Sunday, December 13, 2015

For Benedict: A Transnational Elegy

Today we have just learned that scholar, activist, theorist- the list goes on-
Benedict Anderson has passed away.

Image result for benedict anderson                               I first encountered Benedict Anderson in a wonderful 100 -level 'Canadian Literature' major-required course at the University of British Columbia. We read his book, Imagined Communities, and I don't think my life as a scholar today would be the same if I had never been assigned it. Amazing for that time, and quite possibly, even today, the course syllabus was not populated by the Margaret Atwood's of CanLit (however magnificent Atwood is), but rather by the literature of those whose families had come from Asia to make Canada their home. I remember reading Leaf in the Bitter Wind,   Obasan, and The Concubine's Children while interrogating what it meant to be Canadian- through choice- desperation- accident-  with myself having the strange privilege of diplomatic immunity with my 'international student' status as a U.S. citizen (who was spending weekends with my own Indian-Canadian family in Van-city proper).

Image result for imagined communities
Ten years later, I still find myself referencing 'Imagined Communities' on an almost daily basis, and thinking about Anderson's words every time the insecurity of a nation rears it's head in the form of isolationist and discriminatory policies.

Travel can be a privilege, but it can also be a necessity begat by violence, oppression, and poverty among many other things. Dangerous kinds of community/nation-enforced segregation and isolation are, I believe, the more worrying privileges. In our age of globalization- even when we are tightening borders and building fences- I am reminded of Peter Schneider warning that it will take us far longer to tear down the walls inside our heads than any physical divisions these border paranoias create, and no work illustrated the costs of those 'walls in our heads' better than Benedict's Imagined Communities.

Yet- even in context of international travel advisories, terrorist attacks, and isolationist political feeling that is oddly reminiscent to a Cold War ( that's been re-warmed once or twice) - today, in mourning Benedict's passing, I found a touch of joy in discovering the personal history of this scholar while revisiting the evolution of his thought, though the occasion for such a discovery was his loss.
Theory and the personal are things that we don't normally talk about in the same breath with without being invited to do so- usually, they must choose to let us in: the Eve Sedgewick's of the academy.
Benedict wasn't that kind of writer, but occasionally ,in his essays, a bit of the personal would escape from his activism-motivated efforts to find a better way (of __ ).

So today, it was with a feeling of newness that I learned of a birth in China, a life at Cornell, family's post-colonial legacy in Ireland, and peacefully- a falling asleep, a death, in Indonesia. The collected places of a nationalism scholar's collected works- his personal transnational history. Benedict's life speaks to the enrichment of thought that comes from yearning beyond the boundaries of the national even as we recognize the material functions of its imagined divisions.

How many lives could be saved with the kind of thinking derived from a life well-traveled?

Benedict, you will be missed.

“I propose the following definition of the nation: it is an imagined political community-and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign. It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.... Communities are to be distinguished, not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined.... Finally, [the nation] is imagined as a community, because, regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship. Ultimately, it is this fraternity that makes it possible, over the past two centuries for so many millions of people, not so much to kill, as willing to die for such limited imaginings.”

                             - Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Gayatri Uncensored: The Greatest Hits of Dr. Gayatri Spivak- One Year Later

In the beginning, I will be as cut and dry and mechanical and awful as possible. . .
                                                                                                -Gayatri Spivak, Oct. 31, 2013

A comprehensive list transcribed from Dr. Gayatri Spivak's visit to Lehigh University during the fall semester of 2013.
This is the partner-post to an introduction from Lehigh English's blog, Drown Unbound, which, for those who are interested, is available here.

Disclaimer: All are taken from three days of note-taking while Dr. Spivak  was talking. Understanding that in the process of translating from hearing, writing, and then re-writing that some distortion occurs, all quotations are intended to be understood as approximations.

On herself:

“I was a middle-class Bengali girl. . . I could only become a whore or an English teacher. God knows why I chose English teacher!”

“I’m a teacher-type person.”

“I’m certainly not for free-market libidinal enterprise.”

“I’m not interested in being nice to anyone.”

On language:

“Learning language is NOT a way to learn culture.”

 “Look for the ‘trace.’ The ‘trace’ is something that suggests something was there before.”

“Languages are never dead. They are grammatized to death.”

“Changing language across registers of the same language IS translation.”

“Whether there is an original or not, difference always exists in translation.”

“Lawrence Venuti, all this ‘mistranslation’ du-du-duh, it’s all bullshit.”

“Literary translation is not a model of any damn thing. It’s a luxury.”

“Translation should be taught as an activity, not leaned on as an easy excuse.”

On the 60s:

“The 60s were like a major problem.”

“In the 60s, we tried and learned that you cannot burn the university.”

On Psychoanalysis:

“Read Freud like he’s an ethical philosopher. Read Lacan like he’s a poet.”

“We are programmed to turn fantasy into something we can control.”

“I think psychoanalysis can be helpful. . . well, I really don’t know.”

On “things academics/instructors should do”:

“What we need to be doing in the humanities is not solving problems, but producing problem solvers.”

“Complicity but not conspiracy.”

“Persistent resistance.”

“Complicit resistance”

“The task of the intellectual is to ask questions.”

 “Don’t say ‘imaginative training for epistemological purposes.’ Say, ‘make a difference’.”

“You’ve got to look into the fucker’s eyes and speak the language of the other side.”

“Try first to say ‘yes’ once or twice before leaving a conversation.”

“When you enter the text, the less like you that you can do it, the better.”

 “Let’s re-arrange our desires.”

“We cannot prevent violence by applying the law, but by reconstructing minds.”

“Teaching is not the job of a shrink, though sometimes Socrates does make you wonder.”

“Use dumb-speak to get funds!”

“It simply cannot be that all good teachers are crooks.”

On diaspora and genocide:

“The feeling of the significance of home becomes more significant if you share it.”

“Not everyone in a diaspora knows the word ‘diaspora’.”

“The married daughter is a diasporic figure.”

“Africa should be an example and not an exception.”

“Non-eurocentric is the most euro-centric there is.”

“Dismiss genocide narratives as epic and re-write new narratives. Once they become memory they become mythology.”

On nationalism:

“Nationalism is not a positive e/affect.”

“Nationalism only occurs in conflict, and when the conflict is gone it gets substituted by other forms of community and violence.”

On  Feminism , Women, and Gender:

“Forget gender at your peril!”

“Race is nestled in gender.”

“I choose ‘feminist’ because it is an unpopular term.”

“Women’s normality is to change homes.”

“Women are never looked at as a model.”

On love:

“Love is as powerful as it is dangerous; it is a four-letter word.”

“For example, if you love poetry, you behave like a religious person.”

“You guys might have found love, but your government thinks I’m a terrorist.”

“Once cannot use love for intellectual purposes. It’s too fragile and you cannot justify it.”

“I am not interested in talking about love!”

General cultural criticism:

“Culture is always on the run.”

“Once you can say ‘this is my culture,’ you are separate from that culture.”

“Every declared rupture is also a repetition.”

On capitalism:

 “Productive consumption is completely mistaken for individual production.”

“To be able to sell oneself is the meaningfulness of a human life.”

“Culture has become making sure that everyone is asking for money properly.”

“What keeps us alive is what kills everyone else.”

On literature and fiction:

“All the plays you go to see are a lie from the moment a character says, ‘I’.”

 “Literature cannot be taught as evidentiary.”

“Literature is a shortcut to falsity.”

“Literature produced as evidence becomes even more suspect.”

“Treat the desire to be evidentiary as a symptom of literature.”

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

NeMLA CFP- (1776-1947), Independence, India, and North America in the Long Nineteenth Century

Canada Ho
Abstract Submissions can be sent through the NeMLA website:

For those of you who want more details, here is the expanded CFP for my upcoming panel at NeMLA 2015 in Toronto:

Primary Categories: Interdisciplinary Humanities, Anglophone Studies
Secondary Category: Comparative Studies

As historian Susan Bean has noted in ‘Yankee India’, nineteenth-century trade between North America and India exceeded that between India and all of Europe combined. However, this significant economic reality appears to have been elided in the literary history of North America. Though folktales, translations, and colonial India-themed novels were common in the British literature of the period, the extent to which India, as an idea, a literature, and/or a real, material place, appears in nineteenth-century Canadian and American literature has been greatly understudied. Acknowledging the extensions of this network of literary history outside the confines of traditional 19th-Century periods, this interdisciplinary roundtable seeks to open-up lines of communication between scholars working in the fields of Victorian Indian Studies, 19th-Century Canadian Studies, and 19th-Century American Studies while introducing this historical intersection to the field of 19th-Century literary history at-large.
Anticipating the limitations of the existing body of work in this area, this roundtable expands the 19th-Century time-period from the American Revolution (1776) to Partition and Indian Independence (1947) in the hopes of drawing submissions from scholars working in multiple time periods. Categorized as both interdisciplinary and comparative, this roundtable would consider submissions addressing historical, literary, philosophical, and religious texts, either in English or in any Indian language.
Submissions including (but not limited to) work in the following areas would be welcome:

Translation, Adaptation, and Reception Studies (for example, translations or adaptations (drama) of Tagore's work in North America, or early American films adaptations like Without the Benefit of the Clergy, Canadian periodical readership, etc. )

Travel writing (North American encounters with India and Indian encounters with North America, i.e. Pandita Ramabai)

Canadian, American, and Indian Anglophone Serial Fiction

Continental-styled Orientalism in American and Canadian Fiction (i.e. Poe's short stories, etc.)

Colonial Canadian Fiction (authors like Sarah Jeanette Duncan)

Transcendetalists’ connections to Sanskrit texts like the Bhaghavad Gita

Transcendentalist influences in the Indian Independence Movement

Representations and rhetoric of the America or American Independence in Indian Nationalist Writing and Literature

And, FYI, #AmericanOrientalism is a hashtag which I discovered through @sepoy ! Proof that it's a thing.