Spectacular Subjects: Modernism, Gender and Visuality in Interwar Japan
- Start date: 1st August 2018
- End date: 31 December 2099
- Funder: Leverhulme (January – July 2019 only)
- Primary investigator: Dr Irena Hayter
Partners and collaborators
How do technologized and commodified modes of visuality relate to women’s social visibility in the 1920s and 1930s? How do we explain the common dynamic between visual technologies, commercial strategies of display and interwar modernism that blurs the distinctions between life and artifice, between images, mannequin dolls and real women?
Spectacular Subjects will be the first study to explore these questions in the context of interwar Japan, whilst keeping in sight globally synchronic developments. Conceived as an intervention into both Japanese studies and visual studies, the project builds on work that situates cinema in the popular and consumer cultures of modernity, attentive to changes in the visual economy (Hansen 2007; 1991; Bruno 1997; 1993; Friedberg 1993). My aim is to illuminate obscured junctures in Japanese cultural histories, but also to test, in the context of the Japanese interwar years, feminist arguments about the allegiances between the mannequin and the cinema as forms of image commodification (Conor 2002), as well as theoretical positions that associate dolls, wax figures and female androids with the logic of the simulacrum, fundamental to the properties of the cinematic apparatus (Bellour 1991; Michelson 1984). I will be mining both textual and visual archives, alert to how meaning was produced and how certain tropes travelled across perceptual fields: the confusion between animate and inanimate; the symbolic fragmentation of bodies; the struggles over subjectivity in the visual domain.
Spectacular Subjects will be the first cultural biography of the mannequin girl, a forgotten icon of Japanese interwar modernity, but also a media-historical exploration of the intersections between literary modernism, cinema screen and urban spectacle. Attentive to the frictions between imperial ideology and the new forces of visual commodification, it will foreground the moments when, pace Walter Benjamin (1999), mass culture offered glimpses of emancipatory possibility.
Publications and outputs
Hayter, Irena. ‘Mannequins, Movies and Mass Culture’: paper presented at the annual conference of the Association of Asian Studies, part of a panel ‘Aesthetics, Body, Japan’, 22 March 2019.
Hayter, Irena. ‘Phantasmatic Projections: The Film Star and the Fashion Model’: paper presented at the annual conference of the British Association of Japanese Studies, 6 Sep 2018.
Hayter, Irena. ‘About the Modern Girl, Again: Spectacle, Politics, Subjectivity’: paper presented at ‘Reconsidérer le “Modan”: La ville, le corps et le genre dans le Japon de l’entre-deux guerres’, a symposium at CEÉJA/ University of Strasbourg, 23 March 2017.
Hayter, Irena. 'Modernism, Gender and Consumer Spectacle in 1920s Tokyo', Japan Forum 27: 4 (2015), 454–75.