"Stand Up Straight": Posture and the Meanings Attributed to the Upright Body

Date: 14 January 2011
Time: 4:00 - 5:30pm
Venue: Room 150, Main Building, The University of Hong Kong

"Stand Up Straight": Posture and the Meanings Attributed to the Upright Body by Sander L Gilman (Distinguished Professor of the Liberal Arts and Sciences, Emory University and Visiting Research Professor of European Studies, The University of Hong Kong )

seminar posterThe talk will focus on a set of interlinked claims about posture in modern culture. Over the past two centuries it has come to define a wide range of assumptions in the West from what makes human beings human (from Lamarck to Darwin) and beyond to the efficacy of the body in warfare (from Dutch drill manuals in the 17th century to German military medical studies of soldiers in the 19th century). Dance and sport both are forms of posture training in terms of their own claims. Posture separates 'primitive' from 'advanced' peoples and the 'ill' from the 'healthy'. Indeed an entire medical sub-specialty developed in which gymnastics defined and recuperated the body (from Swedish and German Sports to Krankengymnastik to modern Gym Culture). But all of these claims were also part of a Western attempt to use posture (and the means of altering it) as the litmus test for the healthy modern body of the perfect citizen. Focusing on the centrality of posture in two oddly linked moments of modern thought - modern Zionist thought and Nationalism in early 20th century China - in terms of bodily reform, Prof Gilman shall illustrate how all of the earlier Western claims about posture (and the body of the 'sick Jew' as well as the 'sick man of Asia') brings all of the earlier debates together to reform unhealthy posture.

The event was organized in collaboration with the Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences.

For further enquiries, please contact Dr Zhou Xun.