Laleh Boroujerdi-Rad

1. What is your specific area of research (include the name of your faculty and/or laboratory)?

My subject is the literary critic/postcolonial theorist Edward Said. With the help of Professor Alex Gelley, I am investigating how Said's view and use of historical material changes from his early literary criticism to his more politically-charged postcolonial work in Orientalism. In conjunction with this primary focus, I am also investigating the theoretical trends, particularly the focus on 'language' and 'rhetoric' in the 60s and 70s, in American academic literary study that made up a major part of Said's professional backdrop. Although Said's call for a more politically-committed criticism flies in the face of the literary/theoretical "technocrats" that were his peers, he too was interested in the very French-influenced theories of language (structuralism, deconstruction, discourse) that became popular in literary criticism. By looking at how Said used historical material, I hope to shed light (for myself at least) on how Said negotiated his interests in language and politics.

2. When and how did you first get involved in research?

Towards the end of CL100A (History of Literary Criticism), which I took in my junior year, we read excerpts from Edward Said's The World, the Text, and the Critic, and his concept of "worldliness" just enthralled me. He was saying that literary critics should take into account not merely the historical context of a text, but the dynamics of the relationship between the text and the social and political circumstances about it. Thus, literary critics should take into account the "worldliness" of the text, and not just that, but his/her own "worldliness" as a critic as well. For a recent initiate into university literary criticism, this was a whole different way of seeing the text and one's relationship to it than I had been used to. It called for a very socially- and politically-conscious literary criticism. In a CL103 course with Professor Jane Newman last winter, I thought our approach to Wole Soyinka's remake of Euripides' Bacchae demonstrated principles of Said's notion of "worldliness." Maybe it did a little. Probably I was just imposing my ongoing interest in the concept on our work on Soyinka. Jane suggested that, since the concept intrigued me so much, I might pursue it as my senior thesis topic. So I applied for a SURP grant, got it, and began my project with Jane as my faculty mentor for the summer.

3. How has research enhanced your education?

My research endeavors (and here I include my independent group research projects as well as my thesis) have made me consider the questions of what I do as a Comparative Literature major and why. That is, what am I comparing? What constitutes 'literature'? and to what end am I 'comparing literature'? Those questions have been points of debate since the inception of Comparative Literature early last century, but those debates have traditionally been left out of undergraduate study. Reading up on those debates has not brought me closer to answering the most basic questions of my discipline, but rather has revealed to me the complexities involved in even starting to answer those questions.

4. What has been your favorite experience with research (include any interesting stories or specific events)?

More than any specific event, I appreciate the camaraderie I share with fellow researchers. And I've benefited from a support system-both in my school and outside of it-which includes other undergraduates, professors, graduate students, and administrators.

5. What are your future plans and how has being involved in research helped to prepare you to meet your goals?

I plan on graduating this June and then working for two or three years before going for a higher degree. My research experiences have honed my ability to vary my reading styles for different kinds of material. Research for me has also been an exercise in seeing how certain words, phrases, essays, and books fit into a larger argument, if at all. In this way, research is a matter of re-conceiving the big picture in lieu of these details, big and small. This care for detail while keeping in mind the big picture is a quality I'll carry with me no matter where I go. Furthermore, my research has made me delve into my discipline, and the question of what its ends can be. For me, the Comparative Literature major has made me more aware of the complexities involved in intercultural contact. Especially in Postcolonial criticism, the notion of a happy cultural interplay is complicated by the real afflictions that this interplay can result (and has resulted) in, even when this contact seems benign. This critical mode should help inform the ethics of my decisions when it comes to considering issues pertaining to intercultural contact, particularly when marginalized groups are involved.

6. What advice would you give to a student interested in pursuing a faculty-mentored undergraduate research project or creative activity?

If you are passionate about a topic and are committed to doing extensive work on it, go for it! When looking for a faculty mentor, look up faculty listings for the department that you think is most relevant to your research. Define your interest as best you can at the outset-the more specific the better. Try to identify some primary texts as soon as possible and work from there. It doesn't hurt to write up the state of your project every so often to see where you are relative to where you've been, and to define further, maybe even change, your specific interest as your project progresses. There will be times when the work will get tedious, even if you're going with your interests. You just have to get through that work. Also, it is important to write early and to keep writing. Regarding secondary materials such as critical essays in the humanities, I'll pass on some valuable advice I was given: read the first and last paragraphs (of the article) first, and after that read only as much as is necessary to 'get' the main argument. But read your primary texts very closely and thoroughly. And, of course, apply for a UROP or SURP fellowship. Whether you need funds or not, UROP can be a means of exposing your work to a wider community, which is what research should be about-informing the community (of fellow researchers and hopefully others as well).

Past Researchers of the Month
Dec. '04 Martin Vega
Nov. '04 Peter Kuo
Oct. '04 Michelle Plyer
Sep. '04 Camille Campion
Aug. '04 Ahmed Ibrahim
Jul. '04 Gregoria Barazandeh
Jun. '04 Matthew Korn
May '04 Jolene Minakary
Apr. '04 Zhanna Kovaleva
Mar. '04 Dorothy Chang
Feb. '04 Elizabeth Yanni
Jan. '04 Brad Cohn
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