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Puppetry in Literature

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Organizer: Deniz Başar

Co-Organizer: Alissa Mello

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The puppet has a long history of being wielded in literature as a symbol for manipulation/manipulated, a play thing lacking consciousness, a referent pointing to younthful/more innocent days. Puppets have also been utilized as tools of philosophical allegory since ancient times such as Plato’s cave. Where “puppet” has, on the one hand evolved into a literary shorthand with typically negative connotation of being controlled; the philosophical meanings of puppetry allegories have, in some instances, also evolved into national allegories (embodiments of the imaginations of nationhood, or the material representations of the changes of the state system) during the long 20th century. These ‘national allegories’ (which is not used necessarily in the sense that Frederic Jameson describes the term), metaphors, or narrative patterns constructed around puppetry have been utilized by foreign writers writing about other nations (such as French writer Paul Tillard’s 1956 novel Le Montreur de marionnettes about the shifts in Chinese society during and after the communist revolution) and writers writing about one’s own nation (such as Halide Edib Adıvar’s famous 1935 novel Sinekli Bakkal - The Clown and His Daughter and Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s The Mute's Soliloquy within the Buru Quartet). Therefore we ask questions about the relationship between puppetry and literature under a two overlapping titles for this panel:

1. Puppetry and/as philosophy in literature:
How does the idea of The Puppet come in conflict with specific uses of a puppet in different narrative contexts? From two-dimensional puppets to three-dimensional puppets to their cousins robots and avatars, how do writers and readers imagine or project consciousness onto objects? What do puppets as constructed bodies tell us about our notions of the monstrous (Victoria Nelson) and perfected bodies (E. Gordon Craig and Henrik von Kleist)? What are the parallel or contradicting relationalities of the figure of the puppet with monster and robot in literature? Considering that puppetry scholarship in Object Oriented Ontology and Thing Theory are disrupting the idea of the puppet as an object that is only manipulated by others; how might these new understandings of the puppetry play out in literature?

2. Representations of puppetry and its shifting contexts in literature:
Is The Puppet a liminal space used to discuss representation that has the capacity to embrace the micro (individual) to the macro (nation state)? What does puppetry mean in literature when it is framed as “children’s theatre” in one culture, or “a dying heritage art form” in another, or the dissemination tool of state’s political indoctrination in yet another? What is gained, or lost when literature recycles stories or characters from heritage puppetry in a “world literature” context? How does the use of puppetry in literature represent, confirm, or challenge discriminatory ideas about race, gender, ethnicity, or disability?

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