Dorothy M Figueira is a distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature at The University of Georgia now. She has served most of the leading universities in the world as professor and visiting fellow. She came to the Central University of Kerala for an international conference on “Dissent in Subcontinental Literatures and Cultures” recently in mid-October 2012. She presented a paper on the historic struggles of the excluded in India against the lasting internal empire of caste and Brahmanism. The iconic counter articulations of resistance and dissent by the sun of Indian enlightenment; Boddhisatva Babasaheb Dr B R Ambedkar was effectively textualized and theoretically contextualized by Prof Figueira here against the backdrop of genocidal and symbolic violence from the hegemonic elites.
Dorothy’s paper titled “Bhimayana: One Ramayana Among Many” was a truly illuminating and educating experience for the whole delegates, academics and scholars at the conference gathered at Kasaragod from the farther regions of the world. She made the conference a meaningful and counter hegemonic event. Her paper and deliberations stand apart in the flurry of traditional and “balanced” scholarship that still verbalize cultural elitism and Brahmanical hegemony in India. Prof Figueira’s epistemological attempt is simply subversive and radically empowering the subaltern as her latest works.
She explicated the new visual narratives by tribal artists on the life and legacies of Ambedkar. She has elaborated the politics of genocidal violence and symbolic violence that stereotype and reduce humans into mere apes and beasts in the Hindu Sanskrit epics of the Ramayana and the Mahabharatha. The resisting and questioning south Indians and Buddhists in particular were termed as monkeys and demons by the Aryan Rishis says Figueira. She also explained the importance of Jain and Buddhist versions of the epics to expose the subversion and cultural difference involved. She democratically placed the Ambedkarite struggles as the real counter hgemonic politics in India emerging from the bottom and grass roots.
It is no wonder that the word figueira is the Portuguese for the fig tree. The Boddhi tree is there in her very name. So is the spirit of enlightenment and compassion in her persona and texts. When I accidentally chanced upon her after the conference she talked to me on her interest in and identification with the dalitbahujans in India. She is a woman of Spanish origin now treading the south Asian shores in search of new voices of dissent and resistance. She believes in the power of letters that can change and in the alterity of pedagogy.
I consider it a privilege to present a paper in a conference that was honoured by the presence and articulations of Prof Figueira. I salute this woman, a truly enlightened organic intellectual from the west, a proper boddhisatva from the land of liberty.
Dorothy Figueira’s Profile from University of Georgia webpage
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Dorothy Figueira holds graduate degrees in the history of religion and theology from Paris and Harvard and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in Comparative Literature. Her scholarly interests include religion and literature, translation theory, exoticism, myth theory, and travel narratives. She is the author of Translating the Orient (1991), The Exotic: A Decadent Quest (1994) and Aryans, Jews and Brahmins (2002) ,and Otherwise Occupied: Theories and Pedagogies of Alterity (2008). She edited of La Production de l’Autre (1999), Cybernetic Ghosts (2004) and co-edited (with Marc Maufort) Theatres in the Round: Multi-Ethnic, Indigenous, and Intertextual Dialogues in Drama (2011). She has served as the Editor of The Comparatist (2008-2011) and is currently editor of Recherche litteraire/Literary Research. She has written numerous scholarly articles and presented many academic papers. She is an Honorary President of the International Comparative Literature Association, and has served in the past on the boards of the American Comparative Literature Association and the Southern Comparative Literature Association. She has held fellowships from the American Institute for Indian Studies, Fulbright Foundation and the NEH. She has been a Visiting Professor at the University Lille (France), Jadavpur University (Kolkata, India), Indira Gandhi Open University in New Delhi.