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Beyond Sinology

Beyond Sinology: Chinese Writing and the Scripts of Culture

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Beyond Sinology
    Book Description:

    New communication and information technologies provide distinct challenges and possibilities for the Chinese script, which, unlike alphabetic or other phonetic scripts, relies on multiple signifying principles. In recent decades, this multiplicity has generated a rich corpus of reflection and experimentation in literature, film, visual and performance art, and design and architecture, within both China and different parts of the West.

    Approaching this history from a variety of alternative theoretical perspectives, Beyond Sinology reflects on the Chinese script to pinpoint the multiple connections between languages, scripts, and medial expressions and cultural and national identities. Through a complex study of intercultural representations, exchanges, and tensions, the text focuses on the concrete "scripting" of identity and alterity, advancing a new understanding of the links between identity and medium and a critique of articulations that rely on single, monolithic, and univocal definitions of writing.

    Chinese writing -- with its history of divergent readings in Chinese and non-Chinese contexts, with its current reinvention in the age of new media and globalization -- can teach us how to read and construct mediality and cultural identity in interculturally responsible ways and also how to scrutinize, critique, and yet appreciate and enjoy the powerful multi-medial creativity embodied in writing.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53630-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology, Linguistics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. VII-VIII)
    (pp. IX-X)
    (pp. XI-XIII)
    (pp. 1-18)

    On the auspicious date of August 8, 2008, the opening ceremony of the twenty-ninth Olympic Games in Beijing set the stage for an unexpected spectacle: the reinvention of the Chinese script. Under the minimalist title “Chinese Characters” (“Wenzi” 文字), a centerpiece of the lavish showcasing of the accomplishments of Chinese culture redefined China’s writing system as a medium uniquely suited for the challenges of the twenty-first century.¹

    While spectators might have expected to see Chinese writing celebrated as the aesthetic flow and refinement of Chinese calligraphy, “Chinese Characters,” part of the spectacle masterminded by the well-known film director Zhang Yimou...

    (pp. 19-56)

    In the display of “Chinese Characters” during the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, not only the movement of the writing machine and its type emphasized the idea of a “living” script. The uncanny substitution of machines with human beings served the same aim. The letters on display were “living” letters in more than one sense: dynamic and in motion, they were also operated by human beings. When the type stopped and the boxes opened up, young male bodies emerged and waved to the audience, proffering blossoming peach twigs, thus releasing the tension created by the audience’s inability to distinguish...

    (pp. 57-91)

    Another way of hallucinating about a privileged link between sinographs and material reality, apart from fantasies of “Chinese” corpographies, equates Chinese signs with images. For Chinese characters to sustain a motivated tie with their referents—not merely one ruled by arbitrary though conventional designations—sinographs have to become icons: shorthand pictures of the things they represent.¹ Under the thrall of what we might call the pictographic myth, philosophers, writers, and artists sweepingly attributed to Chinese writing a pictorial quality supposedly mimetic of reality, though actual pictographs compose only a small fraction of the Chinese lexicon. Of course, such pictographic biases,...

    (pp. 93-128)

    In October of 2007, billboards all over San Francisco featured an advertisement for China’s most famous beer brand, Tsingtao Beer. (See figure 3.1.) The fact that the advertisement’s display was not limited to the city’s Chinatown district suggests that it targeted the American consumer in general, in other words, an audience not familiar with the Chinese language.

    In the ad, four English words frame the four Chinese characters in the poster, which are already encased by quotation marks. The strangeness of another language is further tamed through parenthetical translation: next to the text, the poster shows a bottle of Tsingtao...

    (pp. 129-164)

    One page in the short story collectionFrom Island to Island: Carved Spines(You dao zhi dao: Dari Pulau Ke Pulau: Ke bei由島至島:刻背) by the Malaysian-Chinese writer Kim-chew Ng 黃錦樹 is completely unreadable, except for the two Chinese characters that seem to form a title for the jumble of symbols they thus code as “text”: “Entreaty” (“Suqiu” 訴求).¹ Made up of an array of alphabetic letters, many with accents, mathematical symbols, and punctuation marks, the six lines of text, subdivided into sentences by periods, run from left to right without spacing between groups of letters, counter to the orientation...

    (pp. 165-204)

    In his essay “Electronic Revolution” of 1970–1971, William S. Burroughs praised the Chinese language for its resistance to mutation. The American writer—notorious for his statement that “language is a virus from outer space”—illustrates his reflections on the use of subliminal visual and sonic signals as weapons with the example of Chinese. By cutting up and rearranging image and sound recordings, so Burroughs muses, those exposed to the medially scrambled material might be subconsciously induced to experience certain emotional states. In the guise of a virus—or triggering the incubation of a latent virus in the organism—small...

    (pp. 205-218)

    The digital age makes everything translatable, but it also highlights that everything is in constant need of translation, and, indeed, always already virtually translated: from letters to code, from numbers to graphic shapes, from script to script, from language to language. Hand in hand with intercultural and transnational pressures, as ideologies and imaginaries race to catch up with and adapt to digital challenges, questions of production and reception, of linguistic specificity and medial embodiment, of agency and power become ever more virulent. What does the case of the Chinese script tell us about the fate and possible future of writing...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 219-254)
    (pp. 255-268)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 269-282)