Transdisciplinary and Cross-regional Courses

Theories and Methods: Visual Cultures and the Sinosphere

This methods seminar introduces graduate students to theories and methods in visual culture studies, and relates the theoretical texts to specific topics and cases in the Sinophone world. The goal is to both bring the theoretical questions to the field of modern China studies and to make the Sinosphere a case for theorization. With each topic, we will go through foundational works that, since their publication, have generated dynamic discussions on the mechanisms and practices of the visual cultures, and read at least one piece of scholarly work that centers on the Sinophone world in the long twentieth century. We will also pay attention to ways of reading and writing about theories in our weekly discussion and responses.

Weekly topics:

  • Introduction
  • Visuality
  • Subject
  • Work of Art
  • History
  • Body
  • Race and Ethnicity
  • Gender
  • Queer
  • (Non)Human
  • Ethics
  • The Audio, Haptic, and Olfactory

New Course Proposal 1:
Literature, Cinema, and Environmental Justice in Asia

Theories of practices of environmental justice start with the premise that people’s experiences with environmental issues vary according to their race, gender, class, and age. This course positions itself at the interface between environmental justice movements and literary and cinematic expressions that address questions of inequality. We will engage a wide range of environmental issues, some prevalent in the world, some particular to Asian countries, and others of transnational urgency. They include nuclear pollution, air quality, deforestation, climate change, garbage disposal, and postindustrial cities. Examining a variety of literary forms (novels, poetry, memoir, essays, ethnographies) and film genres (sci-fi films, slow cinema, documentaries), we will pay attention to how their narrative, voice, language, and visual forms engage with environmental justice struggles. We will also read important theories by Rachel Carson, Lawrence Buell, William Cronon, and Anna Tsing for analytical tools.

Selected readings and screenings:

  • Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
  • Lawrence Buell, Writing for an Endangered World
  • Rob Nixon, Slow Violence
  • Indra Sinha, Animal’s People
  • Anna Tsing, Friction
  • Wu Ming-yi, The Man with the Compound Eyes
  • Wang Jiuliang, Plastic China (2016)
  • Stephen Nomura Schible, Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda (2017)

New Course Proposal 2:
Scientific Imaginaries in Modern East Asia

What does science have to do with imaginations? This course approaches the question from the perspective of historical and literary studies. We will contextualize our investigation in the vicissitudes of war, revolution, and empire in the twentieth century East Asia, where science was and has been a magic word that conjures up a wide array of associations and imaginations. For social reformers, science means anti-superstition and progress. Some writers create science fiction for novelty as well as education. Others believe in a higher level of engaging with science by making literature a scientific project. Still others experiment with aestheticizing science in literature and arts. In these processes, science percolates into literary and visual forms, genres, languages, and narratives. Reading through Lu Xun, Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, Yi Kwang-su, Sakyo Komatsu, and Liu Cixin, we will examine how these authors were inspired by and responsive to scientific paradigm shifts of their time, and how the texts further stimulate our imaginations of science.