|To Free Speech from Free Speech: Disability Aesthetics and Queer Marxism in Hou Hsiao-Hsien''''s A City of Sadness|
Thursday, April 11, 2019
4:00 PM - 5:30 PM
10383 Bunche Hall
Talk by Hentyle Yapp, New York University
Michel Foucault notably identified the import of speaking truth to power through the Stoic practice of parrhesia. This notion becomes ever important with popular and activist demands for truth and transparency in light of “fake news,” state secrets, and the suppression of tax documents. Yet, the reliance on truth and transparency through the act of free speech produces a political paradigm that often turns to centrist demands, as “all sides” must be heard. Under dominant liberalism, both conservatives and radical leftists understand themselves as performing parrhesia and are framed as illiberal. In other words, parrhesia and speaking truth come to be limited when situated within liberalist logics.
This presentation asks what might happen if we free the concept of speech from free speech itself? What happens when political speech might be reimagined beyond calls for truth and transparency? Put differently, what might speech look like if not primarily informed through a liberal democratic tradition? To explore these questions, I turn to disability, particularly deafness and muteness, under conditions of colonialism to grapple with formulations of speech that do not fit under truth, transparency, and liberalism. In particular, I examine Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s classic and lauded film A City of Sadness (1989) and focus on its disability aesthetics. This film, which won the Golden Lion prize at the Venice Film festival, displaces sound and speech during Taiwan’s passage from Japanese colonial occupation to mainland Chinese colonization following the second world war. Rather than depicting true images of Japanese and Chinese colonial violence or privileging historical realism, the director notably develops an aesthetic of opacity and illegibility. Hou’s aesthetics, in other words, provide a political critique that does not rely on truth, repair, and recognition. Sound, speech, and silence intertwine across multiple media like radio, performance, and photography, offering indirect mediation as a way to disentangle free speech from liberalism. Further, Tony Leung’s deaf-mute character, Lin Wen-Ching, complicates the oft-presumed association between agential resistance and free speech. Ultimately, this film provides a space to trace a “queer Marxist” genealogy across two Chinas, as informed by the work of Petrus Liu, in order to free speech from its usual liberalist sentiments. By turning to this genealogy, we begin to reimagine different modes of critique, structural analysis, and subject formation beyond liberalism.
Hentyle Yapp is an assistant professor at New York University in the Department of Art & Public Policy. He is also affiliated faculty with the Departments of Comparative Literature and Performance Studies, along with the Disability Council and Asian/Pacific/American Institute. His articles have appeared in GLQ, American Quarterly, Journal of Visual Culture, and Verge: Studies in Global Asias. His book, Minor China: Materialisms, Method, and Mediation on the Global Art Market, is currently under contract with Duke University Press.
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