All posts by Maria Elizabeth Rodriguez Beltran

“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!  

Graduate Student Summer: Studying in France and Japan

By: Penny Yeung

Find other posts by Penny Yeung here

Since my interest lies broadly in the 20th century novel, particularly in Chinese and French contexts, and also in considering the theoretical framework of global modernisms, one of my goals for this past summer was to learn more about the initiatives that brought Chinese youths in unprecedented numbers to France at the beginning of the twentieth century. With support from the Mellon Summer Grant, I was first able to spend two weeks in Lyon doing archival research at the Fonds chinois housed at the Bibliothèque municipale de Lyon.

The Fonds chinois has a fascinating origin. It came into existence in large part thanks to the library collection at the Institut franco-chinois de Lyon, a short-lived higher education initiative funded largely by the remittance of Boxer indemnity money. In its years of operation, between 1921 and 1946, 473 Chinese students matriculated at the institute. They pursued studies in a variety of disciplines from the natural and social sciences to the humanities, but also for those who, to the administrators’ chagrin, arrived on their doorstep demonstrating lackluster command of the language of instruction, high-school French. Among the wealth of documents available at the archive, there are individual student files and completed theses, correspondence between students and the administration regarding academic progress, sometimes lobbying for better student welfare, and occasionally, intriguing memos from the French authorities querying on the political involvement of individual students.

The Institut envisioned itself as contributing to the education of, to the farthest extent possible, a biculturally literate elite, much like similar initiatives already in place across the Atlantic, in the United States. In this regard, the Institut also distinguished itself apart from the Diligent Work–Frugal Study Movement, another means through which many Chinese youths at the time went to France. In fact, the institute’s policies caused disgruntlement among many a young worker who failed to gain admission and hence, in today’s parlance perhaps, to “switch (immigration) status”. My time at the Fonds allowed me to gain a better understanding of the Institut’s operation and its situation within a larger historical and political landscape. I was also able to peruse works written by and on several individuals who intrigued me particularly, including Maurice Courant, professor at the institute and whose prolific scholarship played a role in introducing Chinese, Japanese and Korean cultures to the French scholarly context; and the Chinese poet Dai Wang-shu, often regarded as one of the pioneers of Chinese literary modernism, who was a one-time student at the institute before his expulsion and whose translated works from the French include Paul Van Tieghem’s La littérature comparée (1931).

Following Lyon, I attended Middlebury’s French immersion program held in Paris. During the six weeks, I took three courses, on the History of French Cinema, Paris through 20th-Century Literary Mirrors, and the History of Paris in the 16th and 17th Centuries respectively. The program was composed on average of four hours of class time in the mornings; afternoons were spent in the library completing readings and assignments, and attending weekly topical workshops and city excursions. Among the various excursions offered, including historical and literary walking tours, my personal favorite was a guided tour at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF), located across from Bercy on the left bank of the Seine. Besides getting a look at behind-the-scenes operations such as how books are transported to the respective reading rooms, the tour provided a trove of informative fun facts. To name just two, I learned how the garden—the botanical centerpiece at the heart of the library complex—was effected by way of arboreal diasporic movement, and how the BnF’s upper deck, rendered notoriously slippery in the rains, became baptized as the Esplanade des Invalides. (And oh, there’s also a story about rabbits loose in the library.)

Finally, I am most grateful to the program in Comp. Lit. for the additional funding I received, which enabled me to wrap up my summer with two weeks of Japanese language study at the Yamasa Institute in Okazaki, Aichi Prefecture. As I continue to work towards fulfilling my language requirements, I look forward to the new literary imaginations and research pathways this may open up.

Graduate Student Summer: South-South Dialogues Towards Transmodernity

By: Rafael Vizcaíno

                                                           Picture by: Jeong Eun Annabel We

Continuing the decolonial dialogues of the previous two years (2015 CPA Summer School, 2016 Barcelona Summer School), during the summer of 2017, I traveled to South Korea with two main goals in mind: 1) to enter a dialogue with decolonial-oriented scholars in East Asia by participating in two international conferences on Latin American studies; and 2) to find out more about the influence that a current of Latin American thought (liberation theology) has had on the history of South Korean political activism. I met scholars from across the world, with whom I was united in our mutual commitment to decolonial praxis in research and activism. The ensuing discussions and encounters with them persuaded me of the necessity to frame my own work within a larger South-South planetary dialogue. I am now convinced that such dialogues across relational experiences of colonization are a requisite to understanding and overcoming the workings of modernity/coloniality – both the object of study and activist target of decolonial praxis – not in the disavowing sense of (post)modernity but in the transformative sense of transmodernity.

At the 9th Conference of East-West Intercultural Relations, subtitled “Global South, Latin America, and the Luso-Hispanic World,” hosted by Seoul National University in South Korea, several specialists and advanced students in Latin American and South Korean and East Asian relations were gathered to uncover the many ways in which the divergent elements of Latin American culture and history have been represented and assimilated into South Korean and East Asian cultural protocols – our very own Professor Nelson Maldonado-Torres was the conference’s keynote speaker. My participation in this conference concerned an analysis of the ways in which Caribbean women of color feminist thinkers such as Mayra Rivera and Jacqui Alexander complicate and challenge the academic secular/religious divide across disciplinary boundaries. These writers suspend our inherited onto-epistemic categories that presuppose a certain (modern/colonial) partitioning of lived experience. Through such a maneuver, their respective critical politico-intellectual projects, their similarities and differences notwithstanding, effectively puts forward a decolonization of the secular/religious divide within a liberatory framework. My aim in presenting this part of my work in South Korea was to lay the foundations for a critical understanding of Korea’s anti-colonial and anti-dictatorship politics in relation to similar politics in Latin America.

Such bridge building across experiences of colonization led me to take advantage of my stay in Korea to further investigate the extent to which Latin American liberation theology has influenced the history of Korean political activism. Born in the late 1960’s, liberation theology has been influential in post-colonial regions of the world and their diasporas. A fact that has yet to receive strong scholarly attention, however, is that Latin American liberation theology curiously manifested a strong impact in South Korean democratization struggles in the 1970s–80s, particularly over the ways in which South Korean Christian organizations and theologians read the Latin American theological project via their own socio-historical context, eventually resulting in the development of a Korean Minjung theology. My findings gesture towards the need to strengthen the intellectual, historical, and political, bridges that unite Latin America and East Asia as spaces of resistance against the impositions of the rhetoric of modernity and the logic of coloniality. This is a long-term project that is part of the larger South-South dialogues towards transcending the modern/colonial status-quo, including the secular/religious divide across disciplinary boundaries that thinkers like Alexander and Rivera so powerfully challenge.

 Rafael and Fadoua El Heziti (Hassan II University - Morocco)
Photo by: Nelson Maldonado-Torres

Before departing from Korea, I had the privilege of additionally participating in the Latin American Studies Association of Korea annual conference. This was an opportunity to deepen the focus on the dynamics of the ongoing efforts to construct South-South dialogues between Latin America and East Asia. At LASAK, I presented my work on the concept of double translation as articulated by Walter Mignolo, arguing that double translation is a practice that should be made explicit in South-South dialogues that seek both the affirmation of subjugated knowledges and ways of being in the world, as well as the transcendence of Western modernity as an experiential totality. Double translation accounts for a process of transculturation that takes place on a plural egalitarian horizon beyond the empty universality of Western modernity. Mignolo takes as an example the development of neo-Zapatista thought articulated by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) in Southeast Mexico, formed by the mutual transformative encounter between Marxist and Indigenous cosmologies. Unlike the unidirectional translation model of Western modernity (e.g. Christian missionaries in colonial Latin America), double translation does not seek to absorb difference into the same, but instead enacts a pluriversal impetus illustrated by the Zapatista dictum “queremos un mundo donde quepan muchos mundos.” This entails that as we come together across different geo-historical positionalities towards the construction of an-other world, we need to be attentive to our categorical epistemic presuppositions, as well as to the hierarchies of power that exist within the protocols where these dialogues are taking place, such as the university. Otherwise our dialogues would not be premised upon an ethico-political equality and thus would collapse on the unidirectional model of translation.

I would like to thank Professor Maldonado-Torres and the remaining of my doctoral committee (Professor Yolanda Martinez-San Miguel and Professor Carlos Decena), for their intellectual support during this summer and the times a venir. I would also like to extend my gratitude to my interlocutors and new-found colleagues in South Korea and the rest of the world, for their generosity and hospitality – in particular, Professor Suk-Kyun Woo. Special thanks go to Professor Ji-Yeon Yuh, for encouraging me to pursue my comparative research on Korea.  At last, I am indebted to the Rutgers University Program in Comparative Literature, as well as the Rutgers University School of Graduate Studies for materially supporting my summer research and conference participations.

Spotlight Series: Fatimah Lakisha Fischer

As a way of learning a little more about faculty and staff members associated and/or connected to Rutgers and our program in Comparative Literature, we have created a “spotlight series” where we interview one of these members, and highlight some of their educational background and personal accomplishments through a post.


Last March, we welcomed Fatimah Lakisha Fischer, the new Comparative Literature Program Coordinator. In addition to earning a BA in Communication with a minor in Journalism, and her Masters in Organizational Change in Business Management, from College of Saint Elizabeth (CSE), Fatimah’s work has been enriched by her BA’s concentration choice in Technology and Advertising. Through her major and concentration, she learned how to use different types of editing software, such as News editing software and other editing techniques used in advertisement and journalism.

Before coming to Rutgers, Fatimah worked as an Administrative Assistant in the Educational Opportunity Fund Program (EOF) at College of Saint Elizabeth in Morristown. During her 13 year tenure in EOF, Fatimah worked as a building marshal, played a key role in the mission and values committee for the college, assisted in their budget committee, and also used her journalist skills to work as one of the editors, reporter, and writer for the college newspaperThe Station,” where she wrote a minimum of three articles a month. While doing all of this, Fatimah also hosted and produced her own talk show, “Table Talk with Tina,” where she invited different guests to talk about current events in the world of music and entertainment for about 30 minutes. This show was transmitted from 2005 until 2008, as a public access show through Cablevision.

Her passion for news reporting goes hand in hand with her passion for music, which have led Fatimah to not only work as a staff reporter for the sports publication “Eagle’s Nest,” and write her own entertainment news blog, but also work as an intern for the WBGO Jazz radio station, where she continues to volunteer to this day.

Fatimah’s love for music and beautiful voice did not only encouraged her to pursue and earn a certification as a recording engineer, as well as obtaining a (currently valid!) FCC RP/DJ’s license, but also earned her a place as the singer for the US national anthem at the Newark Bears stadium, and for the Somerset patriots at TD bank ballpark in 2013. Thankful for these opportunities, she says that her dream as a singer is to someday sing the national anthem at Madison Square Garden, for which she will use her experiences of working as the choir director at her local church for 15 years.

Now at Rutgers she says, “I feel excited experiencing so much diversity among the student body and faculty in Comparative Literature and across the university”. She adds, “I love working with students from different cultural backgrounds. [to give a small example] The other day I was so curious to see that they use military time on their phones.” Fatimah sees many opportunities to continue to grow and learn at Rutgers. She plans to obtain her Doctorate in Education (EdD) at Rutgers in a near future, for she desires to “never stop learning.”  Fatimah looks forward to having a “long extended career at Rutgers”, and to further her education, for as she acknowledges “there is empowerment throgh education!” Fatimah, Welcome to our Comp. Lit. team!



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.