All posts by shawn_gonzalez

Archipelagoes Seminar Gallery Show: “From Island to Ocean: Caribbean and Pacific Dialogues”

By: Maria Elizabeth Rodríguez Beltrán

The Archipelagoes Seminar of the Center for Cultural Analysis hosted a gallery show and panel discussion on October 20. The first part of the seminar opened by analyzing sculptures and ceramics by artist Juana Valdes and paintings/collages by Fidalis Buehler. This seminar provided the space for Professor Valdes’s work, which is represented on the right of this picture, to intertwine with professor Fidalis Buehler’s work, featured on the left side. In this way, the seminar developed a conversation about archipelagoes in the Caribbean and the Pacific and their commonalities and differences, not only between the islands but also between the oceans.

In the second part of the seminar, Brian Russell Roberts from Brigham Young University analyzed some of the artifacts presented by both artists through the lens of Barbara Christian’s essay “The Race for Theory.” Dr. Roberts explained that these pieces allow us to have “an archipelagic approach to geography, to human culture. An approach that recognizes the different prominences to the islands”.

This was followed by English professor Mary Eyring, also from Brigham Young University, who called the audience to look at transnational cultural exchanges through the lens of Ocean Studies. We were challenged to start thinking about the “ocean as positive space,” which means that instead of only focusing on the islands when thinking about archipelagoes, we must also think about the waters that surround these islands, how the sea changes the way we think about people within the islands, and how the ocean shapes people’s identities. She spoke about how the ocean transforms the lives of those who go into it and those who come back, those that never make it back, and those that live surrounded by it.

Professor Eyring encouraged us to see the archipelagoes from the “fish-eye view”—the view from the water— instead of the “bird’s eye” view: a horizontal view, closer to the people of the island, instead of the vertical and dominant view of the distant observer, the colonial one. This made me think about Teresa Goddu’s Essay “The Panoramic Perspective of Anti-Slavery” and her concept of the scopic power.

Professor Eyring closed her talk by challenging us to think beyond the ship as an extension of land-based power, and rather about the “power of the sea” outside and inside of the naval, the sea as a space of re-identification.

In conclusion, this seminar allowed the audience to speak about archipelagoes in new forms by looking at them from the perspective of cultural, literary, and ocean studies.

Symposium: Africa, Europe, and the Mediterranean Migration Crisis

By: Gabriele Lazzari

On Friday, October 16, Rutgers University hosted a one-day symposium focused on the current migration crisis in the Mediterranean. Sponsored by several departments and programs in the School of Arts and Sciences, the symposium brought together scholars, activists, journalists, and visual artists from several institutions and locales in order to address an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, in which millions of people, mainly from Africa and the Middle East, are fleeing from political oppression, civil war, and economic depression. In trying to understand the complexity of this crisis, despite the reduction of media representation, the speakers engaged with political, historical and epistemological implications, which expose, with tragic clarity, unresolved questions related to colonialism, neoimperialism and European identity.


Cristina Lombardi-Diop discusses the crisis from the perspective of “Italy’s southern front”

The first session, titled “Histories, Causes, and Contexts of the Current Crisis,” addressed the genealogy of the crisis and its current implications. Cristina Lombardi-Diop (Loyola University) focused on the notion of the border and on its shift from a mere geographical category to a locus of epistemological and spiritual negotiations in the experience of African migrants. Ousseina Alidou (Rutgers University) stressed the importance of global and local networks of solidarity to oppose the structural violence to which African youth is continuously subjected. Amadou Kane-Sy (artist and activist) discussed how, through his art, he tries to rearticulates geopolitics of knowledge, and to denounce neoliberal policies in countries such as Senegal and Congo. Kassahun Checole (publisher of African World Press Inc.) placed his own migrating experience within the broader history of Eritrea, a country that, despite its relative smallness, thousands of people leave every day to escape from a brutal military regime.


R. Daniel Kelemen explains the current policies of the European Union

The second session, titled “Contemporary Trajectories,” was introduced by Rhiannon Noel Welch (Rutgers, Italian Department), the main organizer of the symposium. The first speaker was Cristina Giordano (UC Davis), who explained how ethno-psychiatry can help us illuminate the incompatibility between the temporality of trauma experienced by migrants and the temporality of the state and of biomedical categories. Harouna Muonkaila (Abdou Mounouni University, Republic of Niger) focused on the trans-Saharan routes, stressing how the externalization of European migration policies in central Africa is reinforcing inequalities, exploitation, and illegal smuggling of migrants. Jean-Baptiste Sorou (Gregorian University of Rome and University of Tanzania) retraced the history of decolonization in the African continent and maintained that only education and cultural projects (in which he himself is involved) can guarantee a future for Africans in Africa. R. Daniel Kelemen (Rutgers University) discussed how the European Union is (mis)managing the crisis and explained how the current policies the EU is trying to enforce are a response to a structurally unsustainable situation. Ayten Gündoğu (Columbia University), drawing on Hanna Arendt’s notion of “stateliness,” proposed that the current crisis, by exposing the borders of humanity, has shattered the façade of the European project and has revealed its true politics of “expulsion from humanity.”


The artist Nikolaj Bendix Skyum Larsen presents his project “End of Dreams”

An art exhibition and a discussion with two visual artists concluded the symposium. The participants had the opportunity to see the works of Amadou Kane-Sy and Nikolaj Bendix Skyum Larsen, whose art addresses the affective consequences of migration through photography, video production and installations.

Film Series: Screening of Ousmane Sembène’s Black Girl

By: Melina Gills

On October 8, a group of undergraduate and graduate students, from fields as diverse as Engineering and Women and Gender Studies, gathered in Tillett Hall to watch the 1966 Senegalese film widely considered to have ushered in “African cinema.” Forty-nine years later, with a restoration that screened at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Black Girl (La noire de…), directed by world-celebrated filmmaker Ousmane Sembène, has lost none of its emotional punch and political power. In the midst of enjoying the pizza generously funded by the GSA, we were quietly enraptured by Sembène’s rhythms, images, and thought-provoking juxtapositions.

With the haunting image of a mask that travels from Senegal to France, back to Senegal again, Sembène paints a vivid world of loneliness, suffering, and the bonds between living and dead that ultimately stand as an unscathed form of resistance to the oppressive forces that will be undone by their own inhumanity. The final breaking of the fourth wall epitomizes Black Girl’s challenge to any spectatorial detachment, emphasizing the need for communal viewing and debate. After the screening, we eagerly discussed the film, especially marveling at its still very relevant portrayal of a woman’s experience in a country from which she is barred as an equal, welcomed only as cheap or free labor, an advanced form of slavery.

What changes between colonialism and its supposed “post” era? This is one such question rigorously addressed by the film and one that will be raised at the Comparative Literature department’s upcoming annual graduate conference, which will explore “decolonial thought.” This semester, the screenings of the Comparative Literature Film Series, of which that of Black Girl was the first, anticipate the central ideas and concerns to be discussed at the conference. Future films include Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2011, Thailand) and a still undecided film.

Book Review: Eric Hayot’s Academic Writing Advice

By: Carolyn Ureña

The first time I taught a course on academic writing, I was assigned Cathy Birkenstein and Gerald Graff’s The Say, I Say as the core text for the class. As I read through this small book filled with practical advice on how to write clear transitions and build an argument, I was thrilled by its clarity but also incredulous that I had somehow managed to get by without it. I mean, why had no one handed me this book when I was in college?

This was the same feeling I experienced upon reading the first few pages of Eric Hayot’s The Elements of Academic Style. As graduate students, we are often tasked with teaching others to write, having become relatively adept at doing so ourselves. And yet, the difference between writing a college seminar paper and your first graduate school paper (or publishable article, or – gasp – your dissertation) can honestly feel as daunting as making that initial transition from high school to college writing. While there is no telling whether graduate education in the humanities will include a course on writing, the good news is that Hayot’s book has emerged to fill that void, helping to assuage the fears of anyone who has ever felt unsure of how to start, push through, and revise an academic writing project.

Part pep talk, part practical advice, The Elements of Academic Style offers readers concrete suggestions on essential topics such as: how to create and maintain a writing schedule; how to transition between the paragraphs, sections, and chapters of your project while also building an argument; and how to effectively engage sources. Deciding how much to “show your iceberg” –that is, determining how much of the research you’ve done you really need to show your readers (versus, say, placing those ideas in footnotes and letting your synthesized ideas show in the main text)— can be a major challenge when working with large bodies of work, and Hayot’s careful explanation of when to show what has already proved incredibly helpful to me as I engage in revisions.

One of the great strengths of Hayot’s book is his ability to position himself as a fellow writer throughout, offering advice from the perspective of someone who is constantly telling you not only a) this is what I actually do, but b) this is not the only way, just what has worked for me. I for one always appreciate when my mentors share with me their process as well as what they still find challenging, and for this reason Hayot’s book stands out as the best book on academic writing I have read to date. I’ve already been returning to it as a reference, recommending it to teachers, tutors, and students alike, and I highly recommend you give it a read, no matter where in your graduate career (or beyond) you find yourself.

Online Presence for Grad Students with Nicky Agate

On October 19th, Nicky Agate, managing editor of the MLA Commons shared advice for graduate students who want to improve their online presence. She focused on several resources for grad students:

  1. MLA Commons: As part of MLA membership, the MLA Commons site allows students and professors to host professional websites that can link to their new or existing WordPress blogs. Since these sites are associated with the MLA, they rate highly in search engine rankings, which makes them easier to access.
  2.  CORE: MLA Commons’ new open access repository, CORE, is currently in Beta mode. Posting work on CORE allows students to increase the visibility of their scholarly work. When researchers upload papers to CORE, they can associate their work with forums that will immediately connect them to potential readers in their field of specializations.
  3. ORCID: This site helps researchers establish a digital identity that links all of their publications, grant applications, and other work. ORCID is particularly helpful for researchers with common names who want to distinguish their work from that of others.
  4. Twitter: Nicky Agate discussed different strategies for using Twitter as a professional tool including retweeting articles of interest to your scholarly community, networking at conferences, and participating in larger academic conversations around hashtags like #PhDchat, #AcWri, and #AltAc.

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.