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Anthropomorphism, Metamorphism, Transmorphism

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Organizer: Keijiro Suga

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Anthropomorphism begins with the accidental finding of a face. We humans perceive faces everywhere. If we see two dots and a short line, a face emerges. Once the outlines appear, the face becomes more evident. Woody patterns on the ceiling, stains on the wall, dots on the animal’s body, all evoke faces. And if we consider the case of insects’ mimicry, where an eye-like marking functions to repel a stronger natural enemy, we may imagine that a propensity for what we might call “visageity” is not limited to humans and other mammals.

Personification, anthropomorphism, and prosopopoeia all constitute a series of events. Even without actually perceiving an existence, when humans “sense” an imaginary entity they seem to find a counterpart in no time. Almost without the slightest time-lag, a hypothetical being can be hypostasized. It is in this way humans try to process the object of an unknown encounter as a “person.” Animals are discovered by hunter-gatherers, plant spirits by farmers, machines in modernity. Regardless of how they actually look, these objects are treated in their personhood, given explicit and implicit human-like bodies and minds, and treated meaningfully.

Such is the basis not only for animism but also for empathy. We see the human in what’s in front of us and act accordingly, for better or for worse. We imagine its sentiments and give it words. Yet, anthropomorphism itself is always in the process of metamorphosis.

We envision this seminar as following up on a successful symposium on the topic organized for the ASLE (Association for the Study of Literature and Environment) Japan 2021, in which participants discussed anthropomorphism in the works of anthropologist Michael Taussig (his theory of mimesis), of Japanese novelist Fujieda Shizuo (his animating the lifeless objects), and of British novelist Kazuo Ishiguro (his android protagonist). Expanding this horizon, we invite participants to discuss general topics of anthropomorphism from various fields: literary and cinematic studies, art history, multi-species anthropology, eco-ethnography, folklore and others, not limited to the established disciplines, let alone national/linguistic traditions.

Our seminar will consider how what we call “anthropomorphism” in many ways overflows into a sort of “metamorphism”, where the literary imagination goes beyond the human shape. Here we encounter a constant flow that keeps reshaping things through identification, projection, fear and hope. We believe this matter opens onto  a vast field of study that sheds light on human comportment in the material world.

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