Upcoming Events

Thursday Lecture Series

Jane Austen’s Worlds; or, the Novel vs. the World

  • Allison Turner (‘19 - Present), Lecturer in the Department of English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University
  • Leah Aronowsky (‘20 - Present), Lecturer in History, Columbia University
  • Jennifer Wenzel, Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature and Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies, Columbia University

In this talk, I situate Jane Austen’s fiction within a larger conversation about worlds and worlding that has emerged over the course of our Thursday Lecture Series this semester. The main part of my presentation focuses on Austen’s fiction to show how the formal trajectory of the English novel helped to create and complicate new ideas about the shape and extent of the social world. I center on Austen’s three novels named after places—in particular, Mansfield Park—and argue that these works can be understood as comparative analyses of various settings and of their suitability as environments in which disparate and distant persons might coexist. In these works, Austen ironizes any notion of the sufficiency of representations to capture the extent of the social world. Her conclusion is not a wholly negative one, however. By virtue of the completeness of novelistic form—a work’s accountability to its own materials—her novels sustain a political demand for fuller representations of the world, even as they insist on the necessary insufficiency of those efforts. >>

Thursday Lecture Series

The Danger of Small Details: Autobiographical Surveillance in Cadre Dossier Files

  • JM Chris Chang (‘18 - Present), Lecturer in East Asian Languages and Cultures, Columbia University
  • Rishi Goyal, Institute of Comparative Literature and Society; Emergency Medicine, Columbia University

It was no secret that throughout the 1950s, the cadres were among the most closely surveilled groups of persons in the PRC. As both an instrument and a product of this surveillance, cadre personnel dossiers collected evidence and observation into a system of administrative records that at times approximated secret police files. But how did cadre dossiers from this period come to resemble the police archive? To better understand the means and ends of internal surveillance as practiced by party organs, this paper focuses on early cadre examinations (ganbu shencha) carried out from 1953-1957. While acknowledging historical continuities with Yan’an-era approaches to internal threat control, this study highlights the professionalization of the Public Security Bureau and the role of local police in background investigations and internal vetting. Through comparison of specific examples of cadre examination with published PSB manuals from the period, the documents utilized here detail how PSB investigators pursued evidence by means of field research, extensive interviews, and by poring over old dossier materials. The working methods of cadre examination reveal the crucial importance of local networks of officials and witnesses to the day-to-day business of police work, insofar as evidence in these examinations was secured by trust between bureaucratic agents. The frictions between evidence and authentication that commonly arose from cadre examinations invites a further rethinking of the information flows produced by internal surveillance, in addition to their broader effects upon Maoist administration. >>

Thursday Lecture Series

How Much Knowledge Is “Just Enough”? Anatomy for Artists in Sixteenth-Century Italy

  • Ardeta Gjikola (‘18 - Present), Lecturer in History, Columbia University
  • Turkuler Isiksel, Political Science, Columbia University

Sixteenth-century Italian artists are known for great anatomical feats. Leonardo’s drawings of the interior of the body outmatched in sophistication woodcuts or engravings in treatises of anatomy, a field then just coming of age as an observational science. Michelangelo’s figures contain such precise details of surface anatomy that new terms have been invented to supplement modern medical terminology in order to account for them. Although their example made anatomical knowledge a desideratum for artistic education in the sixteenth century, it was not clear how far most artists ought to pursue such knowledge. Some said that they ought to study “just enough.” But how much knowledge was “just enough”? This talk examines the nature of this epistemic predicament, some responses to it, as well as the conditions that gave meaning and weight to those responses. At another more general level, this talk is a reflection on qualities and states of knowledge beyond certainty or the lack of it. >>

Thursday Lecture Series

The Day After Tomorrow: Revolutionary Spirit and its Lost Treasure

  • Naeem Mohaiemen (‘20 - Present), Lecturer in Anthropology and Institute for Comparative Literature & Society, Columbia University
  • David Scott, Professor of Anthropology, Columbia University

In "The Revolutionary Spirit and its Lost Treasure" (On Revolution, 1963) Hannah Arendt considered how to preserve that spirit after the uprising had transitioned to orderly nation building. The core of the spirit was, according to her, the possibility of starting anew, the possibility of action, and the position of being beginners in an enterprise. Paradoxically, the revolution eventually set up institutions that prevented widespread participation by all, as was possible during the upsurge of revolutionary action. As Arendt bitterly points out, the name "Soviet Union" remained as a nod to the popularity of the soviet system while the actuality was reduced to impotence. In such a situation, what remained for the revolutionary except to recall through memory and retelling the spirit of the beginning? Arendt considered poet René Char, whose poetry betrayed an anxiety about the arrival of liberation– for he knew that with the removal of a public role, he would have to withdraw from a space where he had found himself, ultimately repressing the treasure found during the time of liberatory struggle. Considering the melancholy that sets in after postcolonial nations’ actual experience of post-liberation, what modes of remembering are available for those navigating the crushing disappointment of the day after? >>

Thursday Lecture Series

Huamanquiquia: Making an Intercommunal Peasant Alliance against the Shining Path in Peru (1983-1992)

  • Renzo Aroni (‘20 - Present), Lecturer in CSER/Anthropology, Columbia University

Conventional views portray indigenous peasants as helpless victims of warring sides in armed conflicts. However, they are often resistant actors who switch support from one side to another to protect their community. This talk examines Peru’s internal armed conflict (1980-1992) between Maoist Shining Path insurgents and government forces from a micro-dynamic of wartime violence and resistance in the Andean village of Huamanquiquia. It asserts that the Shining Path’s brutal attack on peasant leaders and their community affairs was the breaking point in Huamanquiquia, prompting the switch in support from insurgency to counterinsurgency. This led Huamanquiquia, along with its neighboring communities, to organize a large multi-communal coalition, called the Pacto de Alianza entre Pueblos, to defend their communities against incursions by the Shining Path guerrillas. Although encouraged by the Peruvian state and its agents, but often on their own initiative, around a dozen peasant communities embraced this anti-guerrilla coalition from 1983 to 1992. This peasant coalition and the concomitant resistance–combined with the armed forces’ strategy–ultimately defeated the Shining Path in the early 1990s. >>

Thursday Lecture Series

Beyond Boundaries: Inspirations and Motherhood in African Women’s Music Creative Process

  • Ruth Opara (‘20 - Present), Lecturer in Music, Columbia University
  • Elaine Sisman, Chair of Music Humanities*, Music
    Columbia University

The African woman gets inspirations from her surroundings, experiences, and roles in society. She breathes nature and utilizes all its gifts in creating her arts; her experiences translate into songs, dances, clothing, and instrumentations. She consistently performs her motherly and mother figure roles by making them part of her creative process. The inspirations could come from far away land, but she responds and utilizes them as soon as they are “brought” into her environment. Her creativities align with time, space, and specific contexts; a song she creates when happy may differ from the one she creates when sad, within a short time. Hence, the conflicts, contradictions, and complexities that characterize the descriptions and analyses of the African woman’s creative experience. I examine the creative process of Obiwuruotu Women’s Dance Group, a group of married women musicians in Southeastern Nigeria, to reveal where they get inspiration to create music and how their creative process is centered around their roles as mothers and mother figures.   >>