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.


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