Notes on the Workshop: Invitation to a Stroll

Justyna Jaguścik

The preparations for the graduate student workshop “Asian Postmodernities and their Legacies,” jointly organized by the URPP Asia and Europe and the Institute of East Asian Studies, began in late fall 2011. The primary intention behind organizing Zurich-based Ph.D. candidates was to attract researchers from different fields who would bring various methodological backgrounds to the workshop. Although the geographical confines of our endeavors emphasized the east and southeast Asian borders, it was determined that the workshop should remain accessible for a wide range of academic fields. Our intention was to meet the Other in the disciplinary borderlands. [1]

The general topic resulted from our shared interests regarding current issues on the literary and cultural scene, as defined through their spatial embeddedness. Accordingly, the chosen title, “Asian Postmodernities,” was intended to bring notions of space and time into the foreground. We determined a preliminary and somewhat vague list of interconnected issues to be discussed during the workshop. ‘Loops’ [2] like ‘political and social legacies,’ ‘embodiments,’ ‘ecocriticism,’ and ‘history’ emerged from the rhetorical tangles in which we often found ourselves.

Our identification of these focal points may be seen as akin to establishing convolutes [3] to be filled with notes on the present day. This association is drawn from the lecture of Walter Benjamin’s unaccomplished “Arcades Project,” which was our guide through Berlin-Paris-Moscow modernities in our Ph.D. seminars in 2011. We expected participants invited to the workshop to join us in an unavoidably fragmentary, Benjaminian stroll through postmodern landscapes. The task with which we entrusted them was to help us to fill the convolutes on postmodernities.

“Illusions of postmodernism”

As an example of how our preliminary thoughts materialized during the workshop, I would like to give a glimpse of the fourth session on “Culture and Literary Studies.” This session’s participants critically discussed various modern “dreamworlds and catastrophes.” [4] They explored the mass culture dreamworld of semi-colonial Shanghai, that of emancipative socialist humanism, of technical and scientific progress, and of the dreamworld-cum-catastrophe of the Cultural Revolution.

Postmodernity might be seen as an attempt at coming to terms with the passing of these dreamworlds, which in their most practical guises represented a shattering of the entire construct of the Cold War world. After the utopian desire for social rearrangement turned into revolutionary terror and eventually gave way to global consumerism, one could say that nothing remains but the “illusions of postmodernism,” [5] to borrow the less than flattering words of Terry Eagleton.

The participants agreed, however, that the concept of postmodernity emerged as a critical space within the context of modernity. As a theoretical approach, postmodernism broke with safe conceptual schemata and reopened the questioning of subjectivity, materiality, discursivity, and knowledge. The notion of “Asian postmodernities” broadens their horizons even further.


1 Gloria Anzaldua, Borderlands/ La Frontera: The New Mestiza, Aunt Lute Books, 1987.

2 Rey Chow, Entanglements or Transmedial Thinking of Capture, Duke University Press, 1–2.

3 Walter Benjamin, Das Passagen-Werk, Suhrkamp Verlag, 1982.

4 Susan Buck-Morss, Dreamworld and Catastrophe: The Passing of Mass Utopia in East and West, MIT Press, 2000.

5 Terry Eagleton, The Illusions of Postmodernism, Blackwell, 1997.

(Asia & Europe Bulletin, 2/2013, p. 15)