Embodied Readings, Old and New
In fall 2012 we will explore the embodiment of reading. Traditionally in Japan (and other Asian cultures), reading has been a physical act. Religious texts are recited, indeed, enacted. The body is marshaled into positions of reverence and discipline when reading. Posture, gesture, voice all participate in the act of reading. For our first seminar of the semester, we will invite noted scholars of Buddhist texts to attend our seminar and introduce us to their scholarship on sutras, recitation, and the physicality of reading.
The physicality of reading is not limited to sacred texts. Popular literature also elicits a physically active reading practice. In the classical era, texts were rarely read silently or in solitude. Rather, readers would gather together and peer at picture books while taking turns reading aloud. In fact, reading in Japanese literature has always been multi-sensual, with attention paid to the artistic presentation of the text. Often the way words were written carried as much importance as what was written. The tactile feel of the paper, the scent of the ink, the luster of the embellishments on the page all coalesced with the voice of the reader to create a particularly visceral reading experience. In the modern period, reading was conducted on street corners with magic lanterns and picture shows in an effort to disseminate information to larger and less educated audiences. Today, the technologies of reading are such that literature may be dispensed via cell phone, creating a completely new, multi-media, multi-sensual reading experience. In the second seminar of the semester, we will focus on secular reading and the way it engages the body.