In his spare time, he loves to read, particularly the works of medieval writers focusing on the topic of dissent; his favorite work of the genre is Piers Plowman by William Langland. Additionally, John is an avid songwriter and poet, performing in the many underground scenes throughout the city of New Brunswick. Upon graduation, he hopes to attend graduate school for Financial Mathematics and continue in his effort to become a certified Associate of the Society of Actuaries. While in school, John is a bartender at the local restaurant, The Stirling Hotel. A lover of all gin, his favorite cocktail to sip after a long day is a Tom Collins.

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.

Discussing Keywords in Sound: A look into second session of the Sound Studies Reading Group

by Coco Ke Xu

On the morning of February 22nd, the sound studies reading group held its second meeting on the sixth floor of the Academic Building. Led by Prof. Carter Mathes from the English department, Prof. Eduardo Herrera from Musicology, Prof. Andrew Parker from Comparative Literature and Prof. Xiaojue Wang from East Asian Languages and Cultures, the reading group gave graduate students from Rutgers a chance to think and discuss together key issues concerning the emerging field of sound studies from a multidisciplinary perspective.

Following the initial meeting held on January 25, the second meeting of the reading group continues the discussion on a recent edition of the anthology Keywords in Sound (Duke, 2015). The book covers twenty key words in sound studies, including: acoustemology, acoustics, body, deafness, echo, hearing, image, language, listening, music, noise, phonography, radio, religion, resonance, silence, space, synthesis, transduction and voice.

During the discussion, professors and graduate students from different disciplines contributed their unique perspectives and offered up new ways in thinking about sound related subjects. When discussing the wireless nature of radio, Prof. Wang pointed out that during the early years of Chinese diaspora radio served as a means to unite different dialect-speaking Chinese communities through broadcasting the same material in different Chinese dialects at different timeslots during the day. Prof. Parker brought up the nostalgic tone of Walter Benjamin’s “The Storyteller” and proposed a none-logocentric reading of broadcasted sound. As a nice segue into the next key word “religion”, Comparative Literature PhD candidate Virginia Conn noticed that church services in foreign languages sometimes bring up similar feelings in people and noted the difference between “religious” and “spiritual” reactions towards sounds. Connections are also made between different keyword entries. When looking at the word “silence”, Prof. Herrera reminded us to think back at other entries like “deafness” and “echo”. The new sound projecting as well as active noise cancellation technologies open new possibilities for us to reflect on the critical relationships between silence, sound and noise.

The meeting concluded with a catered lunch from Delhi Garden, during which discussions continued in a casual atmosphere. The remaining two meetings of the group for this semester will take place on March 22 and April 26 respectively, with more focus on how scholarship on sound studies informs and inspires individual works of group members. Anyone who is interested in the topic and would like to join the conversation should reach out to Prof. Carter Mathes, who will be arranging individual presentations for the next meeting.

On the Importance of Blogging: Things I Learned as a Blog Editor

By: Maria Elizabeth Rodriguez Beltran

As the previous editor for the Comparative Literature Blog at Rutgers and a student who has submitted a few blog posts myself, I want to share with you some of the many benefits of blogging and why I think graduate students should do it more. You should blog,

Because . . . it forces you to write more often: I am always looking for ways to improve my writing, and as the famous saying goes, “practice makes perfect.” For me, writing long pieces or seminar papers can feel overwhelming at times, and article-length drafts are not really something that most people can produce in one sitting. However, because blog posts tend to be short and specific, writing them works as a perfect way to create a daily writing routine. Since we usually have to be juggling many other things at the same time, blogging can be helpful in thinking through ideas in a more compartmentalized manner, without having to spend a long part of one’s day doing so.

Because . . . it helps you learn how to write in a different way: As academics, depending on our fields, we are used to writing in specific ways and using a particular jargon that is comprehensible to others mainly within our disciplines. Yet, given the length and style of a blog post, we have to rethink how to make our work more accessible and clear not only for academics in other fields, but for nonacademics as well. Presenting your work to others in a language and genre that may be different to the one you are used to writing on will help you rethink your work in other ways, and as a consequence, expand the reach of your scholarship.

Because . . . it helps you to reach a different audience: Evidently the main benefit of blogging is that it allows you to share your work and ideas with others. In addition to reaching those within your program and/or field, and allowing them to learn more about your research (and the events you attend or organize), blogging allows your ideas to reach a wider audience that may not be in your current academic circle; and having an audience that will more publicly interact with your writing will thus make you a more confident writer.

Because . . . it can be fun and it looks good on your CV/resume: Many (if not all!) of us can attest to the fact that writing becomes much easier when you are passionate or interested in the topic that you are writing about. Blogging about an interesting event, talk, or research topic can be fun, and it can also give you exposure for others to get to know you and your work. Besides, publicly blogging is always a great addition to your CV, as professional organizations and institutions are looking for people who have demonstrated the ability to write and teach through mediums that are accessible beyond the academic space.

Thanks to the program’s blog, I had the opportunity to read and learn about what other graduate students were working on and many of the events happening on and outside of campus. I hope some of these points inspire you to write and share more blog posts so that we can learn more from each other.

For more information on blogging while in graduate school: