Category Archives: Summer Graduate Research

A Particular Place and a Particular Time: Communism, Science Fiction, and their Co-Constitution

In his contentious 1972 description of science fiction as “a literary genre whose necessary and sufficient conditions are the presence and interaction of estrangement and cognition, and whose main formal device is an imaginative framework alternative to the author’s empirical environment,”¹ Darko Suvin ushered in an era of renewed debate about the classificatory role of an historically malleable genre. Yet, the central tenant of this categorization—estrangement of cognition from the known—is drawn from the Russian остранение (ostrenanie, or defamiliarization), itself already a central tenant of Russian Formalism as a genre. Ostrenanie, a central concept in Russian Formalism’s attempt to describe and define what constitutes literaturnost’ (литературность, or literariness), already functioned as a linguistic neologism with the double meaning of “making strange” and “putting aside.” To embody literariness at the level of the text is to inherently make strange and to decenter, to make the art itself recognizable as such. Thus the terminology of definitions utilized by Suvin already glosses its origins and, in doing so, elides any new formal definition of SF as a genre in and of itself, existing outside of—if contingent on—the realm of literature formally defined. To locate SF’s defining characteristic in the exact same categorization schema as those outlining literature as a whole, without allowing for additional classificatory markers, allows SF as a genre to remain in the liminal genre periphery that no amount of theorizing has yet been able to satisfactorily crystallize into a rigorously-definable framework. If, then, the defining features of SF as such are estrangement from the known taking place within a framework outside the author’s extant circumstances, then such estrangement may occur at the level of text, through technological extrapolations, or by transgressing or presenting unfamiliar national boundaries.

  Each of these potential avenues for estrangement—textual, technological, national—were explored, analyzed, and problematized at the first annual International Conference on Science Fiction and Communism, held May 26-27, 2018 at the American University in Bulgaria (AUB) in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria. The conference’s focus on communism as a modifier of and literary foundation for the development of science fiction offered an ideological avenue into the question of estrangement—if we in the West are used to thinking of SF as an inherently Western genre, what happens when we decenter it from those national, linguistic, and ideological boundaries? How does it change the nature of the questions being asked or the methods used to analyze its output, reception, and conditions?

As a unifying framework, the conference postulated SF not as an outcome of state policy or propaganda, but rather as an active agent in a complex and (in many cases) ongoing relationship between various communist regimes and public reception. As a genre often credited with voicing political and social critiques not possible in more “realist” genres, the conference took as its a priori theoretical positioning that SF is uniquely positioned to directly engage with the polemics of ongoing clashes between capitalism and communist ideology.

Yet it is not only the case that SF was and is uniquely positioned to comment upon ideological regimes, but also, numerous conference presentations recognized that as a mediated ideology, communism itself borrowed heavily from futuristic and technologicized visions of alterity, utilizing SF images, metaphors, and tropes to position itself as “the bearer of a bright future that had already arrived.” In adopting SF as a source of political discourse and as a framework for the communication of political ideals, various communist regimes were complicit in popularizing the genre itself. 

In addressing such a broad spectrum of interests, the conference—which was a multi-city affair—opened in Sofia, the capital city of Bulgaria, a country with a surprisingly science fictional history of robotics and cybernetics. To celebrate the opening of the conference, a cocktail party was held at a downtown gallery, including a meet-and-greet with local academics, science fiction experts, writers, artists, and fans. The exhibition on display was appropriate for setting the mood; “Fantastika in a Time of Communism” displayed archival and artistic SF works from the socialist period in Bulgaria. There was also space wine!

Following the close of the first night’s party, participants were transported two hours outside of Sofia to Blagoevgrad, a city in southwestern Bulgaria that is home to the American University in Bulgaria’s campus. Over the following weekend, participants presented on a variety of fascinating panels, beginning with “Science Fiction East and West: Communication or Divide?,” “Soviet Science Fiction,” “Space Conquest in Communist Children’s Literature,” “The Film Perspective,” and “No God in Cosmos.” Perhaps of most interesting note during the first day was a notable divide between those participants who took it as a given that communism as a system was irredeemably corrupt (if not outright evil) and their occasionally vocal clashes with the conference hosts, who attempted to steer the discussions towards a recognition of the ways in which communism was (or could be) beneficial despite the harm that its implementation had caused in the past. Disagreements along these lines led to volatile and exciting exchanges between participants.

Following a productive first day of presentations, the second day opened with a panel on “Narrowing the Dialogue: Case Studies” and concluded with “Science Fiction and Ideology.” I’m biased, of course, since this panel included my own presentation, but obviously they saved the best for last.

My presentation—“The Quotidian Utopia of China’s Lian Huan Hua”—was unique in that it was the only conference presentation dealing with a communist regime outside of the Soviet and Eastern European context, focusing instead on literary ephemera popular in mid-20th century communist China. As an explicit tenant of Mao’s modernization strategy during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, literary strictures produced a mode of narrative utopianism that Nathanial Isaacson has identified elsewhere² as a “quotidian utopia.” The quotidian utopia was a mass-produced vision of a utopian future brought about through decidedly non-fantastical means and promulgated to the public as a mode of implied development, rather than a narrative centered around an advanced technological system—that is, a utopian future for the nation was not described nor presented to the public as science fiction as such, yet retained its eye for future progress through quotidian means. 

What’s important to note here is the fact that such literatures have not, historically, been recognized as belonging to the strictly-defined genre of science fiction because their setting is firmly in the present. One valuable example of this mass production of quotidian utopian literature were the serialized booklets known as lian huan hua (连环画) or “linked serial pictures.” The lian huan hua were used as a tool of education and propaganda in the state’s move towards modernization, and as a result there were innumerable examples of the impact of trains, mining, agricultural improvements, electricity, telephone lines, and shipping techniques on the development of the country and on individual lives. By combining public health and public works propaganda with narrative and images, the lian huan hua were used as pedagogical tools for children, peasants, and the illiterate, and as such the narratives being presented are idealized in the extreme. This does not detract from their value as historical artifacts, however, and indicates the method by which the publishers sought to establish and shape mass opinion of the nation-building process.

In my presentation, I argued that the lian huan hua are no less science fictional simply because their future utopian dreams now seem to us to be rather commonplace for having (largely) been achieved; on the contrary, their use of innovative technologies to bring about a scientifically-advanced modern Communist society and their wide dissemination to the people renders this brand of quotidian utopian fiction an unparalleled attempt to bring the masses to the future through literary means. The fact that much of this body of text is dismissed as propaganda or not treated as worthy of academic investigation is an oversight on par with the dismissal in the Western canon of science fiction as an inconsequential genre literature. The shift in emphasis to the utilization of mass technologies exemplified by the lian huan hua is symptomatic of a still-extant utopian drive in Chinese Communist literature that, despite increased state crackdowns on the freedoms afforded authors and the broad social denigration of non-realist imaginaries condemned as bourgeois, the science fictional imaginary continues to produce.

Finally, the conference concluded with a keynote speech by Darko Suvin himself. Professor Emeritus at McGill University, Canada, Darko Suvin is widely recognized as one of the most prominent figures in the development of science fiction studies, and as previously noted, is responsible for the development of cognitive estrangement as a method of categorizing and analyzing science fiction as a genre. Over a conference call, he engaged with many of the papers that had been presented and additionally shared some of his own thoughts. As had by now become characteristic of this conference, the exchanges were often contentious—both intellectually-grounded and deeply emotional, many participants had significant personal stakes in their ideological positions. For many, the realities of extant communist regimes could not be discussed with any sort of cognitive dissonance—far from being fictional, they were real, lived experiences that, no matter how strange or estranging they might be, did not offer insight into a world that wasn’t, but a world that had been and continued to be a possibility. Their arguments served as a reminder that what makes something strange or fantastic is often as much a matter of historical positioning as technological development. 

A complete video of each panel can be found at the American University in Bulgaria’s website here: https://www.aubg.edu/news/aubg-hosts-inaugural-science-fiction-and-communism-conference-1465 or on youtube here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLJhqXzj2SATibzhnJ8KOE1RL6GgpR_s2i

Notes
¹ Suvin, Darko. Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1979)

² Isaacson, Nathaniel. “Science Crosstalk in China’s Shifting Cultural Field.” Talk given as part of the Science Fiction and Asian Histories panel at the 2016 ACLA Conference. Harvard University, 2016.

Decoloniality in China: A Sideways Gaze

By Rafael Vizcaíno

At the Great Wall, photo by Suzy Jung

While the first time I read Roland Barthes’s Travels in China I found it to be a cringe-worthy example of a type of postmodern orientalism, rereading it before my first trip to China led me to wonder if what he meant by the “sideways gaze” to look at China (neither Chinese nor Western) could instead be better understood as a type of decolonial gaze. After all, Chela Sandoval recovers Barthes and semiotics into the project of decolonization. From June 23 to June 29, I had the privilege of taking part in a scholarly and cultural exchange between Rutgers and Jilin University, where I presented my dissertation research and met humanities and social sciences scholars, graduate and undergraduate students from Jilin University. This exchange, as brief as it was, has further convinced me of the importance of strengthening South-South dialogues towards the development of that new gaze through which we can interpret our world-making practices beyond modern/colonial lenses.

Opening ceremony

The format of the scholarly forum consisted of concurrent colloquia across disciplinary boundaries. As the sole humanities scholar in the entire event, I was part of a group of psychologists and sociologists whose work analyzed how social identity markers of difference affect both the self-perception and the social role of marked subjects, e.g., biracial American college students or provincial Chinese women in urban settings. Such multidisciplinary audience was an ideal interlocutor for my work on the epistemic critiques decolonial thinking makes on method across fields and disciplines. Given the limited reception of decolonial thinking in that particular audience, however, I decided not to present my prepared paper on the coloniality of secularism and instead presented a contextualization of decoloniality vis-à-vis the historical formations of anti-colonialism and postcolonial studies. The ensuing discussion on the significance of importing foreign methodological frameworks to the analysis of an-Other socio-cultural and historical reality was very rich and conducive to future conversations across colonial/imperial differences, e.g., Latin American, African, and East Asian critiques of Western modern methodologies.

Talking about decoloniality, photo by Zhang Si

Besides the scholarly component of the forum, I had the opportunity of visiting several museums in the city of Changchun, as well as taking part in a cultural exchange with students from Jilin University where all of us learned about the educational systems of our counterparts. I found this event to be extremely fruitful because students’ questions about the American university system were honestly answered by Rutgers doctoral students. Among these included very serious and difficult questions, such as intellectual theft or other abuses of power like sexual harassment by one’s supervisors. After the event, there was an informal period of about ten minutes where we could have one-on-one discussions with each other. This proved to me to be the most enjoyable part of the forum, as I connected with many students interested in my areas of work, some of whom I remain in conversation today.

Warm welcome from Jilin University, photo by Zhang Si

The second part of the official visit consisted of a guided sight-seeing tour of Beijing not unlike the one Barthes describes in his Travels—indeed, I now laugh at the similarities. With a heat factor of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, we visited Tiananmen Square, the Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace, and the Great Wall over two days. The Great Wall is truly magnificent, and I hope to visit it again sometime soon. While I still cringe while reading Barthes’s descriptions of Chinese people, this trip has certainly given me new lenses through which to read his text, as well as concrete experience over what it could mean to look at China (and any other place of colonial difference for that matter) decolonially with a “sideways gaze.” I hope to continue building on these dialogues over the years to come.

My daily travel journal, a la Barthes

I would like to thank the Rutgers School of Graduate Studies and the Rutgers Global and China Offices for allowing me to take part in the Rutgers-Jilin Graduate Forum. Also, my gratitude goes to my student hosts at Jilin for their hospitality and incredible kindness.

 

On Queer Rights and Spaces in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

By Joseph Sepulveda

In the June of 2018, I interviewed Juan Cid over the course of a few weeks, a leader in the LGBTQ movement in the capital of the Dominican Republic, who was at the time preparing for a number of talleres (workshops) and LGBTQ events in celebration of gay pride. Meeting in La Zona Colonial at a typical Dominican restaurant, La Meson de Bari, we spoke about the past and future of the queer organization in the island. One of the central questions that motivated my interest in Cid’s work was to figure out how the city has developed alternative spaces and institutions to support LGBTQ people. I had learned through an internet search that Cid was the person to speak to about LGBT activism in the capital, and when I visited in June and listened to all his prospective activist projects over the next few weeks—it was one of the most striking facts to learn that his activism was pro bon.  Indeed, Juan’s official work is as an editor and producer, and his support for the LGBTQ community through IURA , his organization, is supplementary. He has worked with the well-known and critically acclaimed performance artist, novelist, musician, in short, the all around do-it-yourself artist that is Rita Indiana as well as working in editing “sensaciones virales” (viral sensations) like “Salón Belkys.” In his career, he has captured a number of awards and been featured in international cinematic festivals in Amsterdam, Cuba and others.

The 1970/80s, according to Juan, were distinguished by an increased cultural freedom and the existence of a number of gay nightclubs within the city, including Aire, that no longer exist. But what predominated were a number of exclusive clubs serving a more elite gay community. Santo Domingo continues to have a number of gay night spaces today, many of which are frequented by people across class and racial differences, and situated in the most tourist area in La Zona Colonial, but Cid suggests that many alternative night time social spaces have closed over the years. Contemporaneously, however, the city has found a strange ally in the US, at once supportive of today’s struggles for the human rights values of LGBTQ people and yet the most neo-imperial force in the history of the Caribbean in 20th century, including in the Dominican Republic, where it has effectively curtailed and undermined the democratic processes within the island through numerous occupations. US organizations provide some monetary aid and the US has had an openly gay, Wally Webster, championing gay rights and visibility in the island.  Despite aid and the support of US political figures, Cid reports a lack of social and health data that would help serve the LGBTQ community, including hard to get numbers about the number of suicide rates affecting the community. At a meeting for LGBTQ allies held at El Centro Cultural de España in Santo Domingo in June 14th, Cid addressed this and the most pressing concern of the movement at the moment: a bill that would prevent discrimination against people because of their sexual orientation and sexual/ gendered difference. The taller was at once a pedagogical service aimed at teaching the broader public a more inclusive language about sexual and gender variance but also a tool for allowing members both within and outside the community to communicate in a shared space to address the common struggles around sexual/ gender difference. It was instructive to listen to young Dominicans united in a community center to better understand the evolving issues and variance in language and experiences of the LGBTQ coalition since it represented the ties that do exist within and outside the community as well as the exceptional strides in activism that the city continues to make through efforts made by people like Juan. Spaces like this remain crucially important as networks that do outreach and produce change through dialogue.  Beyond this type of community engagement Juan hopes that the future of the LGBTQ community in the city would allow for the creation of more “safe spaces” for LGBTQ youth and social programs as well as a shelter to serve homeless LGBTQ people.

The focus on what was there and what was no longer there in terms of recognizably queer or gay spaces (and cultural centers like el Centro Cultural de España that enable conversation) also intersected with a larger question I posed about the different political and memorial markers that exist throughout the city. On the one hand, Santo Domingo memorializes one of its longest running, and for some one of the most corrupt symbols of the continuation of el Trujillato (a period of political despotism headed by dictator Rafael Trujillo (1930-1961), presidential figures whose policies led to the migration of waves of economically- deprived Dominicans and the shifting of the economy toward tourist industries in the 70s. On the other, the city remembers and similarly has erected monuments and named streets and important geographical markers to the memory of Juan Bosch, whose short government in 1963 was defeated by a US-led invasion and military coup, which eventually resulted in Balaguer’s return to power for much of the late 21st century.  

I want to close with reflections on the critical thought of a queer Dominican artist, the novelist, Rita Indiana. In May 31, 2018, she gave the keynote address in el Centro Leon in Santiago, Dominican Republic where she spoke on a piece with the wonderful title, “Skaters and Drag Queens: Dominican Cultural Ecology ‘Do-It-Yourself’” (Skater y Drag Queens: Ecología Cultural Dominicana). Indiana begins with an anecdote about her childhood: receiving a gift sent to her apartment in Santo Domingo from her deceased father in the diaspora who was assassinated in the Bronx. The gift—a Walkman with a Guns and Roses cassette— arrives late, after the father’s death, as if from the beyond or, more logically, a sign that “el correo dominicano era una mierda.” The lecture centers, however, on Indiana’s experience in the evolving countercultural spaces that sprang up out of nowhere, impromptu, spontaneously, and organically in  Santo Domingo vastly developing through the labor of Haitian hands and under the “las caducas ideas del progreso” (the expired notions of progress) of president Balaguer. Indiana lyrically describes the space of the developing city as one of constant “excavacion y construccion” mirroring “el cover de una banda de metal , una series de avenidas hostiles que conduction al centro de su universo: el skateboard shop”  There, and in an abandoned commercial center turned into a skate boarding ring “desadaptados” (non-conformists) like Indiana would converge ; these were punks, skateboarders, hippies, and fans of metal, all part of different subcultures who were colonizing empty spaces, coalescing in them in order to produce an alternative cartography to that of the traditional city. Consuming pirated videos of skateboarding and horror shows, the commercial center also became a site for selling t-shirts, getting tattoos and hanging out. This space, whose owner no one knew, was transformed into a communal cultural center through the ingenuity of its adolescent members. Likewise, the skateboarders transformed the concrete of the city’s patrimonial monument El Plaza de la Banderas, a symbol of patriarchal power and veneration of the state, at the intersection of Churchill and John F. Kennedy into an impromptu skating ring, transforming the city of Santo Domingo into an alternative urbanscape with new possibilities, that is until the police eventually showed up. The nights, Rita Indiana, navigated the gay scene of disco free, “una version caribena de la Ariel de la Tempestad de Shakespeare” a space where the body and gender not the street was being undone (desdoblada) and remade by its performers. For both skateboarders and drag queens, Rita asserts, the body and its transformation is the main protagonist. In the face of a lack of social and cultural support, institutional access, both drag queens and skateboarders learn to make do by claiming and restructuring what’s already there. This I came to see firsthand when I visited a bar in a residential neighborhood in Gazcue, near the old colonial section of the city, where a home was transformed at night into a club for mostly gay patrons. When the night was over, and as we were leaving, the club was slowly becoming again someone’s home. Whoever the owner was had turned this home into a social space if only for a few hours, making do and repurposing what exists to make something spectacularly queer in the heart of Santo Domingo.  

Graduate Student Summer: Institute for World Literature 2017 session at Copenhagen

By:  Rudrani Gangopadhyay

 The 7th session of the Institute for World Literature (IWL) met at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark this Summer from July 3 through July 26, in joint partnership with Aarhus University. The four week-long program consisted of twelve two-week seminars taught by scholars trying to rethink and redefine world literature, guest lectures by Sara Danius and Madame Nielsen, colloquia for participants to share and workshop their current research, and panels on publishing and venturing out into the job market as well as working on projects with multiple scholars from varied disciplines. My own interest in the IWL arose because of its unique perspective towards the study of world literature with a global scope. Not only did my time at the Institute help me question existing notions of world literature and attempt to access it unprecedented ways, its format rendered itself particularly well to create for all the participants a thriving intellectual exchange between the attendees. as well as its institute format which I believed would render itself well to a thriving intellectual exchange between the attendees.

The two seminars I took were “Exilic Writing and the Making of World Literature” with Galin Tihanov (Queen Mary, University of London) and “Colonialism, a Multilingual Local and its Significant Geographies” with Francesca Orsini (SOAS, University of London).  Prof. Tihanov’s seminar on “Exilic Writing and the Making of World Literature” proved to be an excellent learning resource for my readings into movement, memory and identity, and enabled me to continue my inquiries into the study of cultural texts as mnemonic markers of a socio-cultural history of migration. The seminar questioned existing notions of cosmopolitans, of exilic memory, the language as well as the affective economy of exile, and tries to constitute a world literary network out of exilic writing.

Prof. Orsini’s seminar on “Colonialism, a Multilingual Local and Its Significant Geographies” was particularly relevant to my study of multilingualism and its varied impact on literary production, translation and circulation. The seminar was a way for Orsini to workshop the ideas of her ongoing project on ‘Multlingual Locals and Significant Geographies’ and see how the contents of the project could be brought into the interdisciplinary classroom. Taking the case of India’s persistent multilingualism and diverse traditions of literary production, Orsini tried to envision a system of world literature akin to Doreen Massey’s formulation on space as a “sphere of the possibility of the existence of multiplicity in the sense of contemporaneous plurality; as the sphere in which distinct trajectories coexist”. I found the focus of both seminars on concepts of cultural translation and its role in the making of what we understand as world literature particularly fascinating. What made the seminar experiences even more interesting was the varied backgrounds from which the students in the seminar came, and therefore the very different outlooks they brought to their study. The seminars required intense work, but it helped to have access to the University of Copenhagen libraries, which included the Royal Danish Library’s collections, including the Black Diamond.

The colloquium that I was a part of was on World Cinema. Our group was made of twelve graduate students in various stages of their work. While some workshopped their chapters or prospectus, others like myself, brought to the colloquium ideas about projects. I found the experience of the presenting my own work and listening to the research of others particularly stimulating, and enjoyed myself immensely. The colloquia were a good way to meet more people working on in similar areas, and forming networks that I hope we will continue to cherish professionally and personally.

IWL also arranged for tours around Copenhagen, on land and in the canals around the city. Aside from the historical walking tours around the beautiful city, we also went on trips to Roskilde (the old Viking capital) and to Helsingor (the real-life inspiration behind Shakespeare’s Elsinore). In the latter, we were fortunate enough to see their summer time performance of Hamlet which takes place around the castle. Everyone involved enjoyed these immensely!

I am very grateful to the program in Comparative Literature for the funding I received in order to attend the Institute. It proved to be the perfect opportunity to combine an exploration of  newer ways to think about world literature as well as interacting and networking with an exciting intellectual community over the summer (in a beautiful city). It has been an invaluable experience that would no doubt enrich my literary imagination going forward.

Graduate Student Summer: Black in Europe, University of Amsterdam, 2017

By: F. Joseph Sepúlveda

After spending a few weeks traveling throughout Europe, particularly Sweden and Spain, in early June, I ended up attending the 10-day summer school program “Black Europe”, at the University of Amsterdam. Held in the International Institute for Research and Education (IIRE) and in collaboration with the Center of Study and Investigation for Decolonial Dialogues (Barcelona, Spain), the program features mostly European and North American scholars who work on race, and focuses on the investigation of how race and immigrantion has altered European society and its legal, historical, and cultural institutions. The program was for me most productive as a way to gain insight into how race and racial difference is understood within European contexts, and learning from scholars like Stephen Small, David Theo Goldberg, and Kwame Nimako through daily lecture sections was beneficial for expanding my own understanding of how non-American nations speak about (or fail to speak of) the impact and importance of black and other immigrants to the formation of Europe (although I think the program would have been more useful if broken up by smaller workshops and group discussions). Stephen Small’s work, for example, explores Black Britain’s centrality in European discourses on black civil rights and visibility, and he nicely presented the fact that even in Britain, which has the largest black population, the percentage of blacks in the nation is never as large as in the American hemisphere. However, anti-black discourse in Europe, and in Britain especially, tends to hyperbolically imagine the nation as overrun by “too many” formerly colonial black subjects.

In general terms, the program was useful for teaching three fundamental ideas about the European relation with its black populations: 1. That most European countries regard anti-black racism as an American, and particularly US American problem, and so they adapt a legal and social discourse of color-blindness that prevents coalitions to redress issues through the category of race. 2. Europe has been relatively adept at keeping black migrants outside of its nations (even in Britain the black population resides in major metropolitan areas and constituted less than 5 percent of its national demographics in 2011). 3. Unsurprisingly, important European countries like the Netherlands and Sweden disavow their role in the Transatlantic Slave Trade despite benefitting greatly from it and bankrolling its success.

In sum, the program offered an intellectually engaging ensemble of scholars who spoke about the different European approaches to thinking and resisting race, linking racial discourse with decolonial theory, and showing how to methodically think about race in the modern world. This program thus provided me with suggestions about what a more expansive trans-Atlantic framework to thinking racial formations could look like.  

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.