Director, Center for Japanese Studies; Associate Professor, Asian Languages and Cultures
Current research interests
What I care about most as a scholar is the praxis of learning and teaching to read well. In this vein, my research and teaching explore the relation between legibility and embodiment. The aesthetic and political tactics through which bodies negotiate constraint intrigue me, whether in calligraphic prefaces or on Noh stages. The fundamental question driving my research is "How should bodies be read?" While my attempts to address the aesthetic and political dimensions of this question carve a cursive path, all my scholarly work has explored relationships between embodiment and legibility to some degree: in late-Heian handscrolls, medieval dance-drama, postwar Japanese choreography, Afro-Asian sculpture, slide guitar, and The Tale of Genji.
My research focuses on premodern Japanese culture and moves between three fields: literature, art history, and performance studies. My interests in critical theory stem from an ongoing search for ways to apprehend rhetorical, calligraphic, or choreographic maneuvers more amply. A confessed method junkie, I’m always trying to map how systems work--be they Heian poems, Noh exorcisms, or merchant capitalism’s investments in human bondage. My reading, teaching, and writing proceed recursively as I test approaches, then pivot to retool them. As this cycle repeats, new emphases dislodge routinized notions to lend conceptual momentum. Discussions with smart students spur this process, involving much experimentation in the classroom and on the page.
My recent scholarly writing focuses on questions of performance and performativity in Japanese cultural production. My completed book manuscript, Textures of Mourning: Calligraphy and Mortality in The Tale of Genji Scrolls, analyzes the ways in which dying and reading intersect acrossGenji's 12th and 21st century scroll renditions. I'm now revising a second manuscript, A Proximate Remove: Queering Intimacy and Loss in The Tale of Genji. In more nascent stages are two research projects: one on the relation between slavery and performance in premodern Japan; and a second on Yasuko Yokoshi’s inspiring choreography.
On a final note, let me say that long before any academic credentials accrued, my first loves were illustration and guitar. I believe these skills of drawing, composing, and performing sustain approaches to intellectual problems I confront today in other sectors. In other words, if I’m any good at interpreting handscrolls or sketching hannya masks, blame that metric ton of comics in my mother’s basement: it laid foundations for doctoral training that I can only appreciate in retrospect. I mention this for at least two resaons: to affirm those imaginative instincts institutionalized rubrics of excellence and expertise regularly devalue; and to encourage students to make their individual passions and intuition the basis of whatever style of inquiry they commit to practice. Students interested in talking shop or pursuing graduate studies are welcome to contact me.