Office Hours: Marijeta Bozovic

There are big city people and small town folks. Marijeta Bo-zovic is a big city person. You feel it when talking to her in the Barge Canal Coffee Company as she grades papers in the front window. Her ebullience mirrors the cities she’s lived in – Belgrade, where she was born, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Boston, Moscow and Brooklyn. She’s often gone on weekends to reunite with these sorts of places for symposiums. In January, she flew out to New Zea-land for a Vladimir Nabokov con-ference, hitting the beaches to surf in the off time.

City life permeates even Bo-zovic’s understanding of aca-demia. As all things are insepa-rable and squeezed together in the city, so are the issues in aca-demia inseparable from real life. The line between student and professor is thin for Bozovic. She asks students to call her by her first name and wishes that faculty interacted more with them in informal settings.

“What I’d like to see more of,” she said, “is all kinds of collabora-tion, interdisciplinary interactions and really joint projects between students, faculty, staff. I would like to break down some of the perceived barriers between the kind of education and discussions we have in the classroom and our understanding of current events. So it’s really important to me that when we are discussing, say, Rus-sian literature, Russian culture, it’s not just abstract ‘Oh, here’s the nineteenth-century Russian novel or the twentieth-century texts or films that are at a safe distance and removed from us.'”

She frequently organizes din-ners and off-campus film screen-ings for her students where issues from class are discussed organi-cally alongside current politics and contemporary culture.

“You can’t help but talk about the current elections in Russia and Putin’s reelection,” she said as an example. “In that context, we’re talking both inside of class and outside of it, about, for example, the Occupy movement in Mos-cow…it’s really important to me that we’re not just studying an-other culture safely in a Petri dish, that we’re not saying ‘Oh, the Rus-sian political system is completely crazy and totalitarian and sup-pressing people’s voices where we are safely something else, where we are safe in our wonderful aca-demic world and can just poke at the subject we study.'”

The classroom is a self-reflex-ive space for Bozovic. Professors should do two things – teach in their fields but also relate those fields to students’ lives.

“It’s always really important to me to try and prompt students to think about whether there are paral-lels between what we’ve just looked at, what we’ve just read and our own experience,” Bozovic said. “We talk about censorship, but then I try to bring up questions about how free is cultural production given the re-strictions of commercialism and market issues.”

“I was really excited,” she said, “to see interaction between stu-dents and faculty and members of the community around the Occu-py Hamilton issue. I thought it was really great and exciting that I was having conversations with people about what could be done locally, that students and faculty were go-ing down to New York to occupy and that that translated really beau-tifully in my own classroom in dis-cussions of the protest movements in Moscow before the elections.”

Bozovic will return to Moscow this summer, where she studied a year before going to graduate school at Columbia University. She will be coupling archival re-search with visits to contempo-rary art galleries. It gives her an excuse, she says, to travel to her favorite capitals and spend time observing great art and reading great literature.

Her trip this summer is part of another project, a book on Vladi-mir Nabokov, which she says will be “much more contemporary and avant-garde and more with visual arts – film, video art and other media. I’m really interested in the question of media trans-lation and transposition, how things work in one media and not in another.”

But it’s small town life un-til then, which for Bozovic isn’t actually all that dreary.

“For me,” Bozovic said, “mov-ing to Hamilton was absolutely the most exotic thing. I’m totally comfortable in big cities in much of the world but a small Ameri-can village is more exotic to me than Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.”

Contact Thomas Hedges at t[email protected].