Insensate Intimacy in Recent Asian Films

Talk by Jean Ma, Stanford University

Thursday, October 19, 2017
4:00 PM - 5:30 PM
Bunche Hall 10383

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My talk addresses the presence of sleeping characters in recent Asian films. Works directed by Tsai Ming-liang and Apichatpong Weerasethakul devote considerable portions of screen time to characters in states of unconsciousness, contravening standard ideas of what counts as narratively meaningful action in movies. Sleep would seems to represent the very negation of drama, as a paradigmatic instance of inaction and the dead time that editing typically strives to eliminate. But these filmmakers turn this conventional coding of sleep on its head as part of a project to re-attune perception and to recalibrate the sense of passing time. Moreover, the presence of such unconscious characters forges a link between Tsai and Apichatpong as queer auteurs, prominent figures not only on the international art film circuit but also in contemporary queer Asian cinema. Sleep plays a central role in the universe of desires and relationships constructed by these filmmakers, a universe that does not necessarily align with western paradigms of visibility and recognition. Acts of drifting off and waking up bind their characters together in webs of intimacy and sociality. I explore the significance of sleep for a queer relational mode based on asymmetry, vulnerability, and care, a mode that I designate as insensate intimacy.

Jean Ma is an Associate Professor in the Department of Art and Art History at Stanford University, where she teaches in the Film and Media Studies Program. She is the author of Melancholy Drift: Marking Time in Chinese Cinema (2010) and Sounding the Modern Woman: The Songstress in Chinese Cinema (2015), and a coeditor of Still Moving: Between Cinema and Photography (2008) and “Sound and Music,” a special issue of the Journal of Chinese Cinemas. Her work has appeared in Camera Obscura, Criticism, Grey Room, Film Quarterly, Post Script, and Journal of Chinese Cinemas. She is the coeditor of “Music, Sound, and Media,” a new book series from the University of California Press.

Sponsor(s): Center for Chinese Studies