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Poetic Cinema, Music in Tone Languages, and Baroque Cyberspace

Monday 8 June 2020, 4.00PM to 6.00pm BST

The third virtual session of the Countervoices PG Forum Summer Series

The forum is a series of termly events that offer Masters and PhD students in and beyond the Centre for Modern Studies the opportunity to present a short piece of work to an interdisciplinary audience. 

The event will consist of invited presentations from Gerald Jia Ding ( Stanford ), Rui Qi Choo (York), andTing Zheng (Stanford ). It will be followed by a Q&A. 

Cinematic Lyricism, Poetic Cinema, Cinema of Poetry?

Interdisciplinary studies on the interrelation between literature and cinema have been focusing on the narrative dimensions of both art forms. In 1965, the Italian filmmaker and film theorist Pier Paolo Pasolini presented his essay “The Cinema of Poetry” (“Il ‘cinema di poesia’”) at a round table called “Critica e nuovo cinema”, illustrating what he calls the “poetic mode” of narrative cinema through the examples of Jean-Luc Godard, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Michelangelo Antonioni, whose works, according to Pasolini, exemplify an "emerging tradition" of cinema that prizes poetic depth over linear narrative plot. Since the publication of Pasolini's defining essay film scholars and literary scholars have been exploring the wide range of possibilities in terms of the intersection between these two artistic media. Drawing on a multiplicity of theoretical perspectives, this presentation attempts to provide a broad outline of the theoretical discussions on the poetic mode of cinema. Can the cinema of poetry be regarded a well-established cinematic school in today's context? Or is it still an evolving mode of cinematic practice? Or should it be seen as a range of trans-historical stylistic possibilities that transcend specific filmic schools or movements?

Gerald Jia Ding is a PhD candidate in Comparative Literature at Stanford University. He received his Master degree in Comparative Literature at University of Edinburgh and his Bachelor degree in German Literature and Art History at University of Leipzig. His current project focuses on the idea of "the poetic" and "the lyrical" across media boundaries. His research interests include intermediality, interart aesthetics, poetic cinema, German modernist poetry, and postwar American literature.


Music to Your Ears, Words to Mine

How do children learn languages with ‘musical’ qualities? This music, known in linguistics as tone, plays a part in differentiating between words. Mandarin, for example, distinguishes words through the use of four lexical tones – high-level, rising, falling-rising and high-falling. A test of ‘nonword repetition’ (repeating made-up words) is often used as a measure to assess a child’s ability to learn language; nonword stimuli in Mandarin need to take into account syllables as well as tone. The interaction of syllable and tone have not been systematically tested, giving rise to the question: what is more salient to children learning Mandarin – syllables or tone? A Mandarin nonword repetition test was administered to twenty children learning Mandarin and their responses were video-recorded. The nonwords included easy or difficult syllables, easy or difficult tones or a mix of the two. Nonwords containing both easy syllables and easy tones were said the best, as expected, but those with easy tones were said more accurately regardless of whether the syllables were easy or difficult. This suggests that children can attune to the ‘musical’ characteristics if they are important in the language. These findings on Mandarin provide new insight into how children learn languages with very different structures from the well-studied non-tone Indo-European languages. The music in tone languages gives rise to meaning, it is more than just a melody.

Rui Qi Choo is in her third year of pursuing a PhD in Applied Linguistics in the Departments of Education, and Language and Linguistic Science. She is interested in child language acquisition, specifically bilingual children learning Mandarin and English. She dabbles in baking, doodling, improv comedy and calligraphy when she’s not chipping away at her research data.


Shaping Identity: Baroque Cyberspace in Ghost in the Shell

A highly extravagant style of art, baroque flourished in seventeenth-century Europe. It embraces the sensuous, the exuberant and the self-contradictory, and produces a strong effect on the spectator, listener or reader. At the same time, cyberspace in Asian science fiction films commonly features high-tech but dilapidated settings that embrace confusion, hybridity, and a dizzying array of contradictions. My research specifically treats cyberspace as it appears in the cinema as a baroque space. Instead of regarding baroque style as a historical movement, I see baroque style as a transhistorical stylistic element in cinema. In particular, I argue that baroque cyberspace as it appears in the film, Ghost in the Shell (1995), in addition to possessing a purely aesthetic function, also contains the power concretely affect and shape the identity of characters.

In particular, a crucial flashback scene in Ghost in the Shell, through its portrayal of the multiple perspectives brought to bear on one context by the main character, a cyborg, highlights the concept of spectatorship that is vital to Christine Buci-Clucksmann’s idea of the perception of baroque. She regards the relationship between the subject and the artwork as an interactive dynamic. In other words, the gaze is never objectifiable, it floats between the subject and the artwork. In this flashback scene, the main character, Major Kusanagi, is hanging around the baroque cyberspace. Three of her watch each other successively, and each of them senses herself being watched by the other. When they attempt to find who is watching them and look around the space, the camera follows each perspective to go through this dazzling space: bridges, skyscraper complexes, billboards and traffic lights. In the setting of this baroque cyberspace, the gaze is transferred among these three Major Kusanagi; they are spectators and spectacles at the same time. More importantly, overwhelmed by this bizarre and dazzling cyberspace, Major Kusanagi cannot distinguish herself from this spiral cyberspace. That coincides with the fact that she doubts whether her soul is something from a human being or digital codes.

Ting Zheng, a first-year Ph.D. student in modern Chinese literature at Stanford University. With the support of her advisors Professor Haiyan Lee and Professor Ban Wan, Ting focuses on the research of the connection between East Asian film and audiences’ emotional experience achieved through watching this affective medium. Before starting her graduate education, she spent two years studying Ideological and Political Education at Wuhan University, China before transferring to DePauw University where she finished her Bachelor degree with cum laude honor there (BA in Asian Studies). Under Professor Charles Laughlin’s guidance, Ting finished her Master of Arts (East Asian Studies) at the University of Virginia. She also finished additional training during the summer and winter breaks of her academic year. From 2016.07 to 2016.08, with the scholarship awarded by DePauw University, she took the summer program at Aoyama Gakuin University, Japan. From 2017.01 to 2017.02, she took the winter cultural program at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany. Supported by the scholarship awarded by Columbia University and the University of Virginia, she finished the summer Japanese language training program from 2018.05 to 2018.07 at Doshisha University, Japan.


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