"Listening to Asia" CAS Symposium, Schedule & Abstracts

Join us for the Second Annual Center for Asian Studies Symposium, an interdisciplinary inquiry into contemporary Asian societies and cultures.  This year, we explore the sounds of love and war, the voices of the subaltern and the middle classes, and music and dance from throughout the region. Please see full schedule below, or view our event flyer:

10:00 am | “Listening to Friends: Personal Networks, Social Support, and Friendships among Professional Women in Banglaore, India.” Rachel Fleming
 (PhD Candidate in Anthropology, CU-Boulder): As more women in Bangalore enter professions in information technology and other high-skill sectors, their participation in new work environments and higher earnings mean that their social networks and spaces of socializing are shifting from previous generations. With these new social options come negotiations over what constitutes a modern Indian woman, and new personal dilemmas that lead women to seek support form increasingly varied friendship networks. The assumption that India’s recent economic liberalization has resulted in gendered social change tends to focus on urban professional women struggling to balance modernity and respectability. However, there has been little ethnographic investigation into how these standards are negotiated in a particular community over time, or into how professional women’s participation in new friendship networks and spaces of socializing affects their personal lives, aspirations, and sense of self. Further, listening closely to the topics and questions working women talk through with their friends in informal social spaces can lend insight into broad reaching social changes in urban India. Based on ethnographic research conducted in Bangalore in 2011-12 with middle and upper class professional women, their friend groups, and members of their residential families, this paper uses the lens of friendship and especially conversations among friends to explore how professional women in Bangalore are establishing new spaces of belonging and ideas about gender in modern India. Through examining in particular how women are listening to each other, I engage debates about the role of middle-class women in the “new” India and propose friendship as a rich arena for understanding shifts in women’s lives and gender relations in times of social transition and uncertainty.
 
10:45 am | “Listening to Kill: The Signature of Drone Strikes.” Najeeb Jan (Assistant Professor of Geography, CU-Boulder): This paper will seek to raise a number of juridical, political, ethical and ontological issues raised by the CIA’s clandestine use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or Drones, to carry out “targeted assassinations” of Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants in the Federally Administrated Tribal Regions (FATA) of Pakistan. Equipped with high resolution camera’s and acoustic sensors, the Predators were initially conceived in the early 1990s for reconnaissance, observation and “intelligence gathering” roles. In the winter of 2000-2001, Cofer Black, head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (CTC), became a leading advocate for weaponizing the drones. The Predator drones were eventually modified and upgraded to carry and launch two AGM-114 Hellfire missiles. Currently there are two types of lethal drones being used by the USAf and the CIA: the MQ-1B Predator, the world’s first-ever weaponized unmanned aircraft system, and the multi-purpose MQ-9 Reaper. The CIA carried out its first targeted drone killing in February 2002 in Afghanistan. From 2002 to 2004, the US used Predator drones over Pakistani airspace strictly to undertake reconnaissance and forward observation missions. But then, in June 2004, with explicit backing from General Pervez Musharraf, the US launched its first strike in Pakistan against a local Taliban commander. When President Bush left office in 2009, the US had carried out at least 50 drone strikes inside Pakistan. Since then, President Obama has reportedly carried out more than five time that number: 300 strikes in just over three and a half years. This dramatic escalation in the US use of drones to carry out “signature” and “personality” strikes has not only resulted in over 1000 civilian deaths (including 130 children) but has brought with it escalating tensions between the US and Pakistan, the only ‘democratic’ ally that Washington now regularly bombs. Drones have become the counterterrorism weapons of choice for the Obama administration, and efforts are underway to normalize these exceptional practices. Today drones buzz over the entire region of FATA 24/7, terrorizing the region and its inhabitants, whose way of life has been transformed by the daily presence of these automated killing machines. While the drones are highly effective observation and listening devices, they are, I suggest, deaf to their own “signature”. In this paper I argue that the use of drones is not rapidly transforming the American way of war, it is also redefining the space, form and exercise of American global sovereignty. The paper will thus seek to not only problematize what, under the Obama administration, is an effort to effectively normalize a form of extra-judicial murder, but also – drawing on Foucault’s work on modernity and war and Agamben’s exploration of the exception – I shall seek to disclose the onto-political stakes of drone warfare.
 
11:15 am | “Love in Buddhist Tantra: A Tibetan Woman’s Voice.” Holly Gayley (Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, CU-Boulder): What is the status of love in Buddhist tantra? With reference to sexual practices in medieval India, scholars such as Lee Siegal have pronounced: “love plays no part in the Tantras.” In early Indian tantric sources, the ideal partner is portrayed as a parakiya, a stranger or one who belongs to another. Yet, as tantric practices developed in Tibet, sexual yoga with a consort routinely took place within longstanding partnerships, and the sangyum or “secret consort” became an honorific title for the wife of a prominent Buddhist teacher, particularly in the Nyingma sect where lineages have been passed down through the family. This presentation explores an eminent example of such a partnership. I explore the erotic and amorous language in the love letters exchanged between two Buddhist visionaries in contemporary Tibet, Khandro Tare Lhamo (1938-2002) and Namtrul Jigme Phuntsok (1994-2011). It is rare to find a woman’s voice on the tantric theme of sex, let alone love letters between Buddhist figures (this collection is the first of its kind t come to light). In their epistolary courtship, containing more than fifty letters exchanged between 1978-80, what kind of partnership do Khandro Tare Lhamo and Namtrul Jigme Phuntsok envision? What is the role of love and sex in their visionary revelations and teaching careers as a tantric couple beginning in the late 1980s?
 
1:30 pm | “Plagiarism and Transnational Listening Networks in the Hindi Film Industry.” Nilanjana Bhattacharjya (Honors Faculty Fellow, Barrett Honors College, Arizona State University): Some of the newest sounds within the Hindi film industry draw on other more distinct and regionally based markets including South Asian popular musicians outside the film music industry, as well as musicians from Egypt, Turkey, Korea, and Indonesia. While international and regional music traditions have always influenced film music, contemporary online forums and streaming sites have created an unprecedented exchange of knowledge about music from other regions and cultures. I will discuss how the recognition of and plagiarizing of non-Western musical sources serves to trace a transnational network of music and media distribution and question conventional distinctions among music markets and their respective audiences.
 
2:00 pm | “Gender, Identity and ‘Good’ Dance in South Indian Classical Dance and Film.” Rumya Putcha (Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of Music, Earlham College): This paper focuses on Coastal South India and examines how the indexing and construction of gendered bodies across expressive cultures, specifically film and classical dance, has changed in the postcolonial era. By bringing ethnographic and film analysis into conversation with one another, I will examine how ideals of gendered behavior have been addressed both musically and physically as dancing bodies have become incorporated within larger discourses of identity and “good” dance. In tracing constructions of femininity and masculinity and sexuality this presentation argues that ideal types are mirrored and echoed across the multitude of real and virtual spaces where South Indian dance occurs.
 
2:30 pm | “An Instrument on the India-Pakistan Border: A Cultural History of the Kamaicha of the Manganiyar of Rajasthan.” Shalini Ayyagari (Assistant Professor, Department of Performing Arts, American University): This presentation focuses on a genealogy of the kamaicha, an instrument whose sound and image define the Manganiyar, a community of musicians who live on the India-Pakistan border. I will tell the story of the kamaicha’s decline after the Partition (1947), when the instrument makers and players found themselves on opposite sides of an impenetrable political border. What effects has this political line had on contemporary performance practices of the Manganiyar, who no longer have kamaicha instrument makers at their disposal? This paper will ultimately grapple with the long-lasting repercussions of political border making on musical practices in South Asia.
 
3:00 pm | “Listening to Subaltern (Oppressed Outcaste) South Asians Become Cosmopolitan.” Zoe Sherinian (Associate Professor, School of Music, University of Oklahoma): Articulations of professional worldliness by Dalit (former untouchable) drummers of Tamil Nadu who face continued discrimination by upper-caste villagers, exemplify expressions of modernist agency of the oppressed that I term vernacular cosmopolitanism. Using the group Kurinji Malar, I show how these musicians embrace ideological, economic, and technological aspects of modernity as liberating from local hierarchies, while negotiating their village hereditary duties. I argue this is not only musical knowledge production from South Asia, but local knowledge that comes from the margins of the Indian village, (re)valued by Dalits through engagement with urbanites and foreigners and communicated through transnational connections of vernacular cosmopolitanism.
 
3:45 pm | “Art Songs from China, Korea, and Japan.” Mutsumi Moteki (Associate Professor of Vocal Coaching & Vocal Accompanying, College of Music, CU-Boulder): In the eastern Asian countries, specifically China, Korea, and Japan, Western culture including Western classical music was rapidly introduced and absorbed from the latter part of the 19th century onward. Composers in these countries started to write art songs in the western style in the beginning of the 20th century. Tracing how Asian composers over the past hundred years combined Western classical music with poetry from their respective countries will be a fascinating journey. In this short presentation, graduate voice students from the College of Music will perform two or three art songs in contrasting styles form each of the three countries. Wei Wu and SeRyung Choi will choose appropriate songs from China and Korea respectively, and will comment on their selections. Adara Towler will sing Japanese songs for the first time and will share her experience with the audience. These songs from three different countries may be performed occasionally by native speakers in their own voice recitals, but it s rare to hear them performed along side each other. This presentation will last about 30 minutes, but the length could adjusted depending on the symposium schedule. 
 
4:30 pm | “Sound, Word and Image in Traditional Japanese Dance.” Jay Keister (Associate Professor, College of Music, CU-Boulder) and Mami Itasaka-Keister (Instructor, College of Music, CU-Boulder): Japanese nihon buyo dance is an art form that suggests a narrative, but is best understood as a lyrical meeting of dance, music, and poetry that aesthetically merges humanity with nature. Like nature-based Japanese poetry, Japanese dance is less about the self-expression of the artist than about the evocation of nature imagery that becomes metaphoric of human emotion. Thus, the aesthetic goal of the dancer is not human expression but human transformation into an embodiment of nature. This lecture-demonstration will illustrate with live dance and music how movements, poses and sung poetry work together to enact this transformation of the dancer and paint an evocative character portrait in which explicit visual codes are integrated with ambiguous symbolism. The audience will learn how to identify the signs that communicate specific actions, character types, emotions and nature imagery, as well as the more ambiguous symbolism that gives Japanese dance its aesthetic power.
 
Reception immediately following.