Introduction | Ding-Liang Chen & Haewoong Jang

by Critical Asia

by Ding-Liang Chen & Haewoong Jang, Dec. 2021】

Toward a Critical Screenology of Asia

Now into its third year, the prolonged global pandemic has not only exacerbated structural inequalities across the globe, ranging from economic disparities, political turmoil, and uneven distribution of health resources but enhanced the growing influence of various forms of screens, as embodied in telecommunication, portable devices, information interfaces, digital logistics, platform economy, and virtual environment, in defining our contemporary living conditions. However, “[i]n our haste to populate our lives, intimate and public, with screens,” Sean Cubitt observes, “we have opted for the good enough over the best possible, and in the process abandoned technical trajectories that might have suggested other social and political capacities and affordances” (33).

In search for alternative imagination and practices of digital technologies, this inaugural issue of postgraduate publication project calls for a critical screenology to examine the changing cultural roles and “natures” of screens in the pandemic era from the vantage points of Asia and critical humanities. “Screenology,” as Erkki Huhtamo suggests, “is needed to make screen visible—to frame them, so to speak—and to break the illusion of timelessmess, of media without history, that they sustain” (145). With an aim to nuancing the situatedness of screens, the five contributors to this issue have examined how sociality, social movements, and cultural production in Asian societies have been transformed and conditioned through virtual technologies and emergent online platforms in the new normal era. How virtual environments have changed our modes of desire and fantasy? What roles do digital platforms play in gathering the resistant collective of recent social movements? In what ways have contemporary social media platforms conditioned our ways of communication? What does it mean when art and cultural production have been moved to virtual screens in response to pandemic control measures? If we agree that digital technologies are not simply about enhancing intimacy and immediacy, then what are the critical and theoretical viewpoints we may construct through talking about sociality in a time of social distancing? While conversations about the above conundrums have never been confined merely to digital technologies, the materiality of screen is here to complicate our thinking of representation and communication because of its myriad relations to the mediation of experience.

Studies of screen, as Hongwei Thorn Chen explains, “moves away from claims of medium ontology, emphasizing, instead, how each medium comprises a braid of multiple technologies and practices” (27). In gathering these essays focusing on the Philippines, Indonesia, Korea, and theoretical interventions, we hope this issue could serve as a starting point to initiate the much-needed dialogue between theories, praxes, and the contested notion of Asia in contemporary humanities.

Technological Conditions of Perversity, Politics, and Protests

Drawing the critical attention to the rise of BL series in the Philippines during the global pandemic, Christian Jil R. Benitez’s essay “Queer Frames” goes beyond considering such visual representation of queerness merely as subversive practices that challenge heteronormative ideologies. Instead, the essay addresses cyberspace, social media platforms, real-time telecommunication, and operation of camera shots and angles as essential material infrastructures that support what Benitez calls “the digital circuitry,” framing alternative modes of fantasies and identification between the audience and the protagonists via virtual screens. The transmedial structures which redefine desire, intimacy, and sexuality, as Benitez elaborates, demand a posthumanist turn in queer studies in order to foreground previously neglected material agents that condition emergent embodiments of queerness.

In face of the effects the internet and digital space have had on the Philippine life and national memories, Isa Lacuna, in her essay “Access and Affordance: Alvin Yapan’s EDSA (2016) and the Remembrance of Things Not Quite Past,” tries to seek for new ways of possibility by having recourse to Alvin Yapan’s EDSA. Lacuna ruminates on the relationships between the metropolitan roads depicted in EDSA and the complicated and repressed history of the Philippines. The ending of the film is symptomatically interpreted as stalemate of the Philippine history. Consequently, this essay covers a wide arrange of themes, including national memory of Philippines, the metropolitan scenery on screen, and socio-political prospects of Philippines. It is indeed an example of the intersection between Asian realities and screen in this era.

Maria Auxiliadora Rahaditya’s essay “The Cultural Transformation of the Gig Economy through Mobile Apps: The Study Case of Motorcycle Taxi in Indonesia” furthers the inquiry of Southeast Asian digital revolutions by situating the recent protests against GoJek in the rapid development of transnational marketization, platform economy, and logistical infrastructures in the past decades. In delineating the ways in which technological advancements have reshaped the Indonesian conceptualization of community, relationality, and transportation, this essay stands as a critical reminder that reveals the affective attunement of subjectivity embedded in the changing milieu of digital technicity.

Sociality through Screens

In “Faciality in the Age of Video Communication,” Shan-ni Sunny Tsai tries to capture facial specificities of video communication in this pandemic era. Mirror, gaze, power, face, and technical problems are taken into consideration as specific conditions of video communication. It is mirror and imaginary self-image in Lacanian theory that is met with digital space and screen. Conjoined and connected faciality makes one question conventional self-image and communication and acknowledge unprecedented images on screen. This essay is intriguing in that Lacanian theory is re-thought in the context of video communication of this era. In effect, screen functions as conditions for reconsidering the matters of mirror, gaze, power, and face. Tsai makes it known that cultural specificities of Asia remain to be thought.

Haewoong Jang’s essay “The Conditions of Responsibilities for a Lost Time” investigates two internationally acclaimed Korean films—Burning and Parasite—along with theoretical texts by Jacques Derrida, Slavoj Žižek, and Giorgio Agamben to reconsider the meaning of responsibility in the apocalyptic temporality. Reading Burning and Parasite as crucial symptoms of “Korean unconscious on screen,” this essay aims to salvage the proletariat class that have often been forgotten throughout the process of industrialization and modernization for over seven decades. In an era when the social antagonism between the proletariat and the bourgeois has been worsened due to the global pandemic, Jang believes that recognizing how social progress has been engineered at the expense of the proletariat might serve as “a starting point of taking responsibilities for a lost and apocalyptic time.”

Ding-Liang Chen, Taiwan-Asia Exchange Foundation, Taiwan
Haewoong Jang, Seoul National University, South Korea

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