Toward a semiotics of Chinese cinema
The purpose of the present study was to initiate a semiotic re-examination of Chinese cinema. Such re-examination was built upon the concepts of Semiotics as conceived of by Charles Sanders Peirce. Semiotics deals with sign activity as processes and sign possibility, exploring what sign “can be” rather than contriving to define what sign “is.” In addition, in constructing a semiotic approach to aesthetic issues in general and to cinema in particular, the author incorporated aesthetic theories from American Pragmatism and Kenneth Burke's concepts of poetic process. Art, as well as cinema, from this semiotic perspective, are viewed as “poetic processes,” a series of “intersemiosic translation,” among the artist, the work of art, and the audience. In forming a semiotic approach specific to cinema, the author relied primarily on Gilles Deleuze's cinematic theories. This semiotic approach to cinema begins with the study of the optical and sound nature of cinematic signs and images and eventually moves to the study of cinematic narrative. Although the Semiotics of Cinema as proposed by Deleuze in principle takes world cinema as its subject of study, Deleuze's works are dominated by Western thought and lack in-depth accounts of Eastern cinema and the signifying elements in cross-cultural contexts. The present project brought a Chinese perspective into dialectic contact with Western thought, hoping at once to enrich the scope of a general Semiotics of Cinema and to initiate a semiotic analysis of Chinese Cinema. The semiotic re-examination of Chinese cinema revealed that there was a Chinese “cinematic” aesthetics prior to the invention of cinema as technology. This “cinematic” aesthetics was grounded in the concept of “poetry of affection”; ancient Chinese poets and painters embodied such aesthetics in their works and modern filmmaker Hou Hsiao-hsien continued this tradition through his unique personal cinema of affection. After sketching out the philosophical and theoretical issues concerning the semiotic re-examination of Chinese cinema, the author applied the semiotic approach constructed in this project to analyze King Hu's cinema, re-defining his works and reevaluating his place in the history of Chinese cinema.
Webb, Purdue University.
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