“Chinese Cinephilia and the Ethics of Historical Representation”

Yomi Braester, Professor, Department of Comparative Literature, China Studies, JSIS UW
Thursday, November 7, 2013 - 3:30pm
Thomson Hall 317

The talk will introduce my current project, toward a book tentatively titled Cinephilia Besieged: Film, National History, and Global Consciousness in the People’s Republic of China. The book traces the development of Chinese cinephilia and shows how it has reflected, and at times formed, the PRC’s beleaguered environment of debate. The project, based on archival research and personal interviews, aims at understanding the global flow of ideas through film since the 1950s to the present, the role of cinema in creating a public sphere, and the existence of debate in the face of political censorship. Cinephilia, I argue, has been a powerful tool for rethinking film history, national identity, and the state’s place in a globalizing world order. As a case study, I will trace in my talk the responses of Chinese directors, industry policymakers, and critics to film’s globalization and digitization. Supporters of the blockbuster model have invoked the urgency to catch up with Hollywood. Those seeking an alternative have relied on cinephiliac sentiments, pointing to the need to preserve film’s historical indexicality and insisting on the specificity of cinematic traditions. Jia Zhangke’s I Wish I Knew in particular calls for reassessing the relationship between the profilmic event and its cinematic record, underlining the ethical stakes in contemporary debates on visual memory.

Yomi Braester is Professor of Comparative Literature and China Studies at the University of Washington. He received his Ph.D in Comparative Literature from the Yale University in 1998, following an M.A. and a B.A. in East Asian Studies from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His latest book, Painting the City Red: Chinese Cinema and the Urban Contract, received the prestigious Joseph R. Levenson Award in Modern Chinese Studies.

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