5/27 Hanna Pickwell

PhD Candidate, Anthropology

A flavor of human feeling: Affectivities of outmoded things in Beijing

Time: Friday, May 27, 3-5pm CT

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Abstract: Old furniture, toys, décor, and electronics no longer have a use or fit the aesthetic regime of today’s Beijing, and yet my interlocutors – senior citizens in Beijing’s old city – are not planning to dispose of them. These old everyday things, between possession and junk, accumulate in physically liminal spaces around their people’s homes – in corners, stairwells, and courtyards and evoke ambiguous feelings. Aging residents of one Beijing neighborhood have donated many such objects to a community center, where things that were once adjacent to junk became a collection that is essential to the center’s warm atmosphere and has wide appeal beyond the neighborhood. This chapter takes up the question: to what extent, and in what ways, did the materiality of the GLR and its collection shape the sociality that unfolded there? It argues that material things and spaces act as durable loci, anchors for the for the accretion of experiences and traces that can be activated through memory and imagination and experienced as atmosphere or, the emic term, “flavor.”

Presenter: Hanna Pickwell is a PhD candidate in the anthropology department at the University of Chicago. Her dissertation research focuses on the social efficacies and regimes of value of used commodities in China.

Discussant: Lilian Kong is a PhD student at the University of Chicago, enrolled in the East Asian Literature and Civilizations + Cinema and Media Studies joint program. She studies contemporary Chinese film and media, with research experience in healing media, media atmospheres, media ecology, and global vernacular. 

5/20 Jue Hou

PhD Candidate, Social Thought & Comparative Literature

“Tenkō and the Invention of the Quotidian Subject: Parapolitics and the I-Novel Form from Kobayashi Takiji to Nakano Shigeharu

Time: Friday, May 20, 3-5pm CT

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Friends and family assemble to mourn Kobayashi Takiji (1903-1933) after his death by torture at the hands of the Tokkō police.

Nakano Shigeharu (1902-1979) and family.

Abstract: This chapter probes the intersection between the I-novel (shishōsetsu) and Japan’s proletarian literature, especially at the latter’s moment of crisis during what was known as “tenkō,” or the (largely coerced) renunciation of the left by Japanese intellectuals in the 1930s. A turning point marked by intense political setbacks and ideological shifts, the turbulent decade witnessed an unexpected convergence between Japanese Marxism and the I-novel form, which the former had previously condemned for its preoccupation with quotidian life and, supposedly, disinterest in public politics. Tracing the shifting image of the “seikatsusha,” or the quotidian “agent of living,” from Kobayashi Takiji’s Tō seikatsusha (Life of a Party Member, 1933) to Nakano Shigeharu’s “Mura no ie” (“House in the Village”, 1935), I examine how Japan’s radically changing political conditions enabled and, indeed, necessitated alternative ways of thinking and acting through literature. Rather than merely a strategic “retreat” from overtly political themes, I argue, the I-novel form’s shift back-and-forth between personal interiority and public politics (or its increasing inaccessibility) makes possible new modes of resistance through constructing the parapolitical figure of the seikatsusha who inhabits a sphere of excess that defies inclusion in the realm of politics. Beginning with Kobayashi’s attempt to re-appropriate the “reactionary” I-novel by engaging the quotidian seikatsusha only to stage its radical erasure in the service of the revolutionary end, I then examine Nakano’s radically different approach to everyday life. This in effect signals a reorientation of the Japanese Marxist movement whose indulgence in its own theoretical integrity, as Yoshimoto Takaaki argues, had heretofore translated into failures to confront Japan’s ancien régime in the face at ground level. How does the rise of the I-novel, in the form of “tenkō literature,” shed light on this moment of sea change? How might one bring into dialogue the history of a literary form and that of political ruptures? What epistemological possibilities do the I-novel’s (para-)political quotidian subject open up for the Japanese left and for our own era? These are among the questions that I seek to address.

Presenter: Jue Hou is a joint degree PhD Candidate in Social Thought and Comparative Literature at the University of Chicago. His research focuses on East Asian and European literary modernisms and modernity. He is writing a dissertation on the “I-novel” and global confessional literature with a focus on the period between the late 1920s and the early postwar years.

Discussant: Danlin Zhang is a third-year PhD student in EALC. His research explores the entanglement between modern Japanese literature, Western science and imperialism. He is also interested in modern Japanese poetry and popular culture.

4/29 Anthony Stott

PhD Candidate, Comparative Literature and East Asian Languages and Civilizations

“The Theater of Kingship: Spatial Politics, Theatricality, and the Symbolic Universe of the Emperor System in the Cultural Anthropology of Yamaguchi Masao

Time: Friday, April 29, 3-5pm CT

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Left: Yamaguchi Masao’s caricature of himself as scholar-harlequin; right: Yamanote-sen event invitation

Abstract: The cultural anthropologist Yamaguchi Masao (1931–2013) has received no extended critical treatment of his work in English, despite his uniquely intense participation in transnational scholarly discourses and his importance for not just anthropology but contemporary theory in Japan. Reading across Yamaguchi’s largely untranslated Japanese and French writings from the 1970s and 1980s with an attention to his theorizations of kingship and theatricality, this essay embeds Yamaguchi’s critique of kingship historically and intellectually by situating it within contemporaneous debates around structuralisms, sovereignty, and the emperor system. It contends that considering Yamaguchi’s work on kingship together with theatricality reveals a bidirectional mechanism through which kingship consolidates its totality—or, in what Yamaguchi terms by way of Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann, its “symbolic universe.” In one direction, this mechanism allows kingship to cement its relation to the periphery on a symbolic level without tainting itself by the association; in the other, the periphery is made to identify with kingship and be hailed into its worldview despite the gap in their positionality. Yet for all their attention to such theatrical mechanisms and the mediating and liminal aspects of theatricality, Yamaguchi’s writings elide the embodied and aesthetic elements that produce theatrical performance’s medium specificity, with significant implications for not only Yamaguchi’s readings of specific plays (here, namely, the nō Semimaru) but also his excavations of kingship. Departing from this lacuna, the coda of this essay gestures toward how Yamaguchi’s work might contribute to more recent debates around sovereignty by way of Catherine Malabou’s reexamination of biopolitics.

Presenter: Anthony Stott is a PhD candidate in Comparative Literature and East Asian Languages and Civilizations. His dissertation considers interdisciplinary formations around two preeminent Japanese-language journals, Critical Space and Hermes, through the lens of critique and its limits. 

Discussant: Jue Hou is a joint degree PhD Candidate in Social Thought and Comparative Literature at the University of Chicago. His research focuses on East Asian and European literary modernisms and modernity. He is writing a dissertation on the “I-novel” and global confessional literature with a focus on the period between the late 1920s and the early postwar years.

4/15 Jiayi Chen

PhD Candidate, East Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago

Reading Games

Time: Friday, April 15, 3-5pm CT

Zoom Registration Link: https://uchicago.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJAtce2rrTovHN3QFXUtmrA4xp6cOQa4y4-n


Abstract: This chapter examines a set of “game texts” around a central figure, the early Qing literati Zhang Chao 張潮 (1650-1707), to establish a methodological basis and general scope for the entire dissertation. Game texts, for the sake of my discussion, is an umbrella term referring to literary quotes and other texts inscribed on game equipment, games whose default goal is to read the literary texts successfully, and texts as a notation system to record and reenact games. I parse the ways in which texts join to shape games, as well as the reading experience could be gamified through the manipulations of graphs and forms. I then advance to explore a series of interplays between games and texts, ranging from dice/domino manuals where literary quotes are paired with dot patterns, a game of reading rendered as a screen image represented with graphs, to a weiqi notation system using words to translate the moves. All three cases, as I demonstrate, subvert a common sense that texts prescribe meanings; rather, yi 意 (literally, meaning), could be appropriated to connect and “enliven” the lifeless dots, be triggered when the texts form the image of an object, and be disordered automatically once a game is enacted. Through varied graphic, formal, and sentence-level innovations, games, I argue, have been turned into an active training ground for both historical readers and us literary scholars alike to learn new possibilities of making sense of the texts, thus encouraging us to redefine what “reading” itself means in early modern China.

Presenter: Jiayi Chen is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago, with a concentration on early modern Chinese literature. Her dissertation studies the interplay between games, literature, and reading experience, as well as their relationship to print and theater cultures in China from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries.

Discussant: Elvin Meng is a joint PhD student in the Department of Comparative Literature and the Department of East Asian Languages & Civilizations at the University of Chicago. His research interests include East Asian & European thought, media history & theory, translation, Manchu studies, history of linguistics & mathematics, and modernism.