Asian Studies

Asian studies is an interdisciplinary field grounded in current approaches to the varied regions of Asia. Seminars and lectures are offered on China, Japan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Indonesia. Courses explore Asian cultures, geographies, histories, societies, and religions. Visual and performing arts are included in the Asian studies curriculum. Faculty members, trained in languages of their areas, draw on extensive field experience in Asia. Their courses bridge humanities, social sciences, and global studies.

Students are encouraged to consider studying in Asia during their junior year. The Office of International Programs assists students in locating appropriate opportunities. Recent Sarah Lawrence College students have participated in programs of study in China, India, and Japan.

Asian Studies 2022-2023 Courses

The Atom Bombs as History, Experience, and Culture: Washington, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki

Open, Lecture—Fall | 5 credits

In January 2018, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists set the hands of the Doomsday Clock (yes, it’s a thing) at two minutes to midnight—the nearest it has been to catastrophe since 1953. Since then, yet another 20 seconds have been ticked off due to the multiple threats (ecological, biological, political, and, always, nuclear) that are now part of the Bulletin’s Clock calculations. Within the past two years, the world saw Donald Trump goading Kim Jong-un with tweets about the size of his nuclear “button.” In late 2019, Putin announced that Russia has developed “invincible” hypersonic nuclear missiles capable of hitting virtually anywhere on the globe. And in early 2022, North Korea has pushed ahead with hypersonic missile tests, as well. With world leaders continuing to flirt with the prospect of nuclear holocaust, an understanding of the only instance of nuclear warfare is again relevant, even crucial, to today’s world. Through a rich variety of sources (textual, visual, and cinematic), this lecture-seminar hybrid course will examine the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in August 1945, from three major perspectives. First, reading scholarship and primary documents, we will look at the decision to drop the bombs, as well as the postwar claims justifying them. We will challenge the American narrative that the bombings were militarily necessary while also putting them into the historical context of World War II, specifically strategic bombing of nonmilitary targets, prospects of Japanese surrender in the final months of the conflict, and the looming Cold War with Russia. Second, we will confront the effects of the bombs on Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and their populations. Technical descriptions and firsthand accounts will help us grasp the unique destructiveness of the atomic bombs on both bodies and buildings, as well as how people coped with that destructiveness. The diary of HACHIYA Michihiko, for example, will reveal a medical doctor’s observations on the breakdown of society and how ordinary Japanese dealt with the aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima. And, finally, the course examines the impact of the bombs on Japan’s postwar culture, including the profound sense of victimization they imparted, which has complicated Japanese narratives about World War II and inspired an abiding pacifism in Japanese society. In a different vein, serious literature written by survivors will open up the relevance of atomic narratives by exploring the social alienation endured by the italichibakusha (bomb survivors) in postwar Japan. TOMATSU Shomei’s photography of Nagasaki and its italichibakusha will provide a visual window on the bombs’ legacy, as well. And we will also examine some popular culture—the original (1954) Godzilla (Gojirō) movie and some anime or manga—for the ways the bombs were appropriated and invoked in apocalyptic imagery, imagery that expressed a distinctive understanding of the dark side of science and technology and made a lasting contribution to wider global culture. This course will consist of weekly lectures, paired with a weekly seminar meeting for close discussion of our syllabus readings. Each student, thus, must not only attend the lecture but also choose one of the three seminar section times.

Faculty

Making Modern East Asia: Empires and Nations, 1700-2000

Open, Seminar—Year | 10 credits

This yearlong seminar is a sustained look at the recent history of China and Japan, the major countries within East Asia. Placed alongside each other, the often wrenching history of Japan and China over the past three centuries raises important historical themes of Asian modernity—questioning both its sources and how we define it. Often portrayed as a direct import from the West in the 19th-century, we will ask whether modernity might instead be traced to legacies of Japan’s isolationist feudalism under the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1867) and China’s multiethnic Manchu dynasty (1644-1911) even as we acknowledge the far-reaching impact of Euro-American imperialism. For example, did the evolving samurai culture and the rise of commercialism in the Tokugawa era lay the socioeconomic foundation for Japan’s political and economic modernity in the late 19th century? And did deep changes in Qing China society destabilize the delicate dynastic balance of power as early as the 18th century? Both China and Japan have entrenched master narratives that portray themselves as victims of the West, but we will also investigate the contours of Asian imperialism. How and why were their empires built, and how did they end? How were the nation-states that we now call China and Japan formed, and how was nationalism constructed (and re-constructed) in them? What role did socioeconomic, cultural, and international crises play in fueling nationalist sentiments? How and where was radicalism (of various forms, including Maoism) incubated? The impact of war, preparing for it, waging it, and rebuilding in its wake will be a repeated theme, too. And, finally, we will look at Asia’s economic dynamism, covering both Japan’s post-World War II capitalism (and its roots in the wartime imperialist project) and China’s transition to a market economy. Course readings consist of historical scholarship regularly punctuated by primary sources, documents, fiction, and some film.

Faculty

Cultivating the Tao: Chinese Philosophy and Practice

Open, Seminar—Year | 10 credits

This course will look at China’s philosophical traditions—Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism—and seek to understand their role in shaping daily practices of self-cultivation and mindfulness. In the first semester, we will do close readings of the foundational texts in each of these traditions. Topics to be explored include: notions of the Dao (Tao) and the ways in which it might be attained by individuals and society; the essence of the mind, human nature and the emotions, and the ways in which they interact in behavior; the relationship between knowledge and action; and practices of inner self-cultivation and social engagement. In the second semester, we will look at the later development of these schools of philosophy with an emphasis on the various practices employed by people to attain the Dao in their own lives. The readings for this will include school regulations and curricula, monastery rules and ritual texts, “how-to” manuals for meditation and self-cultivations, diaries, and journals. Here, we will consider the ways in which individual and cultural practices were shaped and reshaped by the ongoing debates within Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism.

Faculty

Queer(ing) India: Literature, Film, and Law

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

What is a queer perspective on culture and society? This course aims to provide an introductory survey to queer narratives and cultural production from India and the Indian diaspora as a way to think through this question. Texts will cover a large swath of time, from the early 20th century to the present, and will range across genres such as speculative feminist fiction, political and cultural manifestos, postcolonial novels, and contemporary films. In 2018, the Supreme Court of India finally struck down from the Indian Penal Code Section 377, a colonial-era law used to criminalize homosexuality and other “unnatural” sex acts, after more than a decade of legal battles. The fight for legal rights was accompanied by growing queer representation in popular culture and literature. The supposed “coming out” of queerness into Indian social and cultural life in the last 10 years, the demand to be seen and heard, has been critiqued by some as a by-product of “Westernization” or the influence of “foreign-returned” elites inspired by the Euro-American LGBTQ movement. This has brought with it the need to understand the diversity of queer India as well as the diaspora. In the case of the diaspora, we will work to de-center the Euro-American diaspora, paying attention to long histories of migration to the African continent and indentured labor in the Caribbean and the Pacific as sites for possible South-South solidarities. Taking seriously questions of race, caste, class, nationality, and gender, we will consider what a queer orientation to those hegemonic structures might be and what it might reveal. Thinking through the ways in which experiences of gender and sexuality were iterated and experienced across times and spaces will help us think through the specifics of each text (and its contexts) while also following threads and connections beyond. By considering these questions, this course hopes to think through the contradictory realities of a moment in India during which major Bollywood studios are producing gay dramas and even rom-coms, while questions of sexuality, gender, class, caste, and religious identity are being violently weaponized by mobs with seeming impunity granted by a Hindu-nationalist state. Students will engage with a diverse set of cultural, political, and legal artifacts—such as the writings of “founding fathers” like Gandhi and B. R. Ambedkar—as well as legal briefs opposing the punitive Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019, which further stigmatizes non-normative gender identities by requiring transgender people to register with the government. We will read fiction, old and new, such as Untouchable (1935), The God of Small Things (1997), and A Life Apart (2016), as well as watch movies ranging from indie films like Chitrangada (2012) to Bollywood rom-coms like Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhan (2020).

Faculty

Reading China’s Revolutions Through Literature and Memoir

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

Some of the most revealing and groundbreaking prose written in 20th-century China is to be found in neither history nor politics but in fiction and memoir. The premise of this course is that literature offers an important glimpse into the individual, social, and cultural consequences of China’s revolutions. More specifically, the course will look at the literature produced following the 1911 revolution and May Fourth Movement, the 1949 Communist Revolution, the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) and the post-Mao era (1976-2000). Our reading will involve methods of both literary analysis and historical criticism. Topics to be explored include: the ways in which early writers viewed the problems of traditional literature, the proper form and function of revolution, and the role of literature in bringing about social change. We will also look at the ways in which some writers (among them Lu Xun and Ding Ling) created new narrative techniques to embody their vision of social realism and in which others adopted Western literary techniques to convey their self-image as “modern” or “international” writers.

Faculty

Global Queer Literature: Dystopias and Hope

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

In this seminar, we will study queer texts and films, considering their particular articulations of queer life and its possibilities. Texts will cover a large swath of time, from the early 20th century until the present, and will range across genres such as speculative feminist fiction, first-nations narratives, postcolonial novels, and contemporary Bollywood films. We will end the course by looking at science fiction that explores life in spaces that some consider dystopian futures but are already becoming the present for many. As this arc indicates, an underlying theme of the course will be the maintaining of the creativity and vitality of everyday life while drowning in literal and discursive trash. Across the globe, queer lives have already been lived in materially and discursively toxic contexts. Engaging with text and films produced across the world—set in places such as South Africa, India, Argentina, and even galaxies yet undiscovered—we will think through the lessons that the creation of a queer life illuminate for us. Queer life within the context of this seminar refers to the multifarious ways in which marginalized and non-normative bodies and peoples create social and political lives. Carefully considering the contexts and possibilities that the characters encounter, we will explore how “queer” is a term that translates and mutates in interesting ways across time and place. In paying attention to the specificities of the texts, “queer” itself is thus a term that we will reckon with. Taking seriously questions of race, class, nationality, and gender, we will consider what a queer orientation to those hegemonic structures produces or reveals—not only in past literary texts but also as a way of imagining a hopeful future. As we encounter air and water that is more polluted, toxic even, than at any time in which homo sapiens have walked the Earth, the only response may seem to be pessimism. Rejecting pessimism, we will ask what queer futures and hope we can imagine at a moment of planetary crisis. Potential texts: Sultana’s Dream, Rokeya Sakhawat Hussain (1905); Lihaaf, Ismat Chugtai (1942); The House of Hunger, Dambudzo Marechera (1978); The Buddha of Suburbia, Hanif Kureishi (1990); Disgrace, J. M. Coetzee (1999); Bloodchild, Octavia Butler (1994); Animal’s People, Indra Sinha (2007); Moxyland, Lauren Beukes (2008); The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Arundhati Roy (2017); Happy Together (film, 1997); Margarita With a Straw (film, 2014); and Pumzi (film, 2009).

Faculty

Postrevolutionary Chinese Fiction: The Novel as History in a Neoliberal Age

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

This seminar looks to mainland and Taiwanese fiction as a window on recent Chinese history. In the 1980s, China emerged from the paroxysms of the Maoist period (1949-76) and began its transition toward a market-based economy. Accompanying this economic liberalization, many of the tight political controls on writers were (temporarily) loosened. All types of literature, but particularly fiction, boomed. China returned to its rich heritage of a book culture, with a mass book market sustained by avid consumers. And Chinese fiction has won an international audience and acclaim, culminating in 2011 with MO Yan’s Nobel Prize in literature. Since then, however, political controls by the increasingly authoritarian state have been tightened again. Literature, thus, stands at the heart of China’s postrevolutionary history. We will interrogate fictional works in postrevolutionary China for how they deal with and understand a rapidly changing society and economy. What are the legacies of decades of revolution for Chinese literature? By examining narratives that deal with the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), we will look at how writers have assessed and appropriated the Maoist period, especially the experience of intellectuals “sent down” to the countryside. How did the “nativist” fiction of the 1980s and 1990s reevaluate Chinese tradition and traditional society? Urban fiction, often decadent and gritty, will raise issues of how authors and narratives portray China’s breakneck economic development? What is the relationship between art and politics in these works? Do they tacitly support or subtly resist political authoritarianism? We will also look at Taiwanese literature from the 1960s through the 1990s, as it, too, grappled with economic development, its political basis, and social effects. Along the way, we will encounter MO Yan’s blood-drenched bandit heroes; YU Hua’s long-suffering peasant; SU Tong’s vicious sadists; disaffected urban youths in an age of sex, drugs, and rock and roll; HAN Shaogong’s novel written in the form of a dictionary; and BAI Xianyong’s homosexual young men searching for love. The majority of the course consists of fiction from mainland China and Taiwan, but we will also read some short memoir pieces by novelists and the debates in Western media about MO Yan’s 2011 Nobel Prize. There is no prerequisite knowledge of China (history or literature) required for this course.

Faculty

Understanding Experience: Phenomenological Approaches in Anthropology

Open, Seminar—Fall

How does a chronic illness affect a person’s orientation to the everyday? What are the social and political forces that underpin life in a homeless shelter? What is the experiential world of a deaf person, a musician, a refugee, or a child at play? In an effort to answer these and like-minded questions, anthropologists in recent years have become increasingly interested in developing phenomenological accounts of particular “lifeworlds” in order to understand—and convey to others—the nuances and underpinnings of such worlds in terms that more orthodox social or symbolic analyses cannot achieve. In this context, phenomenology entails an analytic method that works to understand and describe in words phenomena as they appear to the consciousnesses of certain peoples. Phenomenology, put simply, is the study of experience. The phenomena most often in question for anthropologists include the workings of time, perception, emotions, selfhood, language, bodies, suffering, and morality as they take form in particular lives within the context of any number of social, linguistic, and political forces. In this course, we will explore phenomenological approaches in anthropology by reading and discussing some of the most significant efforts along these lines. Each student will also try her or his hand at developing a phenomenological account of a specific subjective or intersubjective lifeworld through a combination of interviewing, participant observation research, and ethnographic writing.

Faculty

Specters of the Subject: Hauntologies of Ghosts, Phantasms, and Imaginings in Contemporary Life

Advanced, Seminar—Fall

“The future belongs to the ghosts,” remarked the philosopher Jacques Derrida in 1996. His interlocutor, Bernard Stiegler, phrases the main idea behind this statement: “Modern technology, contrary to appearances, increases tenfold the power of ghosts.” With the advent of the internet, various forms of social media, and the ubiquity of filmic images in our lives, Derrida’s observations have proven to be quite prophetic, such that they call for a new field of study—one that requires less an ontology of being and the real and more a “hauntology” (to invoke Derrida’s punish term) of the spectral, the virtual, the phantasmic, the imaginary, and the recurrent revenant. In this seminar, we consider ways in which the past and present are haunted by ghosts. Topics to be covered include: specters and hauntings, figures and apparitions, history and memory, trauma and political crisis, fantasy and imagination, digital interfaces, and visual and acoustical images. We will be considering a range of films and video, photography, literary texts, acoustic reverberations, internet and social media, and everyday discourses and imaginings. Through these inquiries, we will be able to further our understanding of the nature of specters and apparitions in the contemporary world in their many forms and dimensions. Students will be invited to undertake their own hauntologies and, thus, craft studies of the phenomenal force of specters, hauntings, and the apparitional in particular social or cultural contexts.

Faculty

Art and Society in the Lands of Islam

Open, Lecture—Fall

This course will explore the architecture and visual arts of societies in which Islam is a strong political, cultural, or social presence. We will follow the history of some of these societies through the development of their arts and architecture, using case studies to explore their diverse artistic languages from the advent of Islam through the contemporary world. We will begin with an introduction to the history surrounding the advent of Islam and the birth of arts and architecture that respond to the needs of the new Islamic community. We will proceed to follow the developments of diverse artistic and architectural languages of expression as Islam spreads to the Mediterranean and to Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America—exploring the ways in which arts can help define and express identities for people living in multiconfessional societies. We will then draw this exploration into the present day, in which global economics, immigration, and politics draw the architecture and artistic attitudes of Islam into the global contemporary discourse. Our work will include introductions to some of the theoretical discourses that have emerged concerning cultural representation and exchange and appropriation in art and architecture. One of our allied goals will be to learn to read works of art and to understand how an artistic expression that resists representation can connect with its audience. And throughout this course, we will ask: Can there be an Islamic art?

Faculty

Queer(ing) India: Literature, Film, and Law

Open, Seminar—Fall

What is a queer perspective on culture and society? This course aims to provide an introductory survey to queer narratives and cultural production from India and the Indian diaspora as a way to think through this question. Texts will cover a large swath of time, from the early 20th century to the present, and will range across genres such as speculative feminist fiction, political and cultural manifestos, postcolonial novels, and contemporary films. In 2018, the Supreme Court of India finally struck down from the Indian Penal Code Section 377, a colonial-era law used to criminalize homosexuality and other “unnatural” sex acts, after more than a decade of legal battles. The fight for legal rights was accompanied by growing queer representation in popular culture and literature. The supposed “coming out” of queerness into Indian social and cultural life in the last 10 years, the demand to be seen and heard, has been critiqued by some as a by-product of “Westernization” or the influence of “foreign-returned” elites inspired by the Euro-American LGBTQ movement. This has brought with it the need to understand the diversity of queer India as well as the diaspora. In the case of the diaspora, we will work to de-center the Euro-American diaspora, paying attention to long histories of migration to the African continent and indentured labor in the Caribbean and the Pacific as sites for possible South-South solidarities. Taking seriously questions of race, caste, class, nationality, and gender, we will consider what a queer orientation to those hegemonic structures might be and what it might reveal. Thinking through the ways in which experiences of gender and sexuality were iterated and experienced across times and spaces will help us think through the specifics of each text (and its contexts) while also following threads and connections beyond. By considering these questions, this course hopes to think through the contradictory realities of a moment in India during which major Bollywood studios are producing gay dramas and even rom-coms, while questions of sexuality, gender, class, caste, and religious identity are being violently weaponized by mobs with seeming impunity granted by a Hindu-nationalist state. Students will engage with a diverse set of cultural, political, and legal artifacts—such as the writings of “founding fathers” like Gandhi and B. R. Ambedkar—as well as legal briefs opposing the punitive Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019, which further stigmatizes non-normative gender identities by requiring transgender people to register with the government. We will read fiction, old and new, such as Untouchable (1935), The God of Small Things (1997), and A Life Apart (2016), as well as watch movies ranging from indie films like Chitrangada (2012) to Bollywood rom-coms like Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhan (2020).

Faculty

Intermediate Chinese

Intermediate, Small seminar—Year

Intermediate Chinese is designed for students who have finished at least one year of Mandarin Chinese or who already have knowledge of basic Chinese. The goal of this course is to help students achieve intermediate-low level on the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) proficiency scale in Modern Standard Mandarin Chinese. Students will continue developing their communicative skills upon the foundation acquired. Students will reinforce and expand their language skills by reading, listening, discussing, and writing about topics related to daily-life events. By the end of the year, students will establish the ability to communicate in Mandarin Chinese sufficiently enough to satisfy personal needs and basic social demands.

Faculty

Introduction to Japanese Anime

Open, Lecture—Fall

Japanese animation, or anime, is a global phenomenon—a cultural export that has come to stand in for Japan itself in much of the world. Defined by a national identity as “Japanese” but beloved by an international audience of fans and creators, anime is a contradictory and diverse group of texts that allow us to begin to think about what it means for culture to flow globally in the 20th and 21st centuries. In this course, students will learn about the history of Japanese animation from the 1920s to the present. The course offers broad exposure to Japanese animation, from mainstream television cartoons to experimental art animation, but with an emphasis on the specific tradition of Japanese animation production that came to be known globally as “anime.” We will discuss anime as an intermedial consumer art form deeply connected to other media, such as manga (comic books), toys, video games, literature, music, traditional art, and live-action film. Our own experiences of anime as consumers/fans will be placed in context with academic theories of animation and methods for the study of anime. Students will learn about the Japanese cultural and historical context while also examining their own position in creating global anime reception. Assignments will help students develop research skills in Japanese studies, formal film-analysis skills, and creative methods for scholarly engagement. Themes will include production and marketing (e.g., “the media mix”), technology and labor, gender and sexuality, propaganda and political interests (e.g., “Cool Japan”), race and colonialism, genre, auteurism, reception and fan culture (e.g., “otaku” and “fujoshi”), religion, comedy, video games and interactive media, and intertextuality. Works discussed will include Astro Boy; films by Miyazaki Hayao, Galaxy Express 999, Sailor Moon, Doraemon, Mobile Suit Gundam, Naruto, manga by Hagio Moto, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Ghost in the Shell, Osomatsu-san, stop-motion animation by Kawamoto Kihachirō, and the works of Shinkai Makoto.

Faculty

The Atom Bombs as History, Experience, and Culture: Washington, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki

Open, Lecture—Fall

IIn January 2018, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists set the hands of the Doomsday Clock (yes, it’s a thing) at two minutes to midnight—the nearest it has been to catastrophe since 1953. Since then, yet another 20 seconds have been ticked off due to the multiple threats (ecological, biological, political, and, always, nuclear) that are now part of the Bulletin’s Clock calculations. Within the past two years, the world saw Donald Trump goading Kim Jong-un with tweets about the size of his nuclear “button.” In late 2019, Putin announced that Russia has developed “invincible” hypersonic nuclear missiles capable of hitting virtually anywhere on the globe. And in early 2022, North Korea has pushed ahead with hypersonic missile tests, as well. With world leaders continuing to flirt with the prospect of nuclear holocaust, an understanding of the only instance of nuclear warfare is again relevant, even crucial, to today’s world. Through a rich variety of sources (textual, visual, and cinematic), this lecture-seminar hybrid course will examine the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 from three major perspectives. First, reading scholarship and primary documents, we will look at the decision to drop the bombs, as well as the postwar claims justifying them. We will challenge the American narrative that the bombings were militarily necessary while also putting them into the historical context of World War II, specifically strategic bombing of nonmilitary targets, prospects of Japanese surrender in the final months of the conflict, and the looming Cold War with Russia. Second, we will confront the effects of the bombs on Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and their populations. Technical descriptions and firsthand accounts will help us grasp the unique destructiveness of the atomic bombs on both bodies and buildings, as well as how people coped with that destructiveness. The diary of HACHIYA Michihiko, for example, will reveal a medical doctor’s observations on the breakdown of society and how ordinary Japanese dealt with the aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima. And, finally, the course examines the impact of the bombs on Japan’s postwar culture, including the profound sense of victimization they imparted, which has complicated Japanese narratives about World War II and inspired an abiding pacifism in Japanese society. In a different vein, serious literature written by survivors will open up the relevance of atomic narratives by exploring the social alienation endured by the italichibakusha (bomb survivors) in postwar Japan. TOMATSU Shomei’s photography of Nagasaki and its italichibakusha will provide a visual window on the bombs’ legacy, as well. And we will also examine some popular culture—the original (1954) Godzilla (Gojirō) movie and some anime or mangafor the ways the bombs were appropriated and invoked in apocalyptic imagery, imagery that expressed a distinctive understanding of the dark side of science and technology and made a lasting contribution to wider global culture. This course will consist of weekly lectures, paired with a weekly seminar meeting for close discussion of our syllabus readings. Each student, thus, must not only attend the lecture but also choose one of the three seminar section times.

Faculty

The Path to Putin

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

Vladimir Putin has now been the dominant figure in Russian politics for more than 20 years. He has presided over the creation of an autocratic system of government in his country that is very different from the system that the friends of democracy hoped would emerge in Russia after the collapse of Communist Party rule. He has also made Russia one of the most unpredictable and feared state actors on the international scene. This course will attempt to shed light on the Putin phenomenon by placing him, his regime, and his policies in their historical context. We will examine the political culture of the Soviet Union in its final decades and the role played in the Soviet system by the KGB, the internal security and espionage apparatus in which Putin and many of his closest associates began their careers. We will trace the demise of single-party rule and the crack-up of the Soviet empire under Mikhail Gorbachev, the final president of the USSR. We will examine the reign of Boris Yeltsin, the first president of post-Soviet Russia and the man who anointed Putin his successor in 1999. We will look at the revisionist narrative of Russian and Soviet history elaborated by Putin and other influential figures during the past quarter-century. We will examine Putin’s dealings with the “Near Abroad” (the now-independent republics that used to be components of the Soviet Union), especially Ukraine. We will look at the long history of Russia’s highly ambivalent attitudes toward the West and at various manifestations of this ambivalence in contemporary Russia. Finally, we will explore some of the rival theories recently put forward about the ultimate nature of the Putin regime, its internal dynamics, and the aims of its aggressive conduct toward its neighbors and Western rivals.

Faculty

Making Modern East Asia: Empires and Nations, 1700-2000

Open, Seminar—Year

This yearlong seminar is a sustained look at the recent history of China and Japan, the major countries within East Asia. Placed alongside each other, the often wrenching history of Japan and China over the past three centuries raises important historical themes of Asian modernity—questioning both its sources and how we define it. Often portrayed as a direct import from the West in the 19th-century, we will ask whether modernity might instead be traced to legacies of Japan’s isolationist feudalism under the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1867) and China’s multiethnic Manchu dynasty (1644-1911) even as we acknowledge the far-reaching impact of Euro-American imperialism. For example, did the evolving samurai culture and the rise of commercialism in the Tokugawa era lay the socioeconomic foundation for Japan’s political and economic modernity in the late 19th century? And did deep changes in Qing China society destabilize the delicate dynastic balance of power as early as the 18th century? Both China and Japan have entrenched master narratives that portray themselves as victims of the West, but we will also investigate the contours of Asian imperialism. How and why were their empires built, and how did they end? How were the nation-states that we now call China and Japan formed, and how was nationalism constructed (and re-constructed) in them? What role did socioeconomic, cultural, and international crises play in fueling nationalist sentiments? How and where was radicalism (of various forms, including Maoism) incubated? The impact of war, preparing for it, waging it, and rebuilding in its wake will be a repeated theme, too. And, finally, we will look at Asia’s economic dynamism, covering both Japan’s post-World War II capitalism (and its roots in the wartime imperialist project) and China’s transition to a market economy. Course readings consist of historical scholarship regularly punctuated by primary sources, documents, fiction, and some film.

Faculty

Postrevolutionary Chinese Fiction: The Novel as History in a Neoliberal Age

Open, Seminar—Spring

This seminar looks to mainland and Taiwanese fiction as a window on recent Chinese history. In the 1980s, China emerged from the paroxysms of the Maoist period (1949-76) and began its transition toward a market-based economy. Accompanying this economic liberalization, many of the tight political controls on writers were (temporarily) loosened. All types of literature, but particularly fiction, boomed. China returned to its rich heritage of a book culture, with a mass book market sustained by avid consumers. And Chinese fiction has won an international audience and acclaim, culminating in 2011 with MO Yan’s Nobel Prize in literature. Since then, however, political controls by the increasingly authoritarian state have been tightened again. Literature, thus, stands at the heart of China’s postrevolutionary history. We will interrogate fictional works in postrevolutionary China for how they deal with and understand a rapidly changing society and economy. What are the legacies of decades of revolution for Chinese literature? By examining narratives that deal with the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), we will look at how writers have assessed and appropriated the Maoist period, especially the experience of intellectuals “sent down” to the countryside. How did the “nativist” fiction of the 1980s and 1990s reevaluate Chinese tradition and traditional society? Urban fiction, often decadent and gritty, will raise issues of how authors and narratives portray China’s breakneck economic development? What is the relationship between art and politics in these works? Do they tacitly support or subtly resist political authoritarianism? We will also look at Taiwanese literature from the 1960s through the 1990s, as it, too, grappled with economic development, its political basis, and social effects. Along the way, we will encounter MO Yan’s blood-drenched bandit heroes; YU Hua’s long-suffering peasant; SU Tong’s vicious sadists; disaffected urban youths in an age of sex, drugs, and rock and roll; HAN Shaogong’s novel written in the form of a dictionary; and BAI Xianyong’s homosexual young men searching for love. The majority of the course consists of fiction from mainland China and Taiwan, but we will also read some short memoir pieces by novelists and the debates in Western media about MO Yan’s 2011 Nobel Prize. There is no prerequisite knowledge of China (history or literature) required for this course.

Faculty

First-Year Studies: W/E: The Making of the Complete Lover, West/East

FYS—Year

The known universe has one complete lover, and that is the greatest poet. —Walt Whitman

This class will aim to provide a writer’s introduction to poetry, as seen through the cultural lenses of what’s been called the “East” and what’s been called the “West.” While keeping faith with the sacred jazz ethic of improvisation, we’re likely to spend our class time: (a) discussing questions like what is a poem, what is taste, what is the “East,” and what is the “West,” and how have those constructs influenced writers and readers; (b) getting to know each other as readers and writers and working collaboratively; and (c) doing writing exercises as practicum. In weekly conferences, we’ll discuss college and look at your drafts—mostly of poems, along with some critical writing about our shared texts—particularly Edward Said’s Orientalism and Dionne Brand’s A Map to the Door of No Return. Along the way, I’ll ask you to participate in readings at each term’s middle and end; compile an anthology and a chapbook; work with a partner and introduce his/her work; and contribute to a collective zuihitsu, a Japanese form combining what's been called “poetry” and what‘s been called “prose.” (We’ll be reading two versions of Narrow Road to the Interior: Basho’s from the 17th century and Kimiko Hahn’s from 2006.) The only prerequisites are a passion for reading that equals your passion for writing, the courage to give up spectatorhood for active participation, and a willingness to undertake whatever might be necessary to read and write and think better on our last day of class than on our first.

Faculty

Poetry Workshop: The Zuihitsu

Advanced, Seminar—Spring

This class combines Sarah Lawrence students and students from the Bedford Correctional Facility and takes place at Bedford one night a week. Acceptance into this class is via interview only. Interviews will be held during the fall term of 2022. In order to interview, you must be 21 years old on or before January 20, 2023.

“There is nothing like a zuihitsu, and its definition slips through our fingers. It is a classical Japanese genre that allows a series of styles, and everything can be constantly reshuffled and reordered in every conceivable way,” according to Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Following Millenium.(The name is derived from two Kanji: “at will” and “pen.”) In this class, we’ll explore the poetic form of the zuihitsu as readers via three required texts—The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon and two versions of Narrow Road to the Interior, one by Bashō and one by Kimiko Hahn—and as writers, using the materials of haiku, lists, interviews, dialogues, travelogues, monologues, letters, maps, orts, scraps, fragments, and poems of all varieties. You’ll be expected to attend class, engage with assigned and suggested readings, and participate in discussions. Participants will also be required to make an individual zuihitsu and to contribute to the making of a collective one. In conference, we’ll discuss your reading, which may or may not overlap or coincide with class readings, and your drafts. In class, we’ll discuss readings as a way of guiding our own makings. The only prerequisites are to be 21 or older, as indicated above; have a desire to be challenged and a thirst for reading that equals your thirst for writing; have the courage to give up spectatorhood for active participation; and have a willingness to undertake whatever labors might be necessary to read and write better on our last day of class than on our first.

Faculty