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Weihong Bao (University of California, Berkeley): The Cloud of Doubt: Making Sense of the Sensible in Postwar Shanghai Cinema
Thursday, 1 November 2018,  4:30pm -  6:00pm

Location: Brower Commons A


Abstract: This paper turns to postwar Shanghai cinema that grapples with the aftereffect of the war on nerves in the changing social dynamic and sense perception of the world. Professor Bao examines a set of genre-inflected films edging on noir, psychological thriller, and horror that capitalize on the production of doubt as both a motivating narrative device and the desired effect of an ambivalent atmosphere. Focusing on the aesthetic staples of these films—the conspicuous play of light and shadow, the fluid camera movement, complex use of voiceover, and deliberate pace and style of acting--she will investigate how doubt (chiyi) accompanies suspicion (huaiyi) but also strays from it, moving from the epistemological search of clues to the immersion of an atmosphere of uncertainty that questions the condition and possibility of knowing straddling between sensing, perceiving, and knowing. Doubt, as delineated in these films, suggests an environmental alternative to the epistemological notion of perception, defying established sense hierarchy and association of single-sense perception with particular modes of experiencing and knowing. This conflation between the mental and sensual, the transensory and the supersensory, she argues, provides a unique laboratory of space-time that allows the renegotiations of the social divides and disconnect specific to the postwar condition.

Combining the media archaeological and hermeneutic approach, this essay situates the understanding of postwar Shanghai cinema in the transnational traffic in media practices, psychology discourses, and film genre. Postwar Shanghai cinema’s direct and indirect references to war, neurosis, and psychological war, I argue, suggest an aesthetic of doubt as a new mode of knowledge moving from causality to contingency, a spatial-temporal processing that makes sense of the sensible and negotiates with the trauma of the war for a new social understanding.