Valerio Cappozzo’s Medieval Dream Dictionary

The Italian Studies and the Medieval Studies programs welcomed the return of Valerio Cappozzo to present his just release book, Dizionario dei sogni nel medoevo: Il Somniale Danielis in manoscritti letterari (Dream Dictionary of the Middle Ages: the Somniale Danielis in literary manuscripts). Dr Cappozzo directs the Italian Language program at The University of Mississippi. He had presented the early results of his work during a visit to UConn in 2007. Although passionate about how dream symbolism relates to literature, he joked that his project had been such a long time coming that it had “become a real nightmare” for him.

Cappozzo discussed the significance of dreams and how the interpretation of symbols found in dreams can be applied to literature to make sense of an author’s intentions. We know people have been interpreting dreams since at least the beginning of representation and in that history, there is a remarkable coherence between dream interpretations and dreamed symbol archetypes. He used “tooth” as an example for a dream symbol: between 1220 BC Egypt and today, losing a tooth has been consistently viewed as a bad omen, most often as a premonition of death. He notes that the desire to find meanings in dreams was as manifest in the Middle Ages as it is now, though the frameworks for exploring this has changed profoundly due to vast transformation in culture, science, and religion since then. That dreams retain a certain symbolic consistency over time despite that change is one reason we keep returning to them.

In his talk Dr Cappozzo focused on the dream symbols found in the Somniale Danielis, “the Dreams of Daniel”, a book of symbols used by Daniel in the Book of Daniel to interpret dreams he believed to be prophetic. He then went on to an analysis of the dream symbols in the Divina Commedia a work in which dreams are used systematically to foreshadow events later in the cycle.

Prof Cappozzo said that there is a disconnect between dreams and reality that makes it difficult to establish simple equations between them the link between the one and the other. While dreams can recall fragments of reality, they do so following an unconscious logic of their own. In the original manuscript of Somniale Danielis, the complexity of dreams is reduced to a series of symbolic structures in order to make their potential meanings more available. Dr Cappozzo concluded with a quote from Cinderella to encapsulate one of the reasons he believes we keep searching for their meaning: “A dream is a wish your heart makes.”

by Olivia Merchen

Translating Cuban Letters with Kristin Dykstra and Anna Kushner

On September 12th, the award-winning translators, Anna Kushner and Kristin Dykstra, spoke about the challenges of translating Cuban works for an English-speaking audience in the US in an event titled “Translating Cuban Letters” hosted by LCL. Kushner is the translator of prominent Cuban works such as The Autobiography of Fidel Castro by Norberto Fuentes, and The Halfway House by Guillermo Rosales. Dykstra is a writer, literary translator, and scholar who has translated authors including Reina María Rodríguez, Juan Carlos Flores, and Angel Escobar among others. Both the speakers emphasized that the work of a translator does not only involve an attention to differences in language, but also to the contexts in which language makes meaning.

The translators discussed translation as a mode of understanding and making visible the immense diversity in the diasporic experiences of Cubans and Cuban Americans both within and beyond the United States. Kushner used the example of her translation of The Halfway House to emphasize how Guillermo Rosales captures many of these experiences in stories that include meditations on complex psychological states, crisscrossing cultural narratives, and interweaving histories involving the US, Cuba, Spain, and Russia. Dykstra, on the other hand, foregrounded the way her work helped to break stereotypical perceptions of Cuban culture, replacing the images of “mojitos and old cars” with new narratives that capture the diverse lived experiences of the people of Cuba. Translating figures like Rodrigues, Flores, and Escobar, each from different regions of Cuba, has allowed her to offer a more complex image of the island’s many cultures and peoples.

The event garnered an active participation from an audience that included LCL faculty and graduate students. Professors including Jacqueline Loss, Odette Casamayor-Cisneros, and Peter Constantine enriched the conversation by sharing their views on issues ranging from the challenges and rewards of translating across linguistic and cultural barriers, the institutional and identity politics of translation to the future of translation studies within the broader fields of the humanities and the social sciences in the US.

LCL Lecture: Valérie Saugera and the Secret Language of Butchers

On February 21st, Professor Valérie Saugera described her current research on “Louchébem,” a secret language spoken by Parisian butchers. Saugera is a contact linguist who has published widely on anglicisms in the French language. In this new project she marries linguistics and anthropological research to explore a language that many considered dead. Saugera’s research shows that it is very much alive and used still used by a significant number of butchers in Paris.

She first heard about Louchébem over 10 years ago, while doing her PhD at Indiana University. She describes Louchébem as a “means of disguising vocabulary.” Not quite qualifying as a wholesale language, but more than just vocabulary, Louchébem turns out to be a language system. Speakers replace the first consonant in a French word with the letter “L”, move the original consonant to the end, and add a complex list of suffixes to the end. Thus the word for “boucher” (butcher in English) turns into “Louchébem.”  In her lecture, Saugera focused primarily on the suffixes. What she seeks to understand is the degree to which the suffixes of Louchébem are predictive. This will in turn tell us how much Louchebem operates as a language.

We know that Louchébem was already used among butchers in the 13th century and is the first language used by a guild. Evidence of Louchébem has been recorded in various forms ever since, but it use seems to have seriously declined during the Mad Cow Disease crisis of 1991. Studying what is essentially an oral practice, “means accepting gaps in the data and unanswered questions,” Saugera says. The “literature is sparse… There is a plethora of urban myth and tales,” she adds. Only two scholarly articles exist on the topic, but via a wide sample of interviews, Saugera has been able to uncover many details about this supposedly dead language.

Saugera has interviewed 153 butchers and identified 16 suffixes. What is most fascinating is that half of the butchers she interviewed do not know really understand the grammar of Louchébem word formation, they have simply memorized words – a finding that she describes as the “most surprising” thus far. She has also learned from the interviews that, because butchers in France are traditionally male, female family members have usually only a passing knowledge of it. That is, they can often understand it, but do not speak it.

Butchery is a declining industry due to scandals with slaughterhouses, the taxation on meat, and the rise of vegetarianism/veganism. However, Saugera noted that Louchébem has assumed surprising new forms, for instance, in email addresses. The next question Saugera will pose in her ongoing research concerns the consequences of losing a language like Louchébem and why it is crucial to save these “micro-languages”. According to one of her interviewees, “France is the country of conversation, of chit chat… in some ways the practice of Louchébem is a miracle of its own”.

By Claire Boers

Spotlight Sherry Shamash

Sherry Shamash, a beloved instructor of Hebrew has been teaching in LCL for more than 35 years. A Massachusetts native, Sherry earned an MA in Religion from Smith College with a concentration on Jews in the Muslim World. She became a full-time faculty member in the LCL department in 2012.

She is recognized for her dedication to teaching. Her priory, she explains, is “to communicate enthusiasm and get students excited.” In her three classes – elementary, intermediate, and advanced Hebrew – she continually ties her language lessons to current and historic global events. Each semester, her students give an oral presentation. In the first semester, they act out a skit, in the second they tell a story, in the third they produce a commercial, and in the fourth they prepare a cooking presentation. In the advanced courses, the students choose a special topic or period and Sherry designs the course content accordingly. One semester the class covered the Jewish experience during Islamic rule in Spain. Another semester, Sherry discussed the Six-Day War and how popular songs reflect on the events. “This was very emotional at times,” she recalls, “because the students watched videos that re-enacted tragic events during the war.” This year Sherry’s class chose Israeli humor. “There is so much material!” she says, some of which includes short videos or little jokes that stem directly from the WhatsApp conversations between her and her family in Israel.

When it comes to student enrollment, Sherry wishes that there was more cross-pollination between the different sections and departments. “There are so many archaeological excavations in Israel, for instance,” Sherry says, “and knowing some Hebrew would be very useful to students in anthropology.” However, she is aware that students do not always have a lot of flexibility in their schedules to study languages on the side. In the case of Hebrew, she wants students to know that they should not be intimidated by the alphabet. “It is completely phonetic,” she explains, “and students master it within the first two weeks.” Her students all have very different backgrounds, “but everyone who makes the effort succeeds and I am always willing to give extra help.” A nice treat for her students is the movie night she organizes each year. The students do different assessments of the films depending on their level and she brings dinner for them. To see her teaching in action and to hear some of her students describe their experiences in class, take a look at the short video “Why Hebrew?”, produced and posted by UConn’s Center for Judaic Studies.


By Maria Reger

German Studies Professor Makes Climate Change a Humanistic Field

Have you been worried about rising global temperatures? Concerned about fossil fuel emissions? Perhaps distressed by the destruction of the Earth due to climate change? Good news: Professor Sabine von Mering discussed a more positive outlook on climate change and what is being done to stop it in her talk “The Good News About Climate Change” on Thursday afternoon.

Von Mering, a professor of German studies at Brandeis University, presented a hopeful discussion of the measures Germany and other European countries are undertaking to halt climate change. She spoke on how the world can look to Germany as a leader in creating sensible, environmentally-friendly policies.

To start her presentation, von Mering passed out index cards and instructed the audience to write down any words that they associated with climate change. When she asked for some words, the audience members gave her such words as “ozone,” “greenhouse gas” and “fracking.”

She then asked the audience members for words that described their desires for their future and the future of their children. This request elicited such words as “health,” “happiness” and “safety.”

Von Mering noted the difference between the two groups of words, stating that the first set was more scientific and the second set was more general and included things most people want for themselves and for others. She used this difference to launch her discussion on why climate change needs to be considered a socio-cultural problem. She insisted the scientific debate about whether climate change is happening is over and the people who study culture must now advocate for environmentally-friendly ways of living.

“Climate change belongs in the humanities,” von Mering said.

Throughout her talk, von Mering discussed the proven ways of mitigating climate change, including building renewable energy infrastructure, using public transportation, consuming less and from local sources, eating a plant-based diet with less dairy and meat and, perhaps most controversially, she noted, family planning.

During her discussion, von Mering gave examples of how Germans are leading the fight against climate change and pollution. For instance, she played a video taken in the town of Vauben, a German city in which traffic patterns were rearranged so one part of the city was free from noise pollution. This allowed residents to better appreciate nature. She also noted similar action taken in Clichy-Batignolle, a neighborhood of Paris, France.

Von Mering explained bikes can serve as alternatives to personal cars, a big contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. She detailed the rich bicycle culture in Glasgow, Barcelona and Warsaw and the widespread public transportation in Zurich. She also emphasized Germany’s decision to refrain from using nuclear power and Germany’s fossil fuel divestment.

She explained Germany had been able to make so many strides forward because of its stable policy-making environment. Von Mering pointed out “there is a culture of coalitions [in Germany], which means there’s negotiation, there’s compromise and continuity from one administration to another, whereas here [in America], it is almost built-in that that can’t happen.”

Von Mering ended her discussion optimistically by noting how effective change can be made by a committed group of people, noting the example of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

“I think that you all have a job to do and that starts with raising your voices,” von Mering told the audience.

“I thought it was an interesting statement, embedding environmental concerns in Germany into European and worldwide concerns and showing the example of Germany as one of the countries that try to find solutions for current environmental and, specifically, climate change problems,” Katharina von Hammerstein, a professor of German studies at UConn, whose students attended the talk, said.

“I think Professor von Mering … did a very good job spotlighting certain areas of concern and mixing the very personal experience with the global picture,” von Hammerstein said of the speaker.

“The Good News About Climate Change” was hosted by the Department of Literatures, Cultures and Languages and the Languages Graduate Student Association (LANGSA), as part of UConn Metanoia on the Environment.

Taken from Stephanie Santillo, “There is Good News in the Fight about Climate Change” in The Daily Campus, 02/23/2018

UConn-Based Press Wins Acclaim; LCL’s Jeanne Bonner wins PEN

World Poetry Books, a new literary press established in December 2017 by LCL’s Program in Literary Translation, received international attention after the celebrated poet Anne Carson named its two first titles as her favorite books of 2017. Writing in the Paris Review, Carson noted: “This year, I read two unusually excellent new poetry books from Greece, in unusually excellent translation. Both were published by World Poetry Books. They were: Homerica by Phoebe Giannisi, translated by Brian Sneeden, and Rose Fear by Maria Laina, translated by Sarah McCann.” Both books are available online at Amazon.

World Poetry Books under the direction of acclaimed translator Peter Constantine is a nonprofit press and will publish a minimum of six books a year ranging from new and cutting edge European poetry, to works from overlooked, underrepresented, and indigenous languages. Upcoming titles include translations from Chinese, French, German, and Swedish, as well as the works translated from indigenous languages such as Deori, Gamilaraay, Māori, Ngarluma and Yindjibarndi.

LCL has received yet another piece of wonderful news relating to the translations programs directed by Peter Constantine at both the graduate and undergraduate levels, who joined the faculty of LCL only two years ago, in 2016. Jeanne Bonner, one of our graduate students in the Italian Studies program has been named the 2018 recipient of the PEN Grant for the English Translation of Italian Literature, for her translation of A Walk in the Shadows, by Mariateresa Di Lascia.

PEN’s description of Bonner’s work in its prize announcement read as follows:

Through Bonner’s scrupulous and effective translation, Di Lascia’s rich descriptive prose guides the reader on a passionate “walk in the shadows” of women’s lives in a village of the Italian deep South, where the protagonist is retracing significant moments of her life and seeking “the genesis of all of the deceptions.” With her own peculiarities, Di Lascia has been compared to Elsa Morante, and her work is also said to recall that of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, author of the Italian classic The Leopard.

In the house where I have stayed after everyone left and silence finally descended, I drag myself around lazily, covered in dust and wearing my old clothes. Piled high against the wall are boxes bursting with cloth that I bought at sweaty Friday flea markets. I’m now free not to miss any of those markets, and when I go, I have the whole morning to roam among the stands and ransack with both hands the colorful, dirty fabrics that someone, who will remain forever unknown to me, wore many years ago…

Now that old age is approaching and I’ve stopped bleeding early without explanation, my humble appearance and the wrinkles that are late in coming protect me even more than the slovenly clothing that covers my body. Dressed up like this, ageless and sexless, I can finally laugh off the world.

It wasn’t always this way.

Another UConn graduate student received a PEN grant. Brian Sneeden of the English department received the prestigious award for his translation of Pheobe Giannisi’s upcoming book Rhapsodia.

For more information on World Poetry Books or translation at UConn, please contact program director Peter Constantine at: peter.constantine@uconn.edu

Katharina von Hammerstein: Women’s Perspectives on Colonial War

On November 29, Katharina von Hammerstein gave the second presentation in LCL’s Colloquia series on “Women Writing War: Polyphony on Violence in the German-Herero Colonial War.” A professor of German studies, von Hammerstein’s areas of expertise include literature and culture from the eighteenth to the early twentieth-century, women’s literature, and (post)colonial German-African connections. In her talk, she demonstrated the many ways in which both German and Herero women made sense of and attempted to come to terms with the eruption of violence in former German South West Africa (today’s Namibia).

Building on Johan Galtung’s concept of violence, von Hammerstein explained how structural violence from the German side led to the Herero and Nama uprising in 1904. During this uprising, Herero and Nama targeted white men as the “representatives of [oppressive] power,” including settlers and soldiers. They nonetheless explicitly spared women and children, often even bringing them to safety in the midst of violence. In contrast, the German response was merciless and driven by a racist ideology. Few voiced any protest about it with the exception of the German socialist politician August Bebel. The twentieth century’s first genocide was therefore carried out unopposed under the leadership of the now infamous general Lothar von Trotha who killed black men, women, and children alike. Herero and Nama people were deliberately driven from their homes, left to perish in the Omaheke desert or in concentration camps.

While the women’s perspectives differed depending on which side of the conflict they found themselves on, there are parallels in the ways they frame their interpretations. The white German voices von Hammerstein presented were those of settler wives. Else Sonnenberg, for instance, vividly describes the horrors of witnessing the murder of her husband and the looting of her home during the rebellion. Von Hammerstein argued that Sonnenberg foregrounds her victimhood while at the same time claiming agency in helping to “write colonial history.” Testimonies from Herero women are harder to find not only in terms of the quantity of records left, but also in their accessibility to Western scholars. They exist in form of interviews, songs, or oral histories in Otjiherero, the Herero language. Herero women bewail their traumatic losses like the white women, depicting their victimhood through the atrocities against themselves and their people. They, too, express agency in supporting, preserving, and advocating for their community. The critical difference between the two groups of women and their testimonies, von Hammerstein concluded in her compelling talk, resided in the role race played in the colonizing dynamic: while the white womens’ lives were “respected in their precariousness,” black lives did not matter to German imperialists. The advances in “emancipation” for German women in Africa “[thus came] at the expense of non-whites.”

Susan Einbinder Speaks on The Black Death to Initiate LCL Lecture Series

On October 11, Susan Einbinder inaugurated this year’s LCL Lecture Series with her talk “Bone, Stone, and Text: Tàrrega 1348.” Eibinder, who is a professor of Hebrew & Judaic Studies and of Comparative Literature, has earned many of the most prestigious fellowships in the humanities including a Guggenheim, and fellowships at the Center for Advanced Studies at Princeton and at the National Center for the Humanities in Research Triangle Park, NC among others. Her talk presented a case study from her forthcoming book After the Black Death: Plague and Commemoration among Iberian Jews (University of Pennsylvania, 2018) that explores the history of Jewish persecution and its representations during the Black Death in Spain.

Eibinder’s talk gracefully layered archeological findings, a patchy historical record, and eyewitness representations of the events, some of them poetic, to weave together a complex narrative about a massacre of Jews that occurred at Tàrrega, just north of Barcelona, following an outbreak of the plague in 1348. Einbinder reconstructs what she can of the sequence of causes and motives leading to and then following from the massacre. As she does so, she articulates what is particular about the massacre in Tàrrega even as she connects it to a longer chain of Jewish persecutions in response to the Black Death across Europe. Her careful vetting of the evidence then itself becomes a platform from which she asks her audience to recognize conventions that tend to organize testimonies about persecution and violence. She describes how such narratives tend to cast victims and victimizers in fairly stark opposition for reasons that include scriptural tradition, poetic, cultural, and narrative convention, as well as a psychological need to apportion blame unambiguously.

The case of Tàrrega was one in which the violence against Jews was particularly unsparing, and yet, even here we find deviations from the script that neatly divides antagonists and victims. Though the murders at Tàrrega were at least partly the result of religious intolerance among its Catholic inhabitants, counter-intuitively the Catholic court stepped in to punish the perpetrators, including even the mayor and other notables. And yet, although the court imposed fines and required that the town reconstruct its Jewish Quarter, in the end, it never followed through on most of its sanctions. As a result, the few records that have come down to us suggest that those Jews who did survive did not feel safe enough to return to their former homes. And though the evidence suggests a harrowing level of persecution, it turns out that many towns did not experience the levels of violence witnessed in Tàrrega. Ultimately, Einbinder’s work points to a need for special attention when we encounter persecution narratives, not in the aim of dismissing them, but instead with an eye towards restoring what we can of the specificity that they often conceal. What is at stake is not only a better understanding of the causes of ethnic violence, but also a better history and knowledge of how language is used to mobilize, commemorate, denounce or rationalize collective violence.


Silke Graefnitz: Bringing Research into Action

Silke Graefnitz is a fifth year PhD candidate in LCL’s German section, specializing in human rights, intercultural studies, and German literature. Silke completed her BA and MA at the University of Tübingen, not far from where she was born in Southern Germany. Her university

studies sprang from her passion for literature and learning languages: she has studied French, English, and Japanese in addition to her native German. In her mind, learning a language is beneficial in working towards intercultural competence. As her studies advanced at the University of Tübingen, she focused on comparative approaches to topics including human rights, fascist ideologies and women in theater and literature.

Between 2010 and 2013, Silke supplemented her studies by working part-time in international departments at Mercedes-Benz and Bosch. Her positions at Bosch and Mercedes reflected her academic research interests and allowed her to apply these interests to professional contexts. Silke was responsible for leading intercultural training sessions which provided an overview of cultural differences as well as techniques for communicating and collaborating so that the companies’ intercultural projects could flourish. She says that providing intercultural training and working with colleagues across the globe was one of her “favorite things to do”.

Since arriving at UConn in 2013, Silke has continued research in cross-cultural studies and intercultural competence. She collaborated with a group of colleagues on a project under the supervision of Professor Manuela Wagner in which they redesigned foreign language curriculum. Silke contributed to a book about the process and the findings of this project, titled Teaching Intercultural Competence Across Age Range, which was published in November, 2017. After her first two years at UConn, Silke took on an assistantship with Community Outreach, the Human Rights Institute and First Year Programs. During this time, she worked with the Human Rights and Action Learning Community which promotes student engagement and leadership as well as community outreach. She has taught undergraduate courses on these subjects and has co-organized events such as workshops around the Implicit Bias Exhibition and the Race and Revolution Art Exhibition on multiple UConn campuses.

Her current literary scolarship focuses on war, self-writing and female agency. This work involves analyzing texts in which women, especially those from marginalized cultural groups, bring their life stories to a broader context by writing. She is in the final stages of writing her dissertation Writing the Self, War Studies and Human Rights in German Literature. Silke is dedicated to translating her research into action, not only by way of teaching, but also by volunteering, engaging with community and listening to the community’s voices. She points out

that it is one thing to analyze and write about how women seize their voices, but another to actually listen to them. “That’s what I love about my research,” she says. “my dissertation is very specific, but I live it every day”.

By Claire Boers

Faculty Feature: Meet Nicola Carpentièri

Nicola Carpentieri joined our department as Assistant Professor and Chair of Arabic and Islamic Studies this fall. He comes to UConn after having held a Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona and Research Associate position at the University of Manchester following his Ph.D. at Harvard University. Born and raised in Italy, he became aware of linguistic diversity and the multiple registers used to address people during his childhood. His mother, a high school teacher of literature and Latin, encouraged his curiosity for languages, particularly dead ones. This said, when it came to choosing a field of studies, he did not go with the classics. He felt a need to engage with a question that was too often ignored. “In school we learnt that Italian literature was born in Sicily, that there were Provençal troubadours”, he said. But where did these troubadours come from? While a mainstream academic discourse conveniently neglected the Arabic literary tradition in Sicily, Nicola was intrigued by the cultural overlaps and intersections of the medieval ages. Over the years, he has honed a research focus on medieval Arabic poetry in the Western Mediterranean, within a broader interest in Islam in the West and in the transmission of medical theories on psychosomatics from Greek to Arabic into Latin. The working title of his upcoming monograph reads “From Imru ‘l-Qays to Dante: the Poetry and Poetics of Muslim Sicily”.

This semester he is teaching two Arabic courses: one in advanced composition and one special topics class. “People suggested to offer more modern courses – and I am going to. Next semester there will be a course about Arabic cinema”, Nicola said. Nevertheless, he found that his students are actually fascinated by the medieval material. They are covering folktales, science, and songs this semester, which has resulted in a 50% increase in enrollment in one of his classes. Starting out with only two students, he is now working with five, and they are eager to learn more about medieval cultures and literatures. The enthusiasm Nicola sees in UConn’s students has been a pleasant surprise for him.

When I asked him about his biggest academic accomplishment, he was hesitant to reply. It is more of an ongoing undertaking, he says, of trying to make knowledge available beyond academic circles. So he would love to be asked for cool facts about the history of medicine at the next dinner party if he is not busy talking about music or playing his flamenco guitar. We saw this side of Nicola at our beginning of the year BBQ. One colleague mentioned later with a smile: “There are not many people who show up to their first social event on a new job with a ukulele.”