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Grad Student Summer: Barcelona Summer School

Decolonial Dialogues in Barcelona

by Rafael Vizcaino

From July 11 to July 21, 2016, I attended the Decolonizing Knowledge and Power: Postcolonial Studies, Decolonial Horizons Summer School, organized by the Center of Study and Investigation for Decolonial Dialogues in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. This is an intensive school organized by international faculty that attracts around 60-100 students from around the world each year, primarily doctoral and master students, young faculty, advanced undergraduates, and other professionals in related fields (particularly education and the arts). While attendees come from many different areas within the university and outside, and hail from all continents of the world, what we all share is a deep interest in processes and projects of decolonization (plurally construed). Because we shared the project of decoloniality, our interactions were an incredibly rich resource that allowed us to learn from and challenge one another in the spirit of solidarity. It is safe to say that there is no equivalent space of such strength, at least in the United States.

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The audience (picture by Nelson Maldonado-Torres).

The School consists of two or three intensive lectures a day, each lasting at least two hours. And between lectures was the time for general collective discussion, be it of the reading materials, the content of the lecture, or other concerns one may have. During spare time, people also organized into groups based on discipline or area of work/interest, and discussed in more detail how one’s area specifically relates to the decolonial project, or what kind of work one is doing to enact such relation. Days were very intense, as discussion tended to continue over lunch and dinner, and then lecturers unofficially held “office hours” in the buzzing Plaza del Sol in the neighborhood of Gracia. This was a great opportunity to interact with such thinkers on a one-on-one basis in a relaxed setting, as well as an ideal time to get to know one’s colleagues.

This year, Ramon Grosfoguel (UC Berkeley) opened the School with an introductory lecture in which he situated the historical context of the rise of coloniality as a pattern of power, going back well beyond the commonly held standard for such rise (the so-called “discovery” of the Americas in 1492) to the rise of Christendom in the Roman Empire during the 4th century of the Common Era.

barcelona-pablo-photo-1Ramon Grosfoguel (picture by Pablo Gonzalez).

During the first week, our very own Nelson Maldonado-Torres gave a series of lectures titled “10 Theses on Coloniality and Decoloniality,” where he outlined the analytics of coloniality and illuminated on three interrelated spheres where decoloniality takes place: theory, arts, and activism.

barcelona-zingisa-photo-2Nelson Maldonado- Torres (picture by Zingisa Mqalo Nkosinkulu).

Linda Alcoff (CUNY) also gave a series of lectures, titled “Decolonizing Epistemology.” Alcoff highlighted the importance of epistemology and normativity for the project of decoloniality, as the modern/colonial horizon relies on these elements for its own justification. Moreover, Stephen Small (UC Berkeley) gave a lecture on “Black Europe,” focusing on the politics of race in Great Britain, and Dew Baboeram (IISR) held two sessions on “Decolonizing the Mind,” where he put forward a critique of critical sociological theories from the perspective of epistemic decolonization.

barcelona-pablo-photo-3Linda Alcoff (picture by Pablo Gonzalez).

The second week saw new lecturers with Enrique Dussel (UNAM) who presented a series of talks on many of the themes of the Philosophy of Liberation: a new vision of world (political) history, an ethical critique of capitalism following a groundbreaking reading of Karl Marx, an alternative vision of politics and political philosophy, and an analysis of the notions of interculturality and transmodernity for the near future.

barcelona-pablo-photo-4Enrique Dussel (picture by Pablo Gonzalez).

Ruthie Gilmore (CUNY) too held a series of seminars, focusing on the recently deceased Cedric Robinson’s Black Marxism. Gilmore brought to the school a refreshed radical politics that is as relevant as ever, given the contemporary status of racial politics and their material ramifications in the United States, as well as the constant rise of neoliberalism in all corners of the world. Sabelo Ndlovu (UNISA) closed the School’s schedule with two lectures on “African Decolonial Thought,” in which he mainly looked at the pitfalls of postcolonialism as a lens through which to understand the reality of the continent of Africa.

barcelona-pablo-photo-5Ruth Gilmore (picture by Pablo Gonzalez).

While all sessions were beneficial to my intellectual interests, I am very satisfied to have discussed the work of Enrique Dussel with other voracious readers (and critics) of him, as well as to have had the privilege to have many one-on-one conversations with Dussel himself. These discussions were a continuation of an exchange started here at Rutgers University when he visited the Latino Caribbean Studies Department in April of 2015, that then continued at a philosophy conference at Villanova University in April of 2016. These have re-energized me to continue doing the work that I am doing, as well as given me many lines of thought to explore this year and beyond as I prepare to put together my doctoral dissertation. Yet, besides holding these theoretical concerns, in Barcelona I also managed to connect with local activists who are in one way or another realizing, on the ground, some of the aspects of the discourse and practice of decoloniality at many levels: Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain, Europe. They are anti-gentrification activists, activists in defense of migrant rights or minorities within Europe (such as the Romani people), as well as those interested in the independence of Catalonia from Spain. Of particular importance to my own developing interests in discourses of citizenship, migration, racialization, and coloniality, was meeting some of the actors involved with the Espacio del Immigrante, a health/socio-cultural center in an occupied flat in the rapidly-gentrifying neighborhood of El Raval. This is a center that for approximately two years has been providing free healthcare to undocumented migrants to counteract the actions of the Spanish government that has made it illegal for undocumented migrants to receive basic care at public hospitals (language classes and seminars on critical thought are also held among other events). While I was in Barcelona the local police force had orders to evict those inside the Espacio (an extension of 45 days was granted at the time of this writing). This event made me grasp the complicated socio-political atmosphere currently in Barcelona, beneath the city’s public appearance as the most progressive city in Europe open to refugees. Put simply, these interactions with local activists were as important and thought-provoking as were the series of lectures I attended at the School. They were another decolonial dialogue, not unrelated to those I had at the Summer School.

Overall, the Decolonizing Knowledge and Power: Postcolonial Studies, Decolonial Horizons Summer School is a crucial space in the development of the decolonial project. The project is a plural endeavor, not without its internal critiques, that seeks to challenge the abundant colonial legacies across all levels of experience in our shared world. I am grateful to both the Program in Comparative Literature and the Graduate School at Rutgers University that supported my trip. I definitely encourage anyone interested in processes and projects of decolonization to attend this School. The best time to apply is during the fall semester, as it increases one’s chances of receiving travel support from the university and/or external sources. The deadline for applications is usually early in the following year. For more information, this is the School’s website.

Mellon Summer Fellowship: An Interview with Josué Rodríguez

Josué Rodríguez, 3rd year Ph.D. student, has just been awarded a Mellon Summer Fellowship to conduct pre-dissertation research in Santiago, Chile. Here is what he told us about the importance of visiting the Vicente Huidobro Foundation for his current project.

What are you going to do this summer thanks to the Mellon Summer Fellowship?

The Mellon Summer Study Grant will allow me to travel to the Vicente Huidobro Foundation in Santiago, Chile. There, I hope to analyze Huidobro’s literary journals, magazines and other collaborative texts, and trace the way they reflect and respond to avant-garde activity both across Latin America and in Europe. The networks of artists, poets, and thinkers these texts form, as well as the essays, manifestos, and poetry they circulate are important in conceiving the complex trans-Atlantic relationship between movements like French Surrealism and Huidobro’s Creacionismo.

The foundation itself performs a variety of roles in addition to being both museum and archive. It has benefitted from the membership of prominent poets like Octavio Paz and Nicanor Parra and scholars like Saul Yurkievich and René de Costa. It contains over 8,000 archived records, including manuscripts, photographs, first editions, and personal documents. Some of these documents include letters and photographs that catalog Huidobro’s relationships and with artists and intellectuals like Pablo Picasso and André Breton who are central to the avant-garde. Ultimately, through a wide variety of available materials, the Fundación makes a great effort to contextualize Huidobro and his work within his multifaceted historical and cultural milieu. I feel very fortunate to be able to visit and explore this unequaled site of research.

How do you think the Mellon Summer Fellowship will help you develop your dissertation?

Primarily, I am interested in examining how Surrealism’s conceptualization of authorship, politics, poetry, and art was appropriated, rejected, and/or otherwise reconfigured by Latin American vanguard poets in the early to mid 20th century.

As a result, at this early juncture of my research, the Mellon Summer Study Grant will allow me to begin formulating research questions for my prospectus around one of the prominent voices of Latin American vanguard poetics, the Chilean poet Vicente Huidobro. Focusing on the literary journals founded by Huidobro will help reveal the constant shifts in his aesthetic and political goals. Huidobro’s participation in avant-garde activity between 1916 and 1925 in Europe is crucial to his later re-articulation of what Latin American vanguard poetics should be in method, politics, style, and tone. As a result, studying these documents at the Foundation will provide important framing for a broader theorization of a Latin American poetic identity and its relationship to trans-Atlantic movements like Surrealism.

What professor(s) are you working with and what role did they have in helping you with shaping your research interest and/or in writing a competitive application for the Fellowship?

I have been fortunate enough to find a number of professors here at Rutgers who have influenced my thinking and continue to help develop my focus around these subjects. I am currently working with professors Marcy Schwartz and Karen Bishop from the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, and Nicola Behrmann from the German Department.

With respect to the Mellon Summer Study Grant proposal, both Karen Bishop and Andrew Parker offered very helpful advice on how best to communicate my project. Proposal writing can be a dramatic shift from other academic styles of writing, so their input and experience were instrumental in helping me clarify my goals efficiently and effectively. A warm and sincere thank you to them for all their help!

Grad Student Summer: Tepoztlán Institute

By: Enmanuel Martínez

This past summer, I traveled to Mexico in order to participate in the 2015 conference meeting of the Tepoztlán Institute for Transnational History of the Americas. The small but celebrated town of Tepoztlán, Mexico (accessible via a two hour car or bus ride south of Mexico City) has historically served as the site for the annual, interdisciplinary conference. I first attended the Tepoztlán Institute in the summer of 2014 as a graduate assistant to that year’s conference co-directors, which included Rutgers University Professors Yolanda Martínez-San Miguel and Ben Sifuentes-Jáuregui, both core faculty members in the Program in Comparative Literature. The conference theme for the 2014 meeting was “Capitalism from Below.” A week-long conference, the 2015 meeting of the Tepoztlán Institute ran from Wednesday, July 22 to Wednesday, July 29. This year, the conference theme was “Migration and Diaspora.” Over 75 persons attended this year’s conference meeting. The participants represented an even mixture of advanced graduate students and college and university professors (plus some family members) from Canada, the United States, and various countries in Latin American and the Hispanic Caribbean.

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Founded in 2003 by Dartmouth College History Professor Pamela Voekel and Lewis & Clark History Professor Elliott Young, for twelve years the Tepoztlán Institute has, to cite the Institute’s official website, worked to “facilitate an intensive dialogue between North American and Latin American graduate students and junior and senior faculty members.” At each year’s conference, participants come together for “real exchange among US and Latin American scholars—typically a very fraught relationship for obvious reasons; and second, to dispense with the professional politicking that reduces so many conferences to livestock shows.” In short, the Tepoztlán Institute represents a unique, annual, transnational, non-hierarchical and interdisciplinary academic union—one such that actively confronts the ideological and geopolitical dichotomies that often pit the spaces of the Global North against the Global South and that separate theory from practice and research from activism. As a participant of the 2014 and 2015 meetings of the Tepoztlán Institute, I have had the privilege of meeting and working with many phenomenal and generous graduate students and faculty members that I would never have met within the national context of the United States or the disciplinary field of Comparative Literature.

Unlike most academic conferences, the Tepoztlán Institute differs in that everyone arrives to the annual meeting having already read the papers of the conference participants, as well as a shared set of theoretical readings that speak to that year’s particular conference theme. The theoretical readings and papers are distributed ahead of time electronically to all conference participants. All the more, paper presenters are encouraged to utilize the theoretical readings in the work they submit to present at the Institute itself.

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Conference mornings are dedicated to group discussions of the assigned theoretical readings. The theoretical readings connect the conference participants across their disparate academic and disciplinary fields, for these readings serve as the shared intellectual base upon which the conference participants go on to discuss and debate the conference theme and their research. Given this year’s theme of “Migration and Diaspora,” the list of theoretical readings include the work of such scholars as: Edward Said, James Clifford, Julio Ramos, Stuart Hall, Brent Edwards, Juan Flores, Elana Zillber, Inés D’Ors, Pekka Hamalainen and Samuel Truett, Paul Gilroy, Saidiya Hartman, Manuel Delgado, and Shona Jackson. Conference afternoons, on the other hand, are dedicated to paper presentations panels. Since conference participants arrive to the Tepoztlán Institute having already read the work of the other paper presenters, presenters are able to utilize their time to do so much more than simply read their work out loud to a potentially cold audience. Instead, the panels take the form of two-hour workshops where the designated presenters are able to receive generous and substantive feedback and criticism from other conference participants.

My panel was scheduled for Thursday, July 23 (the first full day of the conference), and I was fortunate enough to present alongside a good friend of mine, Joan Flores, a current Ph.D. candidate in the NYU History Department. Our panel was titled “Archive Matters / Cuestiones de archivo.” Joan presented a working paper titled “‘Freak Letters’: Finding Diaspora in the Imperial Archive,” while I presented a paper titled “Basement Refrigerators, Cassette Tape ‘Letters’: Reading the Domestic Caribbean Archive in Simone Schwarz-Bart’s Ton beau capitaine (1987) and Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2008),” My paper represented a draft of the first half of my first chapter of the dissertation project. University of Massachusetts History Professor Sarah Cornell served as our panel moderator, while Georgetown University Professor of English Ricardo Ortiz, Augustan College Professor of Spanish Araceli Masterson and University of Pennsylvania Professor of English David Kazanjian served as the three respondents. After Ortiz, Materson and Kazanjian delivered their respective comments, the conversation transitioned to a dynamic intellectual exchange between me, Joan and the other twenty-plus attendees.

Without the fear of judgment or ridicule (something that seems almost impossible to avoid at other national literature conferences), I was able to use my time at the 2015 meeting of the Tepoztlán Institute to openly discuss my concerns regarding the scope and direction of my first dissertation chapter. With my panel respondents and attendees’ feedback in mind, I am now working on completing the second half of the first chapter of my dissertation, which represents an analysis of scenes of domestic archiving in contemporary Caribbean literature through the lens of contemporary archive theory. I am now looking forward to showcasing my research at my Program in Comparative Literature graduate student colloquium presentation, which is scheduled for the evening of Tuesday, November 3, 2015. Until then!

Grad Student Summer: Language Study in China

By: Virginia L. Conn

Virginia China 1

Chinese culture spans thousands of years of history and encompasses numerous ethnic, religious, and linguistic minority groups, all of which contribute to the national dialogue. Much of this valuable history, however, is contingent upon oral histories, many of which are fading away (or being actively suppressed) as Mandarin becomes increasingly standardized. This is especially true of the oral histories of minority groups; dependent upon human memory and the spoken word, the only way to preserve these valuable histories is through oral fieldwork and, often, through reading and preserving items of popular culture, such as songs, films, and comics. My own academic work deals with the impact that access to new technologies—such as the internet, social media, and texting—has on oral traditions, especially those of multilinguistic groups (such as the Hui people’s use of xiao’er jing, for example, or those Uyghurs who use one language for business and bureaucracy and another for religious matters). To engage with this type of linguistic production, I needed to be able to document and understand the artistic styles or linguistic textures through which cultural memories are conceptualized, performed, and passed on, as well as analyze the context of the community life in which they are presented. It’s critical to my ability to effectively perform a systematic collection of living people’s testimonies that I speak their language, without going through a translator to collect and preserve their memories. To this end, I spent the summer in China at Soochow University, using funds from the Mellon Foundation and the Department of State’s Critical Language Scholarship.

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From June to August I was fully immersed in Chinese language study—class from eight to four, followed by at least four hours of homework a day. The classwork was the least intensive part of the program, however; I lived with an older Chinese woman, a native of Suzhou who had lived through some of the most turbulent periods of China’s history and was delighted to engage with me on all levels of conversation, from table manners to current governmental policies. Living with this woman was indescribably valuable in learning more about the language and culture, especially the ways in which daily life has been affected by rapid technological and economic progress (both for better and for worse). Her native language was not Mandarin Chinese, but suzhou hua, a “dialect” of Suzhou that she did her best to teach me (without much success, I’m afraid). Ideally, once I acquire a more comprehensive grasp of Mandarin, I will also begin studying several Chinese minority languages, but for now the summer program at Soochow University was absolutely necessary to improving my Mandarin skills to a point where I will be comfortable enough in one language to begin branching out into others.

Grad Student Summer: Archival Research in China

By: Lina Qu

I was one of the lucky graduate students generously funded by the Mellon Foundation to conduct my two-month archive research in China in the summer 2015. My dissertation on Chinese women’s narratives on hunger demanded extensive readings of Chinese women’s fictional and nonfictional publications over time, including original periodicals and first-edition books. Lack of such resources at Rutgers and in the US generally compelled me to conduct on-site research in China. I chose two sites, Beijing and Shanghai, for their enormous resources accessible in public libraries and university libraries. Over the two months I visited Shanghai Library, Shanghai Archive, Fudan University Library in Shanghai and Chinese National Library, the National Museum of Modern Chinese Literature, and Peking University Library in Beijing. I was able to read sources ranging from newspapers and magazines in the 1920s to the cutting-edge academic monographs just published in 2015, from which I gathered valuable first-hand “data” for my dissertation. Some of the materials even inspired me to start my second project on journalism and feminist knowledge production.


With the development of technology, a large part of archive has been digitalized. A physical encounter with the material archive does not only retrieve the Benjaminian aura lost in the digital photos, but also discloses other useful information such as the paratext. Archival research has in itself higher value than just generating “data.” In my case, the reconstruction of Chinese women’s discourse on hunger is only possible if we look beyond the literary canon, which more often than not are accessible to the public outside the archive. Instead, we have to look into “minor” writers and “minor” works of canonical writers. These writers and works have been marginalized or even have gone obsolete in the grand discourse. The archive enables us to revive a historical and cultural memory by and of women, which will be an intervention on the androcentric and hegemonic discourse. In this sense, archival research can be a feminist methodology with tremendous epistemological value.

Grad Student Summer: Latin/Greek Institute

By: Joseph Hong

Like many graduate students, I decided to use my summer for language training. As an early modernist interested in the revival of classical texts during the Renaissance, I enrolled in an intensive Latin program that ran from May to August. The program is offered through the Latin/Greek Institute, a collaboration between Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center. The courses offered this summer were Basic Latin, Basic Greek, and Advanced Greek. The workload was formidable to say the least and because the program has existed for over forty years the pedagogical methods have been refined to be highly efficient and logistically precise.

In the Basic Latin Program I spent ten weeks with fifteen other students not only learning the entire Latin morphology and grammar but also reading canonical texts by Virgil, Cicero, and Augustine. The first five weeks of the program were spent learning the entire Latin language. Because Latin is an entirely fossilized language, there is a finite body of grammar and word forms that have been codified. This means that one can learn only the words that exist in the corpus of Latin texts. For example, some verbs have only been used in the past tense, and thus we were expected to learn the conjugations only for the past tense even though the verb in question might theoretically be able to be conjugated in all tenses. This first half of the program was arguably the most rigorous, as the program covered in one day an amount of material that might be taught in a month in a typical university-level Latin course.

The second half of the program focused exclusively on literature. During the latter five weeks we read selections from Cicero, Sallust, an entire Book of Vergil’s Aeneid, and selections from Horace. The second half also included an elective course. Students chose between reading St. Augustine, Ovid, or Tacitus. These electives allowed for an opportunity to work in smaller groups and to read more closely into the content and style of the text.

The Latin/Greek Institute demands nearly complete dedication to the program. Students in my program spent a conservative average of twelve hours each day working with Latin, either in class or by working on homework. I can’t deny that the Institute produces results. Most students started without knowing any Latin and all finished the program being able to read Cicero and Vergil by sight.