Translation comparison – Sarah Zhang

Personally speaking, I prefer Anderson’s translation because it it’s easier for me to grasp the poetic aesthetics. For example, Anderson’s translation clearly demonstrates more awareness on rhyme and the structure of sentences.  However, the attention on rhyme certainly limits the choices of words. Also, Anderson’s translation adapts more to the English literary environment instead of presenting the Russian portrayal. His translation took away a lot of Russian expressions and translated them into something that English speakers can easily appreciate. There is no definite guideline for a good translation. Thomas’s translation is for sure more accurate or “true” to the original work. For me a good translation should help me understand the work better, while for Thomas’s translation is makes me feel a little more confused.       

!: During many discussions, I found out that people automatically use the word “wrong” when describing ideological monopoly.

?:Since people’s voices are so restricted, what, and how it, triggered Russia to change? 

Commentary on the performance: Drummers of Yamamoto – by Sarah Zhang

When I heard the first beat of the drum, I was fascinated by how resonating the sound is in the hall. I could feel the chairs shaking every time the performers hit the drum. This gives me a sense of connection, it’s almost as if I am feeling the energy and the passion (which is also the title of the performance) and I feel myself closer to the culture. The drums fill the whole performance, without any verbal conversation between the performers, however there are a lot of interesting interactions between the performers and the audience. The motion of body performance, the sound of drums and its rhythms really transcends language. It reminds me of what Dr. Bory talked in her unit about how the body is used to convey messages, to perform an identity.

Most of the performance seemed very indigenous, with a lot of reference to religion and tradition, but also the engagements with the audience serve as a bridge between different parts of the performance. I wonder whether the performance will keep the engagement if the show is performed in Japan. Although I enjoyed the engagement, there was a sense of disconnection, as if the performance got pulled out of the cultural context that it relies on. Through the engagement part, the performers made sure that the foreign audience can, to a certain degree, understand the language of the drummers. The fact that the performance became understandable for people unfamiliar with the culture means that it is already loosing its integrity. If one has to rely on the planned engagement to understand the piece, then he is only grasping onto what he is familiar with, the culture at home, instead of the culture of the drummers. These thoughts reminds me of the incommensurability of language in Dr. Robb’s unit and the idea of tokens of representation in president Quillen’s unit. How should cultures communicate with each other without losing their integrity in the process?

Commentary on the seminar with Dr. Diego by Sarah Zhang

In the seminar, Dr. Diego mainly talked about the trans-Pacific realm of diasporic narrative brought to America. Spain colonizers in Philipines brought cheap labor into Mexico. On this almost impossible trip across the world, there are connection between cultures, but also conflicts between races. These labors were “devalued,” having much less value than the merchandises and very much muted from the history, the one told by the powerful. We can only put up the perspective from these Asians from a large archive of inquiries, many of which were only confessed and documented with the threat from torture and death. The problems during the trip, the extremely poor accommodations——many slaves had to live on the deck——-lack of food, water and other resources, severe weather further exacterbated the racialization. After arriving in Mexico, they continued to be treated in a dehumanizing way. They are categrorized as “Chinos” altogether. This is another example of orientalist erasure where Asian people and culture are deemed as inferior. 

This cross-cultural interaction across the Pacific Ocean significantly broaden the horizon. It involves Asian, American and European, comparing to the current Humanities course narrative where a majority is based on only US and European coutries. Also, we are often required to choose which side of the world we want to know more about, we learn East Asian history, American history, European history, but barely do we have any chance to see, in a broader picture, how these histories are interacting with each other, how different sides of the same story are told to different people around the globe, how identity is constructed and destructed during the connections and conflicts. Moreover, this trip across the Manila Galleon is restoring the whole space of the cross-Pacific migration, not just focusing on the onset (起点)and the destination. It brings us directly to the sight of inequality, this history’s own space of racialization. It documents not just the opposition between “the One” and “the Other.” What deeply troubled me is how similar the situation is comparing to the trauma of African slaves, but how come this history became absolutely muted in western narrative, and the racialization against Asian has been around for hundreds of years while it is still muted today?

Unit 6 Post 1 by Sarah Zhang

!: The two cultures mentioned are the scientific and the literary / art culture. The quote that got me is “The other is our tendency to let our social forms crystallise. This tendency appears to get stronger, not weaker, the more we iron out economic inequalities: and this is specially true in education. It means that once anything like a cultural divide gets established, all the social forces operate to make it not less rigid, but more so.” This for me, is especially true in western culture where individualism is of great importance. People feel anxiety and threatened when the boundary that separates themselves from others disappear. At the same time, the idea of “other” is of such importance for maintaining our own identity that the more we realize that there exists a boundary, the more we try to blur it, but at the same time the more we rely on this boundary to maintain autonomy and uniqueness.

?: What is the conversation that can be found between the two cultures? How can they communicate with each other? Why do we need to ask the two cultures to be comprehensible for each other?

scientific theories that I recognized:

  • Plate Tectonics,
  • General relativity,
  • Evolution by natural selection,
  • Heliocentrism

Scientific experiments that I recognized:

  • William Harvey: The discovery of blood circulation
  • Gregor Mendel: The fundamental rules of genetic inheritance
  • Isaac Newton: The nature of color and light
  • Ivan Pavlov: The discovery of conditioned reflexes
  • Robert Paine: The disproportionate impact of keystone species on ecosystems

Unit 5 Post 2 by Sarah

For me, I think what the performers conveyed in “Black Girl Linguistic Play” exceeds simply talking about race and gender and looking beyond it. Like what the performers explained after the dance, the story in the dance is not about racial conflicts, but about sisterhood, mother and child. The story is perceiving every one equal, as human beings in a society, with relationships that everyone has across cultures. And I think I am understanding the sense of “healing” in the piece, because by going beyond the conflicts and seeing what is common deep down, it almost feels like a unite, an appeal to more understanding.

My question is, how can we “decipher” movement? There are a lot of motifs that are repeating in the piece, like raising the head, combing the hair, spreading out the arm and drawing circles on the chest while raising the right hand. Sometimes you can grasp what they might be implying but some are also very culturally specific. Sometimes you need language to help understand the movement. Also, I know that the piece is inviting the audience to project themselves into the broad picture, but what is the relationship between the audience, especially as someone who is not that familiar with the culture, and the choreographer? Or does it really matter? And when we are watching a performance, or other kinds of abstract art, does it really matter to understand the work?

Unit 5 assignment 1 – Sarah


! : “Lemon seeks to ritualize the past, but not to monumentalize it.” – The distinction between ritualizing and monumentalizing is what left me the most impact in this reading. When we were talking about performance and experience either in discussions and lectures I felt like I have always been “recalling,” which now seem to me almost like monumentalizing it: disconnecting it from the present.

?: “The use of iteration suggests that every action is an interpretation, that every repetition adds meaning.” – Repetition seems to me as contradictory to the fact that every time new meanings are added. Can we say that every performance in repertories are repetitions?


!: “Son fathers parent(s); pre- is heir to post-; and “proper” gender identification and “appropriate” object choices are secured backward – a “retroaction of objects lost and subjects founded” – This sentence reminds me of the word “modern tradition” in the last reading. Also, in my definition for revolution, a key perspective is that we are determining what counts as revolution after everything has already happened: we are looking at the past from the present, a retroaction that works against the flow of time.

?: “the scandal of performance relative to the archive is not that it disappears (this is what the archive expects) but that it both ‘becomes itself through disappearance’ (as Phelan writes) and that it remains.” – Schneider has been discussing a comparison between performance and archive, but isn’t archiving also an act of performance?

Unit 4 post

The panels I chose depicts the march for “Operation Open City” that calls for fair employment. The reason I chose this panel is because it offers a different perspective of the story. Instead of the opposition between the black and white, this time there is conflict within the white population. If the white and black communities were incommensurable in the beginning, if the situation was truly of “ballot or bullet,” one or the other, the sense of understanding that is achieving here through the peaceful marches are revolutionary.

The frames in which a white supporter got sprayed with black paint particularly caught my eyes. The body, or the skin color marks a sign of difference, or epidermalization of inferiority. This is a process of alienation and dehumanization, because such harassment takes away the body of the men and only left the skin behind. It was also worth pondering how on this page, only the last two panels have black background that matches the color of the spray. The contrast between the dark skin and background and the color of the eyes gives me a sense of anger, but also firmness, which matches the words in the bottom “I deeply believe that our discipline paved the road to our success,” as if the belief is so deep and firm that it is not necessary to put it under the spotlight. The man’s reply is also a seemingly subtle, “thank you.” For me, it is precisely this subtle reply that is so strong a silent and peaceful protest that the thugs would have nothing to reply, and that is power. Instead of “dramatizing the situation” like the non-violent protest lead by Gandhi, I felt like this reply takes away the drama, but put forward the toughness, tenacity and power that forces the whites to stop their thoughtlessness.

Commentary on Human Flow by Sarah Zhang

A reflection on Human Flow by Ai Weiwei

The film Human Flow is probably one of the very few times when I felt that my Chinese identity is connected to humanity class. It is interesting how Ai Weiwei’s past experience during the Chinese Cultural Revolution allowed him to establish his connection with the refugees. When Ai Weiwei was exchanging his passport with a Syrian called Mahmoud. This reminds me of the Make Your Own Passport event that artist Tintin Wulia did on campus. The Chinese passport wasn’t high in ranking in terms of the power Chinese citizenship has, but still I, holding onto a Chinese passport, have the privilege. I enjoy the rights, guaranteed by my Chinese citizenship, and the protection my country provides. But for the refugees, their citizenship is what prevents them from having the basic human rights, that objectifies them into something that fa be forgotten by the outside world, and it is their people in their country that practiced in all the violence. It is just ironic, citizenship in one place would mean sanctuary and on the other side of the world would mean hell. I cannot imagine myself being able to live through the helplessness and hopelessness that these people are experiencing.

            Another part in the film that shocked me is when the EU decided that they can return people to Turkey with a promise of 6-million-euro financial aid to support the government’s projects for refugees. The refugees had only two choices: they can either go back voluntarily or the police will arrest them. The next scene showed police forcing refugees through borders with force, and man crying behind the huge sign “Respect” and “EU, don’t send us back to hell.” This reminds me of how the international community reacted to what happened in Rwanda: people refused to admit that genocide happened, they forgot about the suffering they see, as mentioned by Sontag, and they don’t want to hear about it anymore, simply for the sake of economic and political benefits. I was confused, where is the place of humanity before profits? I understand that for countries like Lebanm, their social structure is incapable of handling a huge influx of refugees with no jobs. But what about the first world countries in EU? I understand that taking in refugees would mean a loss of resources for citizens in EU, but how much of a different do they think 6 million euro can make when there are millions of refugees fleeing their homes? For me, the money is nothing but a justification for active forgetting. It is an act of irresponsibility, actively distancing from what is happening, actively ignoring the fact that it was people suffering, actively dehumanizing these people. It is not fair, just because they are born in another country doesn’t give us a reason to take away their rights and their identities. But the question remains, what can we do? What can a nation do? This brings me back to a conversation I had with a hum fellow after sections. Essentially all of this will come down to individual actions. What are things that we can do?

            It is also ironic, they we are learning about things happened in the past, analyzing how people are justifying themselves for “wrong” acts. But how can we apply the lessons we learnt to what is happening right now, and what can happen in the future? Discrimination, inequality, and everything we know only too well should be reduced is still prevalent, why is that? Or another way to put it, do we actually care about these things, as long as we are not the victims?

Commentary on Crossing Border by Sarah Zhang

During the opening reception for Crossing Border, I had a chance to talk with the artists Jagath Weerasinghe from Siri Lanka about his work Drawing on Butcher Paper. The work inspired me for a reflection on the self and the act of violence.

Weerasinghe’s work in this exhibition presents a border between presence and the inner self, an introspection on the breakdown of moral and ethical conflicts as well as the integrity of a human being. His first reflection on crossing the border comes from his experience at security checkpoints. At these checkpoints, Weerasinghe said he felt “being defined,” “people see you as a potential terrorist because you are from Sri Lanka.” This is reflected by the dozen backpacks that has to be taken off and left at the border, which represent a dehumanizing process since people are being reduced to a single identity categorized by the degree of danger assigned to their possession. But the backpacks have a more immediate connection with Weerasinghe. During the suicidal bomb attack in Siri Lanka on April 21th, 2019, the terrorists carried black backpacks into the hotels and churches. The black backpacks are what we see, their black color and the bold strokes depict the fear towards the unknown, the suspicion among the society, the insecurity among the people, presented in a two-dimensional manner as if it was in the mind rather than in reality. But ironically, under the veil of fear, suspicion, and insecurity, are things as banal as papers and brushes. During the civil war in Sri Lanka, and in fact in any social unrest, such fear aroused by violence is what deprives people of their ability to see what is truly inside.

What is particularly interesting is the artist’s choice of material, the butcher paper. “Such a brutal name for a delicate piece of plain paper,” Weerasinghe exclaimed a few times. The semi-transparent paper not only blurs the color under it, but also the notion of its presence, and makes it even more ambiguous the state of presence. This invites the viewer to seek their own identity, to find inner integrity. But the blurred color patches are distributed as if in pieces also represents a sense of losing the integrity. The black decoration on the right hand of the central figure is a tattoo, symbolizing moral savages, an outsider, an other who has not been contaminated by civilization, and thus the central figure represents the innate nature of human beings. However, the fact that the figure doesn’t have a face, resembles the violence of reducing and objectifying people at borders and the loss of integrity. Pieces of round butcher paper surrounding the figure compose together a semi-circle with the end dripping down. The circle can be seen as holding the “integrity” and keeping the inner self in place. 6 pieces of limbs are placed next to the central figure. There is a religious representation here with a pair of hands holding together as if worshiping; the feet staying close to each other and the open hand on each side resemble the body position of crucifixion. Moreover, the limbs are depicted from the first-person perspective, like looking at one’s own hands and feet. This visualizes the border between external and internal self, confronting the body as an other in front of your own consciousness, consequently stripping away the “body” where our consciousness hides and the innocence that people put on as an excuse for thoughtless processes. This can be seen as an accusation Weerasinghe puts towards any form of thoughtlessness and conscious forgetting among the Buddhists in Sri Lanka who provokes justification into violence, being caught up in the moment, couldn’t cross the border to ponder on the consequence and essential reason for such action.

Unit 4 post 1- Sarah Zhang

Wells and Terrell are both black female activists in movements for equality, championed racial equality and women’s suffrage. Both authors are born with a close connection to slavery (Terrell was the daughter of a former slave while Wells was born into slavery and became politically active after war). Terrell later joined Wells in her anti-lynching campaign, after both authors lost one of their friends due to lynching.

In the reading material “What It Means to be Colored in the Capital of the United States,” Terrell condemned the discriminations towards African Americans in the society that is penetrated by Jim Crow laws. Having received high education (graduated with Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Oberlin college), she knew the importance of education but saw the helplessness and the hopelessness facing the insurmountable obstacles that prevents people of color to pursue what they deserve. The obstacles lead to the “lack of incentive to effort.”

For Ida B Wells, she found it ironic that the people were blinded from the questions, raised from morally-corrupted lynching, that vilify the country, and its people, as a whole. First, the economic cost paid in indemnities for lynching mounted to a half million dollars. Second, the Anglo-Saxon civilization, who knew the teachings of Christianity, had fallen to the point where it is incapable of protecting its women. The third point, which can find resonance in Terrell’s speech as well, is the huge “chasm between the principles upon which this Government was founded, in which it still professes to believe,” and the actual daily practice carried out “under the protection of this flag.” It is ironic, that the country had been active in claiming to right the wrongs but in reality was perpetuating the wrongs.

Unit 3 Assignment 3 by Sarah Zhang

Both Sontag and Gourevitch approached human tragic from the perspective of people born with the privilege of witnessing such tragic as a bystander. They both talked about how people with such privilege are not in direct relationship to those who suffer. They don’t necessarily care about them. The commercial value, the benefits they could profit from such crises matter more. Sontag mentioned the idea of “self-censorship” in media, which describes how government authorities actively look away from the suffering for the political and social benefit of that “victorious” power. And this “self-censorship” isn’t only evident in media: one example is the fact that “Washington didn’t want to act. So Washington pretended that it wasn’t genocide.” The international community is actively looking away, knowing what is happening, but at the same time doesn’t want to face the moral challenges it poses in front of us. Another idea mentioned in Sontag is the identification between camera and gun, between “shooting” a subject and shooting a human being. “The scale of war’s murderousness destroys what identifies people as individuals, even as human beings.” This bring to my mind the institutional identity mentioned in Prof. Tamura’s lecture. The distance offered to the viewer by the photograph, as well as the distance that international community feel about the issue of Rwanda, under such a huge picture, allows each small individual to be reduced to their institutional identity. Another connection that can be made is that both authors looked at these issues with a perspective similar to that of Hannah Arendt before Eichmann’s trial. Both authors believed that these killers were evil in nature. “It’s easier to think of the enemy as just a savage who kills”, who is monstrous in nature. This is also evident in that the Rwanda catastrophe is widely understood merely as “a natural disaster”. 

Make Your Own Passport Reflection by Sarah Zhang

This event gave me a chance to reflect on how citizenship has been acting as a border that is not determined by those bearing such identification cards. Choosing our citizenship from a blind lucky draw reminds me of how, citizenship shouldn’t be viewed as a privilege because one is being born with such identity only out of luck. From stories of those being stateless, how they are stuck in one country and could never return home, and how their innocent children will have to live with being an “invisible” since their birth is unfair. Not being a citizen means that these people most at need are not given a voice, they do not have the right to influence their position in the socio-political system.

Post on Being Human: Disciplinary Reflection by Sarah Zhang

On October 8th, I attended the lecture titled “Being Human: Disciplinary Reflections” presented by Dr. Gouri Suresh in the economics department. Throughout the whole lecture, I was constantly haunted by how my knowledge from the Humanities classes could be applied to the economics as well.

First, the lecturer distinguished between Homo Economics and Homo Sapiens, stressing on the irrational nature of human being. The fact that people are irrational and independent makes it extremely hard to come up with a single model that concludes all human behavior. But, just as the professor mentioned, when the economists were building a model, they assume that all human beings are the same. And this reminds me of what Prof. Quillen talked in unit 1 about the danger of prescribing a generalized universal truth that easily exclude and eliminate diversity. What is the danger of using a single model to conclude all human’s behavior? One thing that the Dr. Gouri Suresh pointed out is that when we actually apply the model for a practical purpose, people are very likely to change their behavior. And now the model cannot be used to explain behavior, but this again doesn’t prove the model wrong, because there are other possible factors, for example psychological ones, responsible for change in behavior. This is in fact, a form of secondary elaboration because you are using a conclusion based on observation to explain observation, and you can easily find an excuse for the failure of the conclusion to predict by saying that the premise of such prediction simply doesn’t match observation. This circular thinking makes it impossible to prove something wrong nor prove it right.

Another concept mentioned is the “As-if” economics, which reminds me of pragmaticism in that it doesn’t focus on how “realistic” the model is, as long as the model can provide good predictions. A consequence of this, mentioned by Dr. Gouri Suresh, is that economists then ignore the assumptions and the flaws but focus on empirical results, and publish these results anyway (if flaws exists, the function of the result would be to prove the flaws). Moreover, the “As-if” statement, being circular and unmeasurable is also a form of secondary elaboration in that it adds new parameters to fit the outcome of the research instead of offering explanation. What is the consequence if the science industry, or all disciplines, adopts pragmaticism? If the transition from classical economics, that answer the big questions, to behavior economics, that focus on smaller individual questions, is also a form of paradigm shift, why are we still running in circle? How are we trapped in our secondary elaborations?

An interesting statement Dr. Gouri Suresh gave is that we should give everyone in the public sphere quantitative training to be able to see the flaws and what can be best applied. One thing that I mentioned in sections is that, we are increasingly looking at the world from a quantitative view, concretizing everything into numbers, interpreting everything in a way that minimizes the influence of subjective opinion. Is this really helping? The idea of “what can be best applied” is just the same as what pragmatists describe as “useful”, but can a quantitated world actually best serve us? Are numbers bringing us closer to the truth?