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UCI Humanities Center Hosts ‘Worldmaking Through Embodiment’

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The UCI Humanities Center held its fall 2022 Kickoff Celebration and Conversation by formally introducing this year’s theme for humanities core: “Worldmaking Through Embodiment” on Friday, Sept. 30.

Faculty director of the UCI Humanities Center Judy Tzu-Chun Wu opened the event by defining the theme as “how humanities thinking is relevant to the world around us.” She went on to describe worldmaking as representing a desire of the world we live in and the world we want to live in. Before introducing the guest speakers of the event, she left the audience with a few questions: “How do we imagine our place in the world? How do our bodies — the way we dress, move, and experience sensations — express and inform our ideas about our place in the world?”

Dean of the School of Humanities Tyrus Miller moderated the event and led the main discussion. Throughout the event, numerous speakers described what worldmaking and embodiment meant to them, incorporating their unique perspectives, and how the two concepts coincide. 

UCI Chancellor’s professor of English and director of humanities core Jonathan Alexander spoke on “our embodied realities,” relating the topic to the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on not only us physically, but the world around us and how we perceive it. 

“We are bodies taking up space,” Alexander said. “For instance, even something as seemingly simple as deciding to buy a bottle of water in a plastic container and then just unthinkingly throwing it away — that’s ‘building a world’ …  All choices build worlds. Becoming more mindful of those choices allows us, even in small but still consequential ways, to make better, more informed, and even more ethical choices.”

Assistant professor of doctoral studies Tara Rodman’s topic centered around worldmaking through embodiment in relation to fantasy. She defined fantasy as “the force of belief that calls worlds into being.” Rodman went on to explain that fantasy, worldmaking, and embodiment were not only connected, but co-dependent.

“Fantasy and worldmaking do not happen without embodiment …  there are no worlds without the bodies that make them,” Rodman said.

Speakers John Gillespie Jr., artist, songwriter, and Ph.D. candidate in comparative literature, and Waeli Wang, movement artist, filmmaker, and educator, both discussed how their art and worldmaking through embodiment correlate, but from two different angles. 

Gillespie discussed the relation of Afro-Pessimism to worldmaking through embodiment. Whereas Wang discussed the idea of storytelling in worldmaking and how she uses her body in her own work to tell stories and build worlds. 

“Freedom within the Black is not freedom in the world, but freedom from the world,” Gillespie said.

The speeches led into a short round-table discussion of worldmaking through embodiment with the main discussion surrounding the relationship between the technologies we love and our world, as well as disembodiment due to the pandemic and how we can combat these disembodied feelings as individuals. 

When asked what he thought about this year’s theme overall, Caleb Yang, a first year computer science major and Humanities Core enrollee, stated that he was a big fan of this year’s theme, describing it as a topic general enough for to have their own experience with and perspectives of it.

“Everyone has slightly different ways they interact with the world around them, and it’s always interesting learning about others’ experiences,” Yang stated.

To round out the event, guests were invited to follow Hansori, a traditional Korean Drumming group at UCI, to the Humanities Gateway patio where the echoing sounds of rhythmic drumming and gongs could be heard. Guests viewed performances and enjoyed food provided and served by the UCI Humanities Center.

“I [am] very much hoping that the Worldmaking through Embodiment event [will] focus attendees’ attention on all the ways that, as we move through the world, we are reinforcing and, consciously or not, validating the world that we inhabit, the world that we humans have made, including our culture, our political structures, even our sense of the environment and how best to interact with it,” Alexander said. 


Makyla McLeod is a Campus News Intern for the fall 2022 quarter. She can be reached at msmcleod@uci.edu.