On November 22-23, the Italian Graduate Society held a graduate conference on the theme of “voices.” Bringing together different perspectives and fields of study, the forum hosted graduate students and scholars from multiple academic disciplines adopting a wide variety of approaches in their research. Presenters and attendances from UChicago, UPenn, UMichigan, Harvard, Univ. of Virginia, Columbia, Princeton, CUNY, and Rutgers contributed their research and skills from the fields of animal studies, anthropology, cinema studies, education, media studies, medical humanities, medieval studies, musicology, oral history, performance studies, philosophy, postcolonial studies, religious studies, sound studies, translation studies. Keynote speakers were Jenny McPhee from New York University and Diana Garvin from the University of Oregon. The event was co-sponsored by Rutgers Department of Italian, Comparative Literature Program, Medieval Studies Program, Spanish and Portuguese Department, the School of Graduate Studies, and the Graduate Student Association.
The conference invited researchers interested in the issues of the complex present within the contexts of their own listening. The questions regarding the voice and voices have been profoundly enquired and explored in the works of contemporary thinkers including Jacques Derrida, Hélène Cixous, Alice Lagaay, Giorgio Agamben, and Adriana Cavarero. Important works of literature, theories and philosophy have often reflected the concern of “voices” occupied in artistic and cultural debates: from mythologies to confessional narratives, from rhetorical treatises to forms of vocal performances, opera, and media of digital and mass communication, voices are constantly contested and intricately negotiated. They have been celebrated and silenced, studied and standardized, as well as regarded as the place of both private and public expression. Questions the participants asked which may guide our reflection, amongst many, are: is the singular “voice” still a valid philosophical category? Should it be replaced altogether with its plural counterpart, “voices”? How have these concepts changed throughout the centuries? How do human, non-human (e.g. animal, nature), and post-human voices interact? Do digital forms of communication empower the voice? Are there still voiceless groups of people in the era of the internet? What are the ethical, political, and philosophical implications of turning voices into aesthetic objects? What is the role of voices in artistic and social performances? How have voices been represented in literature? What is the relationship between the voice of the author and the voice of the translator?
Three graduate students of Rutgers CompLit also presented their works: Milan Reynolds’s “Hearing Voices: Relations of Language, Gender, and Power in Angela of Foligno’s Memorial,” Amanda González Izquierdo’s “A Voiceless Response: Gazing as Declaration of Being,” and Gabriele Lazzari’s “The Voices of the Somali Diaspora: Dialogic Reaccentuation in Ubah Cristina Ali Farah’s Madre Piccola.” I am much impressed by the richness and diversity in my colleagues’ researches, and this conference has provided me a wonderful opportunity to learn from their works.