Body and Self in Asian Cultures

This is a course from a previous year. View the current courses
Intermediate—Fall

This seminar explores cultural constructions of body and self in the diverse cultures of India, using selected case studies from China and Japan for comparative analysis. We study concepts of personhood in relation to prevailing social orders. Diverse bodily practices are reflected in realms of medicine, public health, law, ethics, religion, ritual, and etiquette. Using methods of analysis from current culture theory, we move toward a “geography of the body” in Indian thought and practice. Boundaries of persons tend to be viewed alternately, in different contexts, as fixed, porous, or fluid. Why do some interpreters view Hindu personhood as a matter of “dividuality” more than individuality? What implications follow from regarding persons as biomental, biomoral entities? How is caste oppression of dalit (“untouchable”) communities rationalized in terms of bodily purity and pollution? For selected comparisons to India: 1) Does a cartography of Japanese selves reflect the layering of multiple “wrapped” identities? 2) How do Chinese medicine and martial arts emphasize the expansion of human potential? Topics include technologies of self, the body as microcosm, yoga as experimentation, theories of pain, practices of psychosomatic healing, location of identity markers, regimes of subject formation, and subjection of the body through protocols of surveillance and control. Readings are drawn from recent cultural studies and anthropology.