Inscribing Transgender across the Pacific

Sunday, January 5, 2020: 11:30 AM
Gramercy West (New York Hilton)
Howard Chiang, University of California, Davis
My talk expands from a central concern with how the politics of marginal bodies has intersected with the entrenched rise of global China. It proposes a post-identitarianapproach to writing trans history so as to connect the different iterations of gender variation in a unifying framework that resists both China-centrism and Western-centrism. In this way, we cannot presuppose the existence of trans subjects in historical reality for recuperative purposes, but transgender expressions and politics should be more accurately conceptualized on the basis of a continuum model. My discussion will focus on the promise of “transgender inscription” to expose the relational logic of the body in mediating the work of history in contemporary visual culture. By positing a continuum of corporeal signification from which transgender history could be inferred, I show that the body offers a productive site of transmedial possibility for inscribing and translating meanings of trans/gender across different language-based cultures. Grounding this discussion is a unique trans-Pacific cinematic archive that features the theme of castration—ranging from Tsui Hark’s martial arts films to David Cronenberg’s M. Butterfly (1993). The unveiling of the variegated representations and meanings of castration serves as a methodical ground for comparing a body of works that tend to be considered separately. A medium- and corporeal-based reading of these otherwise unrelated films thus loosens representational claims about China from earnest ties to Sinitic languages, scripts, or texts; makes room for multi- and extra-linguistic comparisons across shifting parameters of translation; and aligns Chinese culture with the fulcrum of transnational critique. This talk espouses the rhetoric of constructivism by attending to how history itself not only serves as a reservoir of facts and information for the present, but whose pulses and rhythms are often brought to life by the contemporary desire for its very existence.
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