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Imagining Bodies and Identities in 20th Century Modern Asian Literatures

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Directors : Cécile Sakai (UPD), Gérard Siary (Université Montpellier), Victor Vuilleumier (UPD), Shuang Xu (UPD)
Permanent members : Florence Zhang (UPD), Rainier Lanselle (UPD)

Associate members : Anne Bayard-Sakai (Inalco), Brigitte Lefèvre (Université de Lille), Françoise Robin (Inalco)

Collaborators : researchers at Geneva University : Nicolas Zufferey, Nicolas Mollard (East Asian Studies department, ESTAS) and : Guillemette Bolens (English and comparative literature department)

The theme of the body plays a central role in 20th century East Asian literature. The various constructions and deconstructions of body images convey the literary experience of modernity, specific traditions and the cross-cultural encounter with Western Otherness and its various discourses on the body. These representations of the body (form and meaning) and their utilization in the different genres of modern Asian literature put into question and redefine cultural identities, be they gender-related, individual or collective, global or local etc. Such images are not only to be deciphered as signs of identity bargaining, but also point to the appearance of new body aesthetics as well as creative experiments on writing and language. This project proposes to examine Asian literature, in particular 20th century Chinese and Japanese literature, in a comparative perspective. It raises the following questions : what image of the body does Asian literature seek to represent and how ? What do these literary body representations seek to depict ? How do these discourses unravel ? What distinguishes them from the Western patterns they contributed to import and translate ? So far, the mere handful of academic studies on the subject, mainly in America and China, have failed to adopt a cross–cultural stance, encompassing various areas that would highlight their common historical, political or cultural aspects. Moreover, these studies mostly overlook the literary specificity of the texts in question, reducing them, as in cultural studies, to mere documentary material. In contrast, this project aims at a close reading (language, text, images) of the corpora under scrutiny. It will examine body representations with regard to their literary efficacy and function. Indeed, we will assess the hypothesis of an East Asian way of representing the body, namely, the idea of another relationship to nature as it implies the absence of a clear distinction between subject and object.

A first workshop, “Studies on the body in modern Asian literature : preliminary research”, was held on 23 November 2013 at Paris 7, with the participation of Hosoi Ayame (Lyon 3), Antonin Bechler (Strasburg University), Cécile Sakai (Paris 7), Gérard Siary (Montpellier 3), Victor Vuilleumier (Paris 7), Shuang Xu (Paris 7). Upcoming activities : A second workshop in autumn 2014, an international conference in 2016, and a final publication in 2017/2018.

This transversal project is an extension of previous projects on modern literature, carried out since 1991 by Chantal Chen-Andro and Cécile Sakai (4 published works the last of which presents the four-year research project on issues combining theoretical approaches and literary corpora in modern Asia : Imagining Exile in Contemporary Chinese and Japanese Literature, Picquier, 2012, 325pp, co-edited with Xu Shuang, Proceedings of the International Conference held on 11 -12 June 2010 at the BNF and University Paris-Diderot)