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  <> Lost in Translation <> 

Orientalism, Cinema, and the Enigmatic Signifier

By Homay King, Bryn Mawr College


"The Orient is not just a cast of stereotypes but a visual world as well. With brilliance and gorgeous prose, Homay King uncovers the mise-en-scène of Orientalism and the cinema. She examines what is at stake when 'Asia' comes to stand in for an unintelligible alterity-an enigmatic signifier-that animates our psychic lives. Elegant and sophisticated, this tour de force sets a new standard for film theory, visual culture, psychoanalysis, and studies of race."-David L. Eng, author of The Feeling of Kinship: Queer Liberalism and the Racialization of Intimacy


"With Lost in Translation, her powerful analysis of Asia as an 'enigmatic signifier' for those who inhabit 'the West,' Homay King stages a compelling encounter between psychoanalytic theory, especially as reformulated in the texts of Jean Laplanche, and the politics of racial, national, and ethnic representation. Identifying East and West alike as sites of internal alterity, this smart, provocative, and persuasive book resists the familiar reductiveness of multiculturalist piety in order to insist on the ongoing work of finding ourselves, no less than our others, as always already in translation."-Lee Edelman, author of No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive


In a nuanced exploration of how Western cinema has represented East Asia as a space of radical indecipherability, Homay King traces a long-standing association of the Orient with the enigmatic. The fantasy of an inscrutable East, she argues, is not merely a side note to film history, but rather a kernel of otherness that has shaped Hollywood cinema at its core. Through close readings of The Lady from Shanghai, Chinatown, Blade Runner, Lost in Translation, and other films, she develops a theory of the "Shanghai gesture," a trope whereby orientalist curios and décor become saturated with mystery. These objects and signs come to bear the burden of explanation for riddles that escape the Western protagonist or cannot be otherwise resolved by the plot. Turning to visual texts from outside Hollywood which actively grapple with the association of the East and the unintelligible-such as Michelangelo Antonioni's Chung Kuo: Cina, Wim Wenders' Notebook on Cities and Clothes, and Sophie Calle's Exquisite Pain-King suggests alternatives to the paranoid logic of the Shanghai gesture. She argues for the development of a process of cultural "de-translation" aimed at both untangling the psychic enigmas prompting the initial desire to separate the familiar from the foreign, and heightening attentiveness to the internal alterities underlying Western subjectivity.


Duke University Press

September 2010 232pp £15.99 PB 9780822347590 - Now only £11.50 when you quote CSHK0111LT when you order


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