Toboggan Lodge, 38 Forest Home Drive
ICM New Conversation Series
Assistant Professor of Southeast Asian Studies
Department of Asian Studies, Cornell University
This lecture explores two concomitant occurrences: the prominent contemporary phenomenon of the superimposition of three cities in East Asia and Southeast Asia onto one another and the revival of the aesthetics of ‘Chinese colonial modernity.’ Examining the doubling of Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Shanghai across the cinemas and hospitality industries of East and Southeast Asia, I gauge the valences of a transregional Chineseness that is both virtual as well as anchored in material structures. I analyze contemporary cinematic texts and material sites to investigate how a historical transnational formation—that of Chinese colonial modernity—continues to inform the present. As film directors (e.g., Wong Kar-wai) as well as hotels, bars, and clubs revive 1930s Shanghai and 1960s Hong Kong modernities—as well as exploit the Chinese past of Bangkok’s old European trading quarters—the colonial is emerging as a primary signifier of the good life. I ask how invocations of twentieth century translocal Chinese modernity point to enduring regional imaginaries that diverge from those of One Belt One Road and similar policies. How do a Shanghai-themed club in Bangkok (“Maggie Choo’s”), or Hong Kong cinema’s use of Bangkok as a filming location, rely on referencing a Chinese modernity that emerged under, but also exceeded, conditions of colonial governance? How does this relate to contemporary re-regionalization? Combining ethnographic and archival investigation of the revivification of Chinese modernity with cultural studies analysis, my investigation focuses especially on texture, or the features of the built environment and the feminine sartorial styles highlighted both in the cinematic materials and exploited in Bangkok’s hospitality industry.
Arnika Fuhrmann is an interdisciplinary scholar of Southeast Asia, working at the intersections of the region’s aesthetic and political modernities. Her book Ghostly Desires: Queer Sexuality and Vernacular Buddhism in Contemporary Thai Cinema (Duke University Press, 2016) examines how Buddhist-coded anachronisms of haunting figure struggles over sexuality, personhood, and notions of collectivity in contemporary Thai cinema. In a new research project, Fuhrmann focuses on new media and how the study of the digital allows for a perspective on the political public sphere that transcends commonplace distinctions between liberalism and illiberalism. This project intersects with her interests in the transformation of cities in contemporary Southeast and East Asia. Fuhrmann’s recent writing has appeared in Discourse: Journal for Theoretical Studies in Media and Culture, Oriens Extremus, Diogenes, and positions: asia critique. She is Assistant Professor of Southeast Asian Studies in Cornell University’s Department of Asian Studies.
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