Thursday, March 31, 2011

GW Student Marissa Ciampi's Poem Selected for Website

Poet Claudia Rankine included a poem by GW student Marissa Ciampi on her website.
Recently Prof. Gregory Pardlo posted a piece here about the Theft of Flat Langston at the DC restaurant/literary spot Busboys and Poets.

Now he reports in about a GWU student's contribution to a major discussion in the poetry world. The discussion was sparked by a panel at the February 2011 AWP Conference, at which poet Claudia Rankine discussed the implications of a Tony Hoagland poem that frankly articulates (for the sake of critiquing) racist views. In the original poem, Hoagland uses some provocative language to achieve the poem's ends.

As Prof. Pardlo writes:
Hoagland's strategy was attacked by Rankine, who felt he was reifying dead metaphors. Anyway, the controversy raged on well after the conference. Rankine later issued a call for contributions to her "Open Letter" on racism. I encouraged my students to think about the issues at stake and we had a discussion about it in workshop which resulted in one student, Marissa Ciampi, contributing to the open letter website! Here she is, between Marjorie Perloff and Martha Collins, and alongside many other established names in American poetry (click her name to read her submission).

We're all proud of Marissa's now published contribution to this debate. And kudos to Prof. Pardlo for teaching his students about how poetry and poets are involved in such important contemporary dialogues.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Kudos for 2 Faculty Award Winners

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

MEMSI Conference Afterthoughts: "Animal, Vegetable, Mineral"

A packed crowd listens to Jane Bennett's keynote address at the recent GW MEMSI conference.
GW MEMSI hosted an extraordinary conference March 11-12. "Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: Ethics and Objects in Early Modern and Medieval Periods" drew an amazing array of speakers to campus for lively discussion. Here is a wrap-up of the event by English Ph.D. student Nedda Mehdizadeh (cross-posted from the GW MEMSI website):
One large black work glove, one unblemished dead rat, and one smooth stick of wood. In this motley assortment of nonhuman “things” gathered near a storm drain in Baltimore, Jane Bennett found the inspiration for her provocative book Vibrant Matter: a political ecology of things – a response to different theorizations of matter (Kant, Spinoza, etc) as well as a “reply to a call from things.” For GWMEMSI, it was the springboard for a series of conversations that culminated in the spring conference, “Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: Ethics and Objects in Early Modern and Medieval Periods.” The exchange Bennett experienced with these nonhuman objects left her with an enticing question: “What if the items really did – in some underdetermined sense – hail me?” As a result, her book attempts to contend with thing-power, with the agency of the object, the thing, the nonhuman entity, and its desires, its stories. The conference, likewise, attempted to contend with the same ideas, calling on a variety of scholars, including Valerie Allen, Eileen Joy, Sharon Kinoshita, Julia Reinhard Lupton, Peggy McCracken, Carla Nappi, Kellie Robertson, Karl Steel, and Julian Yates, not to mention many other scholars from across the continent sharing works-in-progress (or even thoughts-in-progress), to make sense of human and nonhuman interactions. What we came up with were .... well ... more questions à la Jonathan Gil Harris’s concluding remarks, but also perhaps a better idea of which questions to ask and a closer understanding of how we might share the world with our nonhuman cohabitants. What are these nonhuman “things” telling us? What are the ethics behind ventriloquizing their stories? In what ways do these interactions shape our approach to cultural studies?
For me, the nonhuman “things” that began our story, as well as other nonhuman “things” discussed during our two days of conferencing, were guides to unexpected places. As a graduate student working on Anglo-Persian encounter in the early modern period, objects have played but a bit part in my work, getting eclipsed by human interactions between Persian kings and English travelers. The truth is that I began thinking about my dissertation topic through objects. During the spring semester of 2007, my dissertation director, Gil Harris, introduced me to seventeenth-century travel writer Sir Thomas Herbert, and I was taken with his obsession with the ruins of Persepolis. Over the years, I have visited and revisited this moment  in his narrative without ever reaching a satisfying conclusion about what to make of the fragments that captivate Herbert – and, me. Or to use Bennett’s words, the objects of Persia’s ancient, fallen past have been calling to me. But their call has been largely ignored, or met with exasperation, like an exhausted mother without an idea of how to pacify her child who incessantly repeats “Mom. Mommy. Mama.:
Recently, however, I started thinking more critically about the structure of Persepolis, and what its fragments are doing. For Herbert, it is a portal to ancient Persia where the palace still stands in all its splendor and is still very much alive. For me, they are a bridge to many temporalities – ancient Persia, early modern Persia, modern day Iran. And I didn’t have to stray too far from home to begin making sense of this moment and its objects, turning, as I often do, to my professors and mentors: Jeffrey Cohen, in his article, “Stories of Stone,” from the inaugural edition of Postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies and Gil Harris’s chapter on Othello/Desdemona’s handkerchief in his Untimely Matter in the Time of Shakespeare. During the AVMEO conference, I found myself transported to Herbert’s encounter over and over again, often by a nonhuman agent introduced by one of our fascinating speakers.
The animals of Sharon Kinoshita’s talk, “Animals and the Medieval Culture of Empire,” were facilitators of exchange between the Christian and Islamic worlds, often associated with a variety of movements brought upon by gifting or bartering. But as the question/answer period following her talk indicated, these same movements occur with stone; as Kinoshita reminds us, the materials that make up the palace of Persepolis come from different locals, producing one structure made up of fragments from different places. Or the “Flower Girls” of Peggy McCracken’s paper which focuses on “a garden of plentitude” encountered by Alexander in Roman d’Alexandre whose forest can restore virginity. The filles de fleur are in many ways one with the forest and its virgin-(re)making properties after encounters with visitors – such as Alexander and his men – in what is perhaps a metaphor for the plentitude of virgin land that will offer itself to Alexander’s desire for empire-building. Or Valerie Allen’s “handout” – mine, a periwinkle gemstone with clouds of white – that fascinated me with its curves, dent, and coloring, giving me a tangible way to wonder at the “virtue” of an object. Or Carla Nappi’s Chinese words that translated and transliterated Persian script, underscoring the practices of “making sameness” and the importance of considering systems of identification in order to understand the early modern object that is, in many ways, foreign to us now. Each of these moments, brought about because of a nonhuman “thing,” made me think more about what is at stake in thinking about objects, particularly those from the many Persias I encounter in my work.
Something that I am realizing is that I might have been asking the wrong question about Herbert’s Persepolis all along. Maybe there is no stable, singular answer that will ever satisfy me because maybe that is not the point. Herbert, in each edition of his narrative (1634, 1638, 1664, 1677), goes back to Persepolis, reimagines the space, and rewrites it. It is his way of going back to that moment of history. To the moment of Persia’s splendor. To the moment that fascinates him most: Alexander’s destruction of the palace. Maybe it is the “going back” that matters here. Or at least, maybe it is the “going back” that matters to me. Persepolis takes me back. To my roots. To memories of stories told by my family about our past. To my first visit to Iran when I was a nine-year-old walking through the ruins, not fully understanding its importance or the stories the stones were telling, but knowing the profundity of the experience. To the stories it anticipates about Iran today. To the possibilities of what Iran might look like in the future. Eileen Joy, in her inspiring plenary entitled “You Are Here: A Manifesto,” discusses in part three “A Text Is A Sentient Being...” the ways in which texts are themselves vibrant matter. She says, “we might say that literary narratives, although they are, in one sense, completely unreal, or sur-real, and inhuman, pitch themselves at the real world and also create space (underground passageways, shelters, hiding places, root cellars), for that which cannot be brought into being, or cared for, anywhere else.” Returning to Persepolis – to a place that allows me to visit all of the versions of Persia/Iran – brings what is gone, what is left, what is meant to be into that space Joy talks about. Sifting through the ruins of Persepolis is, perhaps, my “reply to a call from things.”

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

"Modern-day Jane Austen" to read Thursday at 7 p.m.

Allegra Goodman
Novelist Allegra Goodman will be reading at the Marvin Center Amptitheater at 7 p.m. on Thursday as a part of Prof. Faye Moskowitz's Jewish Literature Live course. The class explores the works of a variety of contemporary Jewish-American authors and features them in class visits and public readings.

Heralded as a "modern-day Jane Austen" by USA Today, Goodman is a National Book Award finalist and New York Times bestselling author. She'll be reading from and speaking about her latest novel, The Cookbook Collector, considered to be a modern take on Sense and Sensibility. You don't want to miss this!

- Paula



Saturday, March 12, 2011

Spring Break has Sprung

We're not quite there yet. But it is Spring Break.
Here's what students and professors are doing over the break:
  • Prof. Tara Wallace will be flying to Vancouver to present a paper at the annual conference of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies.
  • Prof. Christopher Sten will be traveling to Minnesota to see family, and hopefully the last of winter!
  • Prof. Jeffrey Cohen will be "recovering" from the "Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: Ethics and Objects in the Medieval and Early Modern Periods" conference, as a part of the GW Medieval and Early Modern Studies program. He'll then be writing and delivering three lectures as the Ida Beam Visiting Distinguished Professor at the University of Iowa.
  • Prof. Margaret Soltan will be journeying to Ireland after years to visit her daughter, Ania, who is a GW junior studying abroad.
  • Prof. Combs will be enjoying tax season...
  • Prof. Evelyn Schreiber will be venturing to the Woolly Mammoth Theater to participate in a trip to London to see new plays, as a part of her Fall 2011 Dean's Seminar, "What's New About New Plays." Then, she will grade first drafts of papers for her students, as well as try to finish a draft of a chapter on family structures in Toni Morrison's Love for a collection on Morrison's latest fiction.
  • Prof. Gregory Pardlo will be making headway on a couple of essays, one about Langston Hughes, and another about the persona poem and dramatic monologue.
  • Prof. Gayle Wald will be catching up on work, but also traveling to New York City just to be a tourist.
  • Sophomore and musician Drew Bandos, recently signed to Mush Records for his "solo-ish" ambient/shoegaze project Is and Of The, will be utilizing the break to write live versions of the songs on his album, Heads Phased for Dreamless Sleep, as well as new material back home in Philadelphia. He'll also be doing a live in-studio session at Drexel University's radio station, WKDU, at 12:30 pm EST on Wednesday, March 16th- listen if you can!
  • Student Abby Dimen-Taylor will be basking in the Miami sun!
  • Junior Eliana Reyes will be relaxing at home in Virginia, then venturing to Toronto for St. Patrick's Day.
As for me, I'll be heading back home to Texas for some much-needed rest, relaxation, and authentic Tex-Mex- (burritos in DC just don't cut it!). I'll be seeing friends at home in Houston, and will also be traveling to Austin for a day or two to catch the tail end of the 2011 South by Southwest Music and Film Conference. With the abundance of free concerts, how could I not?

Hope everyone has a wonderful spring break!

- Paula

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Alumna Lilly Rivlin Screens Film about Writer Grace Paley

Writer and Activist Grace Paley
Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to attend the screening of Lilly Rivlin’s documentary Grace Paley: Collected Shorts, as a part of Prof. Faye Moskowitz’s Jewish Literature Live course, which works to bring in Jewish authors to speak. The film tells the story of the life and work of Grace Paley, a Jewish American activist and short story writer.
Preceding the film, Rivlin, a GW alumna and director, said a few words. She explained that her motivation for making this film came from a “love of activism regarding social justice,” something that she shared with Paley. She then asked the audience to keep the question “What will the Jewish American writer look like in the future?” in mind while viewing the film.

With Rivlin’s intriguing question in the back of my mind, I was able to see the inspiration behind Paley’s works, as well about learn about her life. She was a writer, mother, and friend, but also a dedicated activist. She went to Vietnam in 1969 to protest the war, sat in during protests, and was arrested multiple times for her dedication to social activism. The film was a meld of perspectives, including personal interviews with Paley herself, photographs, interviews with friends, family members, and colleagues and quotes.

Although I’ve never read any of Paley's works, through the film I was able to see that Paley’s writing was inspired by her experiences. Her characters were the people she saw on the streets of New York. Paley's stories have been described as “urban and unusual," as well as telling and true. Her inspiration for her writing proved to be very compelling for me, as I enjoy writing through experience as well.

Long after the compelling documentary, one phrase resonated with me at the end of the film. While interviewed during her last days, Paley states “Everyone, real or invented, deserves the open destiny of life.”

- Paula