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CIRA Announces 2003-05 Grants
1983 Chinese poster reflects influence of Western theories in China, and their modification by the Chinese.

CIRA Announces 2003-05 Grants

Four UCLA faculty members receive funding to study pan-Asian linguistics, influences of Western theory in Asia, HIV/AIDS and the arts, and poetry in nationalist cultures in the 20th century.

Leslie Evans Email LeslieEvans

[Note: when this article was first posted only the first three of the four grants had been announced. This revised version has added information since released by CIRA on the fourth grant, to Prof. Esha De in the UCLA Writing Programs.]

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The UCLA Asia Institute's Comparative and Interdisciplinary Research Asia center has announced the winners of its fourth annual grant cycle, for the 2003-05 period. Designed to encourage interdisciplinary work on Asian themes by UCLA faculty, the center offers two-year funding, to sponsor a reading group in the first year and a conference leading to a published volume in the second year. The awards generally are $4,000 for the first year and $10,000 for the second year.

Four projects were funded for the current round, for the 2003-05 period. These are:

Uniformity and Diversity in the Languages of Asia: Towards an Understanding of a Pan-Asiatic Cultural and Linguistic Paradigm, Shoichi Iwasaki, Professor, East Asian Languages & Cultures.

Translating Universals: Theory Moves Across Asia, Michael Bourdaghs, John Duncan, Thu-huong Nguyen-vo, David Schaberg, Professors, East Asian Languages & Cultures.

How to Make Art in a Global Epidemic: HIV/AIDS and the Arts, David Gere, Assistant Professor, World Arts & Cultures.

and Poetics, Pedagogy, and Alternative Internationalisms: From the Early 20th Century to the Present, Esha De, Lecturer, Writing Programs .

Grammatic Similarities Across Diverse Asian Languages

Professor Shoichi Iwasaki's project is to test the thesis that there are strong cultural and grammatic patterns that appear in all the major Asian languages despite large differences in linguistic structure. During the first year he proposes to work with four other linguists to map similarities in Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Malay/Indonesian, Balinese, and the Philippine languages. In the second year, anthropologists and other social scientists are scheduled to join the project. Three of the research team are UCLA faculty; the other two are from other institutions.

In his proposal Professor Iwasaki writes, "The uniformity is seen in diverse forms, ranging from the recent popular and material culture (e.g., music and fashion) to the traditional philosophy and world view. However, nowhere is it more striking, albeit often subtle, than in the sphere of language structure and language use. This is even more remarkable in light of the great diversity found among these languages. Genetically, seven main language families are represented in the region: Japanese, Korean, Sinitic, Tai, Mon-Khmer, Hmong-Mien, and Austronesian. Typologically, there are agglutinative languages which use an array of affixes (e.g. Korean) and isolating languages which lack affixes (e.g. Vietnamese), as well as verb-final (e.g. Japanese), verb-initial (e.g. Tagalog), and verb medial (e.g. Thai) languages. . . . Despite these linguistic diversities, there are some definite similarities that set the languages of this area apart from familiar European languages."

He gives some examples, including some uniquely Asian uses of the word "heart" that appear in most Asian languages. There are also numerous terms that categorize relative status and the use of honorifics in most Asian languages that are absent in European languages. "Our research," Iwasaki says, "starts with an attempt to catalogue these similar expressions. However, what is more important for us to consider is to evaluate the significance that these similar expressions bring to the psyche of the speakers who use them in their daily interactions. At the level of sentence structure, we can identify many features that, though completely lacking or very rare in European languages, are common among the languages of the region."

Iwasaki proposes that these commonalities that bridge linguistic families "come from the long contact among these different linguistic groups."

The five researchers plan to hold a three-day workshop at UCLA in December 2003. "We will have a list of linguistic features at the lexical, structural, and communicational levels," Professor Iwasaki writes, "and will have made a preliminary study on how similar linguistic phenomena might emerge." In the second year a two-day conference will be scheduled at UCLA in September 2004.

Western Theories in Asia

Michael Bourdaghs, John Duncan, Thu-huong Nguyen-vo, and David Schaberg plan to study the impact of Western theories from Marxism to postmodernism on Asia, and the influence Asia has had in the formulation or reformulation of Western theories.

In their proposal they write: "In different historical periods, in different geographical regions, scholars of the last 150 years have come to terms with multiple forms of Western theory, with a diverse range of outcomes. Scholars have borrowed, adapted, translated, rejected, misread, and critiqued Western theory, and Western theory in turn has often had to reformulate itself in response to these processes—though it has not always openly acknowledged the impact of Asian voices on it. The current project explores this rich and problematic history from a variety of disciplines and cultural traditions.

"In the mid-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, the age of high imperialism, Western theory rode into East Asia on the Black Ships, and China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam—at different moments and in different ways—found themselves subjected not only to direct imperialism, backed up by military and economic might, but also to various disciplines that sought to extract knowledge from Asia. Quickly, Asian intellectuals mobilized to transform themselves from passive objects to active subjects in this knowledge, attempting to appropriate the technologies and methodologies that were thought to evidence Western superiority over Asia. A whole range of neologisms were invented, or preexisting terms reformulated, to provide local names for concepts that had originated in the West but that purported to be universal in scope: 'Civilization and Enlightenment,' 'Woman,' 'Science,' 'Literature,' 'History,' 'International Law,' 'Society,' 'State,' 'Colony,' 'Self,' etc. A range of –isms also made their appearance in Asia: Marxism, Liberalism, Anarchism, etc."
Their study will also examine postwar Western, and especially American, concepts that had significant influence in Asia, such as "Modernization," "Citizen," "National Liberation," and still more recently, "Postmodernity," "Deconstruction," etc. The authors' assumption is that the West has presented its own views and theories as the universal and seen Asian views as particularistic.

They ask, "did, for example, the appearance of 'feminism' in Asian societies represent less a moment of 'liberation' than a repeat of the neocolonial imposition of Western modes of thought on non-Western societies?"

The four researchers plan to hold a series of three workshops, one per quarter, in the 2003-04 academic year, "each focusing on one of the periods described above, and each featuring working drafts of papers from scholars representing each of the following geographical areas: China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam." This will be followed by a major conference on the UCLA campus in the 2004-05 academic year where finished versions of the best papers from the earlier workshops will be presented.

They expect to produce a book from the conference papers. "We believe there would be strong interest in a volume of this sort from a number of scholarly presses, including the University of Hawaii Press, the Cornell University East Asian Papers series, the UCLA Asian Pacific Monograph Series, and other similar venues. Since papers will have been presented in both workshop and final form in stages 1 and 2, the volume should be ready for submission to an appropriate scholarly press by the end of calendar year 2005. John Duncan and Michael Bourdaghs will serve as editors for the volume."
HIV/AIDS and the Arts

David Gere, Assistant Professor of World Arts and Cultures, plans a three-year initiative on global HIV/AIDS and the arts, which will be partially funded by CIRA as well as from several other sources. It will begin with a faculty reading group and working group meeting in fall 2003, leading to an international conference on the subject of art and HIV to be held in Bangalore, India, in the summer of 2004. "The Bangalore conference will be followed up with a summary re-presentation of expanded conference papers back at UCLA in fall 2004, with an invited keynote speaker from India," Gere writes in his proposal. The conference is intended to produce an edited volume on the subject of art and global AIDS.

Tentatively titled How to Make Art in an Epidemic, this project is meant "to instigate a worldwide conversation among artists, activists, and academics on how the arts and artists can help stop the spread of this disease." David Gere's  previous work has focused on theatrical AIDS choreography and AIDS protests by gay men in the United States. He is working on the Indian component of the project while conducting research on art and AIDS in Bangalore as a Fulbright fellow. "Street theater troupes performing AIDS plays at bus shelters; a popular detective drama on national television whose main character doubles as an AIDS educator; and AIDS-themed performances by the Bharata Natyam dancer Mallika Sarabhai are among the new Indian art genres to be addressed at the conference and written about in the resulting edited volume. Such artistic interventions are expected to prove particularly crucial in India, where some analysts are predicting the current sleeping epidemic to blossom to 20-25 million infections by 2010, up from 3.9 million in 2000."

The primary goal of the team’s three-year initiative "is to save lives by sharing tactics among global cultural workers and researchers." The disciplines represented will include cultural studies, performance studies, dance studies, epidemiology, molecular and cell biology, public health, and the new field of art and health, which includes aspects of each of the contributing disciplines.

The plan for fall 2003 is to begin with a reading group for faculty and graduate students, led by team member Robert Sember of Columbia University’s School of Public Health. With funding from other sources, Gere and Sember will co-teach a new undergraduate course on global HIV/AIDS and the arts in fall 2003. "At the conclusion of fall 2003 the team of faculty and graduate students will join in the daylong working group I to lay out the parameters of research and writing to be presented at the Bangalore conference in summer 2004. The conference in Bangalore will bring together the five faculty team members and five graduate students from UCLA with artists, activists, and academics from India, in situ. The event will include the presentation of papers by team members and Indian guests. The papers written by UCLA faculty and graduate students will be offered in a re-presentation to the UCLA public in fall 2004, with Rustom Bharucha as keynote speaker. Bharucha, who is based in Calcutta, is the author of seven books on the arts in post-colonial India and he is currently working on projects in relation to the HIV/AIDS epidemic."

The publication of the resulting papers in an edited volume will be timed to coincide with a proposed museum exhibition in the summer/fall of 2006. David Gere, who has coedited two previous volumes of scholarship, one for Schirmer Books, the other for Wesleyan University Press, will take responsibility for seeing the project through to publication.

Poetry in the Formation of Internationalist Consciousness

Esha De in her proposals writes:

"Radical theories of globalization and empire seldom give a role to creative literature commensurate with its importance in theories of modernity, nationalism, and post-coloniality. If treated at all, 20th-century poetry, for instance, is generally viewed as belonging to a dimming era that also includes such purported symbols of the modern past as Marxist Leninist ideology, psychological depth or unity, and the principles and programs of the United Nations.

"It is significant, therefore, that resolutely single-voiced elegaic or lyric poetry and song have become the main genres of creative expression, protest, and controversy in response to the terrorist attacks on the United States of September 11, 2001, the subsequent military campaign in Afghanistan, and the U.S.-U.K. invasion of Iraq—events that, in fact, epitomize the new regime of Empire that has ascended since the collapse of the Soviet Union. . . .

"The focus of our CIRA project will be the political and ideological relation of the writing and teaching of intimate, "self-valorizing," or local forms of literature, such as lyric  poetry and community activist theater, to the history and present-day praxis of inter-nationalist, transnationalist, or globally conscious linguistic, political economic, and cultural movements that have not been significantly studied in Western academic research. In only two cases have our proposed topics been the focus of more than a single substantial study in a Western language. . . . It is hardly necessary to mention that much of our sense of urgency about recovering and teaching histories and literatures of alternative inter- and transnationalisms arises from present-day circumstances of actual and threatened war and cultural devastation. . . .

"The regional and linguistic scope of the topics we will cover includes the nations and some of the many languages of India, Japan, Korea, Pacific Island nations like Aotearoa/New Zealand, Fiji, and Tonga, Pakistan, the People's Republic of China, the Philippines, Thailand, and the United States of America, as well as the non-national language of Esperanto. Comparisons and actual historical connections will be drawn between many literary discourses of both liberation and assimilation, such as between African American and Korean Japanese minority literatures and between feminist Korean and nationalist South Asian poetries."

The ten participants in this project will study such diverse aspects of this issue as the effect of Asian models in Japan and China on African American verse, Chinese poets of the 20th century who resisted modernism and continued to work in classical forms, the use of Esperanto by Korean leftist nationalists, the aesthetics of the Indian nationalist movement prior to independence from Britain, women's poetry in South and Southeast Asia, the literature of minority groups in rural Thailand, and Tongan-Pacific Islander culture.  

More information is available on the CIRA website.


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