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Comp Lit Luncheon Series

The Comparative Literature Luncheon is a weekly informal lunchtime gathering of students, faculty, and other members of the University community.  Each week there is a short (20 minute) presentation, by a visitor or a local speaker, on a topic related to any humanities discipline.

Jonathan Abel ( and Shuang Shen ( are the coordinators for the series this semester. We meet Mondays in 102 Kern at about 12:15 p.m.  You can bring your lunch or buy a lunch tray in Kern Cafeteria (next door) and bring it into 102. Coffee and tea are provided in 102 (no charge).  The speaker will begin at about 12:30 p.m. Allowing a few minutes for discussion, we'll conclude in time for classes that meet at 1:25 p.m.  All students, faculty, colleagues, and friends are welcome.

Click here for information regarding our luncheons from previous semesters.

We're on the air: Recordings of these presentations are broadcast on C-NET, the regional cable network for educational and government programming.   Each program is usually broadcast 4 times in the week following the date listed here. Click here for C-NET archive of broadcast in streaming video.

Or, download the talks at iTunes U.

The 2013-2014 Comparative Literature Luncheon is sponsored in part by a generous contribution from the Center for Global Studies.


Monday, September 15
“‘We Can't Go There With You’: Trauma Rhetoric and its Abuses in Times of Sustained Threat," Rosemary Jolly, Penn State

Comp Lit Luncheon flyer image This talk addresses what trauma theory can and cannot offer in practical contexts of the sustained threats of HIV and gender-based violence. Professor Jolly discusses her field work experiences, embedded as they have been in intergenerational histories of systemic violence underwritten by colonialism, its attendant racisms, and their aftermath. She addresses the interests of those working in the applied fields of trauma and post-traumatic studies, HIV, racism, sexism and heterosexism, child abuse and the intergenerational effects of colonialism and violent conflict.

Monday, September 22
"Dissent and Digital Transumption in an Age of Insecurity," Djelal Kadir, Penn State

Comp Lit Luncheon flyer image This is a diagnostic critique. Unlike a jeremiad, which is a cautionary admonition about what is bound to come, a critique is a diagnosis of what already is. By definition, a diagnosis aims at knowing two things-what is said and what is done-, and examines the discrepancies between the two. This is an essay on the cartography of dissent, which is to say, a critical interrogation of dissent’s possibilities in the present. The analysis probes the historical moment through the institutional discourse of two currently dominant ideologemes--the digital and the transnational. Any coincidence between the narrative of this analysis and your personal or institutional circumstances is purely fortuitous. The NSA has you covered, and your college or university has your back. And, as the agent says, “no need to worry, if you are not doing or saying anything you shouldn’t be.”

Monday, September 29
"Same-Sex Intimacies in an Early Modern African Text about an Ethiopian Female Saint, Gadla Walatta Petros (1672)," Wendy Belcher, Princeton University

Comp Lit lunch flyer image The seventeenth-century Ethiopian book The Life and Struggles of Our Mother Wälättä Petros (Gadla Walatta Petros) features a life-long partnership between two women and the depiction of same-sex sexuality among nuns. The earliest known book-length biography about the life of an African woman, written in 1672 in the Ge'ez language, Gädlä Wällättä Petros is an extraordinary account of early modern African women's lives--full of vivid dialogue, heartbreak, and triumph. It features revered Ethiopian religious leader Wällättä P̀£etros (1592-1642), who led a nonviolent movement against European proto-colonialism in Ethiopia in a successful fight to retain African Christian beliefs, for which she was elevated to sainthood in the Ethiopian Orthodox Täwahedo Church. An important part of the text is her friendship with another nun, as they "lived together in mutual love, like soul and body" until death. Interpreting the women's relationships in this Ethiopian text requires care, but queer theory provides useful warnings, framing, and interpretive tools.

Wendy Laura Belcher is associate professor of African literature in Princeton University’s Department of Comparative Literature and Center for African American Studies. She has been studying African literature for over two decades and is now working to bring attention to early African literature through her research and translation. She also studies how African thought has informed a global traffic of invention, recently publishing Abyssinia’s Samuel Johnson: English Thought in the Making of an English Author (Oxford, 2012) and is finalizing the translation of The Life and Struggles of Our Mother Walatta Petros: A Translation of a Seventeenth-Century African Biography of an African Woman with Michael Kleiner, which is perhaps the earliest biography of an African woman.

Monday, October 6
"Solidarity and Sacrifice: Poetry Translation and the Russian Radical Left," Brian Baer, Kent State University

Comp Lit Lunch flyer image

This paper explores the central role played by translation--and, in particular, by the translation of poetry--among members of Russia’s radical left in the nineteenth century. The paper will focus on the various functions of poetry translation in that historical context in order to outline a model for studying translation within the overall interpretive network that shapes both its production and reception.

Brian James Baer is Professor of Russian and Translation Studies at Kent State University. He is author of the monograph Other Russias: Homosexuality and the Crisis of Post-Soviet Identity (2009) and editor of the collected volumes Contexts, Subtexts and Pretexts: Literary Translation in Eastern Europe and Russia (2011) and Russian Writers on Translation. An Anthology (2013). He is founding editor of the journal Translation and Interpreting Studies, and his monograph Translation and the Making of Modern Russian Literature is forthcoming in the Bloomsbury series Literatures, Cultures, Translation.

Monday, October 13
“Poetry and the Global Migration of Form,” Jahan Ramazani, University of Virginia

Comp Lit Lunch flyer One of the most pervasive models for “world” and “global” literature has been the formula foreign form and local content. New literature issues, we are told, from the introduction of a foreign form into a local environment. Although Franco Moretti and others have usually applied the paradigm to the novel, what happens when it is put to the test with other genres, such as poetry? What is the place of such ideas in understanding poetry in a global age? Critically reexamining the foreign form and local content model in relation to postcolonial and Western poems written in English, this paper seeks to develop alternative ways of conceptualizing poetry and other literary forms in their global dimensionality.

Jahan Ramazani is Edgar F. Shannon Professor of English at the University of Virginia. His books include A Transnational Poetics (2009), winner of the Harry Levin Prize, and Poetry of Mourning: The Modern Elegy from Hardy to Heaney (1994), a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. His most recent book is Poetry and Its Others: News, Prayer, Song, and the Dialogue of Genres (2013). An associate editor of The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (2012), he has also co-edited several Norton anthologies.He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, an NEH Fellowship, a Rhodes Scholarship, the William Riley Parker Prize, and the Thomas Jefferson Award, the University of Virginia’s highest honor.

Monday, October 20
“Calcutta-London-Madrid: The Politics of Translation in Global Modernisms,"
Gayle Rogers, University of Pittsburgh

Comp Lit Lunch flyer This talk approaches a longstanding question in modernist studies through a different critical route: how are we to study global modernisms without replicating the Anglo-European criteria of what "counts" as modernist (formally, temporally, spatially), and at the same time, preserve some sense of what "modernism" means as a movement?  I aim to reorient our thinking on this question by leaving London at the center of a global literary phenomenon, but by demonstrating the ways in which its institutions--and the English language--were only a temporary way station for some more fruitful modernist exchanges.  I follow the translation of Rabindranath Tagore’s works from Bengali to English to Spanish: in English, his fame was short-lived and precarious, while in Spanish, thanks to the extensive and creative translations by Juan Ramón Jiménez, he remains an influential poetic figure.  The world republic of letters contained exchanges of modernist texts, styles, and critiques that went far beyond London, New York, Paris, or Berlin, of course, and one way to recover them, I argue, is to reconceive translation as a practice that decenters modernism and shows its lateral emergence across a range of disparate literary economies. 

Gayle Rogers is associate professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh.  He is the author of Modernism and the New Spain: Britain, Cosmopolitan Europe, and Literary History (2012), and of publications in PMLA, Modernism/modernity, Comparative Literature, Journal of Modern Literature, James Joyce Quarterly, and other journals.  His current book projects are Modernism: Evolution of an Idea (co-written with Sean Latham forthcoming 2015) and Between Literary Empires: Translation and the Comparative Emergence of Modernism, a study of English/Spanish translation practices from the Spanish-American War of 1898 to the present. 

Monday, October 27
"Fieldwork in Theory: Anthropologies of Levantine Intellectuals," Fadi Bardawil, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Comp Lit Lunch flyer Fadi A. Bardawil joined the Department of Asian Studies at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill this fall, after spending three years as a Harper Fellow at the University of Chicago's Society of Fellows. An anthropologist by training (PhD Columbia, 2010), his work which lies at the crossroads of political anthropology and intellectual history looks into the lives and works of contemporary modernist Arab thinkers in the context of the international circulation of social theory. Currently, he is working on a book manuscript provisionally titled In Marxism's Wake: Disenchanted Levantine Intellectuals and Metropolitan Traveling Theories. His writings have appeared, and are forthcoming, in the Journal for Palestine Studies (Arabic edition), Boundary 2, Jadaliyya, Kulturaustausch, and al-Akhbar daily (2006-2012).

Monday, November 3
"Black Enlightenment: The Case of Kant and Wheatley," Surya Parekh, Penn State

Comp Lit Lunch Flyer Recent scholarship in the Black Radical Tradition argues that the legacies and inheritances of the Enlightenment might be interpreted as always already in relation to blackness. This presentation explores this claim by reading two popular 18th century texts against each other: Immanuel Kant’s Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime and Phillis Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. Framing these texts as sharing an Enlightenment discourse, this presentation shows that Kant’s work covers a complex moment in which the comportment of black women within the "deepest slavery" is represented as one of respect and submission. The presentation turns to Phillis Wheatley’s poetry to respond. What lessons does Wheatley’s philosophizing lyrical I teach us - about the provenance of the Enlightenment, 18th century Afro-Diasporic intellectual production, and the politics of fraternity - speaking to a universal from within slavery and written from, if the accounts are correct, a comportment of respect and submission?

Surya Parekh is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Africana Research Center at the Pennsylvania State University. Previously, he was the 2013-14 Alain Locke Postdoctoral Fellow at Penn State. His research is critically attuned to the (dis)figuration of the Enlightenment subject in contemporary scholarship. Currently, he is completing a book monograph, provisionally titled Reading the Black Enlightenment: Black Subjectivity, Indigeneity, and the Cosmopolitan,which explores the 18th century literary and philosophical production of Afro-British/Afro-American and Native American authors and their traffic with a dominant Enlightenment discourse.

Monday, November 10
"Blister you all: The Calibanic Genealogy in Brazil," Pedro Meira Monteiro, Princeton University

Comp Lit Lunch flyer This is an investigation into how post-colonial readings of Shakespeare’s The Tempest can help us understand the “Calibanic genealogy” that allowed certain authors to invert the fin-de-siècle assumptions that placed Ariel’s spiritual virtues ahead of Caliban’s raw corporeality. My hypothesis is that Prospero’s Mirror (an influential text by the U.S. scholar Richard Morse) is an “exaggerated” reading of Sérgio Buarque de Holanda’s classic Roots of Brazil that imagines Ibero-America as the real promised land of Western civilization, as opposed to the failure of the United States as a civilizational model.

Pedro Meira Monteiro is Professor of Spanish and Portuguese at Princeton University, where he is also the Acting Director of the Program in Latin American Studies. He is the co-director of the Princeton-University of São Paulo global network on Race and Citizenship in the Americas. The author and editor of several books, such as Mário de Andrade e Sérgio Buarque de Holanda: Correspondência (Edusp/Companhia das Letras, 2012) and Cangoma Calling: Spirits and Rhythms of Freedom in Brazilian Jongo Slavery Songs (University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, 2013), he also contributes regularly to Brazilian newspapers and magazines.

Monday, November 17
"Exploring Ireland’s Literary Communities," James O’Sullivan, Penn State

Comp Lit Lunch flyer Using various computational methods, this study will explore Ireland’s literary communities through analyses of the nation’s leading contemporary journals. A very brief introduction to macro-analytics will be offered, before some of the study’s key findings will be presented and discussed. Possible influences from social and economic transformations will be charted, while any regional disparities will also be delineated. A number of other particularities will also be accounted for, including gender and editorial networks.

James O’Sullivan is the Digital Humanities Research Designer at the Pennsylvania State University. He holds graduate degrees in computer science and literary studies, and is currently completing his PhD at University College Cork. His work has been published in a variety of interdisciplinary journals, including Leonardo and the International Journal of Humanities and Arts Computing. James is Chair of the Colloquium at the University of Victoria’s Digital Humanities Summer Institute, and in 2014 was shortlisted for the Fortier Prize for Digital Humanities research. Further details on James and work can be found at

Monday, December 1
"The Missing Event and Other Traumas in Tomás Rivera's Chicano Classic And The Earth Did Not Devour Him (or Why So Many Latino Stories Are Bildungsromanen)," John Ochoa, Penn State

Comp Lit Lunch flyer  


Monday, December 8
"On Affect and Articulation: Reading Oe Kenzaburo’s Anti-Nuclear Speeches," Margherita Long, University of California, Riverside

Comp Lit Lunch flyer Students of modern Japanese thought tend to have deep respect for the political activism of Nobel literature laureate Oe Kenzaburo (1935-). As a tireless advocate for the no-war clause in Japan’s post-war constitution, and a convener of the post-Fukushima anti-nuclear group “Sayonara Genpatsu,” Oe has a powerful oeuvre of speeches and essays in defense of democracy, peace, and environmentalism.   Yet even if we agree with these writings conceptually, emotionally they disappoint.  Why is it so hard to like them? This talk uses Eve Sedgwick’s notions of “paranoid” and “reparative” critical strategies to consider Oe’s anti-nuclear humanism as a kind of “aggressive hypothesis” - elegant in its simplicity, but ultimately tautological, with too few lines of flight outside a rigid temporality of repeated injury. 

Mimi Long is Associate Professor of Japanese and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Riverside.  Her book This Perversion Called Love: Reading Tanizaki, Feminist Theory and Freud was published by Stanford in 2009.  Her current project is an eco-humanities look at public intellectuals in Japan and the 3.11 nuclear disaster.  Titled Force, Affect, Origin: On Being Worthy of the Event, the book reads recent work by manga artist Hagio Moto, filmmaker Kamanaka Hitomi, web activist Iwakami Yasumi, political scientist Kang Sangjung, and writer Oe Kenzaburo, among others.


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