HL90 FN: Speculative East Asias

More new HL90s to consider this fall! Adhy Kim’s course, “Speculative East Asias,” meets Mondays from 12:45-2:45. Adhy told us more about some of the ideas and texts to look forward to this semester.

What inspired you to teach this class? 

I’ve always enjoyed things that involve alternate world-building but don’t get trapped in too many tropes. I’m also really interested in the venn diagram between literary and genre fiction and the space where the two categories overlap. We often think of literary fiction as these realist novels about everyday events and familiar situations and the recognizable dramas of human life, but I’m realizing how discussions of what’s “real” or “realistic” quite often lead to what we might consider the boundaries of the realistic and what straddles or lies outside those boundaries. Which leads a lot of people, including myself, to think about what fictionality even is, and what kind of conditions and strategies of representation make up the worlds we consider plausible or imaginable, but also the worlds we live in ourselves. All of which is to say, this class is about exploring how certain places and people are represented and fabricated, in ways that shape so much of our actual lives. The various ways “Asia” is represented and imagined – by both people in Asia and people outside of it – have major implications for how we understand ourselves in society and the environment, how we interact with others, and how we respond to geopolitical situations.   

What’s something you’re excited to share with students this semester?

I’m excited that we get to watch an anime movie in this class. For my adolescent self, anime was a silly little pastime that allowed me to see an absurd, (literally) cartoonish, larger-than-life version of “Asian” people and places. I never would have guessed back then that anime could ever show up on a university syllabus, even though it really shouldn’t be that surprising, since plenty of them are interesting and well-made. Though I don’t watch much anime now, I feel like assigning one is a kind of like giving credit to the less serious things in life and then seeing how it could actually be pretty meaningful.  

Why should students take this class?

I think this class could be interesting for anyone who likes to mess with what we so often take to be a given about the world we live in. We’ll think about how history is contingent on a lot of different factors and has the potential to go in so many different directions, and how speculative fiction can be one of the most effective outlets out there for experimenting with a wider spectrum of how people can experience reality. At the same time, we’ll recognize how we’re molded by what’s happened before us and what’s been laid in place for us now and in the future. A lot of this is deeply tied to politics, ideology, power, empire. Our identities are built from these histories accumulating over time and moving across places and bodies. This class will be a great way to meditate on such things.   

If you could live in any of the speculative scenarios that show up in a class text, what would it be?

I wouldn’t be thrilled to be in any of these scenarios, to be honest. Maybe I could try being a Korean cyber-shaman for five minutes without imploding.  

How can students learn more?

Take a look at the class Canvas site or email me at adkim@fas.harvard.edu

Published by Hist & Lit

Committee on Degrees in History & Literature at Harvard University

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