Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellows
in the Humanities,
Ph.D., Yale University
Premature Post-Colonialists: The Soviet-Afro-Asian Literary Alliance in the Age of Three Worlds
This project juxtaposes two seemingly unrelated fields of literary studies—Russian/ Soviet and post-colonial literatures—in the belief that they have much to say to each other. If scholarship has so far neglected the typological similarities between the two, many twentieth-century writers
from Africa, Asia, and Latin America were not only acutely aware of the penchant for social engagement and the spectacular entry into the world literary canon they shared with earlier Russian authors but also looked upon the latter as models.
The relation between the two literatures was not limited to fascination from afar. Between the late 1950s and the late 1970s, it took the institutional form of the Afro-Asian Writers' Association, the literary equivalent of the political Non-Aligned Movement, except that it was aligned. Thanks to its Central Asian literatures, the Soviet cultural bureaucracies successfully claimed a place at the Afro-Asian table. Central Asian cities such as Tashkent and Alma-Ata and Central Asian writers such as Chinghiz Aitmatov played frequent hosts to the Association's congresses. Whatever the intentions of Soviet cultural bureaucracies, who designed many of its institutions, the Association created "the links that bind us," as the Kenyan novelist Ngugi wa Thiongo put it at its 1973 Alma-Ata congress, that is, direct South-to-South literary networks that bypassed the colonial metropoles of Paris and London and consolidated an Afro-Asian literary field. These engagements not only anticipated some of the developments of later post-colonial theory but also left a lasting trace on the narrative forms of Third-World fiction.
Ph.D., University of Michigan
Humanity Interrogated: The Wars over War in the Interrogation Room, 1942-1960
In this book manuscript, "Humanity Interrogated," I examine the relation between two global phenomena that have critically marked the twentieth century, international warfare and formal decolonization, looking at both through the prism of the military interrogation rooms of the Korean War. During the Korean War, the interrogation room became the most relied-upon tool of the U.S. military for constructing a key figure of the “laws of war”: the prisoner of war. At the armistice meetings of the war, the most protracted controversy revolved around the issue of POW repatriation. I argue that the debate heralded a crisis in the “laws of war” as they faced formal decolonization. The POW, previously conceptualized as simply atemporary wartime status of personhood, had become a contested political subject on the world stage. At stake in this conflict over the figure of the POW was the question of who defined war, and who would then determine the issue of political recognition in the face of formal decolonization and a rapidly changing global order. Prior studies of Cold War decolonization have characterized the rise of the twentieth-century nation-state system as a geopolitical shift in notions of “periphery and center,” where the consolidation of nationalism and the formation of the state form the twinned telos for decolonization. "Humanity Interrogated" challenges this limited understanding of formal decolonization by presenting a more multi-dimensional structuring of the post-1945 world system, one that occurred along the lines of determining the proper relationships between the newly formed international community, the emerging states of former colonies and colonial powers, and the individual human subject. The U.S. military interrogation room, I argue, has historically played a critical role in the project of universalizing the vision of a U.S. liberal geopolitical order not through the production of information, but rather through the production of subjects.
Ph.D., Princeton University
The Defiant Periphery: Albania from Mussolini's Mediterranean Empire to the Soviet Bloc and Mao
Based on extensive research in over fifteen archives in Albania, Germany, Italy, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, this project analyzes the emergence of the socialist Eastern bloc, or so-called Second World, through the lens of overlooked transnational exchange. The communist bloc's periphery, Albania, serves as my angle into this story. Emerging from Italian colonialism in the early 1940s, the fledgling Balkan state initially flirted with Tito's Yugoslavia but then found itself an eager Soviet satellite in a few heady years. As the Albanian example illuminates, the Soviets created, exported, and maintained a distinct material culture spanning a sixth of the globe, from Siberia to southeastern Europe: communist institutions and techniques of rule, but also factory blueprints, urban plans, and standard housing designs for politically conscious workers. Then, in the 1960s, communist Albania suddenly embraced Mao's China, which also made for far-reaching interactions and transfers. My study seeks to understand how this diffusion took place. It analyzes the interplay between center and periphery, ideology, and local power struggles, external and internal factors, indigenous aspirations of modernity, and significant geopolitical shifts. I argue that Soviet-inspired circulations amounted to a kind of socialist globalization. Socialist exchange was profoundly shaped by communist parties, planned economies, and geopolitics. Nevertheless, the Albanian case reveals that these exchanges did not necessarily translate into political cohesion within the bloc, loyalty to the center, or even, ultimately, more openness. Globalization in the communist bloc succeeded materially even as, in the end, it failed politically.
Ph.D., University of California, Santa Cruz
Jewish Blood, African Bones: Belonging in South Africa
My book manuscipt, "Jewish Blood, African Bones: Belonging in South Africa," addresses contemporary experiences of citizenship, belonging, and the nexus of racial, religious, and political identities among Lemba 'Black Jews' in South Africa. After DNA tests were conducted in the 1990s on Lemba men, many Lemba people felt there was now proof that they have Jewish blood. Yet these same Lemba people actively pursued claims to ancient bones that were slated for reburial at the World Heritage Site Mapungubwe, known as the oldest stratified kingdom in Southern Africa. How could Lemba people view their blood as Jewish and their bones as African? This apparent contradiction frames my examination of the politics of belonging and geopolitical location and highlights the convergence between diaspora and indigeneity evident in Lemba identities and political projects. The contradiction of Jewish blood and African bones echoes in other apparent contradictions that the Lemba evoke: they have been seen as either African or un-African, and as either Jewish or Muslim. What peripheries are configured through these oppositions, and how are they troubled by Lemba identity politics? I demonstrate that Lemba histories and identities enable a critical reconfiguration of the categorical oppositions indigenous/diasporic, African/un-African, and Jews/Muslims, each of which shapes belonging and exclusion in South African and global contexts. My book will contribute to interdisciplinary literatures in African studies, Jewish studies, as well as critical race and ethnic studies, and to anthropological discussions of cultural and political citizenship, diaspora, and indigeneity, together withglobal politics of race, religion, and ethnicity.