Literature and Identity
Writing with an accented voice is organic to the mind of the immigrant writer. It is not something one can invent. It is frequently buried beneath personal inhibitions and doubts.
— Taghi Modarressi
When my novel was not authorized to be published; when my collection of short stories was born after a two-year process of brutal censorship under the name of supervision; when I realized that I was not able to do research in my areas of interest, I left my homeland to do my PhD in the program of Comparative Literature at the University of Alberta. Writing in a language that is not mine has been a great challenge. I am conscious of my accented voice, which may be reflected in this issue; a main source of doubt and fear in my academic work. Since my arrival in Canada, the most important question occupying my mind has been identity, which manifests itself in the theme of this issue. In preparing the call for papers, I particularly had in mind the issues of gender, sexuality and race, and vivid images of exilic characters and non-normative or transgressive subjects.
Inquire: Journal of Comparative Literature stepped into its third year with this issue, which was made possible with the hard work of enthusiastic graduate students from different programs and universities. Inquire 3.1 'Literature and Identity' includes 17 articles, essays, reviews, reports and interviews, and provides a wide range of perspectives from the East and the West, from the South and the North, from within and without the field of Comparative Literature.
‘In Every Issue,’ with four subsections, offers essays from academics in Comparative Literature or the arts who comment on issues of importance relevant to literary studies and the humanities. In “World Literature and Translation,” Dr. Albert Braz (Associate professor of Comparative Literature and English and the former Director of Comparative Literature, University of Alberta) argues that the increasing accessibility of world literature through translation has provided pitfalls — such as idiosyncratic translations that deviate from original texts — as well as the opportunity to expand the canons of world literature by bringing to the fore both works at the centre and on the periphery of their respective national literatures. In “Africa, Film, and Comparative Literary Studies,” Dr. Rachel Gabara (Associate Professor of French at the University of Georgia) provides an engaging look at how the discipline of Comparative Literature has changed over the past few decades and has moved from a strictly Eurocentric orientation to incorporating elements of non-Western literatures. Building her argument off of her personal experience in the field, Gabara argues not only for the inclusion of African literature and film, but also that African expressive culture can provide a model for transnational as well as verbal and visual comparative studies. In “Multinaturalism: Ecocritical Perspectives from the South,” Dr. Odile Cisneros (Associate Professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies and the Program in Comparative Literature, University of Alberta) emphasizes the significance of eco-criticism in the humanities, and particularly literary studies, in providing perspectives which, in critiquing contemporary worldviews that maintain barriers between humans and the natural world, can enrich the current discussions within the environmental movement. Dr. Maureen Engel’s (Graduate Coordinator for the University of Alberta's MA program in Humanities Computing) “The New space of New Media” discusses the role of spatial and locative technologies in the humanities and the manner in which newly emerging technology has lead to changes in the way space within literature is produced and perceived.
The call for papers for "Literature and Identity," which sought to provide a forum for the investigation of the relationship between literature and identity, received a good response. The result, after a long process of peer-reviewing, revising and copy editing, is three engaging articles from graduate students dealing with the concept of identity from different critical perspectives in different genres and contexts. Christian Ylagan's (University of Alberta) “The Broken Word: Exclusivity, Fragmentation and the Quest for Relevance in Philippine Literature” focuses on cultural and political dimensions of identity and literature, and explores how the prevalent tensions that characterize the literary tradition of the Philippines affect the ongoing quest for a representative ‘Filipino’ literature. In “Pig-Women on the Meat Market: Problems and Potentials of Ecofeminist Hyrbridity,” Karen Ya-chu Yang (Indiana University — Bloomington) examines constructions of feminine identities from cultural, historical, and symbolic contexts in Taiwanese novelist Li Ang’s Sha Fu [The Butcher’s Wife] (1989) and French writer Marie Darrieussecq’s Truismes [Pig Tales] (1996). Focusing on pig symbolisms, Yang discusses the contradictions of the association between women and animals in ecofeminist literary writings. In “Mythic Mentor Figures and Liminal Sacred Spaces in Doctor Who and Battlestar Galactica,” Devan Joneson (University of Northern British Columbia) examines the link between modern television narrative structures and the self-consciously artificial implementation of mythological structures.
‘CL Hub,’ bringing together insightful perspectives relevant to students and scholars of Comparative Literature and the arts is, in my opinion, one of the most promising sections of the journal. “From Practicalities of Life to Intellectual Pursuits: A Comparatist's Insights” is Claudia Yaghoobi's (University of California, Santa Barbara) engaging interview with Lily Wong (Assistant Professor in the Department of Literature at American University) who shares practical points she has gained through her career as a graduate of Comparative Literature. In ‘CL World,’ Rohit Dutta Roy (Jadavpur University) takes us to India and provides a concise historical overview of the department of Comparative Literature at Jadavpur University and addresses the issues that students and scholars of Comparative Literature are facing in India, which sounds familiar to students, teachers and graduates of the discipline all around the world. Rachel Luckenbill's (Duquesne University) “Into the Melée: Presenting and Organizing at the ACLA” is a personal account of the author's cooperative experience of organizing a panel on forms of exile at the ACLA annual conference. 'New Trans' offers Sandra Gaviria-Buck's (University of Alberta) translation of El Nino Y La Mariposa, a poem by Rafael Pombo, one of the greatest poets of Colombia. Gaviria-Buck's introduction provides a concise overview of the main features of Pombo's work and its significance in Latin American literature. In ‘Project Room,’ which aims to provide a space for people to report their work relevant to the arts, Dru Oja Jay, the founding editor of The Dominion, shares interesting points about his experience with running an independent paper in Canada, and explains its aims and scope.
Considering the theme of literature and identity, Reviews Editor Hannah Madsen (University of Alberta) brings together a wide-ranging list of recently published works in ‘New Pubs’. This issue also presents four book reviews by Nick van Orden (University of Alberta), Ozen Nergis Dolcerocca (New York University), Yuh. J. Hwang (Trinity College), and Krista Kermer (University of Windsor).
Entering its third year of publication, Inquire is indeed a promising graduate journal that tries to invite and incite more and more critical perspectives into dialogue. Working as the editor of the journal was an invaluable cooperative experience and a great learning opportunity. I am grateful to all members of the editorial board, peer reviewers and contributors. I extend my gratitude to Dr. Irene Sywenky (Graduate Coordinator of the Comparative Literature program at the University of Alberta) and Dr. David Buchanan, the founding editor of Inquire, for their support.
Elli Dehnavi is a PhD Candidate in the Comparative Literature Program at the University of Alberta with both academic and creative publications. Her research interests include Middle Eastern cinema and culture, women's literature from Islamicate societies, feminist theory, masculinity studies, and body politics.