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Archive for the 'Literary Studies' Category

Thursday, February 19th, 2015

The Other Blacklist — An Interview with Mary Helen Washington

Mary Helen Washington, The Other Blacklist

“I’m trying to restore that tradition of mid-century black left radical resistance, so that we don’t remember the 1950s only as the era of ‘integration’ but as the era of black civil rights radicalism. I’m restoring the other blacklist, the black blacklist.”—Mary Helen Washington

As part of our series of posts for Black History Month, we’re re-posting our interview with Mary Helen Washington, author of The Other Blacklist: The African American Literary and Cultural Left of the 1950s:

Question: Why did you choose to focus on the 1950s?

Mary Helen Washington: I came of age in the early 1950s in Catholic schools in Cleveland, Ohio, fed on a steady diet of anticommunism at school, and, at home, a steady diet of integration, but both of those prescribed lessons—anticommunism and integration—separated me from the story of radical civil rights activity. While the black left of the 1950s was protesting discrimination on every front, from residential segregation to unions and factories, we black kids were being taught that integration meant blacks becoming acceptable to the white mainstream. When the left-leaning National Negro Labor Congress (NNLC) came to Cleveland for their 1952 conference, they staged a protest downtown against the airlines for refusing to hire blacks. Since stories like these were blacklisted by the anticommunists as well as the integrationists, black kids grew up in the 1950s with no access to a critical discourse on race. Radicals used terms like white supremacy and racial justice, not integration, while black kids were learning that we should dress, act, and speak a certain way as a marker of acceptability, radicals were defining integration as claiming the rights of citizenship—as you can see from the NNLC poster featuring the Statue of Liberty as a black woman.

Q: Why did you call the book The Other Blacklist?

MHW: Most of what we know about the McCarthy era focuses on the white left. Communism is seen as a white left radicalism, though black civil rights activists were deeply involved in radical movements in the 1940s and 1950s. People who were investigated by J. Edgar Hoover for being communists were routinely asked if they were involved interracially because civil rights activity was considered radical. This is a very powerful and commendable radicalism that black people don’t get credit for. They weren’t the Hollywood Ten, but they were the New York/Chicago 100. There’s a fine documentary on screenwriter and novelist Dalton Trumbo and his admirable resistance to HUAC, but there’s no documentary on black radicals like Alice Childress, Lloyd Brown, Julian Mayfield, Charles White, Elizabeth Catlett or Lorraine Hansberry [some of the figures in my book], who also paid a price for their radicalism. I’m trying to restore that tradition of mid-century black left radical resistance, so that we don’t remember the 1950s only as the era of “integration” but as the era of black civil rights radicalism. I’m restoring the other blacklist, the black blacklist.

Q: You have a chapter called “Spycraft and the Black Literary Left.” Can you talk about the connection between government agencies, politics, and art?

MHW: Keep in mind that the Left and the Communist Party supported black artists when no one in white mainstream culture (with the exception of J. Edgar Hoover) showed any interest in black culture. They came to the defense of black culture because they saw art as a means to effect social and political change. One critic Willliam Maxwell says that Hoover should be considered an important historian of black culture because he always took black literary production seriously. The FBI files are thus a mixed blessing—a gold mine for biographical material because the FBI kept close track of the activities of radicals, and also a record of governmental abuse of artists and intellectuals. There’s a current play on Broadway about the life of Lyndon Johnson called All the Way that shows how relevant these issues still are. The character playing J. Edgar Hoover asks LBJ to justify his relationship with Martin Luther King because, Hoover claims, King is being advised by communists. The government, particularly in the age of McCarthy and Hoover, created the tradition of demonizing the Left that is still with us and that has resulted in the dismissal of an entire generation of black intellectuals and artists.

Q: Why is radicalism of the 1950s still relevant?

MHW: We’re grappling with the same issues today but without that radical perspective. I’m thinking about Rachel Jeantel in the Trayvon Martin case and all the discussion that was generated about Jeantel’s appearance and speech—the way she looked rather than the case itself. Another example is Paul Ryan saying “inner city” people live in a culture that doesn’t value work or doesn’t have a work ethic. And here we see how “inner city” becomes a code for “black.” The jurors from the Jordan Davis case in Florida, one white and one black, said that the Davis case, in which a black man was shot and killed because a white man thought his black music was too loud, was not about race. This kind of political illiteracy shows how and why we need what I call a critical racial discourse. As Boston Governor Deval Patrick said—“words matter.” Even more than words, the radical left—and, yes, I include communists– gave us examples of a powerful resistance. The Rosa Ingram case and the Trenton Six—which were also about racial violence inflicted on blacks– were fought in the courts, in the streets, and in African American artistic production. When Rosa Ingram was sentenced to death along with her two sons for killing a man she claimed had violently assaulted her, the left and civil rights groups organized the protests that eventually freed them, and, as part of that protest, artist Charles White made the Ingram case the subject of his 1949 drawing.

(more…)

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015

Eric Walrond, Harlem Renaissance Forgotten Giant — James Davis

Eric Walrond

In celebration of Black History Month, we continue our focus on recent titles in African-American studies. Today, we look at Eric Walrond: A Life in the Harlem Renaissance and the Transatlantic Caribbean, by James Davis, which was recently featured in the Daily News.

In the article, Davis explains Walrond’s important role in the Harlem Renaissance, who was friends with such figures as Countee Cullen and Langston Hughes. Walrond was best-known for Tropic of Death, his book of short stories, which offered one of the first portrayals of Caribbean characters in American literature. However, after achieving recognition for Tropic of Death, Walrond left New York City and faded into obscurity.

In praising the book, David Levering-Lewis says ““It’s a gorgeous book, and it’s detective work that is really exceptional.” Walrond was born in Guyana and his role in the Harlem Renaissance reflects the important place Caribbean-Americans have had in the history of Harlem.

For more on the book, we’re very excited about an event with James Davis to celebrate the book’s launch at Greenlight Books in Brooklyn, on Monday, February 23rd.

And here’s an excerpt from the book:

Friday, February 13th, 2015

Absorbed in Translation: The Art — and Fun — of Literary Translation, by Juliet Winters Carpenter

The Fall of Language in the Age of English

The following essay is by Juliet Winters Carpenter, Doshisha Women's College of Liberal Arts, and the co-translator of The Fall of Language in the Age of English. The essay was originally published on The Conversation.

I recently stumbled upon a post that describes the process of literary translation as “soul-crushing.” That’s news to me, and I’ve been engaged in literary translation for the better part of four decades now. How would I describe it? “Humbling,” yes. “All-consuming,” definitely. But above all, “the most fun imaginable.”

Some may figure that literary translators are a dying breed, like quill pen makers, and assume that computers will eventually take over the job. Don’t hold your breath. Machine translation has a role to play – and no doubt an increasing one – but it is doomed to be literal, to merely skim the surface. Enter “Don’t hold your breath” into Google Translate and you’ll get an injunction to not stop breathing. A human touch is needed to understand layers of meaning in context and to create something pleasurable to read.

Yet the process is humbling, primarily because as a translator, you are constantly made aware of your limitations: there are all the events or interactions described in the original text that you know nothing about, or have never experienced. Or you long to reproduce the wit, rhythm, and beauty of the original, but, for a host of reasons, have to settle for less.

I also find that humility is a practical necessity. When the original makes little sense, often the first impulse is to blame the author. Humility allows you to see the original text in a new light – to appreciate it for what it is, rather than what you may think it’s supposed to be. If you approach a confusing sentence with the assumption that you’re missing something, you’re usually right. So my first rule would be: assume you are wrong, not the author.

I’ve collaborated with Japanese author Minae Mizumura on translating two of her books, including the just-released The Fall of Language in the Age of English.

The Fall of Language was first translated by Mari Yoshihara, a professor at the University of Hawaii who also found the publisher. Mizumura then asked me to review the entire book with her – to incorporate changes she made to render the text more accessible and relevant to non-Japanese readers. The book explores the importance of national literature and warns against the unchecked proliferation of English, lamenting that not only nuances, but also “truths”—accessible only in other languages—are in danger of being lost. Translating such a book into English may seem perverse, but it underscores the point that in our age, ideas can spread only if they’re communicated in English.

(more…)

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

Four Thoughts for Academic Writers (Or Maybe All Writers) — Eric Hayot

The Elements of Academic StyleThe following advice on writing comes from Eric Hayot, author of The Elements of Academic Style: Writing for the Humanities

1. Listen first

Part of being a good writer is having a sense of what good writing feels like. That’s hard to do if you’ve never read academic writing for the writing. You probably already know whose writing you like and whose you don’t. Start, then, by rereading the work of people whose writing you admire, and try to figure out what makes it especially good. I strongly strongly recommend writing a two- or three-page imitation of that person’s style. In the long run, the goal is not to ventriloquize them, but simply to use the exercise as a form of deep engagement with another writer, and to feel what it feels like to inhabit a style. (Like imitations of voices, the first thing you have to know when you imitate a style is what makes something imitable in the first place—is it in the rhythm, the diction, the flow, the paragraphing, the relation between exemplification and idea, the style of argument, the figurative or rhetorical tropes? All of these, of course, and more, but differently each time.)

You should make listening to the writing of others part of a lifelong practice as a writer. But don’t forget, also, to listen to your own work! You have a style (you’ve been speaking in prose all along!), so you should know what it is, how it works, what you like and don’t like about it.

2. Know your genre

All writing takes place in a genre. This is true generally for academic writers—you write in a genre called “literary criticism” or “cultural studies” or “philosophy”—but it is also true in particular—you write in a subfield called Victorian Studies, or epistemology, and even within those subfields you write for specific journals or specific groups of peers. In order to be a successful writer, then, you need to know quite a bit about the discourse you’re attempting to join. You probably already do know quite a bit, implicitly. But you and a friend might agree, for instance, to read all the articles from two or three issues of the same journal, to see if you can begin to theorize a house style; or you can read four or five articles from a random journal in random year in the not-so-distant past (1983, say) and then some from the present to get a sense of the stylistic changes that have taken place. The point is simply that you need to know your genre, and you need to write within its framework.

Once you know this, of course, you can probe the edges of the genre, where the interesting outliers are, to see if you can change it. And you can also draw strength from other genres (including nonacademic genres like fiction, poetry, or essayistic prose), using ideas you gain there to breach the conventions of the genre you’re working in. That’s a good, easy way to generate stylistic force—taking something that works elsewhere and grafting it onto the genre you’re writing makes for engaging, interesting writing.

(more…)

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

An Interview with Minae Mizumura, author of “The Fall of Language in the Age of English”

Minae Mizumura

The following is an interview with Minae Mizumura, the author of The Fall of Language in the Age of English  

Question: It is ironic that your book on preserving languages from the tidal wave of English has now been translated into English. Can you speak about the relationship between you, Mari Yoshihara, and Juliet Winters Carpenter, the translators of the book?

Minae Mizumura: Mari Yoshihara has long been an enthusiastic fan of my novels, especially of my second, autobiographical novel that traces my growing up in the United States. She has a similar background. As soon as The Fall of Language was published, she contacted me from Hawaii, where she teaches, and offered to translate it herself. I was initially taken aback; as you point out, it seemed rather perverse that a book warning about the dominance of English should be translated into English. It took me some time to realize that what she proposed underscores the whole point of the book: in our age, ideas can spread only when translated into English. After Mari finished her translation, I worked on the manuscript to make it accessible to a wider readership. I then asked Juliet Winters Carpenter to go over it and also to let me work with her at the final stage. I knew she would say yes. Julie translated my third novel, called A True Novel, and despite being one of the most highly regarded translators in the field, she had no objection to working with me closely in Kyoto where she teaches. Very flexible and open-minded. The English version of this book owes itself to two generous souls.

Q: How did you react to the controversial reviews when your book was first released in Japan?

MM: Very much bewildered, though I never actually saw those reviews. So I said nothing publicly. Like many writers, I avoid reading what people say about my books on the Internet and ask others to filter information for me. It seems that this was a particularly wise decision when this book came out. Japan lags behind in putting together quality online book reviews. As is often the case, the online controversies took place mostly among people who hadn’t read the book. The firestorm got out of control. Rumor has it that a famous blogger, the one who unwittingly initiated the controversy by declaring that my book was a “must read for all Japanese,” got so fed up that he no longer blogs or tweets. He apologized to me for having incited such vociferous reactions but was relieved to learn that I had only a vague idea of what was being said.

(more…)

Monday, February 9th, 2015

Book Giveaway! The Fall of Language in the Age of English

This week our featured book is The Fall of Language in the Age of English, by Minae Mizumura.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of The Fall of Language in the Age of English to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, February 13 at 1:00 pm.

“A dazzling rumination on the decline of local languages … in a world overshadowed by English. Moving effortlessly between theory and personal reflection, Minae Mizumura’s lament—linguistic and social in equal measure—is broadly informed, closely reasoned, and — in a manner that recalls her beloved Jane Austen — at once earnest and full of mischief.” — John Nathan, translator of Light and Dark: A Novel by Natsume Soseki

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015

Cultural Foreign Policy from Cold War Modernism to Today’s Hollywood Bromance — Greg Barnhisel

Greg Barnhisel, Cold War Modernists

The following post is by Greg Barnhisel, author of Cold War Modernists: Art, Literature, and American Cultural Diplomacy.

Greg Barnhisel will also be in New York City to talk about the book on Thursday, February 5 at the National Archives at noon and then at the Columbia Rare Book and Manuscript Library at 6 pm.

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its nominees for the 2015 Academy Awards, the James Franco/Seth Rogen comedy The Interview wasn’t on the list. That Oscar spurned this “bromance” surprised nobody. Most critics hated the film and even Rogen’s fans found it one of his lesser works.

Those audiences almost didn’t have a chance to see the film. The Interview, of course, centers on a half-baked but accidentally successful plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. North Korea, though, didn’t like jokes about the murder of its leader. In one of the most remarkable episodes in the recent history of the entertainment industry, a group of computer hackers calling itself the “Guardians of Peace” (linked later with the North Korean government) infiltrated the computer servers of Sony Pictures, shutting down the studio’s communications and throwing its data open for anyone to see. The “Guardians” demanded that Sony scrap The Interview, and the studio acquiesced if only for a moment.

Apart from some of the obvious questions here—has Hollywood so convinced itself that the Kims are cartoon villains that it thought it could play up the assassination of a sitting foreign leader for laughs? Would a studio greenlight a comedy about the killing of Vladimir Putin or Bashar al-Assad?—this incident evokes the larger issue of the place of art and popular culture in international relations. Does the U.S. really want smirking irony to be the face of our culture? What sorts of art and culture would tell the stories we want to tell foreign populations about who we are?

Currently, two of our greatest foreign-policy challenges (the confrontation with fundamentalist Islamism, and the standoff with an expansionist Russia) have important cultural dimensions. Both Islamism and Putinism put themselves forward to the world as defenders of traditional values, and depict American popular culture as a threat to those values. How should the U.S. respond to this?

Such issues are at the heart of Cold War Modernists: Art, Literature, and American Cultural Diplomacy. As the Cold War began, both adversaries and allies viewed the U.S. as having nothing to offer the world but military and economic domination and a crude, violent, hypersexualized popular culture. American cultural diplomats had to win over skeptical intellectuals in allied nations, and counteract enemy propaganda generated by the Soviet Union that we were just Mickey Mouse and cowboy movies.

(more…)

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

Thursday Fiction Corner: Julia Kristeva and Teresa of Ávila in the New York Times

Julia Kristeva

Today’s fiction corner features Julia Kristeva’s new novel Teresa, My Love: An Imagined Life of the Saint of Avila. While Kristeva first made her name as a philosopher and critic, she has also written several novels, including Murder in Byzantium and The Old Man and the Wolves.

In her newest novel Teresa, My Love, Kristeva mixes fiction, history, psychoanalysis, and personal fantasy. The novel follows Sylvia Leclercq, a French psychoanalyst, academic, and incurable insomniac, as she falls for the sixteenth-century Saint Teresa of Avila and becomes consumed with charting her life. Traveling to Spain, Leclercq, Kristeva’s probing alterego, visits the sites and embodiments of the famous mystic and awakens to her own desire for faith, connection, and rebellion.

In today’s post, we are happy to present excerpts from the recent New York Times book review of Teresa, My Love, written by Carlene Bauer:

Imagining a Saintly Life, Some of It Not So Holy
‘Teresa, My Love,’ Julia Kristeva’s Latest Novel
By Carlene Bauer

It is hard, even knowing just a few facts about Teresa of Ávila, not to fall in love with her. This 16th-century Spanish mystic, saint and doctor of the church could sigh over her own limitations with the precision, earthiness and wit of a born writer. “I could be bribed by a sardine,” she once wrote. Nor did she muffle her sighs over the sisters in her care. “Believe me,” she wrote, “I fear an unhappy nun more than many devils.”

The French psychoanalyst and literary critic Julia Kristeva has not been immune to the charms of this holy woman. She has put Teresa on the couch before (most recently in “Hatred and Forgiveness”), and in “Teresa, My Love,” she, or rather her alter ego, the clinical psychologist Sylvia Leclercq, analyzes Teresa and her historical, spiritual and sexual significance.

Descended on her father’s side from Jewish converts to Christianity, this girl who grew up to have raptures was the very pretty daughter of a woman who loved to read novels, a 16th-century Emma Bovary. Her mother passed that love on to her daughter, who might herself have become a thwarted dreamer like Emma, save for a thirst for glory and independence. At 7, Teresa persuaded her brother Rodrigo to run away to “the land of the Moors,” so they could be martyrs. At 21, she ran away again, despite her father’s wishes, to the Carmelites, partly to avoid an unwanted marriage, partly to heed a call.

Sylvia reads Teresa as a woman who needed a Father to love her without judging her for her passions, and a woman who needed to be one with the Son to assure herself she was not solely female, because to be female meant to be sentenced to motherhood. Teresa is also considered, not as explicitly, an exemplar of the feminine genius that Ms. Kristeva has contemplated in books on Hannah Arendt, Melanie Klein and Colette. Teresa did not imprison herself in an interior castle of mysticism but reformed an order and founded 17 monasteries, traveling all over Spain. In Ms. Kristeva’s interpretation, Teresa isn’t “the patron saint of hysteria,” as Freud’s mentor Josef Breuer called her, but the patron saint of passionate pragmatics.

Why Teresa again and why now? “What’s left of that universe of faith and love, what’s left of the windmills?” Sylvia Leclercq asks. “Chimeras, TV soap operas for avid women and their partners. Or God’s madmen, the suicide bombers, who pretend not to realize that he (the Almighty, the Master, the One and Only, the True, the Beyond) has mutated into pure spectacle, and twist their alleged faith into murderous nihilism.” Teresa’s life and her writings could be one antidote to this malaise, because, according to Sylvia/Ms. Kristeva, she “ventures as far as possible along the route that beckons the person who doesn’t give up on believing, the person who talks as a way of sharing, and who loves in order to act.”

“Teresa, My Love” is perhaps strongest when Ms. Kristeva sets her characters in dialogue, particularly a three-act play in which Teresa, on her deathbed, converses with figures like her confessor and friend John of the Cross. Here, Ms. Kristeva’s affection for her subject finds effortless expression in a vibrant and persuasive imagining of Teresa as she might have sounded off the page. Her ebullient exegesis will probably most delight those who think that faith and love need more spokesmen and spokeswomen than just Pope Francis — and more than just believers to speak of them.

Read the full review here.

Monday, December 15th, 2014

A Q&A with Janet Poole on Modernist Literature in Korea

When the Future Disappears

The following is an interview with Janet Poole, author of When the Future Disappears: The Modernist Imagination in Late Colonial Korea.

Q: Your book deals with an extraordinary group of writers working in Korea at the height of Japanese occupation during the Asia-Pacific War. How did you first become interested in their work?

JP: When I was first studying Korean and living in Seoul, there were these uncanny ways in which the colonial past seemed to exert an ongoing effect in the present. For instance, old people would come up to me in the street, when I was standing at a bus stop for example, and start talking to me in Japanese. Luckily I had learnt Japanese and could answer! But what really intrigued me was that they would not be surprised when I answered them in Japanese, but would just carry on having a regular conversation with me. This had never happened to me in Japan. I became interested in the history of colonialism and especially the ways in which it left traces in language and language use. Naturally—as a fiction lover—I started to read novels and short stories from that time. I had learnt that colonial occupation had been brutal and, most of all, that it had prevented Koreans writing in Korean, especially as the Asia-Pacific War intensified. But when I picked up books of canonical short stories—the best loved in the nation and the like—so many of them were written in the late 1930s. It seemed such a contradiction that the stories most heralded still today had been written when supposedly Koreans had the least possibilities for expression. That’s what got me interested. (more…)

Monday, December 8th, 2014

Book Giveaway! Win a Free Copy of “A Coney Island Reader”

This week our featured book is A Coney Island Reader: Through Dizzy Gates of Illusion edited by Louis J. Parascandola and John Parascandola

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of A Coney Island Reader to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, December 12 at 1:00 pm.

“A timely, important addition to anthologies of New York writing. A Coney Island Reader will be welcomed by urban historians and a general public that continues to be fascinated by Coney Island’s ramshackle roller coaster of a history” — Bryan Waterman, New York University

Read Kevin Baker’s foreword to A Coney Island Reader

Thursday, November 20th, 2014

Thursday Fiction Corner: Julia Kristeva and St. Teresa

Julia Kristeva, Teresa My Love

Today’s fiction corner features Julia Kristeva’s new novel Teresa, My Love: An Imagined Life of the Saint of Avila. While Kristeva first made her name as a philosopher and critic, she has also written several novels, including Murder in Byzantium and The Old Man and the Wolves.

In her newest novel Teresa, My Love, Kristeva mixes fiction, history, psychoanalysis, and personal fantasy. The novel follows Sylvia Leclercq, a French psychoanalyst, academic, and incurable insomniac, as she falls for the sixteenth-century Saint Teresa of Avila and becomes consumed with charting her life. Traveling to Spain, Leclercq, Kristeva’s probing alterego, visits the sites and embodiments of the famous mystic and awakens to her own desire for faith, connection, and rebellion.

Below is an excerpt from the novel:

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

To the Point: A New E-book Series from Columbia University Press

To the Point

To the Point, Bruce HoffmanTo the Point, Julia KristevaTo the Point, Peter Piot                 To the Point, Joel SimonTo the Point, Evan Thompson

Columbia University Press is proud to announce the launch of To the Point an exciting new e-book series that extends the scholarship of our authors for a growing global and digital audience. We present standalone chapters from the press’s forthcoming fall season books, with original short-format works to come to the series in the future.

These works serve to introduce our authors’ provocative ideas to new readers in accessible, affordable formats. Featuring works by Bruce Hoffman, Julia Kristeva, Evan Thompson, and others in disciplines ranging from politics and philosophy to food science and social work.

To the Point titles are available for only $1.99 from your favorite e-book vendor.

The first five e-book shorts to be released for sale in the To the Point series are:

* The 7/7 London Underground Bombing: Not So Homegrown, by Bruce Hoffman
A selection from The Evolution of the Global Terrorist Threat: From 9/11 to Osama bin Laden’s Death

* Understanding Through Fiction, by Julia Kristeva
A selection from Teresa, My Love: An Imagined Life of the Saint of Avila

* AIDS as an International Political Issue, by Peter Piot
A selection from AIDS Between Science and Politics

* Informing the Global Citizen, by Joel Simon
A Selection from The New Censorship: Inside the Global Battle for Media Freedom

* Dying: What Happens When We Die?, by Evan Thompson
A Selection from Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy

Friday, September 26th, 2014

From Radio to Film … And Beyond — Rey Chow

“Long before I came to study film academically, these visits [to my mother's film studios] had opened my eyes to the utterly fragmentary making of the artwork in the age of technical reproducibility.”—Rey Chow

Rey Chow, Not Like a Native SpeakerWe conclude our week-long feature on Not Like a Native Speaker: On Languaging as a Postcolonial Experience with another excerpt from the book’s final chapter “The Sounds and Scripts of a Hong Kong Childhood”. In the following passage she explores the influence of her mother’s film career on her own writing and intellectual development:

Because of my mother’s involvement with film, I had opportunities to visit film studios during the time when some of her scripts were being shot. Long before I came to study film academically, these visits had opened my eyes to the utterly fragmentary making of the artwork in the age of technical reproducibility. If, say, a particular corner of a living room was the focus, the rest of the room could be left in chaos, filled with makeshift equipment, un­used props, and other messes as long as they did not intrude into the frame to be captured on camera. In a face-to-face dialogue between a female char­acter and a male character that was shot from the waist up, an actress who was somewhat short could be made to stand on a phonebook so that her height in relation to the actor would appear aesthetically proportionate on screen. On yet another occasion, I was captivated by the skilled martial arts movements performed by a well-known actress (Chan Bo-jue/Chen Baozhu) playing an assassin. Those movements were shot while a whole group of us bystanders were in the movie studio, but when the scene was shown in the movie theater, the cinematographic illusionism had been ren­dered so complete by the editing process that the actress’s stunts appeared as though they had happened all by themselves in another world, miraculously devoid of us, the witnesses.

Inspired by these films, I wrote, at the age of about ten, the synopsis of a film featuring a modern-day female knight errant called White Rose. My mother showed my penciled draft to one of her director friends, Mok Hong-see/Mo Kangshi, who reportedly said it was an interesting story. Needless to say, I was very disappointed that he did not proceed directly to filming my script!

(more…)

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

Rey Chow — The Sounds and Scripts of a Hong Kong Childhood

Rey Chow, Not Like a Native SpeakerIn “The Sounds and Scripts of a Hong Kong Childhood,” the final chapter of Not Like a Native Speaker: On Languaging as a Postcolonial Experience, Rey Chow explores elements of her own upbringing in colonial Hong Kong. In the following passage, she discusses her mother’s career as a popular radio broadcaster and performer:

So, how does the story end? What happens to that woman character? And her frail cousin, the one who is secretly in love with her husband? “Please tell us!” According to my mother, such were the questions with which she was besieged in the maternity ward when she was about to give birth to her first child, me. As the labor pains became advanced and she was rolled into the hospital’s delivery room, the nurses on duty were still far more pre­occupied with the plot developments of the dramas they had heard her nar­rate on the radio. This family legend of fandom gone amok at the scene of my birth offers a unique glimpse into the way people could be mesmerized by stories in the form of sound broadcast in the days before television be­came the predominant mass medium. What was it like then, when it was an ordinary matter to be hooked into a fictional world purely through sound?

A few years later, when I reached the age of five or six, I experienced firsthand something of my mother’s aura as a popular broadcaster. I was sit­ting in a movie theater with some older friends, who had taken me to see a film adapted from one of her radio plays, Yun hoi sheung chor/ Renhai shuang chu (Two young children in the human world). That much was what I consciously knew. To my great surprise—and in a luminous im­age that has remained vivid in my mind to this day—my mother appeared on the screen as the film began. As though I had been transported to an unfamiliar locale in a dream, everyone around me started clapping. “This is Mama,” I remember thinking matter-of-factly, sitting in the dark, mysti­fied. “Why are people applauding her?” But the crowd’s enthusiasm quickly took me over. Without understanding what was happening, I joined in and started clapping as well.

My mother had been filmed as the narrator, offering an introduction (jui sut/xu shu) to the story that was to unfold within the next couple of hours. She was, if my memory is correct, seated at a desk, addressing the audience directly. In the broadcasting world of Hong Kong in the 1950s and 1960s, she was a widely recognized name, known for her many successful radio plays, some of which were adapted for film. Her personal appearance in Yun hoi sheung chor was, I suppose, part of the film company’s strategy of promotion.

I was of course unaware that epochal changes had been taking place in the mass media even as I gleefully participated in the audience’s celebration of my mother’s image on the screen. The happenings of a middle-class up­bringing, the little wonders, mysteries, expectations, and sorrows that con­stituted my daily life as a precocious schoolchild in a British Crown colony in the Far East were, in retrospect, happenings of historical import—but only in retrospect, when I have acquired a certain perspective and vocabu­lary in which to talk about them in a more impersonal manner.

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Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

Rey Chow on Derrida and the French Language

Rey Chow, Not Like a Native SpeakerIn her new book Not Like a Native Speaker: On Languaging as a Postcolonial Experience, Rey Chow examines misgivings about the inequality of the encounters between European and non-European languages in the postcolonial world.

In the following passage, Chow considers Jacques Derrida’s complicated with the French language as a result of his upbringing in colonial Algeria:

Among the details Derrida narrates, those about his intimate relations to things French—French history, French literature, the French language, and other French speakers’ accents—are the most captivating, in large part be­cause of his mildly exhibitionistic and often self-flagellating sense of candor. The study of French literature, for instance, is an injunction of segregation as much as it is an experience of cultural assimilation. Not only does such study reinforce the haughtiness of the literary mode of reference and mean­ing making from nonliterary culture, but it also effectuates, he writes, “a brutal severance . . . fostering a more acute partition: the one that separates French literature—its history, its works, its models, its cult of the dead, its modes of transmission and celebration, its ‘posh districts,’ its names of au­thors and editors—from the culture ‘proper’ to ‘French Algerians’ ” Derrida’s description here is resolutely unsentimental, conveying a fi rm sense of the traumatizing cuts and cut-offs that constitute colonialism’s gov­erning routines.

To the important analyses of literature as an ideological form—such as those advanced in the 1970s by Renée Balibar, Étienne Balibar, Pierre Ma­cherey, and others in their studies of language practices within the French national education system—Derrida has articulated the crucial dimension of colonialist racialization. His account, it may be said, supplements the so­cialist logic pursued by these other thinkers by illuminating how the “reality effects,” so to speak, of the elite forms of the French language (français lit­téraire or français fictif ) are outcomes of carefully implemented racial as well as class segregation. Indeed, from the perspective of the colonized, as Der­rida suggests, it is impossible to experience the one without experiencing the other.

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Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

Interview with Rey Chow, author of “Not Like a Native Speaker”

“My book asks: can there be other ways of coming to terms with loss? Can loss be perceived, however painfully, as an alternative beginning to something different?”—Rey Chow

Rey Chow, Not Like a Native SpeakerThe following is an interview with Rey Chow, author of Not Like a Native Speaker: On Languaging as a Postcolonial Experience:

Q: How does the issue of language or “languaging” provide new ways of thinking about the colonial and postcolonial experience?

Rey Chow: The issue of language is, of course, a longstanding one in colonial and postcolonial experience, and anyone working in the field of postcolonial studies of the past several hundred years needs to come to terms with it in one way of another. The confrontation between languages and cultures in the classic colonial situation, in which some languages and cultures are considered superior while others, typically the native ones, are deemed inferior, has created psychic, cross-cultural, institutional, and geopolitical effects that are still very much with us today. These effects inform not only worldwide communications in public settings but also some of our most intimate contacts on a daily basis (e.g. How to talk to friends or loved ones who have no awareness of such effects?) Paying attention to language—in the larger sense of cumulated habits, conventions, gestures, and tendencies that I designate by the term “languaging”—is thus a logical, perhaps indispensable, way of understanding the colonial and postcolonial experience. Indeed, as my subtitle indicates, to languaging itself is a form of postcolonial experience.

In French and Francophone postcolonial studies, extensive philosophical reflections on language as experience are quite common, but it is not the case in Anglophone postcolonial studies. One of the aims of this book is to address this disparity by highlighting questions of languaging in Anglophone postcolonial debates. In addition, the book introduces a third language and cultural area—Chinese, as used in Hong Kong under the fraught conditions of British colonialism and Chinese nationalism—whose contributions to postcolonial studies can be uniquely fascinating.

Q: You suggest that the colonized’s encounter with the colonizer’s language is usually depicted in negative terms. How does your book challenge this characterization?

RC: The negative terms I am referring to have to do with the predominant feeling of loss that pervades many postcolonial scholarly undertakings. This overpowering sense of loss is a logical outcome of what I call the confrontation between languages and cultures on unequal terms, which is registered by the colonized and their descendants as violation and injury, followed by profound melancholy. My book asks: can there be other ways of coming to terms with loss? Can loss be perceived, however painfully, as an alternative beginning to something different? Thus, in the various chapters, I read a number of authors—e.g. Chinua Achebe, Walter Benjamin, Michel Foucault, Paul Ricoeur, Derek Walcott, Leung Ping-kwan, Ma Kwok-ming, among many others—as striving for an alternative kind of response to loss as inscribed in various types of encounters with language, tradition, community, and creativity. It’s a collective undertaking, clearly unfinished, but I think it is important to engage with it because of its dissonance from the more pervasive trends of melancholic longing often found in postcolonial studies.

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Monday, September 22nd, 2014

Book Giveaway! “Not Like a Native Speaker,” by Rey Chow

“[A] unique map for the postcolonial criticism of the future, one informed by rigor and unafraid of judgment.” — Simon Gikandi, Princeton University

This week our featured book is Not Like a Native Speaker: On Languaging as a Postcolonial Experience by Rey Chow.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Not Like a Native Speaker: On Languaging as a Postcolonial Experience to a lucky winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, September 26 at 1:00 pm.

Read the introduction, “Skin Tones—About Language, Postcoloniality, and Racialization”:

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

Back to School with Anne Campbell — Mike Chasar

Anne Campbell

The following post is by Mike Chasar, author of Everyday Reading: Poetry and Popular Culture in Modern America. The essay was also published in Arcade:

A little less than a year back, I wrote about Edgar Guest, the longtime poet of the Detroit Free Press who published a poem in that paper seven days a week for thirty years. The national syndication of his verse made Guest a household name, got him dubbed the “people’s poet,” turned him into a popular speaker, and made him a very rich man even if it didn’t secure him a place in scholarly histories of American poetry. Indeed, after mentioning Guest as part of a Modernist Studies Association panel a few years back, I happened to run into a prominent poet-critic in the airport and, in making small talk about the panel while we waited for our flights, he confessed that until my talk he’d never even heard of Guest. By contrast, my mother-in-law owned several of Guest’s books before she moved out of the family house and into a retirement home; when I was helping her move and opened them, other poems by Guest that she’d clipped from newspapers and magazines and stored between the pages came fluttering out.

If the poet-critic I just mentioned had never heard of Guest, it’s probably safe to say that he’s never heard of Anne Campbell either—the poet whom the Detroit News hired in 1922 to better compete with the Free Press. Called “Eddie Guest’s Rival” by Time and “The Poet of the Home” by her publicity agents, Campbell would go on to write a poem a day six days a week for twenty-five years, producing over 7,500 poems whose international syndication reportedly earned her up to $10,000 per year (that’s about $140,000 adjusted for inflation, folks), becoming a popular speaker in her own right, and proving that neither the Free Press nor Guest could corner the market on popular poetry. Indeed, a 1947 event marking her silver anniversary at the News drew fifteen hundred fans including Detroit’s mayor and the president of Wayne State University.

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Friday, August 15th, 2014

Chris Andrews Gives 7 Reasons Why Roberto Bolaño Became So Popular in the U.S.

Roberto Bolano's Fiction, Chris AndrewsIn the following excerpt from Roberto Bolaño’s Fiction: An Expanding Universe, Chris Andrews explores how and why Roberto Bolaño’s became so popular in the United States:

The reception of Roberto Bolaño’s work in English began in an unre­markable way. When Christopher Maclehose, publisher at the Harvill Press in England, bought UK rights for Nocturno de Chile (By Night in Chile) in 2001, Bolaño was already a well-established author in the Spanish-speaking world. In 1998 his first long novel, Los detectives salvajes (The Savage Detectives), had won the Premio Herralde de Novela and the Premio Rómulo Gallegos. The second of these prizes, in particular, is a mark of consecration in the Hispanic literary field, and it had been won, before Bolaño, by Mario Vargas Llosa, Gabriel García Márquez, Carlos Fuentes, and Javier Marías. By the end of 2001, La literatura nazi en América (Nazi Literature in the Americas) and Estrella distante (Distant Star) had appeared in German and Italian, and the French translator Robert Amutio, who had been trying to interest a pub­lisher in Bolaño’s work since 1996, had finally succeeded: Christian Bourgois had bought the rights to the two books already out in Italy and Germany.

By Night in Chile (2003) was positively reviewed and sold modestly (775 copies in the first 12 months). Distant Star (2004) was also well received by critics, but sold more slowly still. So far, this story conforms to a familiar pattern: an author recognized as important in his or her source culture is translated into English and published by a small press after having been translated into several other languages. Often the story stops here. Since substantial sales are not accompanying critical success, the publisher under­standably decides to cut her losses and take risks on more promising new names as yet untainted by failure in the marketplace.

This, however, is not what happened in the case of Bolaño. The Harvill Press bought UK rights for a third book, a selection of stories from Llamadas telefónicas and Putas asesinas, for which Bolaño chose the title Last Evenings on Earth shortly before his death in July 2003. Across the Atlantic, Barbara Epler at New Directions, who had acquired and published the translations of By Night in Chile and Distant Star with a prompt enthusiasm, negotiated with Harvill-Secker (the Harvill Press having been taken over by Random House and merged with the Secker and Warburg list in 2005) to bring out the book of stories in the United States before it appeared in the UK. It was published in May 2006. By this stage a certain excitement had begun to develop around Bolaño’s work in North America. Susan Sontag had provided an endorse­ment for By Night in Chile. Francine Prose read the story “Gómez Palacio” in The New Yorker and discovered in it, as she wrote in the The New York Times, “something extraordinarily beautiful and (at least to me) entirely new.” Bolaño’s reception was already beginning to break with the sadly familiar pattern.

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Thursday, August 14th, 2014

Chris Andrews, Translator, Critic, and Fan of Roberto Bolaño

“It has been a privilege to be involved, as a translator, in the process by which Bolaño’s fiction travelled from Blanes in Catalonia to Hyderabad and the western suburbs of Sydney, to name just two places where I know it has been read with a passion.”—Chris Andrews

Roberto Bolano's Fiction, Chris AndrewsIn addition to being the author of Roberto Bolaño’s Fiction: An Expanding Universe, Chris Andrews is also the translator of several of Bolaño’s novels. His roles as translator, scholar, and critic give him a distinct understanding of Bolaño’s novels.

Andrews was recently asked by Publishers Weekly to discuss a book by Bolaño that has perhaps not received as much attention as it deserves, and he selected Distant Star, a novel he translated and was published in English by New Directions in 2004. The following is an excerpt from his essay:

Bolaño knew, at least from 1993, when he was diagnosed with a progressive autoimmune disease of the liver, that his chances of a long life were slim. I like to think that in 1995, as he wrote Distant Star, he also knew that he was finding his way into an enormous and singular territory, and that, as a writer, he would not have to start over. In Nazi Literature in the Americas, under the influence of Jorge Luis Borges and a lesser-known Argentine, Juan Rodolfo Wilcock, he had described imaginary works in a work of fiction. In Distant Star, he took another step, which would prove to be decisive, bringing three more processes into play: expanding what he had already written, allowing his characters to return, and exploiting their tendency to overinterpret their surroundings.

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