Spring 2003 Speaker Series
All presentations are free and open to the public

Time: 12 pm
Place: East-West Center, Burns 2118

Fashioning the Body
Presentations in this series consider the body as a site of cultural production and consumption. For example, the talks explore the relationship between body and identity, and the (re)representation of the body as object of discipline and pleasure, as a project for self-improvement and aesthetic display.


Wed. Jan. 22nd
Heather Young Leslie, Anthropology, UHM
"Dangerous Diets, Ugly Beauties and the Corpulence of the King: Discourses of the Modern Body in Tonga"

Considering Tongans to represent an ethnoscape within which discourses of tradition and modernization compete, I take as the objects of my gaze four disparate examples in which 'bodies' are key: the ‘health’ promotion literature on nutrition and weight loss, His Majesty King Tupou IV’s exercise programme, the healthy weight loss campaign and the Miss Heilala beauty pageant. Through all examples, we can read attempts at a re-imagining of the Tongan body, the actions of a modernizing state in re-shaping behaviours and silhouettes through a discourse in which health and gender prefigure re-inventions of the ideal, appropriate, and modern Tongan body, and a localized critique, enmeshed in the contradictions of modernity-cum-tradition.

Wed. Jan. 29th
Steven Feld, Music and Anthropology, Columbia University

(• Part of the UH Distinguished Lecturer Series •)
" 'They have taken our mother's head and are now going into her throat': Indigenous and Activist Responses to Transnational Mining in West Papua"

Freeport McMoRan runs one of the biggest copper and gold mines in the world in West Papua. Their operation, the biggest taxpayer in Indonesia, is also the beneficiary of American corporate welfare, creative accounting law, and major league international lobbying, bringing staggering profit to the parent company in New Orleans. But for more than thirty years this operation has also brought displacement, poverty, misery, human rights abuse allegations, and environmental devastation to West Papua. This extraordinary transnational story is embedded in the history of Indonesia's recolonization of West Papua, and its military abuse of West Papuan citizens. It is also embedded in a history of West Papuan struggles for independence, dignity, peace, and justice. The veil of secrecy and complicity in this forty year drama has greatly been lifted in the last ten years, as indigenous and international human rights, NGO, church, and scholar-activists have brought it into the open. The paper will discuss some of the past, present, and future issues in this story.

Wed. Feb. 12th
Kathryn Hoffmann, Languages and Literatures of Europe and the Americas, UHM
"Female Marvels and Monsters: Voyeurism and Other Bodies in the Fairground and Medicine"

A look at marvelous female bodies and how those bodies become positioned as an object of study and a locus of potential knowledge in early-modern Europe. They come from fairground exhibits, curiosity cabinets, and medical texts and include a hairy maid with her harpsichord, a pig-faced girl, a faked mermaid made of a human fetus and a fish tail, a horned woman, and the Hottentot Venus (whose body was just recently returned to Africa from its storage in the French Natural History Museum). These "other" women--their display, their treatment by promoters and physicians, and their reception by the public--reveal important aspects of the fascination with otherness, and of the particular forms that female otherness took. The iconography of otherness, preserved in engravings, posters, and pickled body parts, reveals too, crucial details about the history of knowledge, and the role that voyeurism, titillation, and display came to play in the knowing of women and their bodies.

Wed. Feb. 26th
Nick Barker, Education Program, East-West Center
"Ritual, Pain and The Body: An Exploration of Power, Suffering and Healing"

Pain is a universal and critical feature of human experience. Avoidance of pain is widely assumed to be an instinctive human drive. What happens when pain is voluntarily self-inflicted in a culturally sanctioned religious context? In the late twentieth century in Asia, especially in South and Southeast Asia, the ancient and complex phenomenon of religious self-mortification underwent a dramatic revival, transcending cultural and religious boundaries across the region. Hindus in Malaysia, Christians in the Philippines, Buddhists in Thailand and Sri Lanka, Muslims in Indonesia, Chinese spirit-mediums in Taiwan and Singapore - all started to perform extraordinary acts of self-mortification. These annual religious festivals now attract vast audiences, global media attention, government promotion (as cultural tourism) and even multinational sponsorship. Why did this revival occur? Why at this moment in history?

What does Nietzsche mean when he says "pain hurts more today"? How have attitudes towards pain changed in the West since the Enlightenment? To what extent is pain response culturally constructed and variable? Is the predicament of suffering not how to avoid suffering, but how to make suffering sufferable (Geertz)? How is the religious body both subjugated and empowered by ritual self-infliction of pain? What is the role of pain, trance, achieved analgesia, esoteric potency and mystical healing in religious self-mortification rituals? The sacred body will be explored.

Wed. Mar. 12th
Jinzhao Li, American Studies, UHM
"Chinese/American/Hawaiian Body in the Narcissus Festival, 1949-2003"

This presentation will examine both the past and present meanings of being Chinese in Hawai‘i as expressed through the state’s largest annual Chinese-American community event, the Narcissus Festival, and in particular the flagship component of this Festival, the Narcissus Queen Pageant. It will focus on three major questions: 1). How, have the festival and the beauty pageant symbolized the Chinese-American community in Hawaii since its inception in 1949? 2). How have the generations of the Narcissus Queen and her court represented their community in Hawai‘i to people in Asia through their annual goodwill tours? 3). What role have women played in constructing the meaning of Chineseness? How do we do a feminist analysis of this ethnic beauty contest?
In taking an ethnic cultural festival and beauty pageant as its case to study identity construction, the presentation attempts to explore the break-down of a sexual division of representation in contemporary Asian American studies, which can be seen in the focus on male consciousness in academic writing and that on female consciousness in literary analysis. It will also seek the break-down of a dichotomy in Chinese Studies which splits the scholars into two camps – one that believes in the existence of a “cultural China” among overseas Chinese and the other that argues for “hybridized” identities for Chinese diaspora. 

Wed. Mar. 19th
Claudia Villegas-Silva, Languages and Literatures of Europe and the Americas, UHM
"The Body as Testimony: First Person Narrator in Latin American Theater and Performance"

Feminism in Latin America, as in all countries, has been a process of evolution and has manifested itself in many forms depending on the historical context and country. One of the most important contributions of feminism in Latin America is the assumption that power is a construction and, in turn, can be deconstructed. In Latin American theatre and performance there exists a plurality of feminist discourses, many of which have appropriated postmodern theatrical techniques in order to denounce and subvert hegemonic discourses. One of the methods that this subversion is communicated is through the body’s representation as first-person testimonial narrator. This presentation will discuss two different performances that are representative of this trend. Both groups, Kora from Colombia and La Rendija from Mexico, use the body as first-person testimonial narrator(s) as a form of radical feminist discourse. Emphasized is the misú-en-scúne as a postmodern performance, the texts’ structure, the lack of verbal language (silence), the violence to the body, as well as the use of images and music as a means to communicate the relationship between body, narration and identity.

Wed. Apr. 2nd
Jaida Samudra, Anthropology, UHM
"Training Martial Identities: Embodied Socialization Practices in an Indonesian Silat Organization"

My talk examines an ‘inside-out’ process of how adults learn to conceive of themselves differently through new bodily experiences. I discuss a transnational, transethnic organization based in Indonesia which trains students in a form of martial arts called White Crane Silat. The voluntary self-disciplining of their own foreign bodies enables diverse silat practitioners to realize an alternative identity as they acquire new skills and ways of understanding emotion, illness and pain.

Wed. Apr. 9th
Katerina Teaiwa, Pacific Islands Studies, UHM
"Choreographing difference: the Politics of Dance on Rabi"
This paper will discuss dance on Rabi island in Fiji and how it has been fashioned against Gilbertese cultural forms. While Banabans and I-Kiribati speak the same language (Gilbertese) and are often related by blood or marriage, a history of colonial exploitation and displacement created tensions between the two groups. While dance and music are actively exchanged between the new home of the Banabans in Fiji and people in Kiribati, this exchange is charged with a politics of difference manifested differently in verbal articulations of identity than on performing bodies.

Wed. Apr. 16th
Joy Logan, Languages and Literatures of Europe and the Americas, UHM
"The Adventurous Body: Altitude, Attitude, Nation and Modernity in the Andes"

I am currently doing research on mountaineering on the Aconcagua. Located in Western Argentina, the Aconcagua at 6,959 meters is the highest peak outside of Asia and a popular site of international mountaineering. Due to the fact that one of the routes to the summit is not a technical climb, thousands of amateur mountaineers and trekkers make their way to the Aconcagua every December-February. During this time the base camp at Plaza de Mulas becomes a temporary global village where the adventurous body, decked in specialized gear and equipment and focused on caloric intact and acclimatization, performs national identities, plays out international, gender and ethnic tensions, and reveals the internal politics of the area. My talk would focus on apparel and practices of bodies on the mountain, as well as considering the "museum" or "archive" in the base camp lodge. This "climbers' museum" consists mainly of articles of clothing left behind by climbers to chronicle the history of the mountain over the last six years.

Wed. Apr. 30th
Konrad Ng, Political Science, UHM
"Unruly Yellow Bodies: Asiatic Resistances to Geopolitical Domestication in Cinema"

Long Duk Dong is dead. This talk uses the Asian American male body to explore how nation-states enact geo-cultural homogeneity by domesticating racial difference and ways of resisting forms of cultural governance. I use two recent independent Asian American films that premiered at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival, the mockumentary, THE QUEST FOR LENGTH (Dir. Gene Rhee) and the feature length film, BETTER LUCK TOMORROW (Dir. Justin Lin), to explore contemporary narratives of resistance to cultural domestication. Rather than understand these films, a mockumentary and a feature length film as vehicles of representation, I suggest that these films are critical in the way that they stage Deleuzian encounters - more specifically, THE QUEST FOR LENGTH and BETTER LUCK TOMORROW juxtapose the normative with the profane so as to understand the present as being in a state of "permanent crisis." The depiction of yellow bodies "in crisis" disrupts those national discourses that strive to contain and domesticate the racial difference of Asia/ns. Moreover, I contend that these films are indicative of a contemporary innovative Asian American cinema that insecures dark bodies, times, spaces of the Orient(al) through refusal and misrepresentation.