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A Feminine Discourse: Representation, Seduction, and Identification

2.2 Identification through the Filmic Discourse

The concept of identity/identification draws meaning into the semantic fields of sociology, discourse and psychoanalysis. To begin a discussion about identification, I thus must declare my research approach from the offset. Stuart Hall has sorted three concepts of identity on the basis of three notions of the subject:

1) Enlightenment subject. It is based on a conception of the human person as a fully centred, unified individual, endowed with the capacities of reason,


Barthes, Image, Music, Text, 142-148. 33

consciousness and action, whose “centre” consists of an inner core…The

essential centre of the self is a person’s identity.

2) Sociological subject. It reflects the growing complexity of the modern world and the awareness that this inner core of the subject is not autonomous and self- sufficient, but is formed in relation to “significant others”, who mediate to the subject the values, meanings and symbols – the culture – of the worlds he/she inhabits. Identity, in this sociological conception, bridges the gap … between the personal and the public worlds.

3) Post-modern subject. It conceives that there is no fixed, essential or permanent identity. Identity becomes a “moveable feast”: formed and transformed continuously in relation to the ways we are represented or addressed in the cultural systems which surround us.34

The concept of identity deployed in this research is the third one, which is argued in a post-modernist and discursive approach. According to Hall, the discursive approach accepts that identities are never unified but fragmented and fractured; never singular but multiply constructed across different discourses, practices and positions.35 By the same token, he “sees identification as a construction, a process never complete – always ‘in process’”.

It [identification] is not determined in the sense that it can always be “won” or “lost”, sustained or abandoned. Though not without its determinate conditions of


Stuart Hall, “The Question of Cultural Identity”, in Modernity and its Future, ed. Stuart Hall, David Held & Tony McGrew (Cambridge: Polity Press in association with the Open University, 1992), 275-277. My summary and emphasis.


existence, including the material and symbolic resources required to sustain it, identification is in the end conditional, lodged in contingency.36

Cultural identity is hence not an essentialist or immanent entity, but a strategic and positional one. What is more, such positional identities are narratives, “stories we tell ourselves about ourselves”37

, and can be chosen, played, preformed and continuously adjusted and re-formed. In Hall’s argument, identification is a process of becoming rather than being. It deals with the questions of “what we might become”, “how we have been represented” and “how we might represent ourselves” rather than the questions of “who we are” or “where we came from”. 38

Identification is thus an identity performativity constituted within, not outside representation.

However, representation does not yet have any fixed, final or true meaning, because it is always encoded and decoded within a particular discursive formation in a particular culture and period. When talking about the enunciative function, Foucault declares:

[O]ne cannot say a sentence, one cannot transform it into a statement, unless a collateral space is brought into operation. A statement always has borders peopled by other statements. These borders are not what is usually meant by “context” – real or verbal – that is, all the situational or linguistic elements, taken together, that motivate a formulation and determine its meaning.39


Ibid., 2-3. 37

Stuart Hall, “Fantasy, Identity, Politics”, in Cultural Remix: Theories of Politics and the Popular, ed. Erica Carter, James Donald & Judith Squires (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1995), 66.


Hall, “Who Needs Identity?”, 4. 39

Meanings constantly change from one culture or period to another. Representation can only enunciate within a specific historical and cultural discourse. Various subjects may produce particular texts, but they operate within the limits of discursive formations of a particular period and culture. In short, it is discourse, not the subject who speaks it, which produces meanings, truth and knowledge. This is one of Foucault’s most “outrageous” or radical propositions: “[t]he subject is produced ‘as an effect’ through and within discourse”40, “[t]his subject of discourse cannot be outside discourse, because it must be subjected to discourse”41. From this perspective, identities are constructed within discourse. They are produced within specific discursive formations and practices in specific historical and cultural contexts.

If, then, the subject “has no existence”42 and certainly no continuous identity, why do we need identities? Foucault believes the subject is produced through discourse in two different senses or places. First, the discourse itself produces the subject, but it also produces a place for the subject.43 On the one hand, discourse determinates the issues such as “who can speak”, “what can be spoken”, “who is accorded to use this sort of language?”, and “who is presumed that what he says is true”. On the other hand, we must locate ourselves in a position – the subject-position – to become a speaking subject, listening subject, reading subject, and so on. It is only from this subject-position constructed within discourse that the discourse makes most sense and subjects us to its meanings, power and regulation. That is to say, the subject needs to be placed in a subject-position before it is constituted as a subject within discourse. Though the subject


Hall, “Who Needs Identity?”, 10. 41

Hall, “Foucault: Power, Knowledge and Discourse”, 79. 42

Hall, “Who Needs Identity?”, 10. 43

is not unified or stable, but fragmented, the subject needs a position to act and speak in the social and cultural world. Though the subject is sutured with several identities which are sometimes even contradictory or unresolved, the subject needs an identity to support the recognition that will constitute it as a subject. Hall has elaborated this need of an identity with a vivid metaphor of a bus:

[I]dentity is like a bus! Not because it takes you to a fixed destination, but because you can only get somewhere – anywhere – by climbing aboard. The whole of you can never be represented by the ticket you carry, but you still have to buy a ticket to get from here to there. In the same way, you have to take a position in order to say anything, even though meaning refuses to be finally fixed and that position is an often contradictory holding operation rather than a position of truth.44

In a nutshell, we need to perform an identity to embark on a subject-position in which we have the power to act and speak, in spite of the fact that this subject-position is constructed by discourses through their rules of formation and enunciative modalities.

The arguments above illustrate a dialectic and mutual relation between identification and representation. On the one hand, identification is constructed within representation. On the other hand, one needs identity/identification before one can represent something/anything. In that sense, if we apply such conclusion to specific cases of filmmaking, we are able to deduce the mutual function between film directors’ identification and their filmic representation. First, the film directors, who desire to speak through their filmic narratives/representation, need identities to provide a subject-position


for representation. However, at the same time, within their filmic representation, they construct, or, “perform” their identification.

From this point of view, this research will explore the Chinese post-fifth-generation directors’ identification and its relation with the filmic representations they composed from a discursive approach. As mentioned in Chapter 1, although the post-fifth generation has been active in the film arena for nearly two decades since the early 1990s, they have hitherto never had an agreed name like their predecessors – the famous Fifth Generation. Some of them, like Guan Hu, crave for a name similar to the Fifth Generation through which to obtain the power of the collective. When the title of Guan’s film Dirt (头发乱了, Toufa luanle, 1994) appears, a seal of “eighty-seven” (八七, Baqi) appears on the screen simultaneously. In terms of the casting of the film, the production crew mainly consisted of the 1987 BFA students, including the leading actors Kong Lin (孔琳) and Zhang Xiaotong (张小童), the cinematographers Yao Xiaofeng (姚晓峰) and Wu Qiao (吴樵), the art director Wei Xinhua (魏新华). Thus, Guan was highlighting the year 1987 in order to accentuate a group, a collective, which is a conspicuous imitation of the Fifth-Generation filmmakers who were also BFA students in the same year (1983). Some others, like Wang Xiaoshuai, take great pains to deny the Fifth Generation’s influence by emphasising their individuality. However, when one declares “I am different from him”, one has already revealed some relationship with “him”. In any case, it is undeniable that the Fifth Generation and the power brought with this name influenced their successors. However, with the fading of the collective allegories composed by the Fifth Generation, the era of collective narratives in China came to an end. Deprived of

collective identification, these younger directors’ identification became a more anxious and more urgent issue. As Zygmunt Bauman discusses:

One thinks of identity whenever one is not sure of where one belongs; that is, one is not sure how to place oneself among the evident variety of behavioural styles and patterns, and how to make sure that people around would accept this placement as right and proper, so that both sides would know how to go on in each other’s presence. “Identity” is a name given to the escape sought from that uncertainty.45

Moreover, the economic, political and cultural context in China in the 1990s, when the post-fifth generation emerged, is more complicated and discursive than the period between the 1950s and 1980s, as mentioned in Chapter 1. Facing globalisation and censorship at the same time, the post-fifth generation struggled with several different, usually contradictory, ideologies and values. In that sense, their identities tend to be more fragmented and sutured in contrast with their predecessors. Therefore, their identification is an apposite case for identity study from a post-modernist and discursive approach.