AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 95

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Session 95: Making Orientalism Work for You: Enchantment, Disenchantment, and Re-Enchantment in the Teaching of Asian Studies

Organizer: Jeffery D. Long, Elizabethtown College, USA

Discussant: Jeffery D. Long, Elizabethtown College, USA

The premise of this panel is that scholars are frequently drawn to the study of Asian cultures through an initial contact with materials of an Orientalist or romanticizing character, often of dubious academic quality [insert the title of your favorite novel about the "mystical East" here]. The initial excitement sparked by these works is then followed, for those who choose to pursue a scholarly career, by a period of disenchantment, when one begins to learn more about the ground realities of the culture to which one feels drawn. Then, at least for some, this phase of disenchantment is followed by a mature phase which we are calling, following Paul Ricoeur, a "second naivete," in which one recovers one's earlier enthusiasm for the object of one's study, but with one's "eyes wide open" about the ways in which the culture in question is problematic (e.g. militant Japanese and Hindu nationalism, inequitable gender-based practices, casteism, etc.). Our main interest is pedagogical. How can we guide our students, many of whom may be in their initial, romanticizing phase, through the phase of disenchantment to a mature, critical appreciation for the cultures we teach? How do we avoid the pitfalls of the extremes of, on the one hand, exoticism and romanticism, and on the other, of a disenchantment so bitter that it turns our students away from our field? In short, how do we "make Orientalism work for us"?

Between Orientalism and Multidisciplinary Encounters: Playing out Chinese History and Culture in the Undergraduate Classroom
Jennifer Jay, University of Alberta, Canada

A multidisciplinary approach through theater, literature, and history is a powerful pedagogical tool to guide students’ research, active participation, and acquisition of critical knowledge of Chinese culture and history. This paper discusses four of these classroom skit performances in the classroom: Orphan of the House of Zhao, 598 BCE (drama classics, orientalism); Three Kingdoms, 209 CE (drama, novel, politics); Fall of the Ming, 1640s (Jesuit and Dutch encounters; dramas-Princess Taiping and Peach-blossom Fan); and True Story of Ah Q, 1920s (novella, satire, revolution). Through group participation and individual research, students differentiate between romantic orientalism and realistic assessment in their appropriation of Chinese history and culture.

Skewering Sacred Cows: Educator as Matador
Thomas A. Forsthoefel, Independent Scholar, USA

This paper engages a vision of education that renders more complex the phenomena of religion and religiosity. While the content of the paper examines the romantic assumptions of the ‘mystic East’ and ‘mysticism’, it shares an affinity with Buddhist phenomenology, namely that all events are infinitely complex, void of an isolatable, defining or reductive mark or characteristic. Freud once noted that neurosis was the inability to handle ambiguity. One central objective in the classroom is to introduce ambiguity and equip students to manage it with élan. As scholars, we unpack the complexity of the historical, social, and political contexts of developments in religion, which typically involves demythologizing or deconstructing idealized versions of religion or religious phenomena. The ‘death’ of these concepts can provoke, a marginal experience for the student, which can be disorienting or destabilizing. However, as the student grapples with the loss of a neatly ordered universe of assumptions, abject despair need not be the last word. A critical understanding of the religion and its phenomena sees the religion as it is, namely a complex phenomenon suffused with gift and limitation, precisely the same truth at the heart of the human experience. As in the stages of death and dying, a central development here is acceptance, and without passivity. The student embraces the knowledge, now rendered more complex, and joins it with wisdom, that is, the mechanism of skillfully integrating the new knowledge into one’s life—whether in scholarship, study, practice, ethics, or disposition.

Interpreting “Cool”: Orientalist Fascination or Social Critique?
Mahua Bhattacharya, Elizabethtown College, USA

Recent years have seen a surge of student interest in Asia, and Japan in particular. This fascination is rooted not just in the usual economic reasons, but also in what has been termed a certain kind of “cool-ness” that Asian cultures represent. Termed “soft power,” this fascination has affinities with the fascination of yesteryear scholars, which Said critiqued as “orientalist”. What to do about this variety of orientalism? Having taken students to Japan for the last five years, I have struggled to keep my study abroad trips to Japan “academic” only to have students say they are not really interested in the political or economic problems of the country. They would like to see their favorite manga or anime characters spin a web of fantasy for them. This presents a problem for scholars of non-Western societies who do not wish the cultures of their specialization to be reduced to a one-dimensional narrative devoid of any connection with reality, an object that the reader or the player of the video game wishes to be pleasured by or in control of. How do we understand this “cool”? Why are American youth driven to engage with narratives not even intended for them? Can we still term this ‘orientalism,’ or is there a social critique embedded in this fascination, answers that these youth are looking for that their own culture is unable to provide? My paper will explore this issue through analyses of Japanese popular culture and an engagement with Said’s powerful critique.

From the Summer of Love to the Spring and Autumn Annals: A Journey of Discovery with the Book of Changes (Yijing)
Geoffrey P. Redmond, Columbia University, USA

In the 1960s, the Yijing (transliterated as I Ching for the best selling Wilhelm/Baynes translation) became a countercultural scripture, though to what degree actually understood is questionable. It was fashionable to boast of making decisions by consulting the Changes. I became fascinated by the Yijing, despite being a biomedical scientist committed to the scientific worldview, What at first piqued my curiosity as a repository of ancient wisdom took on even greater interest as a window into the life of China 3,000 years ago, a society consumed with warfare and practices such as human sacrifice, yet beginning to develop moral consciousness. Carl Jung’s1949 Foreword brought the Changes into the twentieth century in the guise of a tool for personal growth. Paradoxically, it was so regarded in China as early as the Zuozhuan commentary on the Spring and Autumn Annals, though in quite different terms. Thus the Yijing provides a means to glimpse life in China at the dawn of history, while also demonstrating that cultivation of the self began long before Oprah. The contemporary revival of the Yijing is also of interest in examining the persistence of traditional metaphysical ways of thought in the era of science. Understanding divination as a universal aspect of human culture requires going beyond dismissal as superstition or uncritical acceptance as able to predict the future.