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Visiting Scholar Presents Method for Engaging “Rhetorics of the Other”

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A noted scholar of English and cultural studies capped his visiting professorship at St. John’s this spring with a public lecture that introduced a new analytical method he developed to better understand literary works from diverse eras and cultures—the “rhetorics of the other.”

The scholar, LuMing Mao, Ph.D., is the 2016 Peter P. and Margaret A. D’Angelo Endowed Chair in the Humanities. As a member of the English faculty in St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences this semester, he has lectured at the Staten Island and Queens campuses in addition to teaching courses for undergraduate and graduate students.

Mao delivered his final public lecture—“The Art of Recontextualization: Engaging the Rhetorics of the Other”—at the Queens campus on April 21. He discussed the mistakes scholars often make when examining texts written within different cultural, political, and philosophical “frameworks.” And he offered a means of “representing the rhetorics of the other,” the subject of his upcoming book.

An “Ethical Responsibility”
Illustrating the need to understand a text on its own terms, Mao began the lecture with an ancient Chinese tale about a carpenter and an oak tree. Scholars who analyze narratives like these, he said, have an “ethical responsibility to speak with, rather than for, the other”— communities unlike one’s own. Yet they often make a number of errors: generalizing texts according to Western “norms”; taking a “piecemeal approach” that ignores cultural contexts; or overcompensating for mistakes by exaggerating or minimizing a text’s “otherness.”

Mao’s “art of recontextualization” aims to avoid these pitfalls. The method enjoins scholars to consider “the local and the global, the present and the past, the importantly present and the merely present or available, and the imperative to speak with the other,” keeping in mind the “fraught process and consequences” the effort may involve.

In addition to serving as this semester’s D’Angelo Chair, Mao, a prolific author, chairs the English Department at Miami University, Ohio, where he is a Professor of English and Asian/Asian-American Studies

“The D’Angelo Chair reflects the remarkable generosity of Peter and Margaret D’Angelo and St. John’s enduring commitment to the humanities,” noted Robert Mangione, Ed.D., R.Ph., Provost. “By providing our students and faculty with access to leading scholars like Dr. Mao, the D’Angelo Chair and Lecture greatly strengthen the intellectual environment on our campus.”

A Dynamic Scholarly Environment
Mao thanked the D’Angelos for “their generosity, their civic leadership, and their amazing support of the humanities, all of which have made my semester at St. John’s possible.” He also expressed appreciation to his students: “It has been an absolute joy,” he said, “to teach them, to mentor them, and in fact often to build and grow ideas together with them.”

For English students, Mao’s visit—like the D’Angelo Chair itself—reflects St. John’s emphasis on outstanding scholarship. “It’s so important to expose students to scholars of this caliber,” noted Vickie Masseus ’18Ph.D. “It’s clear that St. John’s appreciates the value of an intellectually stimulating environment.”