An International Workshop in Commemoration of the Fourth Centenary of the Death of Matteo Ricci, S.J.
- Beyond Postmodernity: Doubt, Time and Violence in Philosophical and Cultural Thought
- 02 February, 2010
- The Macau Ricci Institute
On the eve of worldwide commemoration of the four hundredth anniversary of Fr. Matteo Ricci’s death (1610), The Macau Ricci Institute, faithful to the cultural and intellectual heritage of its great patron, is preparing to hold an International Workshop dedicated to the philosophical thought and humanistic encounter between Western and Chinese cultural traditions.
Having successfully conducted its first workshop in Macau in 2002, the MRI would like to continue to develop its medium of educating and inspiring activities, with a view to boosting the thought and reflection with a similar level of academic presentation offered to the local intellectual community.
For our first International Workshop we have chosen the theme Doubt, Time and Violence related to the philosophical and literary thought presented in European and Chinese cultures. The question of identity and fractured lives in a rapidly changing society and its relevance to the Western and Chinese traditions will be a leading theme of that Workshop.
With the emergence of the identity of repulsion and attraction, the being-for-self realizes that the whole world is not its own private domain, and sees the other as the ultimate limit of its power. The special status of the other is at the root of at least two central concerns of modern philosophy – doubt and time. Both concerns stem that life is an all-out, unrestrained struggle and that violence is inherent in the human condition. Modern philosophy becomes fully intelligible and coherent only when the notion of human violence is given paramount importance. In the light of Descartian “evil demon” and Heideggerian “death” predicaments attributed to human life, the notion of complete vulnerability to an “other” reveals itself only in violent confrontation. Accordingly, the notion of time considered as a present contra past – aliments antagonism and makes a ground for violent, life and death struggle between human beings.
The workshop will examine the philosophical discourse mentioned above, in the theme of human violence encountered in leading Western and Chinese philosophical and literary thought.
- MACAU RICCI INSTITUTE
Trust, Distrust, and Violence
The paper represents work in progress offered with the aim of inviting discussion during the workshop. Its main idea is that trust is basic in any human relationship, but, since trust cannot be imposed, it is always facing the threat of betrayal. When such a situation happens, the reaction may be one of despair in the victim, which could turn into violence against oneself (withdrawal, or even suicide); or violence against the perpetrator (fighting with words or actions); or faith beyond apparently realistic appreciation of human behavior. All three outcomes of lack of trust have been illustrated in literature, from modest detective stories to masterpieces in fiction. Examples will be provided in the paper, with the hope that more would be proposed during the discussion, if the thesis is valid. Is violence as a consequence of trust betrayed more prevalent today? Financial crisis and fundamentalism surely would suggest so; however, worldwide, past and present literature is replete with the theme, which indicates that it touches the mystery of human nature.
Confusing World, Vulnerable People: On the Condition of Medialisation
Following the work of Agnes Heller, modernity is understood as the action of the deconstruction of the natural artifice. Time is emptied out and identified as being filled only through action. But what are the hermeneutics underpinning actions? Two different hermeneutics running through modernity are identified.
1. Hermeneutic of constructivist action, consolidated in capitalism and industrialism. It identifies deconstruction of natural artifice as a ground-clearing exercise, creating an empty time to be freely filled by social constructs. A human being is alone in the world with no foundation other than its own action. The resulting existential crisis led to materialism organized as capitalism and industrialism.
2. Hermeneutic of charitable action consolidated in democracy environmentalism (here, the word ‘charitable’ is associated with human togetherness). If deconstruction of the natural artifice has undermined the previously existing forms of human togetherness, a problem arises as to the basis upon which human togetherness can be understood. The hermeneutic of charitable action revolves around an attempt to establish universal criteria of human togetherness through political forms and identification of non-optional preconditions for a human being.
However, these different hermeneutics act as constraints on the free action of one another and cast mutual doubt on foundations. For example, democracy undermines capitalism (democracy implies formal equality contradicted by capitalism’s material inequality), and industrialism challenges an environmentalism which is implicit within the hermeneutic of charitable action (industrialism sees the natural world as a resource to be exploited and transformed through constructivist action, whereas environmentalism is a form of charity which stressing reciprocity).
This incompatibility and mutual doubt generate violence as action oriented towards the overcoming of constraint and doubt. Can violence work in this way? Drawing on themes raised by Charles Taylor, I propose that violence is counterproductive because it confirms the existence of the other who casts doubt. The result is mutual disembedding – the violence intended to overcome doubt actually generates more of it. Paradoxically, this opens up space for hope.
João J. Vila-Chã
Violence Transfigured by Language: Alterity and the Power of Discourse According to Emmanuel Levinas
Following the teaching of Hannah Arendt on the nature of violence, I would like to submit that, both as an ontological and as political act, violence is always a direct participation in the mystery of evil. For Arendt, violence necessarily refers to an evil attitude in the agent that perpetrates it and to evil consequences in the one suffering it. Like Arendt, I distinguish in this paper between violence and power, whereby the presence of violence simply means that true and authentic power is missing. After all, power presupposes plurality and, as such, in its authentic terms, it can be established only through non-violent means. Accordingly, I shall attempt to go beyond the apparent paradox of a power that, in its own authenticity, is non-violent. In order to do so, the paper will focus on Emmanuel Levinas, whose metaphysical work indeed is one of the most expressive manifestations of meaning in contemporary philosophy. This paper will show how Levinas’s ethical thinking constitutes a profound criticism of all the traditions of thought that live out of forgetfulness of the Other and instinctively prefer an ontology of war to an ethics of hospitality and of respect for the otherness of the Other. The analysis will be centered on the notion of discourse and on the power of language. In demonstrating the ethical nature of any authentic act of language, the paper will show that if there is language it is because there is a call to love and to justice; and that if there is love and justice it is only in the measure that human subjects can, and do, talk to one another. Thus, language shall be identified as the first means to overcome the temptation of violence. Whenever human beings speak they affirm the social nature of human ontology, so much so that to recognize human sociality becomes one of the most important steps towards an order of human affairs based on non-violence and mutual benevolence. Against Hobbes, therefore, the paper maintains that human beings are structurally made for peace and love and not for war and injustice.
Fighting for Cultural Parity: Tsui Hark 徐克 and Once Upon a Time in China 《黄飞鸿》
“Fighting for Cultural Parity: Tsui Hark 徐克 and Once Upon a Time in China 《黄飞鸿》” is an in-depth look at the cultural stance developed by film director Tsui Hark (1954-), whose 1991 film Once Upon a Time in China spawned a second and third version (and eventually fourth, fifth, and sixth) and sparked the 1990s global interest in martial arts films. In this first film, I argue, Tsui Hark constructs the identity of hero Wong Fei-Hong through an idealized notion of the parity of nations, expressing the concept that the inherent equality of cultures can and should be brought into play in any transnational negotiation or interaction. Tsui Hark also emphasizes the cultural texture of daily life and the importance of sounds, images, and all material qualities of culture, injecting into his films a sense of future nostalgia that could result from cultural uniformity should this posture be abandoned. Tsui’s position on the validity of culturalism, or the nation-state mandate that each nation develop a unique and rich set of cultural attributes that when expressed on the global stage will garner symbolic capital for the nation, addresses the conference focus on doubt, time, and violence through the humor and optimism of Wong’s personality, through heavy historical reference, and through Western arms and Chinese martial arts fighting. In all elements, Once Upon a Time expresses confidence in the cultural implications of the nation-state political form, a stance that is deconstructed and critiqued by other Chinese filmmakers and writers.
A Double Sense of an Artistic Revolution: Doubt and Violence in the Jintian school of poetry and the Xingxing painting group in 1970s China
Few of its readers realised that the appearance of Jintian [Today] in Beijing on 23 December 1978, containing poems by Bei Dao, Mang Ke, Cai Qijiao and Shu Ting, marked the beginning of a great adventure in contemporary Chinese poetry.
A thousand copies of this mimeographed magazine were distributed in Beiijing, affixed page by page to the walls of a major intersection in the western district. Alongside them were a group of painters who shared their aspirations, calling themselves the Xingxing [Stars] group.
Jintian opened a space in which painters as well as poets could express themselves. A central issue was the enigma of individual subjectivity, which found expression in three key points:
1. Art is not simply a mirror which reflects the outside world but depicts a significant and particular moment in history. It presents a collective aspiration in new creative forms that offer insight into individual mentalities.
2. Poetry and painting are both creations of artists expressing their individual selves.
3. The Jintian poets and the Xingxing painters provoked a crisis in realistic values, calling attention to the existence of different kinds of realities. Claiming that art lends itself to an infinity of interpretation, these revolutionaries of the mind embraced the principles of ambiguity and uncertainty.
A radical change was taking shape in Chinese culture.
Lorsque parut à Pékin, le 23 décembre 1978, le petit volume de la revue Jintian, contenant des poèmes de Bei Dao, Mang Ke, Cai Qijiao et Shu Ting, peu nombreux furent les lecteurs qui prirent conscience que cette revue inaugurait l’une des aventures poétiques majeures de la poésie chinoise contemporaine.
Mille exemplaires imprimés à la main furent distribués dans la rue. Ce jour-là, deux membres de la revue, Mang Ke et Bei Dao furent choisis pour aller coller la revue page par page sur les murs de Pékin. Etant célibataires, ils risquaient moins de compromettre des proches. Un autre jeune bénévole, Lu Huanxing, les suivait, peut-être pour la même raison.
« L’école Jintian » est un véritable lieu commun dans lequels’ expriment des poètes et des peintres contemporains ayant des sensibilités différentes. Le problème du je est la question centrale, qui annonce de façon énergique une véritable prise en compte du problème de la subjectivité individuelle. Insistons ici sur trois points qui nous paraissent majeurs :
1). L’art ne doit pas se contenter de servir de miroir reflétant fidèlement le monde extérieur ; elle est avant tout un miroir du soi qui peut même négliger l’existence de l’extérieur. Nous nous efforcerons d’esquisser quelques caractéristiques constituant une réalité historiquement particulière et significative. Il s’agit d’une aspiration commune manifestée dans cette nouvelle création, et donc d’un regard du « nous ».
2). La poésie et la peinture représentent une création individuelle, un vrai récit visuel à plusieurs dimensions, proche de la poéticité, mais non un récit vrai. L’art n’est pas un porte-parole du peuple ni d’une seule réalité. L’artiste n’est pas un peintre, un chantre populaire. Il est avant tout lui-même, il essaie de rattraper sa propre ombre - un autre soi - en pénétrant au fond de son soi propre. Le détachement vis-à-vis du nous est sa première aspiration. Ce je à la recherche de son infiniment autre, nous l’avons rencontré chez les poètes des Neuf Feuilles, chez les symbolistes chinois dans la première moitié du XXe siècle.
3). L’écriture des poètes de la revue Jintian et le tableau de l’école des Etoiles provoquent la crise des valeurs réalistes. Les poètes veulent faire table rase de la tradition réaliste révolutionnaire. L’idée de réalité dans son acception traditionnelle se trouve remise en question. Il n’y a pas une réalité ; il y a des réalités. Les poètes et les artistes de ce courant contemporain anti-réaliste dénoncent toute forme de concept réduisant le poète à un simple haut-parleur de la réalité. L’art se prête en lui-même à une infinité d’interprétations. Il n’existe pas de savoir absolu sur l’interprétation de l’écrit. L’indécidablilité et l’indétermination du verbe font naître cette possibilité infinie.
Un élément révolutionnaire se forme dans l’évolution de la mentalité de la société chinoise.