COMPlit MA Graduate 20th Anniversary Celebration

Friday, November 4th, 2016

Arrival of guests at Hanover Inn

5:00 PM: Opening remarks David LaGuardia, Chair of Comparative Literature
B03, Moore Auditorium (all events will be held here)

5:15-7:00 PM Panel 1

Kelly McConnell, “'Dois-je oublier?': Duty, Love and Obsession in the Plays of Jean Racine.”

Victoria Juharyan, “The Cognitive Value of Love in Tolstoy.”

Elizabeth Gray, “My Country is a Zombie: Protests of the Living Dead in Chile and Mexico.” 

Judith Rauscher, “The Poetics of Postmodern Witness and the Ethics of Genre.”

7-9 pm:  dinner in the Paganucci Lounge/Collis

Saturday, November 5th, 2016

Refreshments available for breakfast

10:00-11:30 AM:  Roundtable 1 
How did the COLT MA program influence your work/life/career? 
Kristal Bivona, Anthony Hernandez Otey, Kathrin Spiller, David Dulceany

11:45-1:00 PM: Panel 2

Nicole Eitzen, “The Intimacies of Decoloniality: ‘Kinship’ in Almanac of the Dead and So Far from God.”

Evelyn Scaramella, “Translating the Spanish Civil War:  Langston Hughes, the Spanish Avant-Garde, and the Archives of Activism.”

Kendall Heitzmann, “Translation, Deep Reading, and the Future of Comparative Literature.”

Andrew Johnson, “Credible Fear: Narrative, Legibility, and Denatured Human Rights in South Texas.”

Lunch, 1:15-2:15

2:30-4:00: Roundtable 2 
COLT and the “Real World”:  alums who did not pursue a career in academics 
Matthew Kufta, Danielle Smith, Ying Cheng, Georgina Emerson, Anna Deeny Morales

Refreshments for break

4:15-5:45 Panel 3

Jenny James, “Queer Mothering Against the Grain in Patricia Highsmith's The Price of Salt.”

Ekaterina Alexandrova “The Past Recaptured: Dumas Takes On Pushkin’s Genealogy.”

Benjamin Pearson, “Art House Aid: EU Cultural Policy and Audiovisual Production in the Global South”

Mary Franklin-Brown, “What if Comparative Literature’s Future Lies in Its Past?”

6:00-7:00 pm:  Zantop Lecture
“Seven Lessons I Learned from Studying the Holocaust and How    They Can Help Us Cope with the Disgrace of Our Times.” 
Irene Kacandes, Dartmouth College

7:30-9:30 pm: dinner, Canoe Club/by invite only

Please contact [email protected] for any questions.

*This schedule is subject to change.


Victoria Juharyan, Princeton/Dartmouth
“The Cognitive Value of Love in Tolstoy”

The relationship between aesthetics and philosophy of love in Tolstoy remains a constant connection throughout his intellectual career. His belief in the centrality of love as the essence of humanity was a strong note of continuity on both sides of his famous conversion/spiritual crisis. His understanding of love, however, changed quite dramatically. As Tolstoy revises his philosophy of love, his aesthetics change accordingly. Before the crisis, trying to follow the steps of Plato in the Symposium from the love of a particular person to universal love, Tolstoy repeatedly failed to arrive at the all-inclusive love he so longed for. There was always an excluded remainder. If the romanticization of the family led him to nationalism, romantic love led either to distractive passions, or, at best, to a family. The family as a model even when including the neighbor in its sphere of love, could not extend to a love of humanity as a whole. Tolstoy could not be comfortable with such vicious circularity. However, he did not ‘fix’ the paradoxes. Instead, after the crisis, he reversed the direction of Plato's ‘Ladder’: we are now supposed to begin with the love of everything, which will logically imply the love of particular people as constituent parts. Even though he sees this as a state of being rather than a developmental process, late Tolstoy now fails to ‘arrive’ at a satisfying love of particular human beings, be it family members or lovers. Love individuates, singles people out based on their particular characteristics, but this would contradict Tolstoy’s new conception of subjectivity, which follows his new philosophy of love: that we are all the same underneath, thus can all be known and loved. This, in turn, changed which consciousnesses Tolstoy found necessary to represent: instead of depicting the consciousnesses of characters he loves in order to show their development, Tolstoy now depicts consciousnesses that fail to see his newly discovered truth and need to be taught the lesson. In other words, Tolstoy’s quest for universal love leads him not only to a rejection of the family as a main priority, but also to a revision of human subjectivity, epistemology, morality and aesthetics.

Elizabeth Gray, Brown University
“My Country is a Zombie: Protests of the Living Dead in Chile and Mexico.”

The mindless, flesh-eating zombie is widespread in today’s popular culture and literature, and is often employed as a metaphor for global capitalism. Yet, lumping all zombies into the same stumbling horde threatens the erasure of different discourses of neoliberalism and consumerism at work in individual nation states. In order to trace some of the particularities of the zombie phenomenon in the Latin American context, this paper considers the role of zombies in the 2011 Chilean flash mobs for education reform and the ongoing Mexican protests against narco war violence. The Chilean and Mexican protests engage forms of repetition and displacement such as the use of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” choreography in Santiago, recycled chants from dictatorship era resistance movements in contemporary marches, and the circulation of portraits of disappeared persons. The zombie rebels against the capitalistic transformation of death into value, but systems of pervasive violence with ever-rising death rates such as the narco war question the limits of the zombie as a metaphor and its ability to transfer legibly across geopolitical spaces. Does the dancing or marching zombie propose new languages and movements of resistance outside of those generated by the systems the protestors strive to critique and dismantle?

Judith Rauscher, Bamberg University
“The Poetics of Postmodern Witness and the Ethics of Genre.”

In a short article published in spring 2001, award-winning poet Alicia Ostriker discusses the works of three Anglo-American women poets of the late 1980s and early 1990s, identifying a new type of poetry in distinction to the works published by the Language and Neo-Formalist poets of the time: a poetry of “postmodern witness” (35). Building on ideas about the necessity of poetry in times of conflict and the ethical responsibilities of the poet in the 20th century (cf. Czeslaw Milosz), Ostriker describes a poetry that rejects both the elision of the lyric ‘I’ as well as the uncritical return to simplistic confessional modes and traditional poetic forms. Instead, Ostriker’s poetics of postmodern witness combines formal experimentation and innovation with the (re)presentation of a self deeply engaged with the world in response to, not despite the burden of history.

Alicia Ostriker’s concept of a poetics of postmodern witness, I argue, can be made productive for a discussion of certain qualitative changes in U.S.-American immigrant poetry since the 1970s as well as for contemporary discussions around poetic authority and responsibility. While early immigrant poetry was typically lyrical, deriving its political impetus an engagement with personal histories and an exploration of identity politics, U.S.-American poetry of migration of the 1990s onward increasingly challenged these formal and thematic conventions. By complicating issues of authenticity, identity and belonging with investigations of cross-ethnic affiliation and transnational attachment, works by poets such as Derek Walcott and Agha Shahid Ali testify to a diversification of American ‘immigrant’ poetry in the outgoing 20th century, as well as to the genre’s growing interest in the ethics of writing about the United States as a neo/post/colonial nation in an increasingly globalized world.

Nicole Eitzen, New York University
“The Intimacies of Decoloniality: ‘Kinship’ in Almanac of the Dead and So Far from God.”

In Lisa Lowe’s The Intimacies of Four Continents, Lowe calls for a study on how “social differences become elaborated as normative categories for governance under the rubrics of liberty and sovereignty” (Lowe 7). Inasmuch as Almanac of the Dead by Leslie Mormon Silko, and So Far from God by Ana Castillo, reveal the underpinning structures of said “normative categories”, I maintain that both texts point towards a practice of decolonization that seeks to re-member the communities that have upheld through forced labor and land dispossession the structures on which modern liberalism rests. Further, I argue that if a) the de-tribalization of African slaves and the dispossession of indigenous peoples as communities helped produced the birth of “Man” as subject, then b) the decolonization of the colonized subject–meaning the re-tribalization of peoples of African descent and the re-vitalization of indigenous cultures—will be brought forth by kinship communities.

Evelyn Scaramella, Manhattan College
“Translating the Spanish Civil War:  Langston Hughes, the Spanish Avant-Garde, and the Archives of Activism.”

Langston Hughes traveled to Spain to cover the Spanish Civil War as a journalist for the Baltimore Afro-American in the summer of 1937. He resided at the Alliance of Antifascist Intellectuals in Madrid, reuniting with his friend, the poet Rafael Alberti, and befriending several members of the Spanish avant-garde, the “Generation of 1927,” during his stay. Hughes’s journalism and poetry from his time in Spain showed the relevance of the fight against Franco to other struggles against fascism around the world. Besides articles for the Baltimore Afro-American that profiled African American and other African diasporic people who had traveled to fight for Spain, Hughes wrote and translated poetry, and gave speeches and radio addresses. Scholars and editors have put much of Langston Hughes’s materials related to his engagement with the Spanish Civil War in print over the past decades. However, so prolific was Hughes, so regular a letter writer, and so fastidious in saving drafts and ensuring that they would reach his personal papers collection at Yale University’s Beinecke Library, that a variety of materials have survived in archives which have not been included in published anthologies of his poetry, translations, or correspondence.

This research presentation explores how Langston Hughes sought to disseminate his antifascist politics through the creation of original poetry and translations about the Spanish Civil War. During the course of Hughes’s stay at the Alliance, he translated Federico García Lorca’s works Romancero gitano and Bodas de sangre. He also began working on translations of two collections of Spanish Civil War Ballads that were edited by Alberti, Romancero de la guerra civil (Ballads of the Spanish Civil War) and Poetas de la España leal (Poets in Loyalist Spain). I will discuss Hughes’s translations of Spanish Civil War ballads, which I recently edited and published, and situate their literary history as an integral part of several projects that were spearheaded by the founders of the Alliance, Alberti and his wife, the writer María Teresa León. More than merely an act of political resistance, Hughes’s translations of Lorca, who was killed at the start of the war, should be contextualized within a much broader poetic project of political activism through poetic translation that existed among the avant-garde writers who lived at the Alliance. Hughes’s translation activity was but one example of his transnational poetics. I will present new unpublished poems from the archive, such as “Note to the Democracies,” which chronicled Hughes’s organizing for Republican relief aid during his time in Spain. I will discuss Hughes’s unpublished poetry from the Civil War period and examine the influence of the Spanish avant-garde poets living at the Alliance—Alberti, Emilio Prados, and Manuel Altolaguirre—on his poetic representation of Spain’s conflict. Like his translations of Spanish ballads completed during the war, Hughes’s original poems participated in the Spanish Civil War poetry tradition and united Spanish Republican poetry across language barriers. Excavating the lost archival histories of several of Hughes’s unpublished Spanish Civil War poems highlights his key role as an important literary and political liaison, an agent in recording the history of the Republican cause for the international community.

Andrew Johnson, University of Michigan
“Credible Fear: Narrative, Legibility, and Denatured Human Rights in South Texas.”

The euphemistically-named South Texas Family Residential Center (STFRC) in Dilley, TX, joins a number of other sites in a utopian geography very different than the one arrayed in the leftist imaginary that links Zucotti Park in New York, Tahrir Square in Cairo, and Gezi Park in Istanbul. The STFRC, operated by the Corrections Corporation of America on behalf of the Department of Homeland Security, is a detention center for Central American women and children seeking asylum. It is utopian in that it is a place out of sight, a no-place that may be mapped in relation to other no-places—Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, black sites and NSA server farms.

In the summer of 2016, I spent two months working with a legal aid project at the detention center in Dilley. In this paper I will investigate the STFRC as, in Nasser Hussain’s words, “a particular combination of geopolitics, law, and sovereignty”1 in order to question what and how this particular site signifies. I will focus on an initial stage of the asylum process, the credible fear interview, as a way of understanding the instability of human rights discourses in the inter-American context. 

Jenny James, Pacific Lutheran University
“Queer Mothering Against the Grain in Patricia Highsmith's The Price of Salt”

This paper meditates explores the queer plot of motherhood and women's attachment in Patricia Highsmith's The Price of Salt, meditating on the sad victim of the novel's portrait of romance between Therese Belivet and Carol Aird: Carol’s maternal bond with her daughter Rindy. In comparing the filmic and novelistic renderings of intergenerational lesbian romance, this paper attends to the 2015 film’s relative romanticization of the loss of Carol’s maternal identity and the figuration of motherhood in the narrative’s tragic subplot of marital divorce and custody battle. The film dramatizes Carol’s rescinding of primary custody of her daughter, revising Carol’s melancholic realization that to retain her role as a mother, she would be forced to live “against the grain” of her true desires, while watching her sexual identity “degenerate.” This paper argues that the mutual exclusivity of lesbian desire and maternal love in The Price of Salt and its 21st century filmic revival reveals the persistent challenge of accounting for the rich meeting of parental love and duty with LGBT sexual formation – a complex knot of affects, identities and relationships that shape the lives of many in the queer community. 

Ekaterina Alexandrova, University of Wyoming
“The Past Recaptured: Dumas Takes On Pushkin’s Genealogy.”

In this article, I investigate how Alexandre Dumas engages with Aleksandr Pushkin’s family history in his travelogue Voyage en Russie. It has sometimes been argued that Dumas’ reluctance to portray heroic black characters and to address his slave ancestry reveals his internalization of the racial prejudice prevalent in nineteenth-century French society. However, my reading proposes that the French writer explores his own origins and their relation to personal, national, and authorial legitimacy by rewriting Pushkin’s genealogy. The accentuated importance of African legacy in the construction of Pushkin’s identity—especially evident in the portrayal of the poet’s death—exalts diversity as crucial to national vitality as well as to literary creation, and points to a strategy of indirect self-legitimization on Dumas’ part. Through the fictionalization of Pushkin’s life and death, Dumas (re)establishes his status as a leader of the French Romantic movement and envisions his own postmortem canonization.

Benjamin Pearson, University of Michigan
“Art House Aid: EU Cultural Policy and Audiovisual Production in the Global South”

In an era of globalization, governments’ policies toward culture can have a profound impact outside their borders. For example, scholars of the political economy of media have linked the United States’ laissez faire media policies - deregulation of U.S. media companies and minimal funding for public media - to the transformation of U.S. domestic media companies into large, multinational conglomerates that dominate global media markets and screens. Within Europe, in contrast, media deregulation and global expansion have been tempered by an additional set of policies that frame cultural goods not simply as profitable commodities, but also as public goods with intrinsic societal value. Originally, such “cultural policies” took the form of government interventions in the production and circulation of media within national borders. Over the past two decades, however, the European Union and its member states have increasingly applied the logic of cultural policy transnationally.

The E.U. has recently aimed such transnational cultural policies at less developed countries in the Global South, where since 2011, the E.U.-funded program ACPCultures+ has awarded 40 million Euros to projects that develop training programs for audiovisual professionals, production of film and TV shows, and media distribution. While these funds officially form part of E.U.’s foreign development aid, their aims also mirror extant national and regional European policy, such as balancing economic growth with the public good and protecting markets from Hollywood productions.

This paper interrogates the process by which the program exports European cultural policies to developing countries in the Global South -- and in particular the tensions (or what Anna Tsing calls “friction”) that arise as it does so. I focus on the 29 film and TV productions that have been funded by ACPCultures+ so far. I employ both content analysis and industry analysis to examine how E.U. policy aims are encoded in these productions, paying particular attention to the disjunctures between policy aims and their textual embodiment (or lack thereof). Although the funded productions include documentaries and TV dramas, they skew heavily toward “art house” feature films that resemble European productions both aesthetically and industrially. At the same time, I argue that these productions suggest new ways of conceptualizing local audiovisual industries and media diversity in an era of globalization.