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

Zoom Registration Link: 


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.

4/1 Susan Su

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

“Infrastructural fairy tales: State-led development and Tibetan transmedial interventions into China’s cultural heritage regime”

Time: Friday, April 1, 3-5pm CT

Zoom Registration Link: https://uchicago.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJEuf-qpqj0uEt3Rsjlh6f9UmM0Ei67bVlUX

On December 17, 2005, a herding family watches a television show in Shaqing Village, Sahuteng Town, Zaduo County, Qinghai Province. Image taken by Ren Xiaogang for a 2005 Xinhua news article on the success of the “Connect every village” infrastructure program in the pastoral regions of Qinghai.

Abstract: At the turn of the 21st century, large-scale development projects in China’s Western provinces channeled central state investments into environmental protection and the construction of transportation and communications infrastructure, leading to the displacement of millions of Tibetans and the proliferation of Chinese-language media in everyday life. The rhetoric of these policies asserts that financial investments into Western provinces would develop the region and its people economically, socially, and culturally. For Tibetans in the PRC, however, the development projects of the 2000s were experienced as an intensified process of national incorporation which sought to flatten and commodify Tibetan cultural heritage in the name of economic development. Therefore, these projects were met with renewed debates on cultural sovereignty and attempts to create alternative spaces for cultural production from below. This paper examines the contestations over cultural management in China’s state development policies through the transmedial interventions of the Third Generation of Tibetan poets and their Tibetan-language literature website Chömé. I argue that the growing access to digital media for Tibetans in the 2000s created opportunities within the decreasing space for Tibetan cultural sovereignty for Chömé to intervene as a transmedial literary archive and space for counterdevelopment.

Presenter: Susan Dan Su is a PhD Candidate in the Department of East Asian Literature and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. Her research centers on contemporary Tibetan literature and media with an emphasis on development studies, digital media, and cultural heritage in China. She is currently co-organizing the conference “Literary Transversals: Modern East Asian and Diasporic Literature” and hopes to see all of you there in late April!

Discussant: Heangjin Park is a Teaching Fellow in the Department of Anthropology and the College at the University of Chicago. Heangjin’s research concerns the global circulation of commodities and the reconfiguration of nationalist imaginaries across South Korea and China, focusing on the production and circulation of “Korean” kimchi in China. He is also participating in the project “Logistics in the Making of Mobile Worlds,” a multi-year collaborative research project funded by the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society. 


3/18 Xingming Wang

PhD student, Comparative Literature, Rutgers University

“Beyond Primitive Passion: Lu Xun’s Coal Narrative and Anthropocene Awareness”

Time: Friday, Mar 18, 3-5 pm CT

Zoom Registration Link: https://uchicago.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJMude2vpj8vE9bYN25bqDa_AFduscXdNd59

The Art and Politics of East Asia (APEA) workshop is proud to host Xingming Wang (PhD student, Comparative Literature, Rutgers University), who will be presenting a draft of his paper, “Beyond Primitive Passion: Lu Xun’s Coal Narrative and Anthropocene Awareness”. Professor Paola Iovene (EALC, University of Chicago) will offer a response.


Situated at the crossroads of energy humanities and modern Chinese literature, this paper studies an iconic figure whose life epitomizes the highest achievement in both fields. Lu Xun is the father of modern Chinese literature as well as a pioneer of modern Chinese geology. Whereas both his geological and literary works draw substantial attention, the connection between the two fields remains unexplored. Do Lu Xun’s geological and mineralogical outlooks have any impact on his literary works? To answer this question, this paper combs through Lu Xun’s coal narrative, exhibiting that his enthusiasm for coal does not dissipate after the publication of “A Brief Sketch of Chinese Geology” and Records of Chinese Mineral Resources. Instead, coal takes on rhetorical and allegorical functions in his later writing, revealing his concerns about resource depletion and environmental disaster, which should be regarded as a prescient Anthropocene awareness. A close reading of Lu Xun’s coal narrative also displays a shifting emotional pattern. His nationalist passion for developing the coal industry is complicated by distress over ecological degradation and unsustainable development. This paper thus extends Rey Chow’s discussion of Lu Xun’s “primitive passion” by incorporating his ecological-related structures of feeling that are future-oriented and anticipate an energy transition.

Presenter: Xingming Wang is a Ph.D. student in the Comparative Literature Program at Rutgers University. His research interests reside in modern and contemporary Chinese literature, environmental humanities, energy humanities, animal studies, memory and trauma studies. He is preparing for a dissertation project on “Coal Literature and Chinese Modernity.”

Discussant: Paola Iovene is Associate Professor in Chinese Literature in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, the University of Chicago.

1/28 Research Embarkments: MAPH Thesis Proposal Workshop

Time: Friday, Jan 28th, 3-5 pm CT

Zoom Registration Link: 


How does one embark upon a research project? What are the means, ways and parameters by which one defines and engages with an object of study, especially within the realm of area studies? In what way should one go about making their research legible to other scholars, and across disciplinary boundaries?

This winter quarter, APEA is hosting a thesis proposal workshop for MAPH students working on projects related to East Asian area studies. Our goals are to provide a space for students to discuss their work while it is still at a conceptual stage, to facilitate an opportunity to share projects which engage with the themes of APEA, and to encourage collaborative feedback from APEA’s regular attendees, including other graduate students and professors across various disciplines and specialties related to East Asia.

The workshop will begin with informal five-minute presentations from panelists to introduce their research and their goals for the thesis project. We will then move on to a discussion with the panelists. We encourage questions and feedback directed to single presenters, as well as questions for the entire panel to consider. We also hope to engender general discussion among both panelists and attendees about the process of embarking upon research projects, and how to address the specific challenges of area studies work.



Dreams of Women, Not Dreams of Men

Silin Chen, Graduate Student, Master of Arts Program in the Humanities

While some scholars have come to the conclusion that danmei literature is a distorted pastiche reiterating an unequal heterosexual gender dynamic, this thesis is interested in other possible answers to the questions of what women ask from danmei literature, and what danmei literature is able to provide; although the content of danmei literature could be interpreted in countless ways, the process of writing danmei literature itself has already created a space for each “woman” to express her own understanding of society both physically and ideologically.

Speak Mandarin in New World: The Ethnic Chinese in South Korean Cinema

Molly Meng, Graduate Student, Master of Arts Program in the Humanities

I propose to write a thesis on the film New World (Sinsegye, in Hangul:신세계), a 2013 South Korean gangster noir film directed by Park Hoon-jung, with a focus on how the ethnic Chinese living in South Korea are represented throughout characters’ dialogue and the story plot.

Personal Responsibility in Cross Cultural Exchange

Kathryn Savidge, Graduate Student, Master of Arts Program in the Humanities

I will undertake an exploration of the personal responsibilities of those engaging with foreign cultural property by comparing the cases of the adaptation of Buddhist meditation in America and the adaptation of African-American popular music in Kpop.

Hazy Devotion: A Visual Album in Electronic Music, Eastern Instruments, and Sensory Experience

Hilary Ann Yarger, Graduate Student, Master of Arts Program in the Humanities

For my creative thesis, I will produce a visual album, inspired by East Asian music, aesthetics, and nature, which will merge traditional sounds with the vaporwave and slushwave genres to create an entirely new audio and visual sensory experience.


Dr. Philomena Mazza-Hilway is a Teaching Fellow in the Master of Arts Program in the Humanities. Focusing on modern Japanese literature, her work engages issues of gender, non-human selfhood, genre fiction & minor literatures, and readership. Her current book project, based on her dissertation, examines modern subjectivity in the works of three early twentieth century women writers, arguing that these writers employed strategies of the ‘feminine grotesque’–at once generative and abject– within the written negotiations of their emergent subjecthood. Her second project traces the evolution of othered literary subjects in women’s postwar literature, utilizing their work to interrogate the nature and notion of a coherent, agential subject in modern Japanese literature.