Sunday, July 14, 2013

Hyewon Ryu: "The Metropolitan Body in the Rise of the Early English Novel"

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A few years back, though not many, Professor Julie Choi here at Ewha Womans University asked if I could assist with one of her doctoral students in English literature, an especially gifted student, Ms. Hyewon Ryu (류혜원), who was working on the emergence of the English novel, and since I'm interested in literature, I agreed to serve as proofreader and occasional adviser.

That was a good decision, for I enjoyed working with Ms. Ryu, mostly offering editorial suggestions, but occasionally referring her to a book, e.g., Martin Jay's Downcast Eyes for the line Jay draws between Christianity's stress on God's clear, corrective vision of the individual and modern regulation of the body through observation that has been internalized. Whatever I might have contributed through such suggestions -- and there was little improvement for me to suggest -- Ms. Ryu recently submitted her thesis, "The Metropolitan Body in the Rise of the Early English Novel," and found it approved, making her now "Dr. Ryu." Here's the first paragraph of her "Abstract":
This thesis examines the eighteenth-century English novel in terms of the metropolitan body, molded in and by the discursive space of London. Viewing the body as both specific and collective, somatic and discursive, this thesis traces the interrelation between the construction of the novel and the body, particularly with regard to the city of London. The analysis is based upon the assumption that many strata coordinate the construction of the body as a nexus of discursive, spatial, and somatic operations. The eighteenth-century novel not only reflects the physicality of the body but shapes it through the production and consumption of discourses about the body. How the disruptive corporeality of the metropolitan body and its discipline configure the topography of London in the new form of the novel is the main concern of this thesis. Extending the Foucauldian framework of changing technologies of discipline, and incorporating the critique of everyday lived experience to the literary domain of the novel, this thesis views the structure of the eighteenth-century novel as corporeally and topographically figured.
Abstracts are always abstract. Her main point is an extension of Foucault's analysis of the way in which Modernity disciplined the body by subjecting it to continual observation, but she also draws upon the insights of Norbert Elias on the civilizing process. Now that I think of it, I ought to have directed her to Marcel Mauss's 1934 essay, "Techniques of the Body," in which he observes, "We no longer know how to squat." Well, I cannot think of everything, and perhaps not of this point in particular because, like modern folk everywhere, I'm too preoccupied with standing tall. Actually, I tend to slouch, but my teenage son, who stands straight, is working on disciplining my body by subjecting me to continual observation -- a domestic variant of Foucault's panopticon -- and correcting my slouching lack of discipline through his endless observations! Speaking of discipline and its lack, I've gotten off-topic. I wanted to add that despite the abstractness of Dr. Ryu's "Abstract," the thesis is in fact very easy to read -- well written, well supported, well done! And in spite of my inadequacies as informal adviser, Dr. Ryu mentions me in the "Acknowledgements":
I also appreciate the time and effort Horace Jeffery Hodges has spent carefully reviewing my thesis.
Dr. Ryu didn't really need much of my help, but anyway, if others out there are interested in the rise of the English novel, this thesis is a good place to start. I suppose it'll be in Ewha's library.

Oh, that image above! Ned Ward's London Spy is one of the early texts Dr. Ryu analyzes . . .

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