Cross-Cultural Readings of Chineseness: Narratives, Images, and Interpretations of the 1990s

Cross-Cultural Readings of Chineseness: Narratives, Images, and Interpretations of the 1990s

Cross-Cultural Readings of Chineseness: Narratives, Images, and Interpretations of the 1990s

Cross-Cultural Readings of Chineseness: Narratives, Images, and Interpretations of the 1990s

Excerpt

The six essays in this volume offer interpretive readings of a film, a work of plastic art, and an essay, all products of contemporary China. The film examined here is Chen Kaige’s Temptress Moon, the art A Book from the Sky by Xu Bing, and the essay Zheng Min’s “Retrospect at the End of the Century: Chinese Language Reform and Modern Chinese Poetry.” Chen has been a notable figure in the limelight of international film circles for more than a decade. Xu’s accomplishment received recognition, most recently, in the form of a MacArthur “genius award.” Zheng Min’s essay did not appear in journals such as the New York Review of Books, but it is larded with quotations from Lacan and Derrida. These works are thus “Chinese” not just because they are by Chinese artists and writers and “from China” but because they also bear witness to cultural and intellectual imaginations both by the Chinese themselves and about China in an era of border-crossing. They constitute, in that sense, part and parcel of an interactive reconstruction of the meaning of “Chineseness” in our time.

The locus of this volume is thus not somewhere “inside China” in its territorially bounded convention, but a Chinese world that is being refashioned by its global reach. The interpretive readings are not directed at objects “out there”—museum pieces and cultural relics of discrete and delimited significance. They are examples, instead, of the possibilities of textual meanings produced through divergent practices of reading. The three sets of essays in this volume combine to show how a text can be made to yield opposing dimensions with the choice of particular strategies of reading.

What, for instance, does a Western audience see in a Chinese film or piece of art when the viewing takes place in the West? If—as is often the case—the “Chineseness” of the work inevitably surfaces as a predominant question, does this not demand of the work a certain ethnic attribute that reconstitutes its nature? What . . .

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