Ida Balwierz: JU SPECTRESS Fellow in São Paulo

I spent five fantastic, intense, inspiring, fruitful, and eventful months (May–October 2017) in São Paulo. I also had an opportunity to conduct research on the topic of the Arab diaspora in Brazil, to meet the wonderful inhabitants of that country, and to learn about its amazingly rich culture.

I have experienced Brazilians’ friendliness and willingness to assist foreigners immediately after my plane had landed in the São Paulo airport. A Brazilian woman I had just met, who had returned from a few weeks travel in Europe, helped me find my way, quickly and safely, to the flat I had rented for my stay, in the Vila Leopoldina district. At first, I was intimidated, scared by the hugeness of São Paulo. I had never lived in such a big and crowded place before. However, soon, thanks to my Brazilian friends, I began to love it and learned to move around with ease.

I spent most of my time in libraries (university, state, libraries of Arab institutions). A library in Club Homs on the famous Avenida Paulista, founded in 1920 by Syrian immigrants, became my favorite place. That library is a veritable paradise for a researcher of Arab studies!

During my stay in São Paulo, I have also taken part in an international conference organized in August (SPeCTReSS – Social Performances of Cultural Trauma and the Rebuilding of Solid Sovereignties & XII Symposium of Irish Studies in South America, 22-25 August 2017), during which I delivered a paper titled Syrian Prison Literature as a Record of Complex Traumatic Experiences.

In October, I have given lectures on the Syrian political prison literature for the students of the Universidade de São Paulo. The paper and lectures were an opportunity to present the results of my earlier research which I continued in Brazil.

Besides library research, I have met many representatives of the Arab diaspora in São Paulo and with scientists specializing in that topic. Conversations with Syrian refugees who came to Brazil after the outbreak of a civil war in their country were very important for me.

In my free time, I visited the city, museums, and galleries, went to concerts, and walked in beautiful parks. In August, together with the XY team, I went on a trip to Santos.

I would like to thank Laura Izarra very much for her care, priceless help, and support during my stay in São Paulo. I am also very grateful to Tomasz Bilczewski and Jennifer Edmond who have made my journey to Brazil possible.

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Saugata Bhaduri: JNU Spectress Fellow at JU, Kraków, Poland

The Spectress Project offered me the great opportunity of spending one and a half months on secondment to the Centre for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland, from November 16 to December 31, 2017. Though I had already travelled to most countries in Europe, this was my first trip to Poland, and it was an unforgettable experience indeed. Fortuitously, and making things even more memorable, the Director of my host Centre, Prof. Tomasz Bilczewski, was returning home from New York the very same day that I was flying in, and we were on the same flight from Frankfurt to Kraków, advancing my welcome to the programme by a couple of hours and easing my entry into a new city and country even before I had set foot there.

I was housed bang in the centre of Kraków, barely a few hundred metres from the historic Old Town, the Wawel Castle, a host of amazing churches and museums, and my host department too, and I made full utilization of this proximity. What made this heady mix of history, culture, and academics even more potent was that I was in the midst of all of this through the festive season of Christmas, and Christmas is huge in Kraków. I foraged around the numerous Christmas markets, ‘milk bars’, and roadside kiosks and gorged on countless helpings of barszcz, pierogi, gołąbki, bigos, and kiełbasa (translating them as beetroot soup, dumplings, cabbage rolls, cabbage and meat stew, and sausages would be sacrilege), and an I-just-lost-count number of glasses of piwo and grzane wino (beer and mulled wine for the uninitiated). I was even invited to a traditional Christmas eve dinner at the family home of a former student and now staff at the university, and had the great fortune of savouring the customary twelve-course ‘wigilia’ meal, ending in poppy seed infused desserts.

Just to dispel the doubt of those who may begin to suspect that all that I did in Kraków was to eat, I was also fortunate to contribute to two academic events of the Centre – an interactive session with its PhD students where I discussed their projects with them and provided suggestions, and a lecture that I delivered on ‘World Literature’. More importantly, I utilised the bulk of the time in accessing the astonishing resources of the university to study for my current research on what I call the ‘polycolonial’ experience in South Asia: or that India was colonized not by the British alone, but by the Portuguese, Dutch, French, and Danish too, with Germans, Italians, and travellers from other European nations, including Poland, playing major roles in it; that the phenomenon of polycoloniality in South Asia was primarily experienced through exercises in translation and publication; and that while the epistemic violence caused by colonial ideological activities is often seen in negative and Manichaean terms, actually the ‘cultural trauma’ thus generated proved to be rather productive in the South Asian context. And what an academically fulfilling one-and-a-half month it was.

Talking of ‘cultural trauma’, this account of my stint at Kraków would be incomplete if I were not to mention the most moving experiences I had during this trip: my visits, within Kraków, to the old Jewish quarter of Kazimierz, the Nazi-built ghetto of Podgórze to which Jews were forcefully interred and from where they were transported in huge numbers to concentration camps to labour and die, the concentration camp of Płaszów itself, and the enamel factory of Oskar Schindler which saved around a thousand Jews; and my visit to the even more thought-provoking Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camps, around 70 kms from Kraków. Words cannot describe the feeling that these sites elicited in me, and let me end by hoping that the way one experienced the impact of ‘cultural trauma’ at these places would make one all the more resolved to fight the bigotry, sectarianism, and communal fascism that are raising their ugly heads all over the world again, and to work towards ‘re-establishing solid sovereignties’ that would have the capacity to counter the same – the very objectives of Spectress itself, and my greatest takeaway from the secondment under its aegis.

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Aleksandra Szczepan: JU SPECTRESS Fellow at São Paulo


I spent 2.5 months (August–October 2017) in São Paulo as a SPeCTReSS scholar, based at USP’s FFLCH – School of Philosophy, Literature and Human Sciences, under the caring and inspiring supervision of Prof. Laura Patrícia Zuntini de Izarra.

The scientific goal of my stay was preliminary research for a project dedicated to possible similarities and parallels between the post-traumatic memory cultures of Poland and Brazil: while the former would be defined by the dynamics of overlapping traumas of the Second World War and the Shoah on the one hand and of the state of dependence during communism on the other, for the latter the founding experiences would be its colonial past and slavery, as well as the dictatorship, 1964–1985. Thus, I was interested both in discussions with the scholars researching on related topics and in acquiring knowledge on Brazilian literature and arts rendering these issues, as well as the related commemorative and institutional practices of museums and galleries. Another realm of (anticipated) affinity between Poland and Brazil (or between Central-Eastern Europe and South America in general) is the position of these two countries on the map of global politics and cultural production: recovering from various forms of dependency; provincial, yet very much aspiring to the global North (or West); rapidly developing and proud of their own achievements, but full of resentment towards the more privileged regions; striving for social, gender, sexual and racial equality, however haunted by a colonial or semi-colonial past, class divisions and patriarchal culture.

Therefore, I considered myself as a scholar coming from THE Europe, yet from its “lesser” part and I hoped my position would give me a possibility to experience both the otherness and the familiarity during the time of my stay. It was my first visit to Brazil, but not to South America, since I traveled to Chile before.

My stay in São Paulo turned out to be more than I expected: not only could I pursue my research goals, but also the city and its distinctive culture provided me with many opportunities to develop my interests and gain some new ones. Thus, I could debate the issues related to my project during the seminar organized by Prof. Izarra and her PhD students at FFLCH; I presented a paper related to my research at the “Rethinking Cultural Trauma from Transnational Perspectives” conference (22–25 August) organized by the SPeCTReSS network and XII Symposium of Irish Studies in South America, and had the great opportunity to discuss with other scholars from the network; moreover, I met with Prof. Márcio Seligmann-Silva, author of essential work on dynamics of memory cultures in Brazil. Finally, I could develop my knowledge thanks to the cultural infrastructure of São Paulo itself: libraries (USP’s Brasiliana and Mário de Andrade were my favorites), various museums and art galleries (MASP, Instituto Tomie Ohtake, Instituto Itaú Cultural and Museu Afro Brasil, as well as the exhibition “Ways of Seeing Brazil” at Oca turned out to be seminal for me), vivid arts scene at numerous SESCs and theatres.

All of them contribute to the absolutely unique and fascinating phenomenon of São Paulo as an urban organism with its own rules, beauty, and pride: culturally abundant, with outstanding cityscape (e.g., Higienópolis with its striking modern architecture; skyscrapers of Centro and Avenida Paulista; Ibirapuera Park and other projects by Niemeyer), as well as the exceptional paulistana culture of public sphere: the city’s work ethos; culture of commuting through the endless network of public transport; frequent civic protests and demonstrations (São Paulo holds one of the biggest gay pride parades in the world, and it also gave birth to the idea of rolezhinos as a way of social resistance against inequality); weekends spent in Ibirapuera Park or along one of the closed streets: Avenida Paulista or – even more noteworthy – the

Minhocão, i.e. Via Elevada Presidente João Goulart – huge highway cutting the city in half, a child of the reckless urbanization of the 1960s. Yet, São Paulo is also a city of striking social inequality, racial segregation, poverty, drug abuse, homelessness and amnesia of its own violent past (e.g., the present visual non-existence of the Carandiru prison – there is a library built at the place of the massacre), and the very fact that the rich and the poor live so close to each other makes these problems even more evident. It was compelling for me on various levels to realize how those issues sprout from the overlapping traumas of the Brazilian past and to what extent they expose a coming to terms with a country’s history as a necessary endeavor.


Finally, I would like to express my gratitude to Eda Nagayama; Rita Sepulveda de Faria and Stella Tennenbaum; Óscar Alejandro Castillo, Maria Jaciara Pimentel and their daughter Nicolle – for making my stay in São Paulo a unique experience and for generosity in sharing with me their knowledge about Brazilian culture, politics, history, geography, cuisine and way of life. I would like also to thank Tomasz Bilczewski for making this trip possible, and aforementioned Laura Izarra for providing me with an academic milieu, as well as Jennifer Edmond for managing the project.


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Tomasz Bilczewski: JU SPECTRESS Fellow at Yale University, New Haven

My stay at the Center for Cultural Sociology at Yale University came during the summer and fall of 2017 (25 July – 15 November). Although the campus was in vacation mode, all the university libraries were still open. My daily workplace was both the largest one, the Sterling Library, and the smaller ones, Bass Library and Beinecke Library. The Beinecke collects valuable archives of outstanding Polish writers: Aleksander Wat, Witold Gombrowicz, Czesław Miłosz, and Zbigniew Herbert. The Sterling archive collections, in turn, hold works by the great Polish anthropologist Bronisław Malinowski, who worked at Yale at the close of his academic career, and was buried at a New Haven cemetery in 1942. The university libraries’ extensive collections allowed me to continue several projects I currently have underway, in which the experience of trauma that shapes the fortune of Central European history and literary theory holds an important place.


After a brief sojourn in Krakow at the turn of September and October 2017, I returned to the Yale campus, now pulsing with academic life after the vacation period. Apart from numerous meetings with the local professors and students, I participated in several lectures by distinguished guests: W.J.T. Mitchell, Donna Harraway, Rodolphe Gasché, and a symposium on Modernism, World Literature and Totality (The Yale University Department of English). I also took advantage of the impressive collections of the local museums (Yale Center for British Art, Yale University Art Gallery) and those in New York (Guggenheim, MOMA, Metropolitan). A very pleasant touch was provided by my meetings with friends from years past: Kathleen Minahan, Professor Krystyna Iłłakowicz (Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures), and Professor Marci Shore (Department of History), who organized an interesting discussion around a book by Anna Muller, University of Michigan-Dearborn: If the Walls Could Speak: Inside a Woman’s Prison in Communist Poland (Oxford University Press 2018). This book “draws on the personal testimonies of former political prisoners and explores interrogation protocols and cell spy reports,” revealing the traumatic dimension of the expansion of totalitarian ideology, which shaped Polish and Central European history and culture in the latter half of the twentieth century. For their assistance in organizing my stay at Yale, I give thanks to Professor Ron Eyerman and Nadine Amalfi.

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Prof. Sucheta Mahajan: JNU SPECTRESS Fellow at TCD, May-August 2016

My association with the SPeCTReSS project goes back to when a group of universities, including JNU, my university, came up with this extremely innovative project. I was one of the original members. Later I was awarded a secondment at the Trinity College, Dublin in the summer of 2016  to pursue my research project on Partitions of India and Ireland: Memory and History.

At Trinity College Dublin, I was affiliated to the Long Room Hub, the Advance Studies Institute, headed by Prof. Jane Ohlmeyer, an insightful historian with incredible leadership skills. The Long Room Hub was a most intellectually vibrant space under her directorship.  I most enjoyed weekly presentations by research scholars and visiting professors, workshops and tea time conversations with fellows. There was never a dull or empty moment.

At Trinity Long Room Hub, a young research scholar told me about the practice of keening, a ritual following upon the death of a person, where collective mourning was practised. She came up with this information because I had talked about the traditional practice of public mourning in Punjab, India, when women would together wail about the death in the family, beat their breasts, etc. I had spoken about this in the regular eleven o’clock weekly meetings we had at the Hub. The next day she brought a CD of a film in which keeling was portrayed to share with me. This compelled me to look closely at my argument about culturally specific ways of remembering and the uniqueness of the mourning rituals in India, which, I argued, had not been practised for the deaths that occurred during partition, and hence there being no closure. How could I make an argument about cultural specificity when the practices appeared to be the same in a very different country?

The SPeCTReSS fellowship gave me the opportunity for fieldwork in Belfast, to conduct an oral history interview in Cruit and to visit the University of Brighton to meet Graham Dawson, the author of the brilliant book on reparative remembering.

A highlight of my stay at Trinity was the conference on Ireland and India organized on 23 and 24 June 2016. My paper at the conference, titled “Memory, History and Narratives of Conflict: Partitions, India and Ireland”, in the session on Nationalism was a preliminary presentation of my work so far.

The SPeCTReSS secondment at Trinity was followed up by a conference at the University of Sao Paolo, Brazil in August 2017 organised by the SPeCTReSS project and the Association for Irish Studies in Brazil on Rethinking Cultural Trauma from a Transnational Perspective.  Researchers from the project from different countries interacted with experts in Irish Studies and other scholars on the theme of trauma and conflict. I presented a paper on “Coming out of Conflict: Oral Histories of Partition, India and Ireland”in the panel on Historical continuities and discontinuities.

 The project has been remarkable in transforming my understanding of trauma and giving it a transnational mooring.

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Gabriel Borowski: JU SPECTRESS Fellow at São Paulo

The SPECTRESS network supported my research at the University of São Paulo, Brazil, in August and September 2017. As I work at the Department of Portuguese and Translation Studies, Jagiellonian University, where I explore and teach Lusophone literature and literary translation, during my secondment I focused on contemporary Brazilian novels in which the concept of cultural trauma and post-memory writing, related to migration from the Old World, is presented, reworked and challenged. I spent a lot of time in USP main library and numerous bookstores, looking for the most recent examples of fiction, as well as literary works in general that might be useful in my classes upon my return. I also participated in two scientific events: 3rd Workshop on Internationalization at the Faculty of Education (3 August) and SPECTRESS Symposium “Rethinking Cultural Trauma from Transnational Perspectives” at the Faculty of Philosophy, Letters and Humanities (22-25 August).

I was kindly received by Prof. Laura Izarra from the Department of Modern Letters and my dear friend Eda Nagayama, who had visited my home institution under the SPECTRESS program in 2016. Together with Eda, I have worked on a translation, directly from Polish into Portuguese, of ”Childhood Behind Barbed Wire”, one of the most moving testimonies to the tragic fate of children in the Auschwitz death camp, written by Bogdan Bartnikowski and first published in 1969. The book will be published in 2018 by the Auschwitz-Birkenau Publishing House, proving that SPECTRESS, as an international network of scholars, was able to communicate effectively across languages and cultural spaces. We often had to create new concepts and expressions related to the reality of the death camp, performing a transcultural, rather than simply interlingual translation. Our work will contribute to a more complete understanding of the trauma of the Holocaust by the global Portuguese-speaking community, especially visitors to the Auschwitz Museum.

Even though it was my fourth time in Brazil, it was my first chance to get to know São Paulo better – a heterogenous, gargantuan megalopolis with a stunning cultural offer. In my spare time (which was very limited indeed!) I have practiced Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, meeting many interesting people from various cultural and economic backgrounds. My stay was fruitful in terms of my development as a scholar, but also as an individual, and I am sure that it will lead to many new scientific enterprises in the future.

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Divyani Motla: JNU-SPECTRESS fellow at the Institute for Social Movements, Ruhr University, Bochum, Germany.

I boarded my first airplane ever when I flew to Ruhr University, Bochum, Germany in May-2017, as perhaps the youngest SPECTRESS fellow. My academic host was Prof Stefan Berger, the Director of the Institute for Social Movements at the Ruhr University.

SPECTRESS, a project about cultural trauma, was as far from traumatic for me as imaginable. The most important dimension of this project was the exposure to many different cultures and people from all across Europe, the exposure to the histories of various nations, the conflicts and compromises and the resulting traumas that shape each of those nations. Europe, for me, was a living embodiment of history, and the confluence of the medieval infrastructure with modernity was intriguing. I had never felt this close to the medieval ages than I did while travelling and exploring the centuries old remnants of medieval architecture, especially in Cologne, Gent, Prague, Zadar and Durovnik. I was more than impressed with the multiculturality of these nations that originated around ‘one language and one culture’, and the ever-friendly people.

My fellowship kick-started with the ‘SPECTRESS Summer School on Cultural Trauma’ organized by the University of Zagreb in collaboration with the IUC at Dubrovnik. In addition to understanding the traumatic national self-perception in context to Croatia and neighboring states, the interaction with the participants and the professors helped me to re-think and re-consider the silhouettes of post-colonial trauma in India. The Summer School was brilliantly productive and entertaining, also the first time I ever saw a sea!

In Bochum, I attended a few seminars, and a conference about ‘History, Memory and Social Movements’, organized by the ISB. Those in addition to my interactions and meetings with Prof Berger contributed extensively in the cultivation of my research ideas and questions. In our interactions we both also helped each other better understand the conflicts and traumas that consume our respective societies. Prof Berger was also very kind to ask a young scholar like me to deliver a talk (‘Khalistan: The ‘Unrealized’ Nation Within a Nation’) discussing the post-colonial conflicts in India, attended by senior research scholars, professors and students, where we tried to understand the strengths and weaknesses of a post-colonial democratic nation through several traumatic ruptures. I also had extensive discussions about the ‘trauma’ of caste and gender in India with many academics and laymen.

To understand better, I delved deeper into memory of traumas in Germany. I had many interesting discussions people with about the memory of the Second World War (in Bochum), Communism, the Unification of Berlin (in Berlin), etc. I also visited some Sikh temples in Germany to find out more about the Sikh diaspora’s participation in and the memory of the ‘Khalistan Movement’. Furthermore, my travels to Gent, Berlin, Cologne, Prague, Zadar and Dubrovnik made me wonder and analyze if and how each one of us is a product of traumatic pasts- national, regional, ethnic, racial, cultural, socio-political, familial, etc. Berlin and the Holocaust Memorial were the most thought-provoking visits for me, since that’s where I felt the eeriness of certain traumas, which were otherwise distant to me both spatially and temporally- the Jewish holocaust and the conflict between the Communists and Capitalists in Berlin.

I can write endlessly for there was so much that I felt, learned, experienced and miss, but before I conclude it is imperative that I express my absolute delight and love for the food and beer in Europe. I am also very grateful to the lovely friends I made on this exchange- Cristian, Pia, Verena, Niklas, Ivi, Andy, Zrinka, Kosta, Rebecca, and Prof. Nebojsa and Prof. Tomislav, for welcoming me with open arms and helping me understand the European ‘other’ better; friends back home- Aakash, Steve, Afzal, Sim, Ravinder, and my family for their constant support and belief in me, all of which made this a truly wonderful experience.

Special thanks to Dr. Jennifer Edmond, to Professor Stefan Berger and to Prof. Aditya and Mridula Mukerjee, who made this life-changing experience possible.


Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University

New Delhi, India

(I am a pre-doctoral research scholar at the Centre for Historical Studies, JNU, exploring the themes of- nationalism, minority politics, space and violence, and the memory of political as well as cultural traumas, in a state of India called Punjab, which witnessed a secessionist movement for the establishment of a Sikh-republic called ‘Khalistan’ between 1975-95.)

LEFT: Outside the Institute for Social Movements, RUB (Before delivering the talk on ‘Khalistan’); RIGHT: Next to the big bell, displayed at the Paris World’s Fair in 1867, in front of the Bochum City Hall.

Divyani (3)

With Prof. Nebojsa and Kosta Bovan in the lanes of Dubrovnik (attending the Summer School on Cultural Traumas)

Divyani (4)

                                    Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Berlin

Divyani (5).jpgInside the Prague Castle, in front of the Kohl’s Fountain

Divyani (6)

Lecture delivered at ISB, RUB

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