Tensions Embodied: Reading and Staging Sensation in Premodern East Asia

Conference: AAS-in-Asia2020 (AAS-in-Asia2020)
Title: Tensions Embodied: Reading and Staging Sensation in Premodern East Asia
Stream: Literature
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Jiayi Chen, The University of Chicago, United States (organizer, presenter)
Ashton Lazarus, University of Utah, United States (presenter)
Wenting Ji, University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States (presenter)
Melissa Van Wyk, University of California-Berkeley, United States (presenter)
Matthew Fraleigh, Brandeis University, United States (chair, discussant)


This panel focuses on sensation as a distinctive topos in pre-modern East Asian literature and theater. Expanding the scope beyond senses in different artistic forms, we observe the ways sensory experience is represented and constructed via various literary and theatrical devices. Drawing together the studies of literature, performance, gender, and disability, this panel sheds new light on how writers and performers alike treated sensation as a site where tensions emerge between body and mind, reality and illusion, restraint and indulgence.
Ashton Lazarus investigates the aesthetic paradox in The Tale of Genji between the characters’ rich sensory engagement and the Buddhist renunciation of senses. Wenting Ji discusses how the intertwined representations of female bodies and pain in the cross-dressing tanci fiction Destiny of Rebirth simultaneously consolidate and question the conception of femininity. Shifting from representations to formations of sensation, Jiayi Chen takes the novel Journey to the West to examine its use of rhetorical devices to turn the reading experience into a game of guessing, facilitating readers to visualize the virtual world while warning them of the danger of deluded imaginings. Finally moving from page to stage, Melissa Van Wyk considers the ningyōburi performances of kabuki actor Sawamura Tanosuke III, which used the mimicking of puppets to blur the line between spectacle and theatrical expression. By developing a comparative perspective, this panel as a whole explores how sensation was formulated by the shared yet nuanced social, cultural, and historical values in pre-modern East Asia.