GW English Alums on the Move: Dan Rudmann

GW English Grad Dan Rudmann:  “My not-so-secret goal is to assist in aligning the Mahābhārata with more university literature departments, in the same way that we work on Beowulf or Grettir’s Saga.”

Dan Rudmann (BA ’05)
Photo Credit: Tamara Becerra Valdez
We caught up with Dan between his graduate study in Sanskrit and his work on his vinyl start-up, Punctum Records:

1.  When did you graduate from GW?  Were you an English major only, or did you have a combined major?
I earned my BA from GW in 2005 with a double major in English and Religion. After a year away to teach English at a boarding school, I returned to GW for a master’s degree in Religion with a focus on the literary traditions of Hinduism and Islam.

2.  Were there teachers in the department who had a particular impact on you?  If so, who?  Why?

Truthfully, all of the teachers at GW English are exemplars for me in their approach to scholarship and pedagogy, and in the way that they develop a strong community at the department. Ormond Seavey taught me that an academic is distinguished not only by their work, but also by their capacity for kindness. Ann Romines showed me that focused study is not restricting. Robert McRuer is responsible for my love of critical theory. Working on my PhD, I’m astounded when I encounter people who dislike theory — those folks were certainly not introduced to it by Professor McRuer. 
It is probably Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s fault that I have the desire to be an academic. He completely realigned my conception of a scholar by embodying the profession as primarily creative and explorative, and remains a great friend and mentor to this day. I should also add that I have had the opportunity since my graduation to get to know, and be inspired by, members of the department from whom I did not take courses or who have more recently joined the department: Holly Dugan, Daniel DeWispelare, Jonathan Hsy, among others. The same goes for the department’s incredibly brilliant graduate students. This is all to say that the impact of and connection to GW English can thankfully extend far beyond graduation.

3.  Why did you decide to be an English major?  How has the intellectual background you got from that major affected your life?

I came to GW to study International Affairs, but switched majors midway through Jeffrey Cohen’s Medieval Literature course in the fall of my sophomore year. The decision was also influenced by a freshmen year pre-requisite literature course, taught by a graduate student. The type of perspective that these courses engendered, or perhaps more accurately the tools they provided that allowed me to develop my own outlook, imposed my agency within my education for the first time. Becoming an English major was as much an opportunity to learn about myself as the texts.
My PhD work is based upon my education at GW, so the English department is indelible. More broadly, however, upon learning how to conduct close readings or interrogate language, it becomes second nature to apply that mindset to everyday situations. I am not sure that I can hold a conversation or walk down the street without utilizing my English major. 

4.  Tell us about your graduate school, and about the focus of your studies.  How did you get there from a background in English?

I am currently working to complete my PhD in Sanskrit epic literature at The University of Texas at Austin. I apply the theoretical framework and processes of analysis that we learn in the English department to this form of literature. My dissertation focuses on translation theory and genre with regard to the Mahābhārata, an epic poem written around the start of the common era. This course of study is directly inspired by and builds from the work of my mentor Alf Hiltebeitel at GW’s Religion department.
I am part of The Department of Asian Studies at UT, where I gained proficiency in Sanskrit and am able to navigate through different disciplines with a geographic anchor. The core of my work is the study of literature, and I particularly enjoy literature that has religious significance, so this path allows me to make my work relevant and (hopefully) interesting to a variety of scholars and students. My not-so-secret goal is to assist in aligning the Mahābhārata with more university literature departments, in the same way that we work on Beowulf or Grettir’s Saga. 

5.  I know you also have a strong interest in music, and that you’ve been involved in that field as well.  Tell us a little about that.

Austin has a tremendous and unique community around music, and I have been a part of it in different ways: playing in bands, helping to organize shows, all sorts of support roles. In the last few years, my academic work extended to editing and publishing through the open-access press punctum books. I started to think about the ways in which my growing understanding of book publishing might extend to the publication of music. Just last year, I started Punctum Records, which focuses on creating vinyl records and also connects musicians, experimental artists, and theorists in Austin and other parts of the world. 
Now, I am in the process of opening a space in East Austin for Punctum Records and punctum books, as well as a number of other Austin-based organizations. We will be a site for creative and scholarly production, hold music events, readings and lectures, as well as sell books and records in the hopes of better supporting the members of organization. We are running a crowd funding campaign to assist with the building renovation, so everyone can take part. [GW English: You can check out the crowd funding campaign here.]

6.  Once you’ve finished your graduate studies, would you like to teach?  What do you see yourself doing in a few years?

I entered graduate school with the sole intention of becoming a university professor and it remains a goal that I work to fulfill. Working with students in a classroom sustained me through most of graduate school — I would love to continue to teach. But the academic landscape has changed dramatically over the past few years. Recent PhDs are having an exceedingly difficult time finding sustainable employment at an institution. So I don’t know that I am in a position to speculate, unfortunately. I do see my best opportunity in developing a career for myself through maintaining diverse interests. Rather than climb along a more directed path, we might be in a time where we can build something wholly new out of many different fragments. I am optimistic about this new structure. 

7.  Do you have any thoughts or advice about majoring in English for current GW students who read this blog?

The most important thing that a major can do in the English department is participate. This is a place that fosters collaboration and a welcoming attitude toward different outlooks. Take advantage of those guest lectures, diverse course offerings, and events that bring everyone together. The more that you add your own voice to the conversation, allow your experiences to inform your approach and work, the better for everyone. 

Thanks so much, Dan!  GW Alums: share your stories and success with us — contact Professor Margaret Soltan, Alumni Liaison for GW English, here.

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