Postdoctoral Fellow Adhira Mangalagiri: Navigating Transnational Thoughts Through Literature

In 2021, Dr. Adhira Mangalagiri, Lecturer in Comparative Literature at Queen Mary University of London, embarked on a new phase of her research journey by joining NYU Shanghai’s Center for Global Asia (CGA) as a Postdoctoral Fellow. CGA promotes the study of Asian interactions and comparisons and encourages the examination of Asia’s connections with the wider world, which echoes Mangalagiri’s research specialization in Chinese and Hindi/Urdu literatures to a large extent. 

After finishing her one-year fellowship, Mangalagiri has returned to Queen Mary, continuing her research, writing and teaching career. Recently she shared her experience and learnings from this NYU Shanghai journey. 

What attracted you to come to NYU Shanghai and particularly the Center for Global Asia for your postdoctoral research? 

CGA has great appeal to me. In addition to its focus on Asia’s connectedness with the wider world, CGA has significantly contributed to the growth and development of intra-Asian research. Over the past years, CGA has served as an important hub in intra-Asian studies. 

CGA especially facilitates research in Asia and has forged close relationships to academic spheres across China, India, and other parts of Asia. NYU Shanghai proved the ideal base from which to explore such connections, which are all the more urgent given the growing distance between the Chinese and Anglo-American academic worlds. 

Could you share with us how the resources and environment provided by the CGA at NYU Shanghai facilitate your research and study? 

During my fellowship, I greatly benefited from participating in CGA’s program of talks and seminars, which brought leading scholars to NYU Shanghai to discuss their recent projects and publications. I’ve also been able to connect with colleagues in my field and Ph.D. students based in China, which allowed me to gain an understanding of recent developments in Chinese academia. Meanwhile, I also got the chance to exchange ideas with the wider community at NYU Shanghai. These connections undoubtedly enriched my research. 

Director of the Center for Global Asia, Professor of History Tansen Sen was my faculty advisor at NYU Shanghai. During the one year in Shanghai, I brought my first book to completion, and Tansen has offered invaluable support and mentorship throughout the process. Our conversations and collaborations have continued even after my fellowship here. We’ve recently brought a co-edited project to completion (a special issue of the International Journal of Asian Studies on “Methods in China-India Studies,” the introduction of which is available via Open Access) and are beginning new projects.  

What first drew you to dig into Chinese and Hindi/Urdu literatures? Why did you choose Comparative Literature as your field of study? 

Reading the literatures of China and India together can teach us so much about how to think across national borders and how to navigate the forms of conceptual insularity that can impede transnational thought. My research studies and extends the long intellectual history of pairing ideas of China and India together. My interest in this history stems from my own experiences of growing up in both China and India. 

Comparative Literature brings together two values that drive my teaching and research. First, I strongly believe in the importance of literature and literary criticism. Universities and funding bodies often require scholars in literary studies to state the value of their work in terms of various rubrics of instrumentality. For me, the importance of literary scholarship lies in its ability to articulate its importance precisely by interrogating the very ideas of “value” and “usefulness” that literary work is so often subject to. Second, Comparative Literature brings multilingual practice to the fore. Beyond the ability to conduct research in multiple languages and literary traditions, multilingualism also demands an attentiveness to different cultures and ways of being in the world.

Could you talk about your current research interests and recent projects? 

My first book, States of Disconnect: The China-India Literary Relation in the Twentieth Century (Columbia UP, 2023), takes on a conceptual challenge currently facing Comparative Literature, namely, the inability of the discipline’s globalized habits of thought to fully apprehend the growing national insularity of our current world. How can comparison attend to the failures of global visions of a happily interconnected world 

and, at the same time, confront the narrow and exclusionary idiom of present-day national belonging? States of Disconnect takes up this question through the case of China-India comparison. 

I am also currently working on a second project that studies literary experiments with time in trans-Asian literatures, from early twentieth-century modernist explorations of non-linear, fragmented temporalities, to contemporary ecocritical writings on foreclosed and inaccessible futures.

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