Sustainability-as-flourishing

 

Please close your eyes and imagine yourself living in 2025 in a situation where you are flourishing and you are contributing to the emergence of a culture of flourishing. Now describe in writing what you and others are doing in 2025 that:

  1. supports your personal flourishing, and
  2. contributes to the emergence of a culture of flourishing for society and the environment

Required:  Explicitly incorporate and cite at least one core idea in this book. Thus, we should be able to find at least one sentence that explicitly uses a core idea, and cites the book and page number (e.g., Ehrenfeld and Hoffman 2013:46).

 

Based on the idea of Caring (instead of Having) as the mode of Being, which eventually extends to recognize and highlight the significance of love, my future self would engage in personal flourishing on the most fundamental level by striving to discover and love who I am. This implies that I will have a clear understanding of what a precious and worthy I am as an individual and how my values and priorities revolve around such knowledge. Sustainability-as-flourishing has to begin within one’s inner-self. The process of solidly filling up self-love and having a firm stand of one’s Being, can be considered as the center that holds several larger concentric circles together, that underlies all the other acts of love. As Ehrenfeld comments, “Authentic individuals act out of Care for themselves, other human beings, the rest of the material world, and also the non-world of spirituality” (Ehrenfeld and Hoffman 2013:87).

It is important to note that being genuine and loving to myself is not a specific act but an attitude that permeates through everything that I do in my life. Furthermore, self-loving not only appreciates oneself but also has the ramification of appreciating those that are around me with equal dignity, respect, and love, and this is where personal flourishing naturally, and almost instinctively, engenders a culture of flourishing. Being sincere and caring in all encounters of life, including those with non-human elements (i.e. environment), not only will I be practicing sustainability-as-flourishing myself but I will also emanate the culture to those with whom I interact; the subjects of my love and care are bound to feel the warmth, authenticity, and the intuition that to love is the only way to live. To render other’s encounters with me as heartwarming experiences, I will exert positive influence and contribute to spreading the culture of sustainability-as-flourishing, “lead[ing] others along the new path” (Ibid).

*Note: I did not include any specific details of my future life, because I think that it is the attitude and the mindset that really matters: it is not what I do but how I do what I do that makes a difference.

 

References Cited

Ehrenfeld, J. R. and A. J. Hoffman. 2013. Flourishing: A Frank Conversation about Sustainability. Palo Alto CA: Stanford University Press.

My story

A Story about Cosmopolitanism, Nationalism, Poverty and a Temporarily lost Soul

“It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.”          – Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind

The story that I told began with Burma. I took on the role of both a storyteller and a foreigner, the latter of which was never intentional on my part. Living in a place where I did not belong meant taking on a role of being stared at and spoken in an alien language that never received any response. It also meant struggling to weave together the seemingly-incompatible threads of cosmopolitanism and nationalism, and battling with the juxtaposition of the world’s worst poverty and the BMWs that rolled into my school’s parking lot every day. My story was thus full of contradictions and struggles. Cosmopolitanism occurred to me in varying sizes, colors, and shapes as the concept of nation, and specifically that of national citizenship, was both diluted and highlighted when I left South Korea (hereafter ‘Korea’). It was just as Martha C. Nussbaum asserts, that the realization of a larger world is “valuable for self-knowledge,” and that “we see ourselves more clearly when we see our ways in relation to those of other reasonable people.”[1] It was only when I encountered the different that I fully, and emphatically, realized the familiar: Living in a strikingly foreign society, I experienced cultural shocks that strengthened and underlined my national identity as I became ever more aware of the fact that I was Korean. Such recognition seemed to permanently secure my national belonging, and thus, during my first few years in Burma, I was part of the cultural cosmopolitanism phenomenon in which experiences of diaspora and territorially displaced cultures multiplied to result in ‘rooted cosmpolitanism.’[2] Yet, the same experience of blaring foreignness eventually severed my citizenly bond. Ironically, the determinants of the shift were the waves of cultural shocks that I experienced on my subsequent visits to Korea. During the intermittent visits that I made over the next decade, the Korean way of living, socializing, and utilizing technology had been changing at such a rapid pace that I began to feel increasingly isolated from the place. As a result, the familiarity that I once had towards my country gradually rubbed off until it reached to the point that I felt estranged from my national community altogether. Much confusion and struggle ensued in such perplexing situation that I did not know where I belonged to anymore. It was an identity crisis in which I was hanging in the air between my home country and the foreign one where I dwelled, both of which did not feel like home. This quagmire was eventually conciliated by the notion of world citizenship that emerged to supplement my weakened national identity. Derek Heater aptly describes my situation when he comments: The concept of world citizenship and its realization have significant implications for both the meaning of the term ‘citizenship’ and the life of the individual. This concept diversifies further the nature of citizenship; moreover… [it] is significant not only for our understanding of the changing nature of the state as a political-ethical unit and of the individual as a political-ethical animal, but also for our understanding of the nature of the world.[3]   Cosmopolitanism had been permeating and molding my world view through various means such as the international education that I received, the poverty in Burma, and my parents’ status as missionaries. It not only altered my perception on the concept of citizenship but also transformed my understanding of the world by stretching the realm of belonging both quantitatively and qualitatively; on one hand, becoming a world citizen involved expanding the quantitative coverage of my feeling of bonding to include peoples of other cultures whilst on the other hand, it posited “the moral equality of all human beings”[4] without qualitative distinction between citizen and non-citizen. First of all, attending an international school deeply ingrained in me the value of human rights and the morality of justice to pursue and protect those rights. Considering my educational background, it was inevitable for me to be steeped with what Charles Beitz distinguishes as “moral cosmopolitanism,”4 which, according to Thomas Pogge, claims “that every human being has a global stature as the ultimate unit of moral concern.”[5] I firmly believed that it was immoral to ignore the interests of any individual human being, and this belief engendered both the interactional and the institutional forms of moral cosmopolitanism in my life; as I began to think about how I could alleviate Burmese— let alone global— poverty, I found the highly limited scope of change that I could bring as an individual extremely frustrating. This, in turn, led me to ponder cosmopolitanism on the institutional level, concerning how the rules of justice should be established to utilize the collective power of individuals.[6] I remember feeling even more frustrated at such contemplation though, because I saw that the validity of human rights was “independent of any and all government bodies”[7] but that the way things worked in Burma seemed as if human rights could be upheld only if the government advocated it. I remember feeling utterly powerless in attempting to bring any institutional change in a foreign country where I could not exercise any rights of citizenship. In this sense, I agree with Pogge’s view that social institutions are the most important and contributive to assuaging the severe poverty,[8] largely because I have experienced the relative ineffectiveness of individual’s effort myself. The witnessing of the sheer poverty in Burma also contributed to the development of cosmopolitanism as it greatly disturbed me with the reality of the poorest of the poor. As obvious as this might sound, I came to realize that the poor were people too— just like me, just like everyone else— yet the degraded state in which they were living was shockingly dismal. And precisely because I was given an opportunity to witness the situation firsthand, I was able to perceive poverty as a tragedy of individuals rather than of some unspecified mass of people. To me, poverty was not a long list of statistics in textbooks but a real life situation for real people. Hence, I wholeheartedly agree with Pogge when he comments that “Insofar as we understand [the poverty on the individual level], and feel it, the reflection remains disturbing and gives us moral reason to work for a world in which there are not hundreds of millions living on the brink of an early death from starvation or easily curable diseases.”[9] Ironically, solutions to poverty could be more effective when implemented on the institutional level, but it was the attention on the individual level sustained people’s discomfort and alertness on the tragic circumstances. I was further overwhelmed by the insurmountable gap between the luxurious environment of my school and the shabby world outside. Surely there was just a wall between the school buildings and neighboring villages, but it was one that demarcated two entirely different worlds. It was also the one that aroused confusion and sense of guilt in me, as the majority of the affluent was doing much less than they should[10] even amidst the scene of poverty itself, and I was part of that majority. I was confused, because it was extremely difficult to make intuitive distinctions between acts and omissions, and positive and negative duties. In trying to scrutinize the ambiguities and specifics on where the cause and obligations for solutions lay, I knew that the great gap between the world inside the school wall and the one outside had to be filled. Yet I did not know the extent to which I was obliged to help the poor. I instinctively felt guilty for not helping them with all my might, but at the same time, I held other people accountable for the problem as well, thereby diffusing the responsibility. Following from this experience then, the discussions that Pogge has in his work— in which responsibility is discussed in a wide spectrum of contexts ranging from sliced relevant time frame[11] and attribution of current situation to local factors[12] to the global backdrop that maneuvers the local agents[13]— are very relatable to me in a sense that I had engaged in such heated internal debates as well Having parents who were missionaries enhanced the notion of world citizenship for me as their devotion to help Burmese people downplayed the social, cultural, and racial differences that existed among different people. Mike Veseth observes that missionaries were often “the most enthusiastic and determined globalizers of their day,”[14] and in fact, in many cases, both the product (in his discourse, the wine) and the market of the product (supply and demand for the wines) were introduced by missionaries.[15] Interestingly, Veseth’s description of missionaries’ globalization fit my family’s experience. When my family and I first went to Burma, the majority of the Burmese people had never been exposed to foreign goods and people before. Thus, when my parents started distributing Korean food, clothes, and other goods that they had originally brought for their own uses, they provided rare opportunities for locals to encounter tangible forms of foreignness. For me, these interactional scenes of cultural exchange (some of which were as simple as my parents and the local people having Korean or Burmese meals together) in turn left the impression that people of different ethnic groups were not so fundamentally different from each other. Watching my parents and the local Burmese interacting also discouraged my tendency to categorize individuals by their national citizenships as I came to realize that unity did not necessarily had to occur among co-nationals. There surely existed alternatives to connecting with peoples of different backgrounds. Overall, all these factors came into play to enhance the idea that I was less of a Korean and more of a cosmopolitan, that I belonged to the international community and was not confined to a geographical region to call it home. Simultaneously though, nationalism in me was not entirely eliminated, partly due to the seemingly-paradoxical fact that Craig Calhoun brings his readers’ attention to when he explains: Not least of all, while globalization has produced innumerable paths across state borders… it has made belonging to a nation-state and having clear rights within a nation-state more, not less, important… [H]uman rights are secured mainly when they are institutionalized as civil rights.[16]   Regardless of how much I felt secluded from the Korean society or how inaccessible the Korean society seemed, I was still legally a citizen of Korea. And this technical fact proved to be more crucial than I thought in sustaining my presence in Burma; for instance, simply because I had Korean passport, I had to go out of the country every three months to get visa, had the privilege to receive protection from the Korean embassy when the monk uprising broke out in 2007, and was treated as a foreigner everywhere I went. In many ways, it was hard to ignore nations and national identities as the basic units in organizing human life, even on the international dimension. Moreover, the implication of the possession of Korean passport did not simply dwell in technicalities but also embraced other forms of cultural solidarity, valuations and identity[17] that aroused nationalistic sense in me. For instance, in addition to the international school education, I also received traditional Korean education that was provided by the ‘Korean school’ that I was impelled to attend every Saturday. There, I learned Korean literature, music, ethics and other fields of knowledge that were taught in local Korean elementary, middle and high schools. Back then, it seemed unfair for me to go to school on the weekends, but I confess that attending the ‘Korean school’ facilitated the recovery of my lost connection with Korea through intellectual means. As Calhoun states, nationalism is not strictly restricted to obsolete objects and traditions that are handed down from the past but it is “a conceptual framework, a discursive formation, a rhetoric, a structure of loyalties and sentiments”[18] that is reproduced as to befit the particularities of individual situations. In my case, receiving Korean education for one day per week was not the ideal condition to preserve my Korean identity but nevertheless, tradition, as “a model of reproduction of culture and social practices that depends on understanding produced and reproduced in practical experience and embedded in interpersonal relations”[19] was successfully organized, tailored and incorporated into my life in which non-Korean aspects were predominant.[20] The Korean school embraced in and of itself the national identity that was “continually constructed and re-constructed through collective acts and political processes that shape the communal imagination,”[21] as David Axelsen further adds. It was through the creation and upkeep of the national education that maintained the bond that connected me with the rest of Koreans— what Anderson refers to as a “deep, horizontal comradeship” between co-nationals.[22] Examining the various dimensions on which cosmopolitanism and nationalism are manifested then, I ultimately came to the same conclusion as Calhoun did: that “cosmopolitanism and nationalism are mutually constitutive and to oppose them too sharply is misleading.”[23] I believe that the discourse does not have to take on the form of dichotomy, because I find it possible maintain the harmony of the two frameworks. Hence, I disagree with Nussbaum when she comments that being a world citizen is often a “lonely business… a kind of exile… from the warm, nestling feeling of patriotism, from the absorbing drama of pride in oneself and one’s own”[24]; one does not have to be so lonely and detached, because 1) cosmopolitanism can sufficiently afford to be perceived through micro-level lenses that focuses on individuals who may be of different culture but are all part of the humanity, and 2) nationalism can accompany cosmopolitanism. On a similar vein, neither do I agree with Benjamin R. Barber who implies that nationalism is the only means through which the “visceral human need to belong”[25] can be addressed and thereby asserts that cosmopolitanism cannot provide the concrete intimacy. In this sense, I do agree with Kwame Anthony Appiah in affirming the possibility of being cosmopolitans and patriots simultaneously, but only to a certain extent since I do not think that one’s loyalty to humanity has to be so vast and so abstract to deprive us of the feeling of belonging.[26] Considering the unique conditions and experiences with which I grew up that led me to have a complex perspective on the debate of nationalism versus cosmopolitanism, I find what Immanuel Wallerstein argue highly persuasive and reasonable. Wallerstein pinpoints to the essentially numerous variables that each individuals are subject to and concludes that the stance of the world citizen is deeply ambiguous. He claims that “our options vary according to social location, and the consequences of acting as a “world citizen” are very different depending on time and space”[27] so that one needs a far more complex stance to learn that we occupy particular niches in an unequal world. Overall, the discourse on cosmopolitanism and nationalism seemed much more complicated than it seems in my situation. I could observe tensions in the blurry dichotomy between the two frameworks, but it was not a simple matter of choosing one over the other. Ultimately, the story that I had to tell was a complicated set of nationalism, cosmopolitanism, and poverty that led a soul to be temporarily lost.     Works Cited Axelsen, David. “The State made me do it: How Anti-Cosmopolitanism is created by the State.” Journal of Political Philosophy 21, no. 4 (2013). Calhoun, Craig. Nations Matter: Culture, History, and the Cosmopolitan Dream. London: Routledge, 2007. Heater, Derek. World Citizenship: Cosmopolitan Thinking and Its Opponents. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2004. Nussbaum, Martha C. and Joshua Cohen, For Love of Country? Debating the Limits of Patriotism,. Boston: Beacon Press, 1996. Pogge, Thomas. Freedom from Poverty as a Human Right: Who Owes What to the Very Poor?. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. Veseth, Mike. Wine Wars: The Cure of the Blue Nun, The Miracle of Two Buck Chuck, and the Revenge of the Terrorists. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2011. [1] Joshua Cohen and Martha C. Nussbaum, For Love of Country? Debating the Limits of Patriotism, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996), 8. [2] Derek Heater, World Citizenship: Cosmopolitan Thinking and Its Opponents (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2004), 13. [3] Heater, World Citizenship, 4-6. [4] Heater, World Citizenship, 5. [5] Heater, World Citizenship, 8-9. [6] Heater, World Citizenship, 9. [7] Thomas Pogge, Freedom from Poverty as a Human Right: Who Owes What to the Very Poor?(New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 13. [8] Pogge, Freedom from Poverty as a Human Right, 25. [9] Pogge, Freedom from Poverty as a Human Right, 17. [10] Pogge, Freedom from Poverty as a Human Right, 14. [11] Pogge, Freedom from Poverty as a Human Right, 21. [12] Pogge, Freedom from Poverty as a Human Right, 32. [13] Ibid. [14] Mike Veseth, Wine Wars: The Cure of the Blue Nun, The Miracle of Two Buck Chuck, and the Revenge of the Terrorists (New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2011), 40. [15] Ibid. [16] Craig Calhoun, Nations Matter: Culture, History, and the Cosmopolitan Dream (London: Routledge, 2007), 4. [17] Calhoun, Nations Matte, 7. [18] Calhoun, Nations Matte, 9. [19] Calhoun, Nations Matter, 21. [20] Ibid. [21] David Axelsen, “The State made me do it: How Anti-Cosmopolitanism is created by the State,” Journal of Political Philosophy 21, no. 4 (2013): 12. [22] Axelsen, “The State made me do it,” 14. [23] Calhoun, Nations Matte, 13-14. [24] Nussbaum and Cohen, For Love of Country, 15. [25] Nussbaum and Cohen, For Love of Country?, 36. [26] Nussbaum and Cohen, For Love of Country?, 27. [27] Nussbaum and Cohen, For Love of Country?, 122.

Idea dons Fashion or Fashion dons Idea?

The Distance between Fashion and Idea in the Argentine Fashion Writing of the Nineteenth Century and Italian Fascism

The political transmutations of fashion in which sensual metaphors serve to “carnalize” ideologies are rooted in the dislocation of ideas from one realm to another. Specifically, the media through which ideas are expressed reside in the seemingly frivolous domain of aesthetics, yet the interpretations of those same concepts take place in the context of politics, and necessarily so. Not all politicization of fashion engender the same degree of dislocation, though; in fashion writing of the nineteenth century Argentina, for instance, the conceptual distance between fashion and idea is relatively further than that of the Italian fascist case, in which fashion surpasses the level of dislocation to essentialize itself with the idea.

Argentine fashion writing engaged in the reconstruction of garments through its “carefully constructed language, [which was] tailor-made for political discourse.” Fashion description, as it “immobilize[d] perception at a certain level of intelligibility,” vested rhetorical guises that created a discursive space through which writers sought to infuse demographic spirit. Precisely because fashion was inherently embedded in the concept of change, it was believed that fashion writing represented a means of national rejuvenation; “progress lay in the right words,” and liberation from dysfunctional status quo was to occur through sartorial desires. This is well demonstrated by an article from the fashion magazine La Moda, which “reinforced the belief that one’s gaze should not rest on the enlarged peineton or the crimson ribbons… [per se but] citizens must direct their gaze to the virtues of democracy inherent to those simple hair fashions.”

It is crucial to note that in such fashion narratives, meanings were not meant to be read but instead received and consumed. As the messages lay latent in the choices of sartorial functions and value, it was the consumption of ideas that fashion writing offered. Garments in their written forms were utilized as rhetoric that shed light on the possibility of societal movement and change. Hence, fashion was a means but not an end; it was the ‘natural body’ of ideology that was to be discerned and digested through the fashion that it donned.

On contrast, fashion was an end to Italian fascists. The demarcation between art and daily life blurred as Mussolini believed that Italians’ lives had to be fundamentally changed. Black shirt, in and of itself, consequently emerged as the quintessence of fascist identity as external looks became a marker of substantive changes, appearances of content, and styles of spirit. Furthermore, it was conceived as an agent of change, a constitutive means to fascist-ize the wearer’s attitude and thereby realize the totalitarian whole. Meanwhile, underlying all these notions was Mussolini’s self-perception as an “artist politician” who could mold the public by murdering their individual identities and charging the private spheres with homogenized polity.  The regime’s ideal thus embraced fashioning the mass with artistic touches of virility and war that was intended to result in a fascist masterpiece.

It is notable that fashion was sacralized as it donned the fascist ideals to take on both performative and symbolic role. Unlike Argentine fashion writing in which fashion primarily served as a means to transport ideas, Italian fascist fashion was fused with normative values. By surpassing its oft-perceived concept of being a representational manifestation, fashion itself became an ideology, and the black shirt was elevated from a perceptional status (representation of Mussolini’s heroic character) to concrete reality (mediator of fascist identity), and reality to ethereality— something better than reality, something to strive for (epitome of fascist ideals).

What this subsequently implies is that the dimensions on which ideas were conveyed and interpreted converged; it was the realms of fashion, politics, and daily life through which the fascist ideas were communicated, understood, and many times accepted. This is different from the Argentine fashion writing, in which messages were transferred through three overlapping yet separate dimensions— writing, fashion, and politics. The distance between fashion and idea then, is inevitably further away and more twisted in the Argentine case than the Italian case, as more dislocations of ideas occur in the former than the latter.

Overall, the ways in which fashion and idea don each other in Argentine fashion writing and Italian fascism present an interesting dynamics of informational body politics. Surely dislocations of ideas occur in both cases, yet the conceptual distance between fashion and idea varies.

Kant and the Jews

The Superstructure of Representation on the Substructure of Normativity

Kant observes, “pleasure in beauty is occasioned by the perceptual representation of a thing”— that is, it derives from “an intentional content” rendered to what Gilman terms “realities,” the pure state of things that is stripped of all implications and hence serves as the antithesis of representation. Yet, in case of anti-Semitism, it is not the pleasure in beauty but rather the displeasure in un-beauty that is at work. Precisely because the entire story of the Jews is reduced to the irremediable crucifixion of Christ— which, as an intentional content, essentializes Jews as the epitome of “blindness and intractability”— it is the repulsion of such corrupt and inferior nature, of un-culturedness, and ultimately of un-beauty that masks the realities. Instead of the alluring power of beauty whose pleasantness attracts everything towards itself, anti-Semitism is a centrifugal force of which the repugnance for distasteful un-beauty is the momentum. Realities are rendered obsolete as the negative image of Jews in Christian history evolves into a sine qua non of Jewish identity, despite the fact that Jews precede the religion. Gilman notes, “Jewish sound different because they are represented as being different.”

What exacerbates the discrepancy between, and perhaps even the substitutions of, representation and realities is the normativity of feelings that evolves into that of aesthetic judgment. According to Kant, “[i]n matters of taste and beauty, we think that others ought to share our judgment.” There is a definite demand for agreement on what constitutes the appropriate response (and therefore the appropriate judgment) and an implied readiness to deny any other. Naturally, this problematic “ought” easily shifts to the problematic “correctness” or “betterness,” which assumes that not all judgments of beauty are equally appropriate. Such weighing of “correctness” assigns truth values to aesthetic judgments, which are measured on the scale of perceptual representation. Hence, anti-Semites’ normative feelings and responses towards the Jews are self-substantiated by the anti-Semitic “ought” (i.e. Jews ought to be corrupt) that establishes the validity of their Jewish hatred.

Moreover, almost blaringly implicated in these judgments and their “aspiration to universal validity” is the complete disregard for other people and their views. Just as the label “Jew” was created, defined, and disseminated without any intention of the Jews themselves, the role of those who are not directly involved in the creation of the “appropriateness” is marginal, if not inessential. Their only function is to accept the values that are forced upon, to subjugate themselves to the normative constraints that they “ought to share… on pain of making a judgment which is incorrect or inappropriate.” Thus, anti-Semites not only justify their conclusion on Jewish inferiority through their normative feelings but also compel such judgments on others, including the Jews themselves.

The imposition of anti-Semitism on Jews then, in turn, engenders the want for both invisibility and visibility as Jews internalize the sense of difference and self-hatred that ensues. As contradictory as this might sound, the desire for polarities is neither illogical nor irrational; since a psychological sense of self is the product of interactive processes that involve “creative tension resulting from the attribution of difference,” Jewish identity is under a variety of forces that come into interplay, colliding and contradicting with one another. Gilman tells of a story that manifests the extent to which Jews remain nonexistent and thus are in desperate need of visibility:

In his novel of 1979, The Meeting at Telgte, Grass [a German author] mines Hilsenrath’s account of the murder of Jews in the Shoah… Hilsenrath the [Jewish] novelist is made mute, his language is stolen from him, and the German critics speak of ironic incorporation!… Both of these [German] critics seem to see in Grass’s plagiarism only a postmodern playfulness… The Jew not only vanishes, his voice becomes the authentic voice of the German experience.

She further highlights Jews’ invisibility when she comments, “The Jew… is therefore what the non-Jew says the Jew is.” Jews never truly had any control or presence over the discourse of their own identity, nor have they been perceived as a distinct part of the contemporary world. Their “image of the languageless, base Jew” whose language is lost and voice muted, along with fact that the appropriation of a Jewish work is trifled and even considered as a legitimate literary undertaking, demonstrates the extremity of their invisibility.

Simultaneously though, Jews are markedly visible in terms of their physiognomy, including their “nostrility” and “swarthiness.” The biological reality of difference certainly exists, yet it is significant to recognize that these markers are regarded as the indicators of the inherently diseased nature of the people. Here, Kantian notion of representation and normativity in aesthetic judgments are again in operation as Gilman observes that being Jewish, being diseased, and being “ugly” are intricately associated with each other. According to Jacques Joseph’s accounts of dueling scar marks and cosmetic rhinoplasty, Jews crave to destroy such visibility, or what they deem to be a “disease,” through any possible means of physical acculturation; they have internalized the sense of difference and have come to be intensely fixated with the unmaking of themselves as Jews, thereby granting victory to the universal validity of anti-Semitic judgments.

Overall, Kant’s work on the judgment of beauty can serve as the substructure of Gilman’s Jewish case, in which the Jews’ identity is shaped by the representation (instead of reality) and universalized normativity of anti-Semitism. Yet despite the fact that Jews struggle to free themselves from stigmatizations by dispossessing their “Jewishness,” Gilman implies that ironically, the very act of struggling is still bound by the power of perception over reality and even enhances the framework of the representational identity, an eternal chain from which Jews can never break away.

Blue Velvet: the Hegelian Love

The Hegelian Love

Before anything else, David Lynch’s Blue Velvet is a love story; it tells of a young man’s insidious nights that are fraught with violent, forbidden sex with a popular singer; of a mother who dons the identity of femme fatale as she yearns for her kidnapped husband and son; and of a drug addict whose psychotic evilness stirs him to tears at listening to the song ‘Blue Velvet’ and to commit oedipal fantasies. As disturbingly queer as each of these characters may appear, they all express the Hegelian dialectic of love, unveiling it as a distorted eroticism coupled with obsession and utter selflessness.

It is evident that one aspect of love which Lynch aims to portray is that of distortion and obsession, as the scenes in which Frank assaults Dorothy are repeatedly shown throughout the movie. The stark brutality seems uncomfortable enough, but what is most disturbing is the way Frank, in a terrifyingly childish voice, cries out “Mommy! Baby wants to fuck! Baby wants Blue Velvet!” to which Dorothy quietly replies, “Mommy loves you.” Such sudden transformation of a character from a frighteningly aggressive man to a poor yet genuine imitation of a child as well as Dorothy’s incomprehensible reaction renders this scene extremely befuddling and eerie, because an entirely anomalous recognition of love takes place in a context of an equally anomalous rape scene. From Frank’s desperateness and dependency towards the singer, it can be deduced that he is fond of her in his own twisted ways. Similarly, although it is hard to assume whether Dorothy actually meant what she said, the fact that she mentioned love at all insinuates the presence of a bond that connects the two characters.

The audience also witnesses— and not quite without a start— that even Jeffrey whose relationship with the singer begins in good will, also ends up hitting her in bed, the same place where he had previously whispered words of promise and love. Likewise, Dorothy’s confession “He put his disease in me” after having sex with Jeffrey hints that love can be destructive, even pernicious. These scenes all seem to demonstrate perverse facets of love, the uncontrollable eroticism that drives individuals to succumb to narcissistic, physical impulses that often result in both external and internal wounds of others.

On the other hand though, Lynch portrays a love of complete selflessness, ironically through the dangerously seductive image of Dorothy. Presented as a singer but functionally a sex slave, Dorothy would have been criticized by the audience had it not been revealed that her family is kidnapped by Frank. This personal story changes everything as the audience understands why Dorothy is helplessly manipulated by the drug addict. Simultaneously, she becomes an emblem of thorough devotion as she sacrifices herself in order to save her beloved ones; in fact, the more she embraces the image of a femme fatale, the more the audience sympathizes with her. To imagine a woman who sings ‘Blue Velvet’ every night, sleeps with the man who had robbed her of her lover, and desperately but faithfully hopes to see her son undoubtedly sheds light to the noble, endlessly self-sacrificing virtue of love. On a similar vein, Sandy represents loyal love though she is distinguished from Dorothy in that her presence emphasizes the innocence and purity of an ingenuous, unaffected love, which is particularly manifested in the scene where Sandy tells Jeffrey about the robins in her dream in a trancelike state.

Overall, David Lynch’s Blue Velvet intertwines and highlights love’s two polar characteristics—obsession and selflessness. By doing so, it suggests love as something that embraces both goodness and badness, thereby transcending the judgment of justice. That is to say, love exists as something that cannot be deemed as positive or negative but as a synthesis of longing that embraces everything to remain as love itself.

The Yellow Wallpaper

Self-writing as Criticism on Feminist Reductionism

Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper is most often perceived as one of the earliest works of American feminist literature whose plot is largely (but not entirely) based upon the writer’s personal experience of neurasthenia and the contemporary treatment of such illness. Upon receiving the edict to live as domestically as possible and to never engage in intellectual activities such as writing, Gilman is known have written The Yellow Wallpaper for the purpose of discouraging the 19th century cure for women who were diagnosed with nervous breakdown, hysteria, and other similar psychological diseases. Furthermore, on a wider scope, the aforementioned work is perceived to rebel against the prevailing male dominance in the society as it portrays an oppressed wife who is victimized by the tyranny of her husband and, in the end, goes mad. However, what initially, and almost innocently, appears as a mere feminist critic on gender relations projected through an autobiographical lens soon transforms into a story of self-writing as the narrator ends up “writing herself into existence” (Michaels 5), marking on the wallpaper which, in turn, marks back on her to deny the received feminist reductionist view of the society.

The most evident yet elementary form of self-writing in The Yellow Wallpaper is the diary entries themselves, the means through which the narrator secretly expresses her innermost thoughts and emotions. It is the most obvious and prominent medium in that the writings provide a tangible product of the narrator’s psychology and hence lay the foundation for the creation of The Yellow Wallpaper. The narrator explains that this type of writing involves marking on “dead paper” (Gilman 1), an “inanimate thing” (Gilman 1) that cannot repeat or reproduce any of its content; she highlights the unresponsive, and even lifeless, characteristic of paper when she comments, “I would not say it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind” (Gilman 1). Later in the story, she also confesses, “I think sometimes that if I were only well enough to write a little it would relieve the press of ideas and rest me” (Gilman 3), and exclaims, “But I must say what I feel and think in some way— it is such a relief!” (Gilman 4) By these statements, the narrator implies that the passivity of paper renders the act of writing relatively confidential and secure, and that for her, writing is a means through which she can free herself from the burden of thoughts and emotions. Ultimately, it is this advantage that plays an essential role both within and for the story, as it allows the narrator to truthfully record what she experiences without the fear of being betrayed or judged, thereby engendering the piece The Yellow Wallpaper.

While providing concrete evidence of the narrator’s mental state, the diary entries play a rather basic role in terms of self-writing. It is true that they serve as an apt mechanism for self expression, and therefore give much respite, to the narrator. Yet they appeal to the concept of self-writing in the narrowest sense; they are self-writing because the narrator herself writes them and writes them as a form of a diary about herself. They express what she feels, thinks, and experiences— that which has already surfaced to the consciousness and exists in the narrator’s mind (in contrast to the unconscious or subconscious that goes undetected)— and only those that she is willing to share or remember to write down. Thus, the diary entries shed very little light on the narrator’s self, thereby satisfying the minimal definition of self-writing.

There is another— a more subtle yet much more significant— type of self-writing that the narrator employs to write herself into existence: the act of creeping. Although the connection between writing, self-writing and creeping may seem elusive at an initial glance, a more rigorous analysis of the text reveals that the narrator is written on by the wallpaper while she creeps around the room. That is to say, when she impresses her presence on the wall by rubbing herself against it, she becomes the object on which the wallpaper makes its marks, thus resulting in a bilateral process of imprinting. As the narrator observes and explores around the room in which she is forced to inhabit, she describes various aspects of the setting in detail, including “a very funny mark… that runs round the room” (Gilman 7). It is this mark around which she creeps while her recognition of self-identity begins to disintegrate and her assimilation with the woman in the wallpaper takes place. She enthusiastically proclaims, “But here I can creep smoothly on the floor, and my shoulder just fits in that long smooch around the wall” (Gilman 9). The fact that the width of her shoulder perfectly matches with that of the mark suggests that the person(s) who made the mark is probably similar to the narrator in physique and position. It is not certain who first made the mark, but the depiction of the mark being “a long, straight, even smooch… [that seems to have] been rubbed over and over” (Gilman 7) further alludes to the possibility that the narrator is following the path that had previously been trodden by many others in the past. Accordingly, from all these pieces of evidence, the readers can reasonably conclude that it was those women who had previously lived in that room— whose presence is manifested by the stripped wallpapers, splintered floor, and other “such ravages” (Gilman 3) that the narrator witnesses during her first several days after moving in—who had made the mark on the wall, and that it is now the narrator who has become the subsequent contributor and creator of the queer mark.

What is more interesting though, is the wallpaper’s tendency to write on whatever it comes into contact with and the inevitable consequence of the narrator, without exception, being written on by the wallpaper. In the sixth journal entry, Jennie, who is the housekeeper as well as John’s sister, attests to the wallpaper’s reflexivity when she comments on how “the [wall]paper stained everything it touched, that she had found yellow smooches on all [of the narrator’s] clothes and John’s” (Gilman 6). Similarly, when the narrator notes the peculiar smell in her room, which she instinctively associates with the wallpaper, she remarks on the odor’s omnipresence: “…whether the windows are open or not, the smell is here. It creeps all over the house. I find it hovering in the dining-room, skulking in the parlor, hiding in the hall, lying in wait for me on the stairs” (Gilman 7). Such assertions insinuate to the transmittable, and perhaps even infectious, nature of the wallpaper as the yellow color taints the characters’ clothes and its odor— “the yellow smell” (Gilman 7)— permeates through the atmosphere. It is almost as if the wallpaper’s components leak out and seep into the air, clothes, and everything else that is nearby. What is also implied in this speculation, then, is the high possibility of the wallpaper leaving its marks on the narrator while she creeps around it, and this contagiousness, in turn, alludes to the correlation that the more physical contact the narrator makes with the wallpaper, the more she writes on it and the more wallpaper writes back on her. When metaphorically interpreted, the yellow smooches manifest the wallpaper’s influence on the narrator, which is so great that it gradually alters her identity and self-recognition.

Then what exactly does the wallpaper write on the protagonist? What is the identity that it bestows upon the narrator by writing on her? The answers to these questions lie in the parallel that runs between the narrator’s writing and the wallpaper’s marking: Just as the narrator writes about her thoughts and emotions in the diary entries, the wallpaper marks its content— what it has inside of it— onto the narrator. Consequently, it is the pattern and the subpattern that get transferred from the wallpaper to the narrator. The pattern, of which the narrator takes note quite soon after she acquaints herself with the room, consists of inextricable, complexly repeated arrangements that deny the conventional principles of design. The narrator, both intrigued and repulsed by the pattern, describes it in detail:

Looked at in one way each breadth stands alone, the bloated curves and flourishes—a kind of “debased Romanesque” with delirium tremens —go waddling up and down in isolated columns of fatuity. But on the other hand, they connect diagonally, and the sprawling outlines run off in great slanting waves of optic horror… the interminable grotesque seem to form around a common centre and rush off in headlong plunges of equal distraction. It makes me tired to follow it. (Gilman 4)

Initially, the narrator tries to take control over the pattern, to follow it from one end to the other until she understands and even masters it. However, such desire to conquer is soon defeated as the arrangements turn out to be excessively complicated and almost insurmountable; despite the narrator’s attempts to follow the pattern, she loses herself and eventually gets tired. Moreover, her perception of the pattern changes over time— where there were previously labyrinth-like, florid strings later transforms into heads and eyeballs that are strangled around each other— making the entire configuration even harder to grasp. In the end though, the narrator realizes that there is a subpattern under the “outside pattern” and recognizes bars and a woman behind them who struggles to escape the wall. With much astonishment, the narrator declares, “At night in any kind of light…  [the pattern] becomes bars! The outside pattern, I mean, and the woman behind it is as plain as can be” (Gilman 6).

According to the received feminist interpretation, the bars represent the societal limitations and prejudices set against the females, while the woman behind the bars demonstrates the shackled status of females in the society. Hence as Felski comments, The Yellow Wallpaper is often perceived as a “spine-chilling story of delirium and the supernatural turned into a parable of the social conditions that can drive all women insane” (Felski 67). Yet if the narrator’s act of writing and creeping were to be considered as those of self-writing, the interpretation of the text results in an analysis that, surprisingly, rejects the general feminist reading of the work at hand: Since the wallpaper writes back on the narrator both its pattern and subpattern, the identity of the narrator embraces not only the suppressed, censored female figure behind the bars but also the bars themselves. In other words, precisely because the narrator embodies the contemporary females who are subject to discriminations, she becomes both the afflicted and the afflicter of the sexism as she absorbs the bars as well as the women behind those bars into her identity. It should be noted though, that the narrator grants the “live paper” (as opposed to the “dead paper”) to writer on her at her own will as she creeps around the wallpaper. Hence, the self-writing interpretation of The Yellow Wallpaper suggests that females themselves, although oppressed and limited by the constraints posed by the society, are also responsible for their own situation as they succumb to the external overpowering forces and, in a way, prevent themselves from breaking out of the coerced norm.

Overall, this sort of interpretation holds great significance as well as controversy as it entirely overthrows the received feminist interpretation of the work that takes a defensive attitude toward sexism. By calling into attention the role of the females in the sexually-discriminating world system, The Yellow Wallpaper denies the reductionist interpretation that advocates the clear dichotomy of victim and victor but instead projects a more intuitive and accurate view of the reality of the male-dominant society— after all, life is rarely black and white but usually lies in between the shades of grey.

 

 

Works Cited

Felski, Rita. Literature After Feminism. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2003. Print.

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wallpaper. Boston: Small & Maynard, 1899. Print.

Michaels, Walter Benn. The Gold Standard and the Logic of Naturalism: American Literature at the Turn of the Century. Berkeley: University of California, 1987. Print.

Lacan: I think therefore I am other

I think therefore I am other

What Lacan asserts is essentially based on the notion of the formation and development of an imaginary yet practically-founded perception of a self in an individual as he recognizes and apprehends the meaning, or at least the reality, of his own existence through an exteriorized image. This fleeting yet fundamentally significant identification occurs amidst an entirety of alienation whose backdrop of the “otherness” is absolutely necessary for the foundation of ego to be set.

A baby’s primary encounter with his own image in the mirror, according to Lacan, initiates the creation of the concept “I” while simultaneously disintegrating the baby’s hitherto psychological perception of himself as disjointed fragmentations; it is only during and after the mirror stage in which the baby comes to experience his body as a unified whole— a primordial conquering of the recognition of self. However, the newly-discovered identification denies the baby’s abstract pre-concept of himself, which involves the imaginary establishment of an “ideal I” in his pre-libido state. Since the baby knows neither his physical limitations nor weaknesses, there is no categorization or separation of the surroundings and himself in his mind, which, in turn, results in his perception of the world as an extension and a part of himself. Thus such notion of the universe, subconsciously embedded in the baby’s mind, causes him to almost expect a certain form of his own “ideal I.” Lacan explains, “The mirror stage is drama whose internal thrust is precipitated from insufficiency to anticipation” (Lacan, 4), which ultimately results in the conception of an individual’s ego and its place in the exterior world.

There are several subtle yet substantial implications that the mirror stage suggests with regards to the formation of ego in the backdrop of the otherness. First of all, the most evident otherness in the mirror stage involves the absolute necessity of a non-self factor for the acquisition of a proper, accurate view of oneself; the fact that the first encounter with and realization of oneself is utterly dependent on an outside source is very ironic, since the mirror image, although an assertive attestation for a baby’s united being, retains a purely virginal alienation, providing a minimal amount of the sense of mastery over oneself, and an illusory one at that— it is an inherent exteriority through which an individual tactfully yet unconsciously misrecognizes his interiority.

It embraces a deeper level of incongruity though, in that it brings about the coexistence of and therefore tension between two consciousnesses— a perception of an imaginary fragmentary self, which is not quite unfounded and an emerging, perhaps horrifying, revelation of one’s bodily unity— that can only be resolved by the subversion of a particular one of them for a baby to appropriately adapt to the external world. And it is the otherness, which is inherently an intrusive form of reconstructive destruction (but still an intrusion nevertheless), that provides the baby with the crucial evidence needed for his primal idea self’s disintegration, an outlet for his survival.

It is equally, if not more, ironic to contemplate upon the formation of ego as a defense mechanism, a replacement of the strain upon and the subsequent demise of a baby’s first notion of himself, which Lacan considers (and rightly so) as erroneous. Yet, what eventually leads the baby to reconcile himself with the world is another illusory, false notion of self, the ego, which he creates to compensate for and rationalize his infirmities. What was previously replaced later acts as a replacement, serving as a formative matrix of alienation in the creation of self. Thus, a successful establishment of a self involves, in Lacanian sense, an “imaginary” merging, integrated through a process of an individual’s constant alienation and experience of otherness.

Just as Descartes recognized reason as the essentiality of human beings when he stated “I think therefore I am,” so would Lacan, identifying the otherness as the defining feature of humanity, say “I think therefore I am other” as what ultimately constitutes the perception of oneself, by and through which individuals construct their egos, is the otherness, and it is only through the process of alienation that one comes to establish oneself that is independent of the same otherness.

 

 

Works Cited

Lacan, Jacques. “From The Agency of the Letter in the Unconscious.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. New York: London, 2011.

The Castle of Otranto: A Beginning and a Beginning

A Beginning and a Beginning

Presumably, the final scenes of The Castle of Otranto constitute a series of dramatic, seemingly-conclusive events, ranging from Matilda’s accidental death, Manfred’s final abdication of his title to Theodore’s marriage with Isabella. Yet essentially, what has become of the ending can be deemed neither as a closing element of the plot nor as a resolution to the conflicts (let alone it be a happy or an unhappy one) as it is a rebounding beginning in disguise of an end, a past in the veils of a future.

The author hints at the undercurrent of recurring history that exists throughout the novel by drawing a distinct parallel between Conrad and Alfonso. The two characters resemble each other in ways that render them almost indistinguishable; the fact that readers never directly encounter them, along with the heavenly workings with which both characters are involved— Conrad’s death caused by the falling of a mysterious gigantic helmet and Alfonso’s existence manifested as a supernatural being— and the disassembled manner of both of their bodies all establishes purposeful commonalities between the two. This alludes to not only the convergence of a predecessor and his unauthentic successor but also the interlocking of an opening and closing of the story, which results in a cyclic, perpetual sphere of history. Considering how Conrad’s death opens up the plot while Alfonso culminates the story by ascending into heaven, readers note that the similarities between Conrad and Alfonso tie random, befuddling events of the story together by rendering the two as fundamentally identical figures whose overlapping is timeless and thematic. Hence it is comprehensible, and almost natural, when Hippolita, immediately after witnessing Alfonso’s body ascending into heaven, exclaims “Conrad is gone!” (Walpole 83)

Hence it would be misleading to perceive the end of the story literally as an ultimate outcome. Furthermore, precisely because the identification of Conrad and Alfonso creates and strengthens the bond that meshes an end with a beginning, it entirely overthrows the common notion of a story’s narrative paradigm; as The Castle of Otranto, unlike any other story, is absolutely deficient of a finalistic aspect, its narrative becomes a superstructure whose role is, at best, superficial. With the plot continuing in a relatively repetitive manner without a conceivable end, there is not much effect one can derive from the narrative, which usually bestows a rhythmic flow to a story— the rise and fall of conflicts that comprises and constructs a unified, dynamic framework of a plot.

On a similar vein, David Lynch’s Blue Velvet has an extremely obscure ending that is distinctly connected with its beginning. This is most evident by the fact that the movie ends with the exact sceneries and representations with which it starts, capturing dreamlike, perhaps overly pleasant scenes of red roses over white picket fences and of a fireman waving friendly on a leisurely passing fire truck. This sense of happiness and peace is merely a veneer though, as the scenes are casted too brightly and surrealistically to be true. Moreover, it is a fake robin that attempts to eat a bug at the end of the movie. This, again, corresponds to The Castle of Otranto in ways that what seems like a happy ending is first of all, not happy, and secondly, not an end. The tragedy starts all over again.

James Watt, in his book Contesting the Gothic: Fiction, Genre and Cultural Conflict, 1764-1832, characterizes the Gothic when he defines the genre as “a literature of self-analysis which emerged at a stage when the bourgeoisie… began to try to understand the conditions and history of their own ascent” (Watt 2). However, both Walpole’s and Lynch’s works deviate from such generalization in that there is no ascent but only an eternal echo of history— a constant betrayal of the hope for an origin, and for an end.

 

Works Cited

Walpole, Horace. Jeffrey’s Edition of The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story. London: Cooper and Graham, 1796. Print.

Watt, James. Contesting the Gothic: Fiction, Genre and Cultural Conflict, 1764-1832. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Print.

Hong Kong’s Nostalgia for Future

Hong Kong’s Nostalgia for Future

One of the most enthusiastically investigated and acclaimed Hong Kong film, In the Mood for Love is just as often perceived as a nostalgic film as it is considered to be postcolonial. Many critics assert that Wong Kar-wai achieves the apex of aesthetical beauty and symbolism through the film, which assists in intensifying the tragedy of a mutually unrequited romance while manifesting the themes of nostalgia and post-colonialism. Yet, it is not merely the emotional feeling that the movie aims to evoke, as Wong Kar-wai delves deeper into the close relationship between nostalgia and time and distorts the two to ultimately result in the notion of nostalgia for future, a unique phenomenon that is exclusive to Hong Kong and its dilemma.

According to Vivian Lee, In the Mood for Love engages with, if not fully expresses, the theme of nostalgia in two distinct ways: first, it characterizes itself as nostalgic by incorporating nostalgic factors within the movie and second, it serves as a critical, metacommentary on nostalgia, the effect of which it deliberately produces. In explaining about the possible interpretative frameworks on examining postmodern works, Lee describes In the Mood for Love as a nostalgic text, “a representational relation between text and desire” (Lee, 26) —that is, the film adheres to and reminds the audience of a specific time period in history, thereby staging the experience of nostalgia. Such effecting of nostalgic emotions is accomplished by explicit manifestations of objects that are distinctive and representative of a particular era and results in the arousal of direct, immediate feelings.

One of the most prominent features that evoke the particularity of time and nostalgic feelings in the film is the female protagonist’s costume: the immaculate, traditional cheongsams, many of which are stylishly decorated with gorgeous, and almost lavish, floral patterns. These eye-catching dresses successfully denote Hong Kong’s situation in the early 1960s, just when tailors from the mainland, fleeing from the Communist Revolution, immigrated to Hong Kong and brought the vogue of cheongsam along with them (“Hong Kong Museum of History – Outreach Exhibitions”). Similarly, other objects in the settings of the movie such as old-style telephones, the typewriter at Su’s office, and the movable printing devices found in Chow’s workplace all establish a vivid sense of temporality of a specific era, creating an atmosphere that is reminiscent of the 1960s Hong Kong and calling for nostalgic experiences among the audience.

Another—a more subtle yet much more complicated —way in which Lee claims that the film elucidates the theme of nostalgia is the way it “attends to the textuality of nostalgia” (Lee, 26), hence serving as a metacommentary to the sentiment. By reproducing itself as a nostalgic experience of one of the characters at the end of the plot, the film reflects the character’s relationship to his past and, in a way, objectifies and investigates the nostalgic experience that it creates; through means such as written narrations and editing techniques, In the Mood for Love defines itself as a representation of nostalgia (or of a nostalgic experience) — what Lee elaborates as “the film’s self-reflexive engagement with nostalgia as both text and desire, something that amounts to a self-parody” (Lee, 26). Hence, while maintaining nostalgic atmosphere, the film also acts as a mediator between the audience and the immediate nostalgic feeling, thereby distancing the sentiment from the viewers.

The most evident aspect of the film that demonstrates such exteriorizing view on nostalgia is the concluding narration that states, “He remembers those vanished years. As though looking through a dusty window pane, the past is something he could see but not touch. And everything he sees is blurred and indistinct.” This explication, unveiling that everything that the audience witnesses is a flashback, specifically a remembrance of a tragic romance, imparts the entire plot as memories. Meanwhile, several other factors bestow surrealistic qualities to the film that are appropriate for a story of longing and suppressed desires: the stylistic lighting effect that plays with the subtleties to render everyday scenes as dramatic, thereby creating an atmospheric feeling that almost reaches expressionism; the melancholic, expressive music that drowns out the static of the reality; and highly-saturated color palette that richly exaggerates the intensities of hues to enhance the almost-fantastical visuality of the film. All these aspects culminate to render the film the dreamy, evanescent quality of a memory, hence presenting the entire film as a form of nostalgia. Thus, while In the Mood for Love can be described as having nostalgic elements as it internally expresses the theme of nostalgia, it can also be perceived as a medium that reflects the characters’ (specifically Chow’s) connections to their pasts, which results in it externally serving as an embodiment of nostalgia or nostalgic experiences.

Such traces of nostalgia (or rather, the metacommentary on the concept of nostalgia) though, should be reconsidered and even modified in case of Hong Kong, because Wong Kar-wai deterritorializes the concept of linear time and thwarts the notion of history, just as Kafka is understood to deterritorialize various modes of orality. The presence of time, especially that of linearity and history, is prominent throughout the movie, as indicated by the persistently repetitive shots of a clock. Yet, it is no longer the technical measurement— of the time that progresses forward, where past, present, and future are neatly aligned in that order— that justifies the existence of time. It is neither the designation of the narrative at a specific moment nor the application of the sense of passing moments to the plot that becomes the primary function of time. Instead, the same clock shots that are repeatedly shown almost in an excessive, seemingly-empty way strip the usual implications and meaning of time. This is similar to the way that the German language is deterritorialized as “Kafka deliberately kills all metaphor, all symbolism, all signification, no less than all designation” (Deleuze and Guattari, 22), as the metamorphosed concept of time renders the audience’s efforts futile in searching for everyday connotation of the concept.

Yet simultaneously, time takes on a new mode of existence as it is pushed to the point of sobriety and poverty, to the extreme of deterritorialization. This becomes apparent at the end of the movie when the camera captures the dark corridors of the ancient Cambodian temples. It feels as though the film is moving away from the temporality of humanity into that of another dimension where time ultimately dissolves and disappears away; these timeless, even immortal stone ruins that have remained, still remains, and will remain relatively unchanging for thousands of years despite all the other changes render the mechanical measuring of humanity’s time meaningless. Wong Kar-wai hence highlights the disintegration and deterritorialization of the fundamental idea of time in the deepest sense by setting of the film’s last scenes in those places of an entirely different aura and tempo of life.

Likewise, the protagonists’ role-plays also contribute to the deterritorialization of time by transfiguring the collinearity of past, present, and future. As Su and Chow not only speculate on what could have happened between their infidel spouses in the past but also rehearse for their future confrontations and departures, they distort the inherent nature of time by recreating the past in the present as a preventative measure for the future. Past is reborn in the present because of future, and this manipulation shuffles the customary order of time; contrary to the usual functioning of temporalities, with each one faithfully and independently playing its own role— the past existing as something that is bygone, the present as the given current moment, and the future as a set of upcoming, anticipatory events— the role plays blur the boundaries among them as they represent attempts to pull up the past and overlap it with the present while warping the destiny of the future as well. As a result, the separate nature of different temporalities becomes meshed into each other, deterritorializing the notion of linear time and history in that the general meaning and sense that are usually imbued to the concept disintegrate.

This distortion is further aided by the slow motion effects and repetitions of scenes that Wong Kar-wai occasionally utilizes to subvert the usual, consistent pace of time. Several shots, including the one that shows an asphalt road that is wet and shiny with raindrops, stand out from others in that their slow motion effects seem to mark, and therefore prevent, the regular stridence of linear time with abnormal moments of lags. These “idlings” of time, amplifying the significance of that moment, serve as jagged forms of resistance to the everyday conception of time as they disturb the smooth pace at which time flows. Similarly, the repetition technique defies the conventional nature of time by emphasizing certain moments of the plot, which, in turn, disorients the flow of events. For example, the alley scenes in which Su meets Chow on her way to buy noodles that are repeated throughout the movie seem to warp the sequence of how the plot unravels as the repetition of the strikingly similar scenes seem to intrude upon the logical flow of events.

What inevitably follows such tangled, and therefore deterritorialized, temporalities, then, is nostalgia, which is also of a tangled shape. And just as Kafka deterritorializes the German language until he “[a]rrive[s] at a perfect and unformed expression, a materially intense expression” (Deleuze and Guattari, 19)— what Deleuze and Guattari refers to as “intensity,” the state that is part of the range of the word, that has let the meaning escape—Wong Kar-wai, in In the Mood for Love, ultimately frees nostalgia. Precisely because the concept of nostalgia relies, if not firmly roots itself, on the notion of linear time and history, the distortion of time consequently liberates nostalgia from its exclusive ties with the past. Hence, nostalgia becomes not a thing of the past anymore, nor of the present, but perhaps of the future.

What should be made of the idea of ‘nostalgia for future’? How can nostalgia exist for the unknown, the unseen? Boym identifies nostalgia as such:

Nostalgia (from nostos—return home, and algia—longing) is a longing for a home that no longer exists or has never existed… A cinematic image of nostalgia is a double exposure, or a superimposition of two images—of home and abroad, past and present, dream and everyday life. The moment we try to force it into a single image, it breaks the frame or burns the surface. (Boym, xiii-xiv)

Boym’s suggestion of nostalgia possibly being a yearning for an illusory subject is especially appropriate to Hong Kong, which, according to Rey Chow, dwells in “an in-betweenness and an awareness of impure origins, of origins as impure… that… does not offer the illusion of a cultural virginity nor thus the excitement of its possible rehabilitation” (Chow, 157). Precisely because Hong Kong lacks pure, original culture that existed prior to the colonial periods, it can go back to neither what Chow calls ‘nativism’ nor postmodernism; due to the double impossibility of determining its proper origin, there is no way for it to “rehabilitate” what was not there in the first place. In this sense, Hong Kong’s acute craving for identity and independence can be considered to be projected towards the future, which is the only option that can materialize the fantasy of a Hong Kong-ese foundation (unfulfilled by both past and present) into reality.

Another interesting characteristic of nostalgia that Boym points out is its need for the irony of juxtaposing two polarities, which is metaphorically expressed through the cinematic technique, double exposure. She indicates that nostalgia necessarily embraces two ends of divergences that not only coexist but also are naturally superimposed upon each other. It is notable that such superimposition is the only way that the sentiment can exist and be maintained; once this double-ness should be unified through force, nostalgia will be destroyed. This runs parallel to Hong Kong’s future, which also holds ironic double-ness— of independence and dependence, freedom and continued colonialization. And because nostalgia is about yearning for the impossible fantasy, in case of Hong Kong, nostalgia for future has its basis on the disparities and contradictions of the city’s future. If there were no contradictions (i.e. the possibility of complete independence), then nostalgia for future would not exist— it would “break the frame or burn the surface” (Boym, xiv). Boym thus implies that nostalgia is about learning to maneuver between two juxtaposed polarities, rather than forcefully integrating the two into a single, artificially-made simple reality.

Overall, Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love demonstrates Hong Kong’s nostalgia for future by appealing to the theme of nostalgia both within and through the film itself and deterritorializing the concept of time on which the sentiment is based. The application of Deleuze and Guattari’s idea of Kafka deterritorializing German language to Hong Kong’s case is then further developed to result in nostalgia projected towards the future that can only exist in the marginal space of contradictions and in-betweenness. Hence ultimately, nostalgia, along with history, for Hong Kong is nonexistent (or merely illusional) in the past but offers hope to the future, the only means in which the possibility of the resolution to enduring problems may emerge.

 

 

Works Cited

Chow, Rey. “Between Colonizers: Hong Kong’s Postcolonial Self-Writing in the 1990s.” Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies 2.2 (1992): 157.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature. Vol. 30. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1986. Print. Theory and History of Literature.

“Hong Kong Museum of History – Outreach Exhibitions.” Hong Kong Museum of History – Outreach Exhibitions. Leisure and Cultural Services Department, 7. Oct. 2013. Web. 10 Dec. 2013.

Lee, Vivian. Hong Kong Cinema since 1997: The Post-nostalgic Imagination. Basingstoke, Hampshire, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. Print.