Academic journal article Film Criticism

Time, History, and Memory in Jia Zhangke's 24 City

Academic journal article Film Criticism

Time, History, and Memory in Jia Zhangke's 24 City

Article excerpt

Henry Lefebvre once said that "[i]t is now space more than time that hides things from us.... [T]he demystification of spatiality and its veiled instrumentality of power is the key to making practical, political, and theoretical sense of the contemporary era" (qtd. in Soja 61). In recent years, the research focus in academic disciplines such as history and sociology, which traditionally have framed their research questions in terms of time, has been undergoing a conceptual shift from time to space. This trend is evident in the popularity of concepts such as world history, transnationalism, and globalism, all of which are conceptualized in topological forms and structures. This interest in space also has infiltrated discussions of China's underground and independent films, many of which center on the experience of urbanization and locality as well as the issues of modernity and globalization.

In Gilles Deleuze's colossal works on cinema, The Movement Image and The Time Image, he uses 1945 as a demarcation and argues that the development of cinema in its pre-1945 mode was obsessed with space while the post-1945 cinema has been preoccupied with time and modernity. Important works on China's contemporary underground and independent films, such as Cinema, Space, and Polylocality in a Globalizing China (2010), The Urban Generation (2007), and From Underground to Independent (2006), all focus extensively on cities as sites of social, economic, and political transformation. These works help to explain many underground and independent filmmakers' singular preoccupation with space, specifically demolition and reconstruction in cities, and the related issues of sociopolitical change in contemporary China. These recent studies raise important theoretical questions of whether this current preoccupation with space signals a new phase in the development of cinema, a return to Deleuze's pre-1945 classical mode of obsession with space, or something completely new. This vexing question, however, exceeds the scope of the current study. My intent here is to point out that in these important works on China's underground and independent films, the issue of space is frequently emphasized in a way that leads to the critical neglect of temporal considerations.

There are dangers when time is neglected in discussions of modernity and globalization in China. Homi Bhabha aptly criticizes Foucault's Eurocentric spatialization of the time of modernity and questions its "ambivalent temporality" (207). As Bhabha puts it, "each repetition of the sign of modernity is different, specific to its historical and cultural conditions of enunciation" (207). Temporal considerations are crucial to understanding modernity, especially the modernity of the non-European countries, because modernity exists in different times. In Anthony Giddens's concept of globalization as a consequence of modernity, globalization is best understood as expressing a fundamental aspect of time-space distanciation (King 108). Arjun Appadurai, in his influential Modernity at Large, goes even further to link globalization and modernity by articulating the relationship between the modern and the contemporary. For Appadurai, the modern is not a fact, an epoch, or a stage. Rather, it is a vision and a project. The contemporary, on the other hand, is a condition. Even though migration, media, mass mediation, ideology, technology, and money existed in different forms in the past, we now live in a postnational or transnational world in which current global flows occur: they occur through the "relations of disjuncture" that are strikingly different and painfully new (Appadurai 45-47). The global flows occur without precedent not only in Europe but throughout the world. The particular relevance of Appadurai's conceptions of global flows and locality to this essay is that these concepts open up the question of time and temporality. As Appadurai states, "the project of the production of locality is an effort to work against the constant erosion of the present, both by change and by uncertainty" (Perspecta 47). …

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