(Dis)enchanted Taiwanese Cinema:
A Workshop on the Actuality of Animism
The Enlightenment’s program was the disenchantment of the world. It wanted to dispel myths, to overthrow phantasy with knowledge. The disenchantment of the world means the extirpation of animism.
Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Dialectics of Enlightenment
1. General Overview
Taiwan contemporary cinema is abounding with religious rites, spirits, specters, ghosts, gods and other supernatural forces. To take only the most recent examples, at random, one can think of No puedo vivir sin ti (不能没有你, 2009) and its opening possession ritual; Monga (艋舺, 2010) and its relation to local temples, God Man Dog (流浪狗神人, 2007) and its multiconfessional plot; Zero Chou’s Splendid Float (艶光四射歌舞團, 2004) with its Taoist priest /queer performer; Orz Boyz (囧男孩, 2008) and its magical surrealism; the acclaimed The Fourth Portrait (第四張畫, 2010) and the haunting of a dead brother; the work of mourning and the lengthy coexistence with Lu Yi-Ching’s spirit in Tsai Ming-Liang’s Face (脸, 2009); etc.
For Chris Berry, the pervasiveness of these visible religious practices and references to the supernatural suggests a peculiar and distinctive Taiwanese modernity, characterized by an “extended and reconfigured spectral time [that] can be called haunted realism.” This temporal heterogeneity that characterizes Taiwan contemporary cinema corresponds to what Bliss Cua Lim, in her work on the fantastic and temporal critique in cinema, has called “immiscible times”, that is, an “untranslatable temporal otherness” that challenges the uniform chronological epic of disenchanted secular modernity. She draws on Dipesh Chakrabarty’s critique of European conception of progress, who sustains that “the moment we think of the world as disenchanted, we set limits to the way the past can be narrated.”
This workshop will be an occasion to further explore the dialectic of disenchantment and (re)enchantment at work in Taiwanese contemporary cinema through the work of different thinkers who all share, in different manners, a common concern for the actuality of animism. Coined in the field of anthropology, the term was originally related to a modernist theory of the origins of religion championed by Edward Tylor in his foundational Primitive Culture (1872), and which basically assumes that primitive people are wrong in attributing life and person-like qualities to objects in their environment. In the context of this workshop, the concept of animism will be understood in a radically contrasting way, denoting a positive way of decentering the subjectivity and escaping the ontological dualisms of modern thought, in order to plunge beneath the subject/object division and to reload the real with possibles.
The workshop will unfold over 3 day-encounters: August 14th, 21st and 28th. It will take the form of a graduate seminar, with a guided discussion of the texts in the morning and the projection of a film followed by an open discussion with invited scholars and filmmakers in the afternoon. Participants are expected to have read the texts and to participate actively to the discussion. You are more than welcome to bring in other readings that you find relevant, film clips that could be interesting to watch together, etc.