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Cultural Diversities East and West: Postcommunism, Postcolonialism and Ethnicity

Central European University, 22 July-2 August 2002

Fellow profile

Name

Joseph BENATOV 

Country Bulgaria
Residence Philadelphia, PA, USA
Nationality Bulgarian
Sex Male 
Age 26
Educational background
  • M.A. in Comparative Literature and Literary Theory, University of Pennsylvania (2001)
  • M.A. in English language and Literature, ofia University, Bulgaria (2002)
  • B.A. in English, Sofia University, Bulgaria.
Present position PhD student
Academic writing instructor. Teaches Writing about Cultural Controversies and The American Rebel: Writing about Literature and Society.
Employer University of Pennsylvania 
Research interests 20th century American Literature, 20th century Bulgarian Literature and Culture. Postcolonial theory applied to Eastern Europe. Stereotyping of Jews. Balkanism. 
Current research  
Conferences, competitions... 2002, Feb.  Albuquerque, New Mexico  Americanist Conference
Other activities. In addition to my coursework at Penn, I am also involved in two extracurricular study groups related to my interests and to the topics of the course at CEU. I am a member of the Postcolonial Reading Group in which we have biweekly discussions of pre-circulated texts from the field of postcolonialism. [...] Toghether with a fellow graduate student we also organize the Postcommunist Colloquium in which we read and analyze various studies and scholarly articles. This past November we were quite fortunate to be able to invite Professor Katherine Verdery who presented her very latest ethnographic study on land restitution in Romania entitled "Seeing like a Mayor, or How Local Officials Obstructed Romanian Land Restitution".
Professional affiliation  
Publications [I have not published any papers or articles yet:]
  • "Looking Back and Seeing in the Past Tense: Kristeva's Western Perception of Bulgaria"
  • "Postcolonial Center-and-Periphery Relations in Communist and Post-communist Eastern Europe"
  • "Stereotype and Otherness in Philip Roth's Goodbye Columbus and Portnoy's Complaint.
Excerpts from written work Looking back and Seeing in the Past Tense: Kristeva's Western Perceptions of Bulgaria
This paper addresses the tension of viewpoints between globalization advocates on the one hand, and the roponents of the cultural incommensurability of national identities on the other. I investigate the formation of discourses emphasizing alternatively unity or multiplicity when dealing with Europe's unification. My particular focus of attention is Julia Kristeva's essay "Bulgaria, my Suffering", published in her collection of essays Crisis of the European Subject. Kristeva manages to adopt a unique position in europe's binary division of West and East through her distinctive combination of Bulgarian background with a French theoretical schooling and professional career. The paper analyzes Kristeva's assumptions, claims and conclusions about the (im)possibility of a viable coalescence between Eastern and Western Europe. I question the validity of Kristeva's argument which poses East Orthodox Christianity as the main psychological partition between Bulgaria and Western Europe. I draw upon Maria Todorova's formulation of Balkanism to explore the applicability of this theoretical concept to discourses that seemingly do fulfill the requirement of the insider's source of knowledge.

Postcolonial Center-and-Periphery Relations in Communist and Post-Communist Eastern Europe

This is a theoretical exploration of the possibilities to discuss the political interactions within the Eastern block, as well as between East and West, in colonial and postcolonial terms. On the micro-level, the various satellite countries exhibit different degrees of gravitational force towards the center of the model. In some cases, geographical distance accounts for attempts at ideological deviation. On the macro-level of world interactions, the Eastern block is positioned at the periphery of and marginalized by the second economic and political center of the West. In the postcommunist period I discuss the process of globalization and the critique of its neo-colonialist practices in the form of economic and political pressures. The paper relates Fukuyama's misreading of Hegel's "end of history" to some tenets of gloablization. Other scholars discussed are Zizek, Neil Lazarus, Anthony Giddens, Philip Grier and Ulrich Beck. A central thesis presented in the paper is that, after the collapse of communism, and, hence, [...] the oppositional gravitational force of the West continues to exist, but its influence and activity takes place now in the politico-economic realm.
Case study for the summer course  
Statement of interest I am particularly fascinated by the opportunity to attend a course that explores both the theoretical applicability of postcolonial models and concepts in the context of the newly emerged democracies in Eastern Europe, as well as the implications of multiculturalism and globalization as they are theorized in Western Europe and the U.S. My earnest enthusiasm stems from the fact that these are issues in which I have a very direct personal academic interest. Moreover, as a Comparative Literature Ph.D. student, in my dissertation I intend to investigate the conceptual similarities as well as the national and regional idiosyncrasies of East and West through the literary and cultural production in the second half of the twentieth century in Bulgaria and North America.

My initial interest in postcolonial theory and in its theoretical possibilities of application in Eastern Europe and other "non-colonial" contexts was first ignited in a master's course in Comparative Literature that I attended at Sofia University. The seminar was taught by Professor Tatiana Stoicheva from the English Dept and I pursued its theoretical direction in mt M.A. thesis. In this work I analyzed the early writings of Philip Roth through the use of central postcolonial tenets in order to better foreground the tensions and interactions between a minority culture and the WASP majority in America.

To sum up, the summer course on "Postcommunism, Postcolonialism and Ethnicity" sounds particularly appealing to me both because of its interdisciplinary nature and due to the fact that it is so finely tailored towards theoretical questions that hold a very prominent place in my own academic work.

Personal message  
Plans for the future  
Hobbies  
Contact E-mail to: benatov@sas.upenn.edu

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