Fresh Faculty: Paul Schroeder Rodriguez
Issue   |   Wed, 11/02/2016 - 01:25

Professor Paul Schroeder Rodriguez received his B.S. in psychology from Georgetown University, M.A. in Spanish from Arizona State University and PhD in Spanish at Stanford University. His academic and research interests are in Latin American cinema and Hispanic literature.

Q: What was your childhood like?
A: I grew up in Puerto Rico and came of age in the 1980s. At home, we spoke both English and Spanish. What happened was that my dad and mom could only talk to each other in English, because he was German and didn’t know much Spanish and she was Puerto Rican and didn’t know much German, but they both knew English. I was the third of five kids. Like most people in high school who know they’re going to go to college, I had an idea of college as a pre-professional school, so I thought I was going to be a doctor. I went to school as pre-med, and I quickly changed that and started psychology as an undergraduate. My love was always literature and philosophy. And actually, the reason I majored in psychology was because in that department, there was a professor who specialized in the history of psychology. I took all of his courses and I learned about how the mind was conceived throughout several centuries, and that’s really more of a philosophical inquiry than a psychological one. That’s how I got to love philosophy so much. And I loved literature just because I loved reading. After college, and after working for a few years, I decided to go back to school. I was trying to figure out which of these two I would study as my field, and I opted for literature because I thought that I could continue to study philosophy through literature, but not the other way around. Eventually I got my PhD in Spanish literary studies, but my dissertation was in film studies. I’m interested in the philosophy of cinema, how film as a medium generates meaning that’s distinct from literary meaning, but that nevertheless shares narratives.

Q: What’s your academic interest?
A: My field of research is Latin American cinema. For many years, I’ve taught this class and for many years there’s never been a book that would serve as an introduction to this field. For the past 10 years I’ve worked on a book with this purpose. I’ve finished the project and the book was just published in March. It’s gotten a really good reception, which I’m very proud of and happy about. For this particular project, I wanted to combine a study of specific films I thought were key in studying the evolution of Latin America. That means looking closely at the narrative, but also looking closely at the aesthetics and then putting that within a framework that is more discourse analysis. I tried to identify the major discursive threads throughout the century in Latin American cinema and I found three major ones, which are socialism, liberalism and corporatism ... I look at how these discourses get represented through narratives of individuals.

Q: What research are you currently working on?
A: I have two projects. One is a parallel book, but focused on the documentary in Latin America as opposed to narrative cinema. The other one is related to the class on the baroque, which is an inquiry as to how exactly the baroque in Latin America helped crystallize a new identity — that being a Latin American identity.

Q: How did you get interested in film?
A: There was a moment for me. My first year as a grad student, the chair of the department said that someone should do a film series. I said that I would do it, so I started watching a lot of films to choose which ones. We watched these films, they were very informal affairs and afterwards we would go to a bar and have drinks and discuss the films. It was a very different experience from reading, which is a much more individual experience ... It was much more organic than everybody reading a book or a poem or a story on their own and then meeting and talking about it after a week. Growing up in Puerto Rico, or growing up anywhere in Latin America, you don’t see many Latin American films. What you see are Hollywood films — that’s what gets distributed, that’s what’s on the screens. This was an education for me — seeing, not just reading, representations of Latin Americans a lot of times that felt very close to my own experience as a Puerto Rican and at other times very different from that experience.

Q: What brought you to Amherst?
A: The only thing that was holding me back from applying to Amherst was that it’s not in a city. But I applied and I was extremely lucky that I had the opportunity to come here ... The people are incredibly nice. When I read about the college and how diverse it is and how the administration is intentionally diversifying ... the student body to reflect the diversity of the country, that spoke directly to me. I came in as a senior professor with the idea that I could help transform the department in positive ways and that’s a challenge that I really liked and am already enjoying doing.

Q: What goals do you have for the department?
A: I would say that the department has a potential it has not yet realized. I want to help the department reach that potential, academically and in its involvement with the college to be better aligned with the ideals of the college and the needs of our majors. More concretely, the department has been focused historically more on Spain, and me being a Latin Americanist, one of the things I hope to bring is that perspective. It’s not that it has been lacking because there is another Latin American professor in the department, but that one person is not enough. It goes all the way up to the literature and culture courses which have historically been focused on Spain. It’s not that we’re going to stop teaching Spain, it’s that we’re going to balance it more with Latin America and U.S. Latino literature and culture. We’re trying to get approval for a search for a U.S. Latino literature scholar. I hope we succeed, and I’m going to be directly and fully involved in that search.

Q: What classes are you teaching this semester and what classes do you hope to teach in the future?
A: I’m teaching one on the Intro to Hispanic Literature, which is a gateway course to the major, and I’m also teaching a course on Latin American cinema. Next semester I’ll be teaching one class on the Caribbean and another class on the Latin American baroque, which are the 17th and 18th centuries.

Q: What do you like doing in your free time?
A: I love spending time with my wife and daughter. That’s what I look forward to every day after school.

Q: What is your favorite film?
A: I have many, of course, but many people have asked me that, and I’ve thought about that question more and more. I would say that it’s “Frida, Naturaleza Viva.” It’s a biopic on Frida Kahlo by the Mexican filmmaker Paul Leduc. There will actually be a screening of it on Nov. 9 in Stirn Auditorium.