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Spectacle & Sovereignty: Stately Bodies on Display

This workshop focuses on the politics, aesthetics, and ethics of masculinity/femininity in the making of iconic wo/men who have become globally recognizable (some of them under the sign of “father/mother of the nation”). The modern era has produced all manner of male protagonists who at various times have served as the progenitors of the polities in whose very names they subsequently act and speak. Even as we ask why the “mother of the nation” is typically an abstraction while founding fathers are flesh-and-blood men, we are interested in considering how these flesh-and-blood men have been transformed into hyper-visible symbols forms that come to dominate public spaces and places. We are particularly interested in tracking the role of literary/visual imagery and media events in the production of such fatherly/motherly bodies which, following the work of Bishnupriya Ghosh, we characterize as “bio-icons.” We also ask what is at stake in placing the fatherly body under scrutiny in the wake of the feminist, post-structuralist, and post-colonialist turns in social scientific and historical scholarship.
The workshop thus seeks to bring to the fore the performative dimensions of sovereignty—widely conceived to range from notions of autonomy to exercise of authority—as these become visible in the calculated displays of political and stately bodies. We are particularly interested in understanding how image and media cultures work to turn flesh-and-blood bodies into spectacles in public and performative contexts, and are especially sensitive to the gendered dimensions of such spectacular performances. Not least, we wish to understand what such “sovereign” performances tell us about the national body politic that such icons enliven with their public displays.
1:00 PM.: Welcome and Introduction
Barbara Mittler (University of Heidelberg/Stanford Humanities Center) and Sumathi Ramaswamy
(Duke University)
Session 1 The Global Icon: Body and Power on Display
1:15–2:30 PM
Bishnupriya Ghosh (University of California, Santa Barbara)
“Coming Alive: Image Performances of Gandhi and Che”
2:30–3:45 PM
Gunter Leypoldt (University of Heidelberg)
“The Materiality of Charismatic Performance: How Politicians become Representative Men”

3:45–4:00 PM

Session 2 Spectacle: Performing the Postmortem Body

4:00–5:15 PM
Sharika Thiranagama (Stanford University)
“Younger Brother, Elder Brother, Leader, Sun God: Prabhakaran and the Sacralization of Death in Sri Lanka”

5:15-6:30 PM
Haiyan Lee (Stanford University)
“Mao’s Two Bodies: On the Curious (Political) Art of Impersonating the Great Helmsman”

7:00 PM
Workshop Dinner



Friday, January 23, 2015. 01:00 PM


Stanford Humanities Center Board Room


Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures