Category Archives: Graduate Students

Jeong Eun Annabel We’s Dissertation Defense in the Time of a Pandemic

By: Jeong Eun Annabel We

It is inevitable: the sound of hail on a Spring morning will always remind me of the feat of a finished dissertation.

My entirely virtual dissertation defense took place on a cloudy Monday morning, with light hail (March 23, 2020). Members of my committee and I greeted each other from our respective rooms and proceeded to discuss the culmination of seven years of training and writing. Thankfully, the defense went swimmingly and without a glitch. It had been difficult to quiet all that has been going on as I prepared for my defense. The program and my committee members endeavored to make this virtual defense possible, which was no small feat in our present circumstances.

The irony of defending in relative immobility, put in place by the quarantine measures, is not lost on me. My dissertation, entitled “Decolonizing Mobility in the Postwar Transpacific,” examines how conditions of mobility and immobility are unevenly created under military and economic occupations in the Pacific, focusing on South Korea. Engaging the philosophical and literary reflections of East Asian, diasporic, and Native American thinkers and writers on im/mobility, it argues that alternative organization of life is found in the very conditions of immobility.

My committee members shared their questions on the work’s location as well as the use of speculative fictions as an object of analysis. Because each member has been my interlocutor from different fields of study (Decolonial Thought, Korean literature, Comparative Literature, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and Disability Studies), the defense discussions too, took an interdisciplinary shape to reflect such engagements. Although we lacked the audience members of the more customary open defense, it was great to receive engaging questions from scholars whose work has informed my thinking, and no less in a trying time.

Although the defense marks, in one sense, the end of a long trajectory of graduate training, it also marks the beginning of the life of a seven-year-long idea becoming a project of its own standing. I am excited to follow its life from this other side, and I thank all those who made it possible.

Rafael Vizcaino’s Dissertation Defense: Decolonial Responses to Secularism from the Underside of Modernity

By Yuanqiu Jiang, with editorial input from Rafael Vizcaino

March 10, 2020 witnessed Rafael Vizcaíno’s doctoral defense, the final step of his academic journey as a graduate student at Rutgers Comparative Literature.

 

Rafael started off by giving us a quick summary of his dissertation, which offers an interpretation of the notions of “secularity” and “post-secularity” from the perspective of epistemic decolonization. Rafael aims at a re-articulation of the meaning of secularization in modernity, where secularization learns from its own mistakes. Situating his project in Latin America and borrowing tools from decolonial thought, Rafael argues that secularity can be resignified beyond modern anti-religious secularism through epistemic decolonization. The ongoing project of postsecularity, defended by an array of scholars across the humanities and social sciences, can thus also take part in a broader process of decolonization.

 

In the examination portion of the defense, Professor Linda Martín Alcoff (CUNY Graduate Center) pushed Rafael to articulate how figures like Gloria Anzaldúa prefigure much of contemporary philosophy of science and standpoint theory. Professor Yolanda Martínez-San Miguel (University of Miami), asked Rafael about how he conceives of the relation between aesthetics, the erotic, and the spiritual. Professor Carlos Ulises Decena (Chair of Rutgers’s Department of Latino and Caribbean Studies) inquired about Rafael’s methods and urged Rafael to better articulate the embodied character of writing in the process of knowledge production. Lastly, our very own Professor Nelson Maldonado-Torres, who chaired Rafael’s dissertation, asked about the role of dialectics and opacity in Rafael’s work.

 

In his thoughtful response to all these comments, the word “trans-disciplinary” emerged as a notion central to Rafael’s own writing and thinking. Rafael invoked the cyberneticist Stafford Beer, whose critique of scholarship Rafael constantly kept in mind while writing his dissertation. The trans-disciplinary moves beyond the disciplinary and the interdisciplinary to think the big picture in an ever-changing world. The project of epistemic decolonization, Rafael argues, presupposes this type of transdisciplinarity, and with this frame, Rafael seeks to make a contribution to theories of modernity, religion, and secularity.

 

Rafael’s dissertation was acclaimed by Professor Maldonado-Torres as a triad of excellent writing, excellent research, and excellent analysis, which were also powerfully demonstrated in the defense. Felicidades, Rafael! And good luck with the next chapter of your career!

Photo credits: Annabel We

“Voices,” Italian Graduate Society’s bi-annual graduate conference

by Yingnan Shang

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.

Graduate Student Summer: Academic Exploration in Senegal and Kenya

By Paulina Barrios

Being a rising third year graduate student is a stressful moment for many of us; we are transitioning from coursework to thinking about our research project more seriously. The process of defining something has always been a daunting task to me, it is riddled with choice, with the pressure of truly understanding whatever it is you must define. When defining our research we must read or engage with all previous definitions, balance our interests with what is in our capacity to actually do, and so on and so on. This involves also preliminary research, which may vary from reading a gazillion texts to field work or archival research. All this can become extremely overwhelming, particularly when one is strained for resources.

Two moments were particularly challenging in my case: obtaining sufficient funds to do all the field work I ambitiously wanted to cover this past summer; and performing the interviews and participant observation once I was there (particularly because I am mostly trained in the humanities). I was able to respond to the first challenge through mobilizing resources within Rutgers University with the support of my program and my professors’ letters of recommendation when necessary. The second is a challenge that continues as I plan for longer field work in my fourth or fifth year, but the methods and tips obtained through qualitative methods classes and informal conversations with my friends trained in social sciences were there to guide me and will continue to frame my work.

In Nairobi National Park June 2019

Thus, my work this past summer was framed under the goal of granting more clarity to my project and stemming this tide of anxiety. Thanks to the Comparative Literature Program, the Center for African Studies, and the Off-Campus Dissertation Development Award through the School of Graduate Studies at Rutgers, I was able to fund an ambitious 5-week stay in Dakar, Senegal and Nairobi, Kenya. These funds were crucial for me to perform this much needed field work. Summer research funds for graduate students are central to developing research questions, collecting material for analysis, and broadening our networks.

As such, my time was divided between Nairobi and Dakar with a focus on reaching out to activists, scholars, and writers. For the first two weeks and a half I stayed in Nairobi where I took intensive private Swahili lessons to improve my knowledge of the language, volunteered at a non-profit advocacy organization, interviewed scholars in African arts and literatures, spoke with feminist and queer activists, as well as attended a spoken word performance. My stay in Dakar began with the 5th International Conference of the Dakar Institute of African Studies where I met a diverse group of graduate students and professors based in Senegal for their own research. Additionally, I was able to meet with professors working in Postcolonial African literature at Cheikh Anta Diop University and interview activists. During my last days in Dakar I was able to attend a slam poetry performance and meet with local artists. In both cases part of my goal in visiting these cities was to buy local publications, in Kenya I bought texts in Swahili to continue studying the language and in Dakar I bought local children’s literature and a novel by Calixthe Beyala, a Cameroonian writer, in French. These materials are often difficult and expensive to obtain in the United States, if not outright impossible to find.

Gorée Island June 2019

Therefore, my short time in both cities, although insufficient, was highly productive. It helped me obtain materials, both written and oral, that may become part of what I engage with directly in my dissertation. It also pushed me to improve my interview praxis and integrate the sociological methods I learned from courses in Sociology, both during my Masters in Mexico and my PhD here at Rutgers, as well as feminist knowledge production practices I learned in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Department at Rutgers. It forced me to reflect on what it implies to combine social science and humanities methodologies in a research project centered under Comparative Literature. Speaking with such a varying group of people helped me broaden my network of contacts, whom I aim to remain in contact with. This summer was a first exploration of how I might engage Latin American and African feminist literatures and I am now excited to further frame and develop my research.

This brief and quick summary would be incomplete without recognizing the invaluable support from Prof. Ousseina Alidou in helping me plan my stays and sharing her networks with me; Prof. Fred Mbogo based in Nairobi and Prof. Saliou Dione based in Dakar who were both extremely kind and helpful by presenting me to colleagues and activists, as well as offering bibliographic references; Ms Gacirah Diagne, President of Association Kaay Fecc, who made invaluable suggestions on who to contact in the world of dance, hip hop, and theater in Dakar; and Ms. Catherine Nyambura, Gender Advocacy Lead at the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Kenya Forum, with whom I collaborated during my stay in Nairobi and was extremely helpful in opening up Nairobi’s activist networks to me.

NEW GRAD STUDENT PROFILES, FALL 2019

Rutgers Comp Lit is thrilled to introduce the two students of this year’s incoming cohort: Sneha and Xingming.

Sneha Khaund attended St. Stephen’s College in Delhi for her undergraduate degree in English Literature. Following her studies in Delhi, she moved to London to study for an MA in Comparative Literature at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). As a Commonwealth Scholar at SOAS, she explored how multilingualism is a productive lens from which to think about world literature. She looks forward to developing these interests at Rutgers by focusing on eastern India. Prior to joining Rutgers, Sneha worked in the publishing industry and hopes to combine her interest in writing for popular media with her academic training.

Xingming Wang’s research interests lie in modern and contemporary Chinese literature, with theoretical concerns centering on animal studies, environmental humanities, and trauma and memory studies. He was born in Xuzhou, a city renowned for the culture of Han Dynasty, ancient battlefields, and heavy industry, where his critical awareness of historical memory and environmental protection has taken root and grown into an academic passion. At Soochow University, Xingming majored in English and focused on trauma in modernist literature, especially the works of Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner. He was also fascinated by the novels of Charles Dickens and thus ventured into a close reading of Nineteenth-century British literature. Meanwhile, he got affiliated to Jingwen College, an institute accommodating students from fifty different majors and endorsing interdisciplinary academic projects, where he honed his research skills. After that, Xingming went to Nanjing University for graduate study in English language and literature. While working on his M.A. thesis on critical animal studies, he took courses outside the English Department and found his interests gravitating towards animals in modern Chinese literature. At Rutgers, Xingming hopes to probe how representations of animals engage with the discourse of “human” and how literary animals embody a site of testimony to the painful moments in modern Chinese history.

Welcome, Sneha and Xingming!

Two Sessions on Black Feminist Critique: Decoloniality Workshop Fall 2019 Programming

by Rafael Vizcaíno and Jeong Eun Annabel We

In fall of 2019, the Decoloniality Workshop entered its third academic year as an interdisciplinary space for junior scholars to share work in progress in a relaxed environment committed to the transformation of the academy. For the first time in its short history, this semester’s Workshop saw two thematically related sessions that speak to one of the research strengths of humanities research at Rutgers: the literary and critical production of Black women writers, in Africa and in the Caribbean.

 

On September 16th, Comparative Literature PhD Candidate Grabriel Bámgbóṣé presented a paper titled “In My Mother’s House: African Women, Poetic Literacy, and Radical Translations of Négritude Humanism,” which was loosely based on his dissertation project of the same title. Bámgbóṣé’s project makes an intervention into recent studies on the discourse of négritude by “investigating the active roles of African women in the radical translations of [negritude’s] humanist poetics.” According to Bámgbóṣé, African women have been traditionally excluded from historical and critical accounts negritude poetics. Their poetry, however, is “a powerful vehicle for critiquing the coloniality of life through radical translations of négritude that problematize its historical equivalence to a fixed geotemporality of thought.” In this sense, for Bámgbóṣé, African women’s contributions to negritude poetics enact several political, epistemological, and aesthetic shifts from what is conventionally taken to be the domain of négritude poetics. Engaging their literary and poetics works, Bámgbóṣé questions “the pervasive silencing of African women’s voices in the négritude debate.”

 

Alexandria Smith, Women’s and Gender Studies PhD Candidate, initiated the session’s conversation by acting as the official discussant. Smith encouraged Bámgbóṣé to make his own scholarly positionality explicit as he investigates the roles of African women in the advancement of negritude’s poetics. Smith also pressed Bámgbóṣé to further articulate how the suppression of these women’s voices happened: who did this and why? The remaining of the conversation with audience participants centered on the relationship between poetics and politics, the colonial production of racial and ethnic differences, as well as the very concrete ways in which women poets engage the silencing of their voice.

 

On October 7th, Bámgbóṣé and Smith switched their roles of presenter and discussant. This time, Smith presented her work, entitled “The Woman From Carriacou: Audre Lorde and Dionne Brand Respond to the 1983 US Invasion of Grenada,” and Bámgbóṣé served as the official discussant. Part of Smith’s dissertation, the paper engaged the writings of Audre Lorde and Dionne Brand on Grenada to articulate the relationship between body politic (diasporic, Black, lesbian, Caribbean women’s embodied experience) and geopolitics (the U.S. invasion of Grenada and  its imperialist and anti-Black violence). The paper considers how the strategies of writing from and on the human body effects diasporic reflections on the violence that Lorde and Brand witnessed, setting this writing apart from the dominant reportage on the invasion in news media. Smith suggests that their responses link “the Caribbean, Africa, Canada, and the United States as sites interlocked in a global, exploitative colonial and imperial network.”

 

Bámgbóṣé began the Q&A section by asking Smith on the literary dimensions of her paper’s analysis: for example, how does the authorial choice of the essay form shape Smith’s analysis of Lorde and Brand, considering the two authors’ prominent role as poets? And how might an allegorical approach to Brand’s text—“Nothing of Egypt”—lend itself to Smith’s analysis of the relations among individual and collective bodies? The ensuing discussion cohered around the question of allegory as a strategy of writing about collective trauma, clarifications on the relationship between body politics and geopolitics, and further avenues for engaging the Black feminist theories of the flesh through these texts.

 

Visit the Decoloniality Workshop’s website for news on its future programming, as well to catch up on any of its past events.