Week+6+Rey+Chow+-+Male+Narcissism+and+National+Culture,+Subjectivity+in+Chen+Kaige_s+King+of+Childre

Week+6+Rey+Chow+-+Male+Narcissism+and+National+Culture,+Subjectivity+in+Chen+Kaige_s+King+of+Childre

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Unformatted text preview: WARNING CONCERNING COPYRIGHT'RESTRICT IONS The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproduction of copyrighted material. Under certain conditions specified in the law, libraries and archives are authorized to furnish a photocopy or other reproduction. One of these specified conditions is that the photocopy or reproduction is not to be used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research. If electronic transmission of reserve material is used for purposes in excess of what constitutes "fair use”, that user may be liable for copyright infringement. 1 Q5311 mg 3 Male Narcissism and National Culture: Subjectivity in Chen Kaige’s King gftbe Children Part lzThe Detour How many [teachers] (the majority) do not even begin to suspect the “work” the system (which is bigger than they are and crushes them) forces them to do, or worse, put all their heart and ingenuity into performing it with the most advanced awareness. . . _ So little do they suspect it that their own devotion contributes to the maintenance and nourishment of this ideological representation of the School. Louis Althusser, “ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses: Notes towards an Investigation” The history of the “educated” ought to be materialistically presented as a function of and in close relation to a “history of uneducation.” Walter Benjamin, Moscow Diary Like living things, words and phrases undergo fates inconceivable at their moments of birth. In contemporary Chinese writings, especially 109 Mai-z Narcissisru Md Nuiionai (nib-we of the kind that we encounter in the media—newspaper articles, reviews in nonacademic journals, and popular political discourses—we run, from fime to time, across this phrase, which is used to suggest the determinacy of hope: in shi ran zou chu lei de (roads are made by men). Because of the phrase’s popularized nature, I have no need to cite spe- cific examples. (Those who read regularly in Chinese Would recognize what I am saying immediately.) The by now idiomatic nature of this phrase shows us how an expression of hope can be standardized through mass usage. The phrase originated in a passage from the ending of Lu Xun’s “Gux- iang” (“My Old Home,” 192 1). This is, among other things, a story that tells of the changed relationship between the narrator and his childhood friend, Runtu, a member of the servant class. Once equals in the world of children’s play, the two adult men’s reencounter is shaped by a class- consciousness that becomes painful for the narrator. Even though, on first seeing Runtu again, the narrator keeps to the old familial appella- tion Bantu gs (older brother Runtu), Runtu addresses him from the place of a servant: laoye (old master). As in all of Lu Xun’s fiction, the gap between the intellectual narrator, who belongs to the educated class, and the oppressed “others” who make up the contents of his story- telling intensifies as the narrative progresses. In “My Old Home,” this gap is “filled” at the end by a reflection on hope. Thinking of hope, the narrator becomes aware of its idolatrous nature. Does his reliance on “hope” not make him more similar to Runtu than he first imagined? The difference, he writes, is perhaps simply that between an accessible and an intangible idol: “The access of hope made me suddenly afraid.When Runtu had asked for the incense-burner and candlesticks I had laughed up my sleeve at him, to think that he was still worshipping idols and would never put them out of his mind.Yet what I now called hope was no more than an idol I had created myself. The only difference was that what he desired was close at hand, while what I desired was less easily realized 3’1 After asserting the equality between himself and a member of the lower class at the point of his departure from the place in which Runtu is probably stuck for life, the narrator concludes his tale with the pas- sage on hope that subsequently gave rise to the idiomatic phrase “roads are made by men.” Lu Xun’s text goes as follows: “I thought: hope can not be said to exist, nor can it be said not to exist. It is just like roads llU Sow-Ne (Obi-EMPOYGJV (Lines: Films Male Narcissism «Ml National (Mime {the .19205 and 19305 launched by the Chinese communists, such politi- es] truthfulness was threatening because it did not cooperate or con- form with the absolute clarity of direction laid down by the party. One could say that the orthodox communist criticism of textual elusiveness such as Lu Xun’s implies this question: if there is hope, why are you writers not more assertive?A more programmatic, indeed official, rep“ ' resentation of the people and of hope therefore increasingly came to replace the kind of uncompromised incisiveness in Lu Xun’s percep- tion. However, the issues embedded in the “making of roads” do not dis- appear. Although the short—story form became impermissible with the new social orthodoxy in the decades after Lu Xun’s death, the problems it poses, precisely because they pertain to fundamental quesn'ons of morality, “raise their head every time there is a political thaw.”s As a figure of wager, hope can, I think, be redefined through “subjec- tivity.” “Subjectivity” is one of those “politically incorrect” words that conjure up notions of “bourgeois idealism” for orthodox Marxist critics. Terry Eagleton, for instance, disapproves of it from the viewpoint of a Western European, supposedly post-Althusserian Marxist literary crit— icism, as a category tainted with “intransigent individualism”: “It remains the case that the subject of semiotic/ psychoanalytic theory is essentially the nuclear subject .””While I disagree with Eagleton, I find his statement useful in helping to clarify the Chinese situation. In Chinese communist scholarship, it is common to hear the same kind of ideolog- ical objection to the “subjective,” which is mapped onto such expres- sions as zhuguan (subjective view), weixin zhuyi (idealism; literally, “heartism”), and so on. In a period in which cognition is intertwined with issues of politics, and in which creative energies have to be chan— neled toward fighting for the national cause, the literary forms that can across the earth. For actually the earth had no roads to begin withg-‘b'ut. when many men pass one way, a road is made.”2 _- 5 _ Why is Lu Xun’s passage instructive for a discussion of contemporary Chinese culture? Thematically, Lu Xun’s works stage the problems that. continue to haunt Chinese intellectuals: the impossibility of effecljv _: social change, the unbridgeable gap between the educated class andth'e “people,” and the fantastical nature of any form of “hope.”What comes across in Lu Xun’s passage is the awareness that hope is at best a formof wager. Hope is, by nature, indeterminate, but people can, if thereii-are large numbers of them, consciously steer it in one direction. Lu Xu'n’s text itself, however, does not do that. Instead it remains, in a way that is ironic to the positive interpretation that has been imposed upon it since, in a state that can be referred to in Chinese as wake naihe (having no alternative), wuke wubuke (not caring one way or another), moleng Iianglze (equivocal or ambiguous).The text’s originary indeterminacy, in other words, is what enables its subsequent politicized appropriation. The interpretative production of the affirmative phrase “roads are made by men” is thus itself a historical materialization of the arbitrary process of road making that Lu Xun describes: as more people pass one way, a road is made. I A return to the relationship between the elusiveness of an originary textual moment and its eventual honed version indicates a way of understanding the notion of the “people” and “mass” in poliu'cal process- es. One could say that the power of the people or mass lies in the form of an indeterminacy. Precisely because they are undecided, they can go one way or another. For something—history—to happen, it would take a forcing—an aceident perhaps—in a definite direction.The new direc- tion as such, however, always retains its originally arbitrary character. Lu Xun’s tactical understanding of the arbitrary nature of politics, though not directly stated, is implied in the way “hope” always appears as a figure of enigma in his fictional texts} Because it is always to be decided—or arbitrated—hope cannot be known for certain in the pre— sent. We can now understand why there are often what appear to be inexplicable shifts in narrative moods in his stories. Marston Anderson comments that such narrative shifts have led Lu Xun’s crifics to classify his work in two apparently contradictory fashions, as satiric realist, and as reminiscent and lyrical.4 This contradiction is a politically truthful one. In the subsequent reappraisals and criticisms of the writings from be viewed as paradigms of exploran'ons of subjectivity, such as biogra- phies, autobiographies, diaries, first-person narratives, and narratives that deal explicitly with issues of sexuality, tend to live brief lives and remain subordinated to the more conventionally “public” concerns of history and realism. If, on the other hand, we dislodge subjectivity from the narrow “nuclear” mode in which Eagleton puts it and instead understand it in terms of the material relationships among human beings as participants in a society—relationships that are in turn mediated by the collective cultural activities of speaking, reading, and writingmthen it is an issue 112 Some (oniemporaty (AIMS-e Films that is as forcefully present in modern Chinese literature and culture as it is in the West, even if it is not named as such. . I suggest that the predominant subjectivity that surfaces in the May Fourth period (mid-19105 to around 1930) is not so much a dense psy- chic “self,” impenetrable and solipsistic, as a relationship between the writer, his or her object of narration, and the reader. In political terms, this is the relationship between Chinese intellectuals, the Chinese national culture, and “the people.” In the writing of fiction, this rela- tionship always presents itself as a question rather than a solution: how do we write (construct images of Our culture) in order to relate to “the people”—especially those who are socially inferior and powerless, since the}! are the ones who constitute the “mass”gf the nation? As such, subjectivity, even when it appears in the most “subjective” or “privatized” forms (as for instance in Yu Dafu’s writings), is incomprehensible apart from its fundamental implication in the question of national culture. At the same time, it is also this tenacious relation with national culture that makes the differences between intellectuals and the masses (differences generated by the activity of literary production) a continual source of tension between Chinese intellectuals and the party state, as both hold claims to the indeterminate “mass,” for whom they both want to speak.7 If we rethink the history of modern Chinese literature along these lines, that is, if we regard “history” as a matter of the contending claims made by the state and Chinese intellectuals on “the Chinese people’Le a figure as enigmatic as hope itself—then it becomes necessary to ask how “the Chinese people” are represented. Through what kinds of aes- thetic displacements and idealizations are they “constituted”? Typically, “the Chinese people” are displaced onto figures of the pow- erless. Hence, I think, the large numbers of social inferiors who appear in the texts of modern Chinese literature. Literature is no longer, in the modern world, about the lives of emperors; rather, it is about the oppressed classes—the wretched of the earth. Other than the positivis- tic view that these are “realistic portrayals” of modern history, what else can we say about such frequent—indeed epochalflrepresentations of the underprivileged? In other words, why does the conception and con- struction of a modern national culture—if writing in the postimperial— istic “third world” is in part about that—take the form of an aesthetic preoccupation with the figures of the powerless? What does it say in 113 Mal-e Narcissism anti Nniiohal Culture terms of the things that we have been talking about—hope, the making of roads, and subjectivity? Of all the figures of the powerless, the child is at center stage. One would need to include here not only stories about children, whether from the lower or from the upper classes, but alsu the autobiographical narratives in which Chinese writers look‘back to their childhood as a so'urce for their current literary production. (The list of writers here is long: Lu Xun, Ba lin, Bing Xin, Ding Ling, Ye Shengtao, Guo Moruo, Xiao Hong, Sheri Congwen, Ling Shuhua, Luo Shu, Zhu Ziqing, Xu Dis— han, and many others.) It is as if the adult thinking about China and the Chinese people always takes the route of memory in which the writing self connects with the culture at large through a specific form of “oth- ering”—the presumably not yet acculturated figure of the child. In this light, the centinuity among Chinese intellectuals from the May Fourth to the present period could be traced in another one of Lu Xun’s enig— matic narrative endings, that of “Kuangren riji” (“The Diary of a Mad- man,” 1918): “Jiujiu haizi . . .” (“Save the:Children . . .”). AtYan’an in 194-2, Mao Zedong would end a speech on art and literature with a cou~ plet from Lu Xun about children, to which he supplies his own politi- . cized interpretation: This couplet from a poem by Lu I-Isun should be our motto: Fierce—brewed, I coolly defy a thousand pointing fingers, Head-bowed, like a willing or I serve the children. The “thousand pointing fingers” are our enemies, and we will never yield to them, no matter how ferocious.The “children” here symbolize the proletariat and the masses. All Communists, all rev- olutionaries, all revolutionary literary and art workers should learn from the example of Lu l-lsun and be “oxen” for the prole- tariat and the masses, bending their backs to the task until their dying day.8 Mao’s interpretation empowers the figure of the powerless child by renaming it as the proletariat and the masses. Ultimately, it is by giving this enigmatic figure, “the Chinese people,” a specific politicized shape 114 Some Conizmrorav (Aimsa Films that the party state succeeded in mobilizing popular sympathies. The “powerless” is thus turned around representationally and becomes the means to construct national culture on a “concrete” basis. The utilitari- an nature of this process of empowerment is familiar to all of us. The “masses,” because they are “powerless,” should, ideally speaking, be users of intellectuals, who are now at their service. But service here clusters around another figure—mthe ox/ cow. Lu Xun uses this figure in a such a way as to recall not only China’s agrari— an origins but also the familiar and familial Process, traceable to images in classical art and poetry, of the affectionate playing between adults and children in which adults act as toy cows on which children ride. The image of “intellectuals becoming oxen for the masses” is thus inter- twined with the realm of meanings associated with children, parents, kinship, and genealogy—a realm of meanings that Mao removed—or at least shifted away—from Lu Xun’s couplet in order to consolidate his own analysis of Chinese society and its need for revolution in terms of “class” and “class struggle,”9 In ways that exceed Mao’s restrictive polit- ical purpose, however, Lu Xun’s image stages the philosophical strug- gles between the state and intellectuals over the “Chinese people” in terms of reproduction that continue to this day. The components of this image—intellectuals, oxen, the masses— are what make up Chen Kaige’s Haizi wang (King 9" the Children; Xian Film Studio, 1987), a film based on the novel of the same title by A Cheng (1984).10 The story of King gram Children takes place in the post—Cultural Revolution period in a rural area. Lao Gan, the narrator and protagonist, is posted to a school after spending years in a produc— tion unit. A Cheng’s story focuses on Lao Gan’s relationship with his young students and the changes he introduces in their methods of learn— ing. Before he came, the students had “learned” by copying texts that their former teachers had copied onto the blackboard. Seeing how futile this is, Lao Gan teaches them how to read, character by character, and then proceeds to teach them composition. One student,ng Fu, grad- ually emerges as the most outstanding one through his hard work. His special relationship with Lao Gan prompts the latter, as he is dismissed from the school at the end, to leave behind for Wang Pu the only avail- able Chinese dictionary, which the students revere as “the teacher of the teacher.” Both the novel and the film draw attention to children as that class of 115 Mala Narcissism Md NAllObnl (vulture social inferiors who continue to fascinate modern Chinese intellectuals. What distinguishes the children in King 9" the Children is that they pose a specific question about national culture: the status of education. They are thus not simply membersr—to use the psychoanalyfic categories from Lacan—of a presymbolic infantile state but already participants in a major social institution, what for Althusser is the major “ideological state apparatus” of the school. 11 At the same time, the children are pow— erless, their future as yet undecided. This future raises the question of hope, and hope seems dismal in the aftermath of the Cultural Revolu- tion. Although in his novel A Cheng never directly describes the Cul- tural Revolution as such, we feel its destructive effects unmistakably, through the impoverished state in which the Chinese education system now fmds itself. What kind of a road can be made for these children? This is, I think, the primary issue in A Chang’s text; its force is a peda— gogical one. As a socially powerless figure, the schoolchild becomes the site for cultural (re)production and its various levels of arbitration. InA Cheng, Lao Gan acts as the agent who steers these schoolchildren away from the reproduction of a desuuctive culture. By training them how to read and write from scratch, we are given to think, it might be possible to regenerate national culture in a posiu've manner. Instead of being ‘ associated with a particular political system, communism, this national culture would now be rooted in the humanistic principles of learning.12 For me, what makes Chen Kaige’s film interesting to watch is not its faithfulness to A Cheng’s novel but the way in which it departs from the novel through its translation into the film medium. This is not a transla— tion in the sense of producing a “filmic version” of the same story. Rather, in the translation that is filming, we witness a significant shift from A Chang’s script.What this means is that, first, the translation from writing into film removes the story from the terrain of words into a realm in which verbal language is merely one among many levels of expression. Second, and more important, the shift from script to film is also a shift awayfiom the primacy of writing. Because writing occupies the central position among representational forms in the Chinese cul- ture (in which to draw or paint, for instance, is referred to as xiehua, lit- erally “to write a picture”), and also because the content of the story itself is about the acquisition of the use of the written word, the trans- lau'on into film, in which nonverbal cultural signifiers'such as visual images and sounds play a primary role, poses all the questions about lit— Some Contemporary (Linen Films erature and national culture we have raised so farwquestions that are condensed in A Cheng's story into the relationship between teacher and Children in the school—in entirely different ways. In an account of the relationship between literature and film the Russian formalist critic Boris Eikhenbaum writes: , The cinema audience is placed in completely new conditions of perception, which are to an extent opposite to those of the read- mg process.Whereas the reader moved from the printed word to visualisation of the subject, the viewer goes in the opposite direc— tion: he moves from the subject, from comparison of the moving I frames to their comprehension, to naming them; in short, to the construction of internal speech. The success of film is partially connected to this new and heretofore undeveloped kind of intel— lectual exercise.13 What Eikhenbaum refers to as “the construction of internal speech” can be restated simply as the verbal interpretation of the filmic image.That however, is precisely the problem: how is “internal speech” to be con: structed? How exactly do we undertake what was at Eikhenhaum’s time :1 “new”and heretofore undeveloped kind of intellectual exercise”—the move, the translation from filmic images-to words? - To begin to approach this problem, I think we need to think of “' ter- nal speech” not as a self-generating, self—sufficient monologue but rather in terms of the problematic of language and discourse as formulated in the works of Mikhail Bakhfin/V. N. Voloiinov. 14' Instead of understand- ing discourse as simply a tool at the disposal of the individual user Bakhtin and Voloiinov argue that discourse, even when it appears td come from a single individual user, is in fact a plural or “polyphonic” phenomenon peopled with the intentions of others. Similarly, we ma say that “internal speech” is always already a socially constituted discur): sive reality: it is dialogic in nature even if it is heard only as a single monologic utterance. Its apparent “interiority” or “privacy” notwith: standing, “internal speech” is a site of struggle, a meetin ound between competing voices. g gr if Bakhtin’s and Volosinov’s understanding of the social nature of internal speech relies as its model on the medium of verbal language Male Narcissism Md National Culture Eikhenbaum’s attention to the relationship between literature and film shifts the problematic of internal speech to a more complex level by posing the additional question of how internal speech is constructed when more than one type of medium is involved. In other words, Eikhenbaum’s passage asks, How is the sociality qf internal speech to be understood through visuality, through the relation between visuality and words? The visual image, as we know, is characterized by two seemingly opposite features: obviousness and silence.While the obviousness of the presence, the silence of the image sug— 1mage expresses an unambiguous all those areas of “otherness” that gests, instead, nonpresence—that is, are an inherent part of any single “presence.”This “double feature” of the visual image means that, when considered in relation to visuality, the construction of internal speech must be posed in different terms. If, when we speak of the dialogicity of internal speech in the verbal sense, we must resort to figures of speech such as “a struggle between differ- ent voices”; when we deal with the dialogicity of internal speech in the medium of visuality, we have conveniently at our aid the “double fea- ture” of the image itself. The silence of the image, which exists side by side with its imagistic obviousness, serves as an economical means of evoking all those subterranean elements that are not immediately pre- sent but are nonetheless implicit. This silence thus becomes a way of staging, in and beyond its visible form, the inter-media-ry nature of “consciousness’L—of consciousness not only as a struggle between voic- es (as in Bakhtin andVoloEinov), but also as a crossing between sign sys- Precisely because this silence tems, between visuality and verbality. (what Eikhenbaum calls necessitates translation and interpretation “naming”), highlighting thus the discontinuity between visual significa- tion and verbal signification, the image is, we may say, an especially ger- mane illustration of the mediated natu structedness) of internal speech. In the terms of our ongoing discussion, chang the relationship between the individual as p (for instance, of his individualized physic This is a relationship that is always to he articu differen film that Eikhenbaum mentions is particularly relevant her re (the construction and con- “internal speech” is also inter- eable with what I have been referring to as subjectivity, namely, articipant in social activity film watching) and that which transcends the boundaries a1 apparatus—his own bodily vision/ look. lated/ constructed. The ce between responding to the printed word and responding to e because we Some Contemporary (Lines: Fifms are dealing with the translation of a novel into a filmic text. Where words have provided theclues to a pOSsible relationship between Lao Gan and the world at large (he is, after all, the narrating subject in A One specificfilmic feature that departs from the novel is Chen uses Lao Gan’s look to reo Throughout the film, We see shots 0 sometimes as if he is surprised, instance, after settling down in hi pen the question of pedagogy.15 f Lao Gan staring into the distance, other times as if in a daydream. For shows him sitting by a window inside, with his hands han in o t leisurely. As he unconsciously touches himself by crossin ghisgl u graceful fingerSghis eyes look into the distance. Followin higs look ong ask: what does he see? If the individual look is a response tgo-a colledti:: gaze, to what does his look respond?What is the larger realm that con— nects with this look? In the lan . . guage of contem ora film ' ' ' this is a question about suturin P ry gunman, ‘ . gH—that process of subjective activation and reactnration through complex transactions betWeen symbolic and mm 1. . . . . . g nary signlficanons, transactions that give rise to an illusory sense look cohere? The School By followingA Cheng’s script, Chen shows that Lao Gan’s look seeks its fennection m the schoolchildren whose education appomtment. The protagonist’s look here is the specific device through which the issue of pedagogy is addressed fiirnicaiiy. “How does one teach in the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution?” becomes “How d . . , 1:hoes one look into the eyes of China 5 future generation?” But because e question is now ask ' ‘ ' ‘ “sublecfi -t 3 ed spec1fically 1n the form of Vision, it leaves J v1 y a matter of construction, offering us that “new and heretofore undev l d 1d . _ ” mentions. e ope rid of intellectual exermse that Eikhenbaum constitutes his 11‘) Maia Narcissism and Naiionai Culture Lao Gan ’s discomfort at the question about pedagogy is evident from the time he arrives at the school. First, he discovers to his surprise that he has been assigned to a higher grade than he thought he was qualified to teach. Then, on arriving at the door of the classroom, he drops his books. As if in a confrontation, he greets with great unease the little faces that await him. This mutually responsive relationship, back and forth between teacher and schoolchildren, directs the narrative devel~ opment of the story. When Lao Gan realizes that all he can do is to copy, a deep sense of frustration arises. With his back to the children, he copies standardized communist texts onto the blackboard, day in and day out.The Children, on their part, copy everything mechanically into their notebooks. The sounds of chalk on the blackboard and pencils on notebooks fill many scenes. As this “collective” activity intensifies, we are forced to ask,VVhat kind of cultural production is taking place here, with what future for these rural children? This series of copying scenes is followed by one in which Lao Gan goes home one night, holds a candle to his broken mir- ror, and Spits at his own image. (I will return to the significance of this violent act of self-degradation later.) Things change when Lao Gan begins to teach the copied texts. One I of the students, Wang Fu, boldly reprimanding him for his incompe- tence, proclaims the principles of correct teaching. At this—what appears in every sense a public humiliation by a student, a member of the lower class in the school system—Lao Gan breaks into a laugh, as if he has finally made a connection with the schoolchildren. From then on, he proceeds to teach the students how to read and write, and slowly, each student learns to produce his or her own original thoughts in com- position. Wang Fu’s persistence in copying the dictionary and his eventual “success” in producing a piece of coherent writing are the symptoms of the child who has been properly “interpellated” into the system of learn- ing—to use the term from Althusser. Wang Fu’s perseverance, serious— ness, and ability to work hard are all part of the process by which the school as an apparatus of ideology solicits the voluntary cooperation of its participants. 16The reproduction of a society, writes Althusser, is not only the reproduction of its skills but also “a reproduction of its sub- mission to the rules of the established order, i.e., a reproduction of sub- mission to the ruling ideology”17 for those who are exploited. 120 Son-.4: (oniempormy (Linen Films Precisely because he is sensitive to how ideology works effectively not only through coercion (by the powerful) but more often through consent (from the powerless), Chen’s film departs from the more straightforwardly humanistic direction of A Cheng’s story. We see this in - l the way Chen handles the episode of copying. Whereas in A Cheng’s _' novel Lao Gan leaves behind the dictionary for Wang Fu as a gift, in the film he departs with these words on the table: “Wang Fu, don ’t copy any more, not even the dictionary.” What Chen’s film makes clear is that even though A Cheng‘s text is radical (because it affirms proper learning against the destructiveness of the Cultural Revolution), it leaves unasked the entire question of what it means to base culture on the kind of repetition that is copying. In read- ing A Cheng’s text, one feels that it is not the act of copying that is real- ly the problem; rather it is a matter of finding the right source from which to copy. The protestA Cheng makes, accordingly, is that the Cul- tural Revolution has destroyed such sources. Against such destruction, A Cheng shows how one should always write after (one has done) some- thing (that is, one should copy from “life”), or else one may, as Wang Fu does, copy from the dictionary. Chen, on the other hand, does not attach to copying the value of a positive meaning as does A Cheng; rather, in it he sees contemporary Chinese culture’s deconstruction of tra- ditional Chinese culture. For Chen, the destructiveness of the Cultural Revolution is not an accident but the summation of the Chinese civi— lization, and the act of copying, to which the students are reduced, sig- nifies the emptiness of culture itself. This is why he says: “Culture is pre- cisely this: it’s a matter of copying?” The following passages from the director’s notes to the film script ofKing oftbe Children reveal the decid— edly deconstructive turn Chen gives to A Cheng’s story: Many would say the Cultural Revolution has destroyed Chinese culture since numerous cultural relics were destroyed. However, intellectually, it was more a time when the values inherent in tra~ ditional Chinese culture were carried to a dangerous extreme. This was violently reflected in the behaviour of every individual— from their blind worship of the leader/ emperor figure to the total desecration and condemnation of individual rights. These are mere repetitions of tradition. I 121 Male Narcissism “Jul Nailonai (uihare Repetition is a characteristic of Chinese traditional culture. The children in the film copied the textbook, then the dictionary, without any comprehension. Man, in his preservation of himself, has developed culture, but in the end, the culture has become the - master of 'man. The glory of past cultural accomplishments have left today’s men impotent. With 5000 years of culture shining 11: our history, we had the frenzy of the “Great Cultural Revolution. Thus, What is embedded in the film-yKing of the Children is my judgement on traditional culture. The burning of the Wasted mountains at the end of the film is a metaphor of my attitude towards traditional values. “Don ’t copy anything, not even the CllC- tionary”; “Carry your head high on your shoulders 312d write your own essays” is what I require and expect of myself. BeCause Chen’s understanding of copying is much more drastic, he also constructs his King of the Children in such a way that the success of the child—as-copyist is being scrutinized and challenged through aljuxtapo- sition with other forms of subjectivity. WhileA Chang s narratlve offers a more or less completed circuit of suturing between Lao Gan and the schoolchildren, especially through his special relationship w1th Wang Fu, this process of suturing is only one of the several cruc1al elements 1n the film. . ‘ The drastic questioning of the traditional authority of the wr1tten word (and thus of the primacy of verbal language) is, I would contend, not a questioning of a moralistic kind. As I argue in the prewous chap- ter, the film medium allows Chen to explore the much larger issue of technological reproduction in a modern “third world” culture. Here, a brief reference to Martin Heidegger’s understanding of technology helps clarify the issues somewhat.20 In his work, Heideggerdlssoclates the word technology from its more popular associations instrumem tality. Instead, he defines the essence of technology as the brmgmg—forth of being—a process of revealing truth and a mode of knowmg. I-Ie locates this essence of technology in the Greek word recline, which for him does not mean mere technique or craft but the “bringing—forth? of that which presences into appearance. For Heidegger, modern machine technology does not depart in essence from the anc1ent concept of 122 Sam-z Contemporary (Lines: Films techne. Rather, modernity’s mechanized, regulating, gigantic, and indeed dangerous apparatuses reveal recline as an “Enframing” and a “set- ting-upon” of nature in ways hitherto concealed from human apprehen- sion. Because of this, Heidegger says: “Modern technology, which for chronological reckoning is the later, is, from the point of view of the essence holding sway within it, the historically earlier.”21 Having shown this about modernity, Heidegger also asks: is there a time when it is not technology (as we now know it) alone that reveals the meaning of recline? He finds his answer in art and especially in poetry. In many ways, Chen’s work (the three films he directed in China prior to 1989) can be seen as an exploration of the question of recline in the context of a devastated “third world” culture which is at the same time one of the most sophisticated ancient civilizations. The intense challenge posed by Chen’s King qftbe Children to the written word is a challenge to the cultured origins of Chinese history. The written script with its stable, permanent cast points to that “Enframing” of being that Heidegger sug- gests as the essence of recline. Central to the power—indeed the vio- lenceewof writing is its ability to repeat itself. In China, where writing is seldom divorced from historywthat is, from the notion of writing as recording and conserving—the written script is recline in its most basic form, through which the transmission and reproduction of culture is ensured. At the same time, writing is also modern technology in the hands of the communist state, which turns it into a pure machine for propa- ganda and thought control. These two aspects of writing—first as the cumulative, unbearable burden of the past (history) and then as the tech- nologizing imperative to construct, in the modern world, a brand-new national culture (revolution)——are brought together succinctly in the mindless copying of the post-Cultural Revolution period. On the night Lao Gan obtains and reads the dictionary for the first time, the scene takes on a surreal feeling as sounds of human voices reciting ancient texts are slowly echoed and magnified, creating a ghost- ly atmosphere of how tradition impinges upon human consciousness as so many indistinguishany repeating voices. The simple acts of reading and writing, performed here in the rural area, far away from the “cen- ters” of urban civilization, nonetheless partake in this unmistakable sense of culture as copying, echoing, repeating. Instead of concealing it, the impoverished material circumstances help intensify the sheer mech- anism of writing as cumulative recording 123 Mai-c Martinis». and National (whisz In the urban setting, of course, the unstoppable terroristic power of technology is apprehensible in more palpable forms. Chen shows this in his second film, Dayue hing (The Big Parade, 1985). In this film, the por- trayal of one of the most important bases of Chinese national culture— the People’s Liberation Army—eis done in an admixture of a fascination with discipline (which suppresses all symptoms of the human body such as crying, fainting, vomiting, or even the physical “deformity” of bowed legs) and an ultimate sense of emotional blankness that comes with this technologized discipline. The instrumentalization of human bodies into a “collective” purpose such as the army, to the point at which material impoverishment and deprivation, including deprivation in the form of a restraint of the body’s reactions to disciplinary torture, is visible on the screen through the orderliness of soldiers and other production units marching in the “big parade” in front of Tiananmen Square. it is as if the sheer regimentation of human bodies—win uniform, their faces devoid of expression, their movements absolutely identical—provides a kind of pseudo- or mechanical “bridging” of the gap between the irretrievable past and the unknowable future. If this “bridging” indicates modern China’s “successful” achievement of modernization, it is an achievement that, as we sense through the slow motion and funereal music in the last scenes of The Big Parade, requires from the individual a submission to the technologized collective goalA—to technology as collective goa ——in total obliteration of himself.22 The rural setting of King of the Children does not permit the demon- stration of the workings of technology in the graphically striking form it takes in The Big Parade. In the absence of the industrialized, milita~ rized, and urbanized forms of technology, Chen probes the roots of recline in a more basic manner—through the fundamental working of verbal language itself. Here, the power of techne, as what brings forth the ordering of being, is demonstrated with frugal means, through a practice of traditional learninge—storytelling. One day, the friends from Lao Gan’s former production unit come for a visit. Out of sheer play- fulness, he has them sit down like students in the classroom, whereupon he proceeds to “teach” them. As he repeats his words, it quickly becomes clear that this is one of those narratives that uncover the mechanism of narrating from within, so that “form” and “content” are merged and thus revealed as one: “Once upon a time there was a mountain. In the moun- tain was a temple. In the temple was a Buddhist monk telling a tale. 124- Some (oniempormy (hikes: Films What is the tale? Once upon a time there was a mountain. In the moun— tain was a temple. In the temple . . .” His friends join him in what immediately becomes an uproar that reproduces the same story over and over again collectively. As the finally come to a stop, the schoolchildren, who have been eavesdro ): ping outside the classroom, pick up from where the adults left off axlfd run off into the distant hills repeating exactly the same narrative with rhythm.As they disappear on the horizon, the camera returns us to Lao Gan’s look. This look is one of surprise, as if he has suddenl under- stood something. What is it that he has understood? What is theycontent of his sudden awareness? These are questions that the film medium leaves unanswered and that must be approached through the process of interpretation. . Such a moment of “awareness” is one of the undecidable moments of subjectivity that are crucial for the understanding of modern Chinese culture and literature. Instead of immediately supplying it with a defi- mte meaning, such as “Lao Gan realizes how education is passed on ” we should juxtapose it with other components of the film in order to ’ras its range of significatory possibilities. g P Nature Side by side with the relationship between teacher and schoolchildren is another set of scenes that revolve around a character who does not exist in A Cheng’s novel—a cowherd. This is, once again a child f1 e‘ d yet unlike the schoolchildren, the cowherd belongs tb “nature ’gllrhr, anh him Chen’s film creates a discourse that counters the institution ofmdg cation. What is this counterdiscourse like? In other words wh t ‘ethk function of the nature child in this film? , a IS 6 “Nature” supplies an alternative form of suturing for Lao Gan’s look Oftentimes, as he stares, what he “sees” is the expansiveness of the rural landscape. Though some might argue that “nature” as such is the turing-of the look and therefore, arguably, a non-Western type ofudilfi: matlc intervention, I am, as I indicated in the previous cha ter relu - tant to divide “West” and “East” in this facile manner b uttifi “’ t C” and “East” in the space of an “outside.” There are two refons fogr If:th mg this interpretative step. First, I see the elusiveness and fantasy that 125 Main Narcissisrn 0.1M] Naiicaal Culture are part of nature-as-filmic-signifier as a major political means of resist- ing the overwhelmingly articulate, verbal, indeed verbose machinery of official Chinese communist discourse with its technologies of mass con~ trol through propaganda. By presenting a counterdiscourse in the form of a natural muteness, therefore, directors like Chen are not exactly nostalgic about a metaphysical beyond; rather it is a politically engaged way of searching for an alternative cultural semiotiCs—a detour. Second, “nature” fulfills the function of being the unconscious side of a male cir- cuit of production. As such, it plays an indispensable role in reinforcing certain patterns of censorship, especially the censorship of the physical body and the biological reproduction through woman. This point will become clear in the second part of this chapter. The cowherd first appears in the scenes of Lao Gan’s journey to the school. He is dressed in white; a large straw hat covers his face so that 5 features; he is leading a herd of cows on the mountain we cannot see hi road. He is mute throughout the film, and his “communication” with at of the schoolchildren—am Lao Gan takes the opposite form to th nonverbal.23 Two scenes demonstrate the significatory power of this nonverbalness. One day, as Lao Gan is teaching, he sees that the cowherd is doing something on the blackboard in the classroom next door. As he goes and looks, he finds that the cowherd has splattered dung on the board; meanwhile he has disappeared into the distance. A second scene shows Lao Gan meeting the cowherd face to face in the fields. He asks: “Where are you from, child? Do you go to school? Why not? I know how to read and write. I can teach you .” The cowherd remains mute and goes away. Why does Chen insert the figure of this mute child in this story about teaching? From the beginning, we feel that the cowherd’s existence is a mystery, which belongs to the plane of fantasy rather than to the insti- tutional reality to which Lao Gan is officially appointed. And yet this his path of vision in spite—perhaps because—of the use of cinematic image and sound together effects a forceful interplay between the pedagogical and the natural frames of reference.The film begins, after all, with two series of soundsr—first, cowbells, then the sounds of writing with chalk on the blackboard. As Lao Gan travels with his friend Lao Hei to the school, the two men come across things that seem to startle them. Among these fantasy intrudes into its mysterious nature. Here, 126 Some (oaizmporauy (hikes: Films things is the cowherd. Typically, we are shown the seemingly slightly surprised look of the two male characters, especially Lao Gan; then the camera “sutures” the look by showing a scene from the mountains, a view of rocks falling from a cliff, of trees, and so forth. What kind of “suturing” is this? This type of scene, in which Lao Gan’s human, indi- vidualized look is seen to be actively looking, only to be “connected” with something “natural”—that is, something mute, stationary, and unevent- fulwparallels his actual encounters with the cowherd, who becomes a personified firm ofthe nonverbal presence of a natural world that exists side by side (rather than metaphysically beyond) the human institution of learn- ing. Precisely because the cowherd is nonverbal, he belongs more appropriately to the medium that does not rely on verbal language alone to generate its significations. The cowherd’s bodily presence signifies the challenge of nonpresence, nonparticipationwa form of life and a histo- ry of uneducation—which runs parallel but indifferent to the history of education. If the pedagogical subjectivity in this film is the circuit that runs between Lao Gan’s look to the schoolchildren (which is the dominant narrative in A Cheng’s novel), then this mute presence of the cowherd alters this subjectivity significantly. Side by side with the pedagogical suturing—especially between Lao Gan and Wang Fu, the inheritor of book culture—is now another one, which is nonverbal on the child’s side. The nonverbal nature of the cowherd’s “response” to Lao Gan forces us to think: what is the use of education? How does it reproduce itself, and for whose benefit? The status of nature in King ryfthe Children carries with it the implica— tions of a counterdiscourse that is situated not in human agency but in fantasy. On the night Lao Gan browses through the dictionary, I men- tioned, the film supplies a chorus of muffled voices from the past recit— ing texts to accompany Lao Gan’s reading. At the same time, this “rejoin- ing” with the ancestral voices of education is interrupted by a noise from the outside. It is a cow, standing mysteriously in the dark and walking away as Lao Gan opens the door and discovers it. I hope by now that I have clearly established the terms of this part of my argument, If we are to think of subjectivity in terms of the suturing of a perceiving individual and an undecidable external reality, then Lao Gan’s subjectivity that emerges in the film is a bifurcated one. On the one hand, it retains the “good” Chinese tradition of a compassion for . fl _ poWerless.This subjectivity directs its own corn ition of the written word.ThJs proper 561158 children as the socially 11 th ' 1 tion” in the other throng e 3.0qu ' I Eduard“ suturing process stands for the compliance With a f tional culture as that which must be built from the most basic tech— 0 na , ‘ ' ' ' ' the direction of a deter— —— ' ' .Thi ub ectlvrt takes us in “ ” nah)ng wrmng in:bsle florm oflhope. If the children are the masses, literacy represents the hope of a definite and minate and determ then education through definitive road. On the other hand, Chen explores Lao realm in which the teacher’s impuls annot materialize into an act of pedagogy. Ins ' as at once natural, Silent, ‘ describe is met \‘vnh a ddliifrln::ofll:a:i:: other story of subjectivity punctu- mYStenou’S, fnhn in thePform of scenes that are placed halfway between ' s 1 e—the oint is that the audience cannot tell the dlf- reahty and fantasy P s that the figure of the as if in a dream, a detour, which ‘ does not matter. What matters i straightforward relationship between Gan’s subjectivity through e to reach out to the socral— anather tead, it ly powerless child c cowherd reappears persistently, swerves from the conscious and teacher and schoolchildren. . as Lao Al this detour is a nonexistent Chinese character. One day, h ong rd he writes down a character that e 5 Gan is copying texts on the boa subsequently erases: 71¢ the film, he recalls this episode of miswriting in are stubborn animals, he says; . But there Toward the end of his parting words to the students. d them and hit them, 0 wild—~that is, en COWS g Lao Gan also tells us that 0 you can make it do anything you want, for they you were their parents) It was this fiocla 1;: a" ' ' write e um — of “cow” and “piss,” Lao Gan explains, that made lum I.“ “c w water” the other day. _ nary Chandel- 0 nt character IS, structural- . . . te The si 'ficatory dens1ty of this nonexis , ' ' ly speahfi: what counteracts the ferocity of Wang Fu 5 dedicanon to you Can scol are times wh , cows love salt. (In A Cheng 5 novel, have pissed for a cow, would respect you as if 123 Some Contemporary (Manse Films verbal language. The “cow water” fantasy exposes literate culture in a scandalously different manner—as excrement. This exposure takes place at various levels at once. First, the fantasy returns us to the origin of the Chinese civilizationflpeasant knowledge. As such, in a text that is critical of the destructiveness of the Cultural Revolution, tribute is paid to One of Chinese communism ’s most compelling pedagogical imperatives: intellectuals must learn from peasants. The way cows behave toward urine is an ecological fact that one acquires by being “exiled” in the countryside, not by being in the classroom. Second, this fantasy is a story about the dialectic of submission and domination. The cows, in spite of their patient and uncomplaining nature, go wild at the rare physical pleasure of salt.Whoever provides this pleasure, in other words, also has the power to dominate them. From the human perspective, this understanding of pleasure and sub- mission is profoundly disturbing because in it we recognize the acts of degradation arid humiliation, indeed violence. An act of physical dis- charge, which eliminates that which stinks—how could this, from the perspective of the properly educated, possibly be a source of pleasure and an inducement to submission? To what can we compare this at the symbolic level? Is this story about animal nature also one about human culture? If so, what kind of blow has been dealt to the dignity of the latter? The radicalness of “cow water” lies in the way it reveals the funda- mental violence of culture as a process of production. The success of “culture” is the success of subjugafing those who are in need (as, for instance, with salt in the case of cows) for productive purposes. The paradox is that not only would the act of subjugation not make them rebel but because its violence is at the same time what sustains and what nurtures, the dominated respond to it submissively_animalistically. To return to the making of roads, pissing is, in this light, the act that estab- lishes a path, which is met with pleasure and followed henceforth with loyalty. If submission as such, transposed onto the human cultural frame, is essential for the formation of identity, then this fantasy illuminates the unutterable inequality involved in that process. The silent, fantastical text of this other story about Chinese national culture reads, Are not the hardworking, uncomplaining masses of Chinese people like the cows— and is not “tradition,” as represented and endorsed by official political MALE Narcissim. Md Riki-[0th Culture “ ” I ' ' is what orthodoxy, the pissmg master? (In the modern economy, work , r one 5 work generates “salary,” which etymologically means “payment fo in the form of salt.”) No matter how abusive this master becomes, the masses succumb to him as the source of their survival.The masses sub- mit even as tradition and national culture crush them. Against this equiv- alence between cows and people, the direct political empowerment of the “masses” that appears in Mao ’5 reading of Lu Xun—a reading that} distinguishes between cows and people by making the former a symbo of those who should serve the latter——is at once a hope, a lie, and the making of a road by force, with blood and tears. The conception of culture as violence and excrem . . A to the quesfion of copying and writing-as»reproduction: Unlike - Cheng’s story, in which one feels that the point of learning is to identll- fy the correct source from which to copy, Chen’s film deconstructs cu - tural production itself as copying. With the insertion of the cowherd, d verbal language—summations of the words, texts, dictionaries, an d n a par with piss, as the (waste) pro - human learning tradition—exist o v . i - not of a violently subjugating act to which Chinese indiViduals, like the oice but to submit. The nature intelligent student Wang Pu, have no ch . I th of this submission is that of copying and reproducmg precisely e source of their subjugation—fin other words, cultural violence through institutionalized education itself. It is only when this “originary” act of violence is completed through the act of submission and voluntary reproduction (because it includes the possibility of pleasure and phySi- cal survival) that it becomes fully effective as cultivation and culture .I (In rking cows are compared to philosophers.) This 15 st discovering that he cannot teach the students anything except copyingflthat is, on discovering that he is not, properly‘speak- ing, helping to perpetuate culture, Lao Gan expresses physical violence toward himself, by spitting at his own image in the broken mirror. lVleaiiw while, asWang Pu strikes back in words, he is happy: the circuit of teach- ing that he initiated has been properly completed by this young child s generate itself. lent, nature is more so. If the cows in the “intellectual servants” s of humanistic benevo- ent also returns us why, on fir active response and can now re But if human culture is vio Chen’s film are not, as Mao ’s image suggests, to be used by the proletariat, they are not icon ' I lence either. The cowherd’s (and by implication, nature s) muteness is a form of subjugating presence to which Lao Gan, even though he is a 130 Some Contemporary (kins: Films teacher, submits. In the last scenes of the film, as he departs from the village, we are once again given what look like dream scenes of nature. Chief among these is a field of black stumps, which stand mysteriously and collectively. As these stumps meet our eyes, we hear cowbells and someone pissing. It is the cowherd, who faces the camera and pisses at us directly, his genitals exposed.The camera then shows us his eye under the broken straw hatwis he looking at Lao Gan or at us?With the ampli- fication of cowbells in the wind, the cowherd disappears; we see the black stumps and his hat on one of them. The stumps are magnified and the sounds of the cowbells increase. A moment of quietThen the’face of the cowherd without the hat: a scruffy country child, turning around looking at us. , The fantasy of the cowherd returns natiu-e to the cosmic indifference described by the D00 Dejing: tiandi bu ren,yi wanwu wei chugou (the cos- mos is without/ outside human benevolence; it treats everything as mere straw dogs). It is the mute, natural world, forever untamable, which ulti— mately pisses at us without shame or guiltVis-a—vis this nature, human violence itself is, the film says, a mere copy and reproducfion. Part 2:The Road NotYetTaken We have found, especially in persons whose libidinal development has suffered some disturbance, as in perverts and homosexuals, that in the choice of their love~object they have taken as their model not the mother but their own selves.They are plainly seeking themselves as a love-object and their type of Object—choice may be termed narcissistic. . . . [The child] is really to be the center and heart of creation, “His Majesty the Baby,” as once we fancied ourselves to be. He is to fulfill those dreams and wishes of his parents which they never carried out. . . .At the weakest point of all in the narcissistic posifion, the immortality of the ego, which is so relentlessly assailed by reality, security is achieved by fleeing to the child. Sigmund Freud, “On Narcissism: An Introduction” Mall. Narcissism and Nh‘iohkl (allure The child is a metaphysical being. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia Ultimately, a thorough-going feminist revolution would liberate more than women. Gayle Rubin, "The Traffic in Women: Notes on the “Political Economy’ of Sex” It is now possible for me to turn to the issue of “male narcissism” allud- ed to in the title of this chapter. Although I am sympathetic to the decon~ structive reading of culture that Chen Kaige offers through what I have been calling the detour of nature and fantasy, 1 think such a reading leaves certain forms of human agency that are aCCountable for such vio- lence unidentified and thus unquestioned. The detour, though it may fundamentally critique the violence of culture as pedagogical suturing, also becomes complicitous with such violence because the alternative it offers, through nature, is silence. It is at this point that a social criticism, however partial, of recognizable types of human agency that lurk behind cultural violence is necessary as a way out, even if such criticism does not yet lead to a new road. By offering a feminist reading as a supplement to my analysis of the bifurcated subjectivity above, my point is not to belittle the political subversiveness at work under Chen’s direction. It is, rather, to attempt a mode of reading that, in a way that is not autonomous from but involved with that subversiveness, locates certain excesses that fall out— side Chen’s detour. These excesses—what to me are possible signs of a new mass and new hope that exist in incomplete forms in the film—are to be found with “woman.” By focusing on the question of woman, we will see that the structural interplay between the subjectivities in King cf the Children—stranded between the pedagogical and the fantastic—is a closed circuit. A major question results from this supplementary reading based on woman. Is this closed circuit, which I term male narcissism, at bottom a way to resist the reproduction of national culture altogether? If so, why?Why do the male subjectivities in Chen’s film seek to connect with the child either through the school or through nature, while bypassing woman? What is the root of this “disturbance,” which manifests itself as 132 Some Contemporary (“use Films aesthetic symptom? In other words, does the passive role in which Chen casts his male protagonist reflect a response to a larger force of destruc- tion at work, so that the exclusion of woman must be seen not simply as misogyny but as an effort to cope with what in Lacanian terms we would call symbolic castration? To deal with these questions, let us now do a retake of interpretin King ofthe Children. g If subjectivity is possible only as the result of a certain completion of an individual vieWer’s look—maven if that process of completion is an illusory on%the two types of subjectivity evident in Chen’s film which are held in a contentious relationship with each other are alsd held together by the absence of women as productive agents. ’(The irl students are, strictly speaking, recipients, not producers.) g From the beginning, Chen gives us a World of male play. From Lao Gan’s former production unit, to the school, to his special relationship with Wang Fu, to the mute cowherd, it is a world of men and men as children at play. In addition, we find several scenes in which Lao Gan is alone against the background of nature, moving his own body around aimlessly and enjoying himself. Between the continuation of human cul- ture through verbal pedagogy and its discontinuation through the fanta— sy of nature, therefore, what disappears is woman. Moreover, this dis- appearance of woman occurs at a particular intersection: the woman disappears as the child appears. We turn, at this point, to Laidi, the woman cook and singer in Lao Gan’s production unit. Laidi’s entrance is always a disruptive one.Take for instance, the scene near the beginning in which Lao Gan and hi; friends gather for a meal before he departs for his new posting. Chen shows us—with what nuanced attentionlwthe men’s comradeship in cooking: first the collective contributions to the menu, then the wash— ing, cutting, chopping of meat and vegetables, then setting the rice to be cooked inside a section of bamboo, and finally the sharing of the cooked meal. The power of males in such a group is, as Gayle Rubin would describe it, “not founded on their roles as fathers or patriarchs but on their collective adult maleness, embodied in secret cults, men’s houses warfare, exchange networks, ritual knowledge, and various initiation procedures.”24 By contrast, although Laidi is a cook, she is never shown I to be cooking; instead she strikes one as always bursting onto the scene of male play, bringing with her some kind of disorder. When Laidi 133 Male Narcissisru and National Culture enters this first scene of a shared meal, she is announced by her loud voice, her plump body, her broad manners, and a very unfeminine ques— tion: “Why don’t you ask me for a drink?” Although she is a singer, we never hear her sing; the voice that comes from her is rather always given in a clownish fashion, as shouting and as disharmonious noise. By stripping Laidi of what are conventional feminine (erotic) quali— ties—submissiveness, shyness, slenderness, and reticence, all of which belong to Lao Gan insteadflChen leaves open the question of his atti- tude toward women’s role in the production of national culture.To what extent does this exclusion of Laidi from the conventional feminine realm of significations constitute an exclusion of woman in the cultural symbolic? And to what extent does this clowning of her become a new type of signification, a feminine power that is in fact stronger than the male because of its libidinally uninhibited nature?Two episodes allow us to negotiate these questions. Laidi’s ambition is to become a music teacher at the same school where Lao Gan teaches. She wants the men to see that she is more than a cook. But this wish is met with patronizing criticisms from the men, who tease her for not understanding that she has none of the profes- sional qualifications it takes to be a teacher. What she considers to be the most important qualification_her ability- to sing and to compose through her voice-e—is thus immediately dismissed as irrelevant. Lao Gan, for his part, is honest enough to recognize that he is not properly qualified to teach, either. But this understanding of Laidi’s equality with him does not prompt him to help her. Meanwhile, Laidi is the one who, among all the people Lao Gan knows, provides him with the Chinese dictionary he needs for teaching. When she comes to his school for a visit, Lao Gan introduces her to Wang Fu as the real owner of the dictionary, whereupon Wang Fu calls her “teacher.” lnA Cheng’s novel, Lao Gan writes down Laidi’s name as well as his own as donors when he leaves behind the dictionary as a gift. What is interesfing about the relationships among Laidi, Lao Gan, and Wang Fu, 1 think, is that they indicate thepotential for a new type of genealogy or reproductive unit.The woman, the man, and the school- boy form a kind of collective away from the familial reproduction restricted to “blood” and heterosexuality. But as woman is liberated from her erotic and biologically reproductive role, what does she become?What we see in the film is that she has been turned into a comic 134- SOME (oniemroraiy (“use Films spectacle whose palpable physical dimensions exceed the closed circuit of male pedagogy and fantasy. In what sense is this closed circuit narcissistic? I turn now to Freud’s argument about narcissism for some definitions. Narcissism, as we understand it in popular usage, is the “love of the self.” Freud states that narcissism is not so much a perversion in the pejorative sense as it is a means of self-preservation. He distinguishes between two types of libidinal development in human beings—the ana- clitic, which is typified by the search for an object of love external to the subject and which he identifies as active and masculine; and the narcis~ sistic, which is typified by the subject’s seeking himself as the love object and which he identifies as passive and feminine. Freud’s famous tableau of narcissists goes as follows: [Narcissistic] women love only themselves with an intensity compa~ rable to that of the man’s love for them. . . . Such women have the greatest fascination for men,.not only for aesthetic reasons . . . but also because of certain interesting psychological constellations. It seems very evident that one person’s narcissism has a great attrac- tion for those others who have renounced part of their own nar~ cissism and are seeking after object—love; the charm of a child lies to a great extent in his narcissism, his self—sufficiency and inacces— sibility, just as does the charm of certain animals which seem not to concern themselves about us, such as cats and the large beasts ofprej. In literature, indeed, even the great criminal and the humorist com- pel our interest by the narcissistic self-importance with which they manage to keep at arm’s length everything which would diminish the importance of their ego. It is as if we envied them their power of retaining a blissful state of mind-——an unassailable libido—posi- tion which we ourselves have since abandoned.25 This passage from Freud clearly reveals his bias, that is, his exclusion of “man” from his tableau of narcissists. But if we disregard this sexual bias (which is obvious), a far more important feature of his argument that is relevant to our present discussion surfaces.We notice that those that he idenfifies as narcissistic share a common status, which is the status of the outsider——marginalized, mute, or powerless—beheld from adistance.‘ 135 Male Narcissism and National (uliure Because of this, I would defocus Freud’s rigid sexual division between the male and female as anaclitic and narcissistic, and instead use his argument about narcissism for a social analysis that would include men as well as women as narcissists. Narcissism, seen in terms of the “out- cast” categories in which Freud locates it, can now be redefined as the effect of a cultural marginalization or even degradafion.'lhe narcissist’s look of “independence”#a self-absorption to the point of making oth— ers feel excluded—em which Freud attributes an aesthetic significance must therefore receive a new interpretation in the form of a question: is it the sign of a lack or one of a plenitude? Is it the sign of insecurity or self-sufficiency? Once we introduce the dialectic of social relation here and understand the “exclusionary look” as a possible result of (or reac- tion to) being excluded, it becomes necessary to think of certain forms of narcissism not in terms of independence but as the outward symp— toms of a process of cultural devastation, which leaves the self recoiling inward, seeking its connection from itself rather than with external reality. Freud’s argument makes it clear that narcissism is not an intrinsic quality (even though we inevitably attribute it to others in terms of “personality” or “character”) but a relation produced through the process of observation. In other words, the understanding of narcissism involves a viewing position from which others look narcissistic and exclusionary to us. Narcissism is thus a description of our psychological state in the other: as we feel excluded, the other becomes “narcissistic.” In contemporary Chinese cinema, what does the creation of narcissistic male characters tell us about the making of film? In other words, why is narcissism caijerred upon these male characters? Why does Chen make his male protagonist selfmabsorbed, passive, and thus “feminine”? How is this related to the question of national culture? These questions bring us back to the one I raised earlier—namely, why does the writing of national culture in modern China typically take the form of an aesthetic preoccupation with the powerless? If the con— situation of national culture is a form of empowerment, then the pow» erless provides a means of aesthetic transaction through which a certain emotional stability arises from observing the powerless as a spectacle. In this spectacle, the viewer can invest a great amount of emotional ener— gy in the form of sympathy; at the same time, this sympathy becomes the concrete basis of an affirmative national culture precisely because it 136 - Some (outempormy (Linen Films secures the distance from the powerless per se. The projection of narcis- sism—an exclusionary self-absorption—onto the other becomes thus a way (as we notice in Freud) of stabilizing, or empov'vering, the viewing subject ’8 position with an inexplicable aesthetic and emotional pleasure Such pleasure gives rise, through the illusion of a “solidarity” with the powerless, to the formation of a “unified” community. What distin- guishes Chen '5 film from, say, classical Hollywood narrative films is that it is male, rather than female, figures who make up the spectacle(s) of the powerless. Moreover, it is “maleness” that sutures each point of the aesthetic transaction within the director’s control, from (using the male character as) spectacle to (using the male character as) viewer from feelings of devastation to feelings of solidarity. J According to Freud, a person may love, in the narcissistic manner, the Following: 1. what he is himself (actually himself) 2. what he once was 3. what he would like to be 4-. someone who was once part of himself TheSB descriptions define the world of male play, which provides much pleasure for the men in Chen’s film. Laidi, on the other hand, makes it impossible for them to play merely as sexless children; her difference reminds them that there is a world of brute biological reproduction in which they, as the inheritors of Chinese culture, are supposed to partic- ipate. Hence, for instance, an attempt at swearing at the beginning of the film is preceded by the question: “Is there any woman around?” If this question is one pertaining to social decorum, then social decorum is an indicator of the functioning of the unconscious. The question points to a shared understanding on the part of the men that swearing which as a rule alludes to sex or sexual organs, brings out a reality that signals human reproduction and that is thus on a par with “woman.” As long as women are not present, however, that reality is not materialized and can remain at the level of empty male talk. On Lao Gan’s return visit to the production unit, Laidi touches him As he refuses such touching, she retorts: “Even if you Were to teach for one hundred years, I’d still know what’s between your legs!” This 1.)! Male Narcissisnn and NAinhaf Culture reminder of “nature” is as defiant as the trees, the cows, and the cowherd, and yet because it is spoken by a womanwL—because, shall we say, it comes from a human voice other than that of the male——it cannot be relegated to the realm of fantasy and has the potential of erupting as an alternative symbolic order. Unlike the mute nature child who allows the male “look” to wander in a happy mood of self-exploration and self— projection, the woman’s harsh voice keeps calling him back to the world of human culture and to the burdens that await him there. For Chen, it is as if these burdens cannot be shaken off unless one becomes per- verse—by taking off for the world of fantasy. instead of following the road opened up by the female voice, then, Chen’s work follows a detour that is, seen in a feminist analysis, a well— trodden philosophical one. This detour heads for the child, voiced or voiceless, a stand~in for culture or nature, who becomes the recipient of what in psychoanalytic language is the process of idealization. If Lu Xun’s call to “save the children” provides the continuity through modern Chinese literature and culture, we need to ask whether. the emotional insistence behind such a call is not at the same time an insis- tence on forgetting and excluding women. While the child occupies a position in modern Chinese literature and culture similar to other fig- ures of social oppression, because of his association with infancy he also offers the illusion that he is “freer” and more originary than the others. By contrast, woman, as the recipient of every type of social structura- tion, is a heavily “corrupted” spacew—a densely written script—which offers no such illusion of freedom. Because of this, it is much easier to project onto the child the wishes that cannot be fulfilled precisely because of the oppression of culture, through the illusion that the child occupies a kind of beyond-culture status that is superior because out- side.The extreme form of this projection, as we see in Chen’s film, is to use the child to personify nature’s original, amoral violence.The mute, pissing cowherd is, in this light, Chen’s supreme invention of a doubled narcissistic relation. He is the silent beast confronting the feminine man, the ultimate narcissist—nature—beheld by the human narcissist. The idealization of the child contains in itself a violence that is self- directed.This violence disguises itself as love of the self, as “narcissism.” As Freud says, “At the weakest point of all in the narcissistic position, the immortality of the ego, . . . security is achieved by fleeing tolthe child.”2” Fleeing to the child——what this means is that what appears to 138 Some Contemporary Chinese Films be a love of the self, which generates the look of complete self-absorp- tion, is actually a desperate flight to another figure, who is powerless and inferior but therefore safest for the realization of otherwise unen- actable fantasies. In the Chinese context especially, this process of Hi ht 1s a complex one. The child onto whom cultural hope is projected is Iglot amply a figure of Chinese sentimentalism. Rather, he is the formafion of an ideal, and, as Freud says, “The formation of an ideal would be th condition of repression .”27 e What is repressed, and why does it need to be? The answer to this question must he sought historically and collectively rather than within the space of one chapter or even one book. For now, I can only point to the visible avoidance of the physical sexuality as embodied by woman an avoidance that aesthetically intersects with the acceptance and ideal: ization of the child. This is, as I already mentioned not miso to t court but symptomatic of a more profound disturbafice. gyny u I In the sexual economy, “woman” represents that place in which man is to find his mating other in order to procreate and perpetuate the cul- tureof which he is the current inheritor. “Woman” therefore serves as a reminder of the duty of genealogical transmission~of chuanzon 'iedai The question implied in Chen’s film is this: do Chinese mengin th. post—Cultural Revolution period want to perform this duty? 6 In the idiomatic Chinese expression for the “mating other ” duixian we find a means of understanding the sexual economy in psybhoanal 9: 1c Iterms. Duixiang, in contemporary psychoanalytic language is tiff; purigor ipnage that would correspond to one ’5 self, so that wheri we are 00 n or a mate, we Ii ‘ ' “ respongfing image", terally say zhao duixmng— to look for the cor- “ In th: narciSSistic subjectivity, this duixiang is internally directed The natural duixiang for Lao Gan would have been Laidi, who loves‘him and wants to be with him—her aspiration to be a music teacher is one could, say, an expression of her wish to “correspond” to him. And let in Chen s film, the strong woman’s love is presented as now farcicalynow threatening. The possibilities it offers—heterosexual love mariia e reproduction—are refused by the film. Instead, the male subjectivgt’ taltes another route and joins children as figures of idealization It is ch children, then, who have come to take the place of the corres ondin image, in a way that bypasses the woman (even though she is k: t in argi affectionate light, as a mother or sister who tends). In bypasslfng the worn jects, as I stated, two types of subjectivity, ea understood in 139 Malt NAYCiSSlSM and National Culture an as the figure of reproduction, what does the film project? It pro- ch of which can now he terms of a narcissistic male circuit of reproduction. Reproduction is either strictly through education or through a submis— sion to the awesome muteness of nature. In each we find a “suturing” between the male protagonist with a male child.The “sublimated” mes— sage of the film is that the world is generated in this interplay between pedagogy and fantasy, between “culture” and “nature”—-that is, without woman and without the physical body! In Freud’s text, narcissistic gratification, involving repression, can be secured through the ego-ideal, which, besides the individual side, also has a social side, in the form of “the common ideal of a family, a class, or a nation”: “The dissatisfaction due to the non—fulfillment of this ideal lib- erates homosexual libido, which is transformed into sense of guilt (dread of the community). Originally this was a fear of punishment by the parents, or, more correctly, the dread of losing their love; later the v28 parents are replaced by an indefinite number of fellow men. Would it be farfetched to say that the narrative of modern Chinese history, culminating in the catastrophe of the Cultural Revolution and more recently in the Tiananmen massacre of 1989, represents precisely this “dissatisfaction” of the ego—ideal in the form of the nation'iThe guilt felt by the educated Chinese toward their fellow men generates the massive “censorial institution of oonscience”—a feeling of being watched by other menfwhich makes it difficult, if not impossible, to engage in the conventional procedure of searching for the “correspond- ing image.” Instead, zhao duixiang becomes a process not of finding the one who loves one but of self-observation, self-watching, and selfucen- sorship. The displacement of narcissistic emotion onto “corresponding images” that are not women—difficult partners in biological reproduc- tion—but idealized figures of children is symptomatic of a dissatisfac- tion with the failure of culture at large and an attempt nonetheless to continue to bear its burden conscientiously, by disembodying the reality of culture’s reproduction and displacing that reality onto the purely institutional or fantastic level. Contrary to Freud’s way of dividing the sexes, a film like King cf the Children shows us that it is in male subjec- tivity that the need to secure emotional stability through narcissism is most evident.We can only speculate that this is in direct proportion to the burden of cultural reproduction that publicly or symbolically falls 14-0 . Some (catamarans-y (Linen Films ‘on men. Ironically, in spite of their obviously oppressed status, women seem more exempt from this desperate route because they are consid—‘ ered superfluous from the outset. In this “ironically? lies what I would call “the road not yet taken.” I understand that by equating Laidi with the physical body I seem to be going against one of the major lessons we have learned from femi- nism—that “woman” is not about biological reproduction alone. But my point in emphasizing the reproductive function of woman in this con- text is rather to show how a criticism of the cultural violence in Chinese culture cannot be undertaken without a vigilance of how the physical aspects of life are as a rule suppressed. Because women are traditional— ly associated with such physical aspects, their (women ’s) exclusion from the symbolic realm becomes a particularly poignant way of exposing this general suppression. My insistence on the biological, therefore, is not an attempt to reify it as such but a means of interrupting the ten- dency toward what I would call, for lack of a better term, mentalism in Chinese culture, a mentalism that we witness even in a subversive film such as King qftbe Children. Because the Chinese national culture repro— duces itself biologically by means of the machinery that is women ’s bod- ies even while continuing to dismiss them on account of their female- ness, and because the Chinese communist state controls the population by controlling women’s bodies, upon which forced abortions at advanced stages of pregnancy can be performed as “policy”—I think we must belahor women’s reproductive role somewhat, even at the risk of “biologism.” In Laidi, we find the suggestion of a healthy narcissism that compris- es an assertiveness, spontaneity, and fearlessness to seek what she wants while at the same time letting the other be. Because of this latter abili- ty to let the other be, Laidi’s love for Lao Gan is expressed not in the exclusive form of sexual desire and conquest but rather in that of a gen— eral affection in which one feels the presence of the caring sister, moth- er, and fellow worker as well. This alternative form of narcissism does not evade the other’s difference (through specularization) in Order to achieve its own stability. In it we find a different form of hope, toward which the film, caught in the closed circuit of male narcissism, nonethe- less gestures, even though it never materializes into a significant new direction. King grabs Children continues, in the formalist manner of Lu Xun, the 141 Male Narcissism aw] NAiiOhal Culture exploration of the cluster of issues involving Chinese national culture that has haunted Chinese intellectuals since the beginning of the twen— tieth century. To the literary incisiveness of Lu Xun’s conception of hope—not as a road but as a crossroads—Chen’s work brmgs the com- plexity of the filmic medium, in which the suggestiver speculary process of zhao duixiang—of finding that which g1ves us self-regard and “self-esteem”———takes on collective cultural significance. If Chinese intellectuals in the twentieth century have consistently attempted to construct a responsible national culture through an investment in fig- ures of the powerless, Chen’s film indicates how such an 1nvestment, because it is inscribed in the formation of an ego—ideal in the terms I describe, excludes woman and the physical reality she represents. Chen’s film offers a fantastic kind of hope—the hope to rewrite culture without woman and all the limitations she embodies, limitations that are inherent to the processes of cultural as well as biological reproduction. The subjectivity that emerges in Chen’s film alternates between notions of culture and those of nature that are both based on a lineage free of woman’s interference. As such, even at its most subversive/deconstruc- tive moments (its staging of the unconscious that is nature’s brute vio- lence), it partakes of a narcissistic avoidance of the politics of sex‘uahty and of gendered sociality that we will call, in spite of the passlve ferru- nine” form it takes, masculine. This masculinity is the Sign of a vast transindividual oppression whose undoing must become the collective undertaking for all those who have a claim to modern Chinese culture. ...
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