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Archipelagic Asia

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Organizer: Nicolai Volland

Co-Organizer: Leo Ching

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The study of literature of/in Asia remains fragmented, along the lines of nations, histories, ethnicities, languages, and disciplines—all concepts that are rooted, epistemologically and pragmatically, on terra firma, on the supposedly sound conceptual ground of a continental Enlightenment tradition. What happens, however, when we shift our point of view, and instead adopt an oceanic perspective on literatures from the Western Pacific region?

Groundbreaking work from oceanic studies, archipelagic studies, and the “blue humanities” has inserted critical acumen to literary metaregions such as the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, and the Indian Ocean, but is only beginning to be perceived in Asian literary studies. Oceans connect as much as they separate; they provide space for movement and mobility, in the physical and the metaphorical sense, and for comparison and relational thinking; and they challenge rigidly drawn disciplinary boundaries. The oceanic and the archipelagic, as critics such as Epeli Hau‘ofa, Édouard Glissant, and Françoise Lionnet have pointed out, harbor the potential to create alternative spaces for thought, push back against dominant epistemologies, and celebrate the minor, peripheral, and marginal.

This seminar invites contributors to rethink the conceptual apparatus and the critical parameters in which we think about literature from Asia. We welcome paper proposals that rethink East Asian, Southeast Asian, Inter-Asian, and Transpacific literatures from oceanic and archipelagic perspectives. How can a maritime perspective help to unsettle and reconstitute the field? How can individual Asian literatures, or authors, or genres, be reconceived in oceanic terms? How can oceans help us think across disciplinary boundaries? And how are our approaches to archipelagic Asia in turn linked to, and intervene in, current critical conversations such as the Anthropocene, decoloniality, and the Global South?

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