Fall 2008

Figures of Ill-Repute: China, France, Japan

Listed in: First Year Seminar, as FYSE-08


Timothy J. Van Compernolle (Section 01)
Paola Zamperini (Section 02)


The French term demi-monde means literally “half-world.” Together with the equivalents in Chinese (qing lou) and Japanese (karyûkai), it generally indicates an eroticized space or profession that is outside the pale of respectable society. The quintessential figure is the female prostitute-whether the low-ranking sex worker or the high-class courtesan-but the term can also encompass the catamite, the bar hostess, the geisha, and the male prostitutes who cater to a female clientele. Because of their ambiguous status, demimonde figures and their sexuality often become a vehicle through which writers, artists, and polemicists explore the effects of desire on the larger social order, critique contemporary social mores, project their fantasies about male-female relations, and seek idealized symbols of femininity and masculinity. This comparative course focuses on the demimonde cultures of China, France, and Japan in an interdisciplinary exploration involving narrative fiction, film, historical scholarship, material culture, autobiography, art, law, theatrical works, and anthropology. As an introductory and interdisciplinary course in liberal studies, we will use both pre-modern, modern, and contemporary sources to ask questions about representation, agency, lived experience, desire, morality, law, abjection, money, and social stratification Fall semester. Professor Van Compernolle. Professor Zamperini.