Borowitz, Iqbal, Gerard Win Critical Theory Dissertation Awards

The Program in Critical Theory will support three Designated Emphasis students’ dissertation projects in 2018-2019. Molly Borowitz and Basit Iqbal will receive semester-long Critical Theory Dissertation Fellowships, while Philip Gerard has won a Critical Theory Research Grant.

Support for this year’s awardees is generously provided by the Magistretti Graduate Fellowship Fund, through the UC Berkeley College of Letters and Sciences, Division of Arts and Humanities, and the Class of 1936 First Professor of Political Science.

Molly Borowitz is a Ph.D. candidate in Hispanic Languages and Literatures with Designated Emphases in Critical Theory and Renaissance and Early Modern Studies. Her dissertation, “Spiritual Subjecthood and Institutional Legibility in Early-Modern Spain and Spanish America,” examines the ways in which spiritual subjects construct themselves in response to interpellation and assessment by early-modern Spanish and Spanish-colonial institutions. The project places a corpus of 16th- and 17th-century texts on Catholic religious experience, including prayer manuals, histories of the New World, and correspondence from Iberian missionaries to the Americas, alongside 20th- and 21st-century theories of subject formation and politics. The dialogue between these two bodies of text illuminates the ways in which early-modern Iberians and Ibero-Americans exteriorize their experiences of Catholic devotion discursively and performatively to render themselves “legible” to spiritual and political institutions, and the ways in which they use devotional discourse and performance to manipulate their relationships to those institutions. In Spain, Catholic mystics and reformers use spiritual legibility to obtain autonomy within the authoritarian Church and to garner institutional support for their projects. In Spanish America, both Iberian missionaries and Amerindian nobles cite the spiritual legibility of indigenous Christians as a guarantor of their fitness for Spanish political subjecthood. In all cases, institutional legibility—though compulsory—affords the writing subject some agency and creativity in h/er relationship to the supervising institution.

Basit Kareem Iqbal is a Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology with a Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory. His dissertation project asks how the practices of Muslim humanitarians and refugees remake the notion of Islamic community (umma) in the wake of the ongoing Syrian war. Based in ethnographic research on projects of Syrian refugee support and settlement in Jordan and Canada, his dissertation approaches the doctrine and practice of Islamic humanitarianism as a transnational form which takes shape across otherwise disparate contexts of precarious care. Considering the contemporary social life of the Islamic terms ordeal (ibtilāʾ), ruin (athar), witness (shahāda), and nature (fira), his work traces the productive tensions which today are creatively reformulating ethical traditions amid conditions of economic dispossession and massive displacement.

Philip Gerard is a Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Literature with a Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory. His dissertation, “A Translation including History: Ezra Pound, Paul Celan, and the Rhythms of the Past,” examines how modernist practices of translation critically engage literary canons and textual archives to make silenced histories newly audible. To this end, the dissertation compares two of the twentieth-century’s most influential poet-translators, Ezra Pound and Paul Celan. No two poets could be more different, and yet Gerard argues that Pound and Celan essentially agree that the task of translation lies in animating for the present the historical content embedded in linguistic and poetic forms of the past. His dissertation uses this surprising convergence not only to reframe Pound and Celan’s more manifest aesthetic and political divergences, but also to reinterpret the contradictions immanent to literary modernism’s understanding of history and use of tradition. The implications of this reassessment are double: on the one hand, Gerard shows that what allows modernist practices of translation to interrupt, deconstruct, and/or rearticulate received accounts of the past is also what makes these practices such potentially powerful instruments of historical disavowal. On the other hand, Gerard argues that what is at stake in modernist translation is nothing less than a critical version of cultural exchange and historical transmission—an emphatically “comparative” literature that contests both nationalist myth-making and the form of literary value traded on the global market.