Connecting the Dialogues of Literary Violence
I am delighted to present the fourth issue of Inquire: Journal of Comparative Literature. Issue 2.2 ‘Literary Violence' received a high response to the call for papers in terms of both the number of submissions we received and the quality of those submissions, as you will see when you continue reading through this issue. The implication of such a response is twofold: that this issue’s topic is of particular interest to today’s graduate student, and that Inquire is fast becoming a reputable outlet for graduate students to showcase their research. The significance of this achievement needs no emphasis, and needless to say, I am extremely proud of the hard work and dedication of all those who have volunteered with Inquire to date.
At 24 contributors from Canada, the United States, Great Britain, Scotland, Estonia, Germany, Romania, and New Zealand, this issue is truly reflective of the spirit of Comparative Literature, both intra- and international. As always, the goal of Inquire is to instigate academic dialogue, and you will find that many of the pieces published within this issue enter into a dialogue of their own. For this reason, I highly encourage you to read the entire issue, which includes four stimulating faculty-written reports, six compelling and well-crafted articles, another six book reviews, five graduate student reflection pieces, one translation of Persian poetry, one perspective on the publishing industry and one thorough compilation of new publications relevant to this issue’s theme. Each piece is unique in style and world view, granting a level of diversity and breadth that is sure to interest every reader.
Within the ‘In Every Issue’ section, Marina Grishakova (Associate Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Tartu, Estonia; General Coordinator of the European Network for Comparative Literary Studies) starts us off with a thought-provoking report of the state of Comparative Literature in which she builds the case for a new and interdisciplinary methodological approach for the discipline, one with the potential to alleviate the notoriously prevalent (and often self-inflicted) anxiety that accompanies our discipline: comparative narratology. Next, Christian Moser (Chair Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Bonn, Germany; President of the German Comparative Literature Association) takes a serious look at the methodology of comparison, returning us to both our German and comparative roots in CL History. Rather than evading or belittling the importance of comparison to our discipline, as is often done, Moser confronts the historical relationship between Romance studies and Comparative Literature in Germany in order to reveal hidden insights to our most obvious and most neglected methodology. Broadening the lens from the discipline to the academic institution, Stephen Turner and Sean Sturm (English, University of Auckland) consider the high cost of globalization for the university. In U Views, Turner and Sturm discuss the homogenizing implications of a capitalistic approach to measuring success (coined “econometrics”) for the University of Auckland. Their report provides the economic foundation to fully understand the (globally) precarious state of not just the Humanities, but in fact the university at large. Shifting the mood in our final entry for this section, Jenna Ng (Newton Trust/Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH) at the University of Cambridge) embraces modality, inbetweeness and liminality, taking a close look at the difficulties and possibilities of publishing research that marries humanities with digital technology. In her contribution for Media X, Ng reflects on her experiences with new advances in publishing modes for internet research that attempts to create a seamless link between print and digital medias. In my own reflections on the reports in this section, it is interesting to note the pattern of focus that emerges. The two pieces in the middle foreground that which is right before our eyes (yet perhaps underappreciated, ignored or unseen), while the outer pieces frame these immediacies with eyes focussed outward, on a horizon of new potentials.
On the cusp of this horizon are our graduate contributors. The articles featured in this issue are representative of the variety of interests and the quality of research that these emerging scholars are producing. Each of the six articles published in this issue is a response to the ‘Literary Violence’ call for papers, which sought articles that engaged in the relationship between literature and violence, and has been grouped according to an approximated theme. For the most part, I will allow the articles to speak for themselves, since it would be impossible for me to synopsize each argument in the space I have here to the extent that each demands. I will, however, provide the briefest of introductions with added emphasis on the interconnectedness of them all. The first two articles emphasize how literature challenges social convention and redefines space through its ability to reflect the cultural circumstances of the time. Anne Boyd’s (English, Saint Louis University) “Violence on the Job: The Plight of the Immigrant in Pietro di Donato’s Christ in Concrete” points a suitably proletarian finger at the injustices of the American industrial revolution and the exploitation of Italian immigrant workers during the early twentieth century. Drawing on real-life historical instances of violent workplaces, Boyd aptly demonstrates that social realities inform proletarian and working class literatures. Along a similar vein, Laila Khan’s (University of Connecticut, Storrs) “Domestic Unrest and Jennifer Johnston’s Fiction of the Irish Troubles” considers the moment of violence that author Jennifer Johnston imposes on domesticity, politicizing this space and the women who occupy it as an extension of highly politicized male war space. Exploring three of Johnston’s novels through a feminist lens, Khan demonstrates how Johnston’s books infuse motherhood and the domestic sphere with violence.
The next three articles, Graeme Young’s (Peace and Conflict Studies, University of St Andrews, Scotland) “Imagining Polynesia: Power, Identity and Domination in the Material Culture of Colonialism,” Wisam Kh. Abdul Jabbar’s (English Education, University of Alberta) “Colonial Mimicry in Philip Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” and Sarah Mackenzie’s (Women’s Studies, University of Ottawa) “Representations of Gendered Violence in Monique Mojica’s Princess Pocahontas and the Blue Spots and Marie Clements’ The Unnatural and Accidental Women,” each approach their respective literary works through a post-colonial critical framework. Young’s “Imagining Polynesia” aims to expose sexual dichotomies in colonial representations of Polynesian life in Herman Melville’s Typee, the artwork of Paul Gauguin, and the anthropological and ethnographical studies published in National Geographic Magazine at the turn of the twentieth century. Jabbar’s “Colonial Mimicry” investigates the manifestation of mimicry as resistance in science fiction literature as a dualistic tactic to conflate the distinction between colonizer and colonized as well as between real and artificial. MacKenzie’s “Representations of Gendered Violence” compares the attempts of two different playwrights to re-appropriate the misrepresentations of Indigenous women in Western fields of cultural production. For both Jabbar and MacKenzie, violence is a necessary part of resistance, while violence becomes slanderous for Young, inscribed on the body and imbedded in the racial discourse used to oppress, leaving resistance to manifest in more subtle subversions (although, this view becomes expanded when read alongside Kris Coffield’s contribution to CL World). Our final article is Claudia Stumpf’s (English, Tufts University) “Shattered Trauma: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and the Problem of Making Meaning.” Strumpf places emphasis on literary theory of assumptive worlds in order to reconceive trauma as pleasure and aesthetic play. Like the previously discussed post-colonial articles, Strumpf acknowledges the violently disruptive potential of language and literature.
While the articles published in this issue are extremely well-done and indeed worthy of publication, it is disappointing to note that not a single author moved beyond the text to consider the other possibilities of this topic. In the call for papers, there were four suggested lines of inquiry in response to this theme, only one of which was to explore representations of violence within literature. The remaining three avenues of interest were (1) The production and reception of literature as damaged or adversely affected by the imposition of norms, social expectations, economic policy, technological change or government censorship by way of copyright, book burning, legal restrictions, the persecution, imprisonment or exile of authors, &c.; (2) Clashes between literary representation and fields of cultural production; and (3) Critical and theoretical approaches to literature and violence, including confrontations between centre and periphery, linguistic systems, genres, paradigms, &c. These three research potentials have one important thing in common that explains their absence from this issue; they are each informed by the discipline of Comparative Literature. As with many previously published issues, the response from Comparative Literature graduate students ranges from none to negligible. The lack of interest from the Comparative Literature graduate community is disappointing, to say the least, with the additional negative consequence of leaving a significant scholarly gap in every issue thus far. For this issue in particular, I would have very much liked to have seen at least one entry that dealt with the social or political violence that is imposed on literature. This topic alone warrants its own issue, particularly given that the potential lens through which to explore this topic are abundant (censorship, canonization, consumerism, just to name a few). Alas, an editor can only dream.
‘CL Hub’ features a bevy of local and global perspectives. Mary Kupchenko’s (Comparative Literature, University of Alberta) “Finding the Write Path” explores the tumultuous territory of planning and accomplishment. As a recent graduate, Kupchenko articulates the many skills that result from graduate studies in Comparative Literature and how these skills translate into the work force for an MA holder. In CL World, Kris Coffield (University of Hawaiʻi) invites us to Hawai’i to consider the nature of Humanities scholarship on the islands. He provides a historical context that highlights the complexities of identifying and researching a Hawaiian canon, buried by the race discourse of a colonial past. Through this lens, Coffield shares the experience of studying at an institution that appears to be at the forefront of innovation when it comes to problematizing traditional academic demarcations. Coffield’s piece is particularly interesting when read alongside Graeme Young’s article, “Imagining Polynesia: Power, Identity and Domination in the Material Culture of Colonialism.” In the Field takes us to Romania, where Adelina Vartolomei (Anglo-American Studies, Ovidius University, Romania) explores the consequences of familial and cultural clashes. In a very insightful and personal piece, Vartolomei delves into a topic that many of us actively avoid thinking about in graduate school: what is my identity, and how do I manage the multitude of identities that I must adopt in order to function as a graduate student? This is a topic that Vartolomei explores for herself, but it is one that many, if not all, can relate to. As graduate students, we are forced into a number of conflicting roles: some of us are assigned classes to teach while we are ourselves still students, some of us take on leadership roles that place us above our peers yet still subordinate to faculty members, still others are students and friends at school as well as parents and spouses at home. Each of these roles exists in conflict with the other, yet we must find a way to manage them despite this tension. I think that many of us use the same strategy as Vartolomei describes, choosing research interests that affirm our core identity, or that help us to explore who we are and why it is that we are interested in certain areas over others. While many of us may not think about it very much, it is obvious that the subjectivity of our discipline reflects back onto ourselves, stemming from our own subjective ideologies, value and belief systems, and personal preferences; we are the subject in subjective. In this way, I ask, upon reflecting on Vartolomei’s piece, what is it that we are really studying? What (or who) are we really trying to understand when we undertake higher learning? Suitably, one answer is offered up by our next contributor. In Cool Courses, we tried something new this issue. Rather than a list of available courses, instead, you will find Jennifer England’s (Rhetoric and Professional Communication, New Mexico State University) reflection on a cool course that she took on literature of the Southern grotesque, a course that significantly influenced her university experience and her understanding of herself.
The second half of the ‘CL Hub’ section offers Amir Khadem’s (Comparative Literature, University of Alberta) translation of four short poems by Persian poet Mehdi Mousavi. Khadem introduces a current movement in Persian poetry called the Postmodern Ghazal. He provides a brief introduction to the movement, explaining its mandate to modernize classical genres of Persian poetry with artistically and politically interesting results, as well as an introduction to Mousavi as a poet, his unique style and his relevance to the movement. He then provides four English translations of Mousavi’s poems that include some footnotes intended to provide necessary background information that will close the cultural gap for English-readers. Like Jenna Ng’s piece, Khadem’s introduction includes a number of external links and stresses the importance of the internet to the growth of the Postmodern Ghazal movement. In “A Modest Proposal for Comparative Literature Programs,” John O’Brien (Dalkey University Press) picks up on the pressure for practicality that cause many of the anxieties felt by students and faculty in the discipline of Comparative Literature. As if to answer the question that plagues most graduates when we tell someone our chosen field (i.e., So, what can you do with that?), O’Brien offers employment opportunities in the publishing industry as the solution to our career planning woes. As Publisher and Editor of Dalkey Archive Press, O’Brien implores universities to incorporate industry training in translation work and publishing into their Comparative Literature programs. He encourages a partnership between programs of Comparative Literature and their respective university presses, whereby students interested in translation (like Amir Khadem) or publishing (like every member of the Editorial Team of Inquire) could earn credit as well as practical career experience as part of our university training. Again, O’Brien’s “Proposal” is conversant with Grishakova and Moser’s discussions of disciplinary identity, as well as Kupchenko and Vartolomei’s reflections on student (career and identity) crises.
In keeping with Inquire’s goal of providing useful resource material to our readers, this issue features six critical book reviews as well as a comprehensive list of recently published works in New Pubs compiled by Reviews Editor Lisa Ann Robertson (English and Film Studies, University of Alberta), both tailored to theme of literary violence. Sabujkoli Bandopadhyay (Comparative Literature, University of Alberta), Neale Barnholden (English and Film Studies, University of Alberta), Nicholas P. Dials (Religious Studies, Harvard Divinity School), Jonathan Dyck (English and Film Studies, University of Alberta), Sandra Gaviria-Buck (Translation Studies, University of Alberta) and Jessica Friederichsen (Comparative Literature, University of Alberta) provide the critical eyes necessary to evaluate and review the chosen texts. Finally, and as always, the Find It section of ‘CL Hub’ includes important links to academic journals, conference notification sites and Comparative Literature programs at institutions around the world.
The conversations initiated within this issue expand into a global academic dialogue with each new reader, while the prevalent interconnectedness of the seemingly unrelated pieces published therein indicates areas of overarching interest and key concerns common to graduate students, faculty members, programs and institutions. The intellectual efforts of the authors featured in this issue have yielded some truly fantastic scholarship. Many of the contributions for this issue pose important questions for the discipline of Comparative Literature, the role of literature in society and the future possibilities of research methodology, presentation and purpose. The content of this issue is a grand personal achievement for everyone involved, but especially for myself. Having worked with Inquire behind the scenes since its inaugural issue, I am extremely proud to be Editor of this highly provocative, insightful and informative issue.
Gabrielle Kristjanson is an MA Candidate in the Comparative Literature Program at the University of Alberta. Her research includes contemporary children and adult's literature with specific focus on the genres of horror and fantasy. She is particularly interested in representations of mortality and criminal identity in didactic literature, wherein discourses of monstrosity and innocence serve a rhetorical function.