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The Spectral Sounds of Postsocialist China in the films of Jia Zhangke

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Abstract

In recent years, there has been an increasing fascination with the nature of time and the motif of haunting in Asian cinema, as authors such as Bliss Cua Lim have explored how films can offer a critique of the dominant conception of time as homogenous and linear. Asserting that ‘fantastic narratives … [unhinge] the unicity of the present by insisting on … the jarring coexistence of other times’, she offers a way of thinking about cinematic temporality that is concerned with ethics and a Derridean sense of accountability. While Cua Lim argues that the cinematic apparatus ‘links vision to rationalized time’, this essay explores how film sound (like the ghost narrative) might similarly be able to create a sense of multiple, even divergent, temporalities. By creating a perceptible ‘gap’ in the seamlessness of a film's narrative and formal structure, sound can be an unruly force in its own right, acting like a mischievous or even belligerent ghost that exposes the progress narrative's conception of time as a myth. This essay explores this use of sound in the recent films of Jia Zhangke to investigate how they reconceptualize lived space-time in postsocialist China as heterochronic, both formally through the disjunctive use of sound and image, and thematically through their exploration of the heterogeneity of subjective and/or cultural memory. In doing so, I hope to be able to provide a useful analytical framework that can be productively mapped onto different cultural and historical contexts.
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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)418-435
Number of pages18
JournalScreen
Volume53
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2012

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