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The Charles Bernheimer Prize Citations 2016

This year's Bernheimer Prize Award for Best Dissertation by a Graduate Student in Comparative Literature is shared by Eugenia Kelbert of Yale University, for her dissertation, "Acquiring a Second Literature: Patterns in Translingual Writing from Modernism to the Moderns" and Ramsey McGlazer of the University of California, Berkeley for his dissertation, "Old Schools: Modernism, Pedagogy, and the Critique of Progress".

What can the current “bilingual turn” in linguistics and psychology tell us about the nature of literary translingualism – the writing of poets, novelists, and dramatists who preferred to work in languages they acquired after puberty?  Surprisingly a lot, suggests Eugenia Kelbert in her highly engaging and conceptually nuanced study of the diverse “translingual” styles of Joseph Brodsky, Romain Gary, Eugene Jolas, and other modernist writers.  Integrating empirical analysis with more traditional modes of critical reading, Kelbert illuminates the cognitive processes of “second literature acquisition” even while identifying European modernism as the moment at which these processes attained the form of a singular aesthetic. 

Kelbert writes that “the study of bilingualism relates to that of translingual literature rather as the study of wind may relate to that of landscape.”  It seems clear to its readers that this witty and ambitious dissertation is both the wind and the landscape of a new form of linguistic criticism.

We know the name of the wind that causes all the wreckage in Walter Benjamin's picture of history. It is blowing from paradise, but it is what we call progress. Ramsay McGlazer's learned, lucid dissertation explores certain modern resistances to this wind. They are surprising ones, and it takes all of  McGlazer's considerable wit and sense of intellectual balance to keep their paradoxes alive.  How can he find 'radical potential' in seemingly retrograde gestures; show that 'outmoded forms become key resources for a modernist aesthetic production that they might appear to rule out'? 

He does not deny the conventional modernizing claim that 'old- school' practices and principles can be 'deadening, mind-numbing'; but he does remind us the 'ongoing... forward march' can be 'oddly dusty'.  In the body of the dissertation he takes us carefully through a series of irresistible instances: the writings of Walter Pater, of Giovanni Pascoli, an impeccably pedantic episode of Joyce's Ulysses, and Pier Paolo Pasolini's film Salò.  He has a coda that shifts continents and looks at Glauber Rocha's film Claro.  Metaphorically McGlazer calls these moves 'returns to Rome', implicitly inverting the adage.  Not all roads lead there, but the ones that do alter the idea of the road.

2016 Charles Bernheimer Prize Committee:
Michael Wood, Princeton University (Chair)
Andrew Parker, Rutgers University
Meera Viswanathan, Brown University