DLCL Symposium Fall 2022: Research Unit Open House Summary
On October 21, 2022, a DLCL symposium brought together ten of the Division's Research Unit groups to discuss their work along with the prompt "in what ways do language and literature matter?"
Research Units are a unique structure offered by the DLCL for interdisciplinary work. All groups encouraged new grad students to get involved in joining an existing Research Unit, or work with faculty to start one that reflected their own interests. While many people start off by trying out different Research Units, speakers noted that the way to get the most out of a Research Unit is to go to most or all the activities offered by a particular one, doing pre-readings and presentations where expected, and becoming part of that community. This may need to vary quarter to quarter depending on class and teaching commitments, but to the extent possible, everyone benefits when treating a Research Unit as a long-term commitment.
Poetics (Marisa Galvez) dates to 2007, and has played a long-term role in its participants' career trajectories; Prof. Galvez noted that its "grad students go get jobs and come back to workshop their book." The group focuses on the question of what we do with language, not just what words mean. The group is interdisciplinary, with participants working on linguistics, art history, and poetry in different media, among other subjects, and participants have the opportunity to practice working across time periods, taking serious the facets of place, period, and language.
The Philosophy and Literature (Myungin Sohn) research unit noted the role that language and communication play in our daily lives, and how we rely on different turns of phrase to express sentiment even without action. Some of the big-picture questions that the group has interrogated include how we use language to express and pursue spirituality, should we live our life as a story, must we be honest with ourselves, what makes an object or work beautiful to us, and whether philosophical approaches shape the impact of a literary work. The group is run as a collaborative workshop, embodying the notion of constructive criticism.
The Ruins of Modernity (Laura Menéndez) research unit group studies the political implications of the process of ruination, offering a triangular dialogue between literary and artistic expressions, theoretical concepts, and the environment. The group focuses on the material, contextual experience of the lived environment. Ruins of Modernity is a newer group, having started last year, but it has an interdisciplinary scope, bringing together archaeology and multiple language literatures.
The Contemporary (Amir Eshel) research unit group began their presentation with a photo of a bar at Newark Airport where everyone was staring into screens, handheld or wall-mounted, as a point of departure for the question of how we are living in this moment. The frame of "the contemporary" stands in contrast to "modernity" which is suffused with ideologies and pre-conditions, and is meant to capture 1500 CE to the present. The goal of the Contemporary is to experience life through the lens of literature and language, rather than screens -- engaging with issues including climate change, the anthropocene, and manmade catastrophes like war through the lens of critical theory. Participants develop a critical vocabulary that they can apply to their work in any area, drawing on literature as well as theorists.
PATH+: Persian Arabic Turkish Hebrew+ (Anna Galietti and Alexander Key) aims to expand the discursive space in the DLCL, heightening consciousness about labels and genres. While the DLCL takes seriously the commitment to languages and literatures, which involves learning the languages, the rich critical vocabularies of theory are still most commonly drawn from western Europe. PATH+ offers a methodological intervention, cultivating shared vocabularies that draw from the critical assumptions and metaphors from outside Europe as well as the past. One major event of the group this year will bring together students across fields in the early stage of dissertation work to engage with one another with little to no faculty interaction, in order to work towards an understanding of where the next generation of scholars is taking the field.
The Medieval Studies Workshop (Marisa Galvez) brings together PhD students and faculty in various disciplines who work on textual objects from c. 5-15th century CE. One of the major concerns of the group is building and sustaining reading competence, particularly for students reading old languages where the language, textual context, conventions, and genres all need to be learned. It brings together students across a variety of departments where they may feel isolated as medievalists, giving them a place to read texts together and discuss them from their various disciplinary contexts. The group also offers a forum for discussing big questions about the field, like how it fits into national language departments, how to think about doing queer studies or gender studies as a medievalist, or considering how the establishment of vernaculars have been important for individual and collective histories and identities.
Cultural Heritage at War (Yuliya Ilchuk and Quinn Dombrowski) evolved from an earlier research unit on the computational criticism of Russian literature, responding to the urgency around protecting digital cultural heritage in Ukraine following Russia's invasion in February 2022. The group noted that cultural heritage -- including literature, and Ukrainian-language education -- have been targeted in the war, which underscores their importance as symbols and in people's lives. Cultural Heritage at War embodies a growing type of socially-engaged digital humanities work, where people with digital skills put them to use to address urgencies in local, regional, or global contexts. Through this group, members participate in the international project Saving Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Online (SUCHO). Initially a web-archiving project, SUCHO is now documenting memes from the war and using them as the basis of pedagogical materials, curating a gallery of Ukrainian cultural heritage, and working on increasing access to digitization equipment in Ukraine. There are tasks for anyone interested in participating, regardless of whether they know Ukrainian or Russian.
Generaciones and New Flamencologías (Tania Flores) are two new groups in the DLCL. Generaciones looks at the modes of cultural production that Chicanx subjects undertake, engaging with diasporic Mexicanidades, the appearance of nostalgia for Spanish colonial influences, the Black Muslim influence on Chicanidad, indigenous appropriation, and other moments within and beyond Chicanidad. Like PATH+, the group cultivates a new critical language for engaging with all these different forms of knowledge and schools of thought, including things that are traditionally excluded from Chicanidad, including trans-Atlantic studies, Iberian studies, theory and literature by women of color, and remapping feminist decolonization and resistance. New Flamencologías provides a locus for a new critical Flamenco studies. Flamenco has its origins in 19th century Andalucia, and appears at the intersection of the musical traditions of the Romani diaspora, Spanish folklore, West African folk traditions, and influences from Jewish and Islamic medieval Spain. Work on Flamenco has often been limited to critical dance studies and dance history, but this group aims to interrogate and intervene in the historically masculinist field of "flamencología" study to put it into conversation with critical race studies, cultural studies, and postcolonial studies, by viewing Flamenco as a lens onto race, gender, sexuality, class, and empire in Iberia and the Americas.
Comics: More than Words (Cristian Soler) is another recent addition to the DLCL Research Unit groups, co-created in 2021. The group has put together a course directory with all courses related to comics taught at Stanford, and operates by having a different theme or focus every quarter, with "computer science" and "comic theory" planned for winter and spring quarters, respectively. They see comics as a vehicle for cultural studies, which bring together languages and literatures, along with many other academic fields. Their engagement with undergrads along with communities outside the university has made it the Research Unit with the biggest enrollment, even though there remains room to grow in the DLCL itself.
Materia (Ximena Briceño) focuses on anthropocentric thinking, noting how language shapes this process (e.g. through the differentiation of "pet" vs "livestock" vs "animal"). They explore literature as a powerful lens on the assumptions that underpin different models of the relationship between "nature" and "culture". The group began in 2014 as a platform for grad student and faculty research in this area, and brings together scholars working on new materialities, animal studies, sound studies, and digital studies. The group has taken particular care to draw in Latin American animal studies, examining the colonial mark of animalization vs. humanization. In general, Materia interrogates the animal as a semiotic material apparatus, and a key poetic, central to how one navigates different frameworks in decentering the modern anthropos.