On February 9th, Professor Ally Ladha took the floor at the Humanities Institute to deliver a talk titled “Hegel and the
Postcolonial State: Aesthetics, Subjectivity, and the Idea of Freedom.” Professor Ladha –UConn Faculty Fellow and Assistant Professor of French and Francophone Studies – offered what he called a radical reinterpretation of German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s writings related to history and African subjectivity.
The talk began with a Hegelian meditation on an installation by artist Barthélemy Tuogo, realized at the 2014 Biennale of Contemporary African Art in Dakar. The piece, titled “The Last Supper,” consists of a bau bau-shaded courtyard containing fifty-four stools – representing either the group of fifty-four African nations comprising the African Union, or the distinct group of fifty-four African member states of the United Nations – surrounding a garden of red beans in the shape of the African continent. The arrangement of the stools around the garden, which itself is neatly outlined by a groove carved into the dirt, evokes a scene of consumption-in-potentia – the continent a feast for the powers that frame it. This installation, Ladha explained, by analogy, raises questions on the content and shape of the African subject in a postcolonial climate.
Professor Ladha then drew on documentation of Hegel’s lesser known spoken lectures to provide a nuanced rearticulation of some of the philosopher’s most frequently misconstrued arguments on the master-slave dialectic, outlined in his foundational text The Phenomenology of Spirit. Far from justifying the subjugation of so-called ahistorical peoples, Ladha suggested, Hegel’s philosophical system offers a powerful framework in which we may better interrogate the dialectics of freedom in a postcolonial age.
Professor Eliane DalMolin shares some information about the latest French Poetry Night, which took place in the Student Union on December 10, 2015:
I have initiated and organized the French poetry night for many years. I have always understood “poetry” in its largest context as a creative process and performance involving music, singing, acting, dancing, writing, reading and reciting. In other words our “soirée poésie” is always a combination of varied acts of creativity in a very festive mode.
To this end, I have worked with the students and faculty of the French and Francophone program and with the French Club. This collaboration has proved to be fruitful and successful. Despite very little means but thanks to exceptional energy, the success of poetry night has been undeniable year after year. However, this past year was extra special thanks to the energy and commitment of this year’s president of the French Club, Shabaz Khan. He was a pleasure to work with and his style, vision and intelligence made this French event the most attended to date.
While I produced the evening by teaching creative writing, providing poets and artists, rehearsing them and working in close collaboration with each talent, Shabaz deployed all his expertise into the logistics for the event: organizing a (delicious!) buffet, creating posters, advertising, selecting the appropriate venue on campus, using french Club funding wisely, leading the French club members who helped with different tasks related to the organization of the evening.
The attendance was optimal as we filled the space in the student union (I counted as many as 75 attendees). In addition, due to the open location in the Student Union, a lot of curious passers-by also came in to inquire about the soirée and the activities of the French Club.
Professor Susan Einbinder Speaks at the Humanities Institute
Humanities Institute Fellow and Professor of Hebrew & Judaic Studies and Comparative Literature and Susan Einbinder took the podium at the Humanities Institute on Thursday, February 25th to discuss her work related to trauma in medieval Jewish communities. Professor Einbinder offered an analysis of poetic epitaphs inscribed onto a number of giant gravestones dating from the years 1349-50 in Toledo, Spain. These stones marked the graves of important and wealthy Jewish citizens of the Kingdom of Castille, some of whom were casualties of the mid-XIV century plague of the Black Death. Einbinder explained that these epitaphs, whose verses are engraved in such a way as to compel the reader to circumambulate the graves in the act of contemplation, are among the non-traditional sources she is currently working with in examining the medieval context through the lens of trauma studies. Noting that these particular gravestones are unique among Jewish burial markers, Professor Einbinder says of these material remains and inscriptions they bear that, in short, “this genre poses problems.” The stones adorn only the graves of upper-class and otherwise noteworthy people, and the epitaphs are careful to omit embarrassing details of the lives of the privilaged deceased that they describe – they leave much unsaid about the more general climate in which they were created. Their poetics demonstrate little originality, and their repetition of traditional clichés underlines a sense that the engravings contribute little towards an understanding of the lives of ordinary Spanish Jews in the medieval era. Nevertheless, Einbinder asserted, the absolute absence in these epitaphs of allusions to violence against Jewish people during the Black Death – signs of which are unmistakeable in material remains found elsewhere in Spain – may provide evidence of the peaceful coexistence of the Christian and Jewish faiths in XIV century Castille.
On March 11th, 2016, award-winning author and historian Santiago de Pablo (University of the Basque Country) held a screening of his recent documentary film project titled Basque Swastika (in Spanish, Una esvástika sobre el Bidasoa). The 2013 film, directed by Javier Barajas and Alfonso Andrés Ayarza, is a fascinating exercise in metacinema, exploring the context and significance of a long-lost Nazi documentary on the topic of the Basque nation.
The original 22-minute Nazi film, released in 1944 under the title Im Lande der Basken (In the Land of the Basques), assumes a pseudo-anthropological perspective with regard to the Basque country, emphasizing the racial purity and communitarian character of its people as well as the isolated and idyllic landscape of the region. De Pablo was careful to point out that these optics exaggerate certain aspects of life in the region while ignoring others, such as area’s urban and industrial centers, in order to evoke a sense of mystical kinship with the Basques among a German audience.
Basque Swastika includes scenes from the Nazi documentary and other historical footage, along with interviews of people with significant links to Im Lande der Basken – among them Teresa Sandoval, the researcher who first rediscovered the obscure film in a Berlin archive, and Nicolas Brieger, son of the 1944 film’s director Herbert Brieger. This blend of sources yield a nuanced exposition of the Nazi film itself, as well as its creation and rediscovery, but the ultimate effect serves to preserve the air of mystery surrounding this very peculiar cinematic artifact.