Cultural Resonances, Resistant Talks

With Mydans’ photography, this framed painfulness becomes eternal. One even without prior knowledge about photojournalism would know how hard and heart-rendering it is to experience war, indeed, any kind of war, whether firsthand or second.

By Tome Loulin 娄桦林(笔名), also known as Hsienhua Lou, he lives in Hubei’s Qianjiang city and is currently a graduate student of translation studies.

Cultural radicalness is itself a romantic idealization of what should we ourselves be known as. We invented the notion that a harmonious in-group experience exists only when the imagined support from an ideal ‘us’ for our cultural idealization of the ways of life is with us. Living, it turns out, is itself a way of stylizing our behaviors to get us accepted by that imagined ‘cultural home’ to which we think we belong. Then, the survival of a cultural identity is dependent on the values we hold. This imagined oneness—an inclusive ‘we’—is usually narrowly defined, and exclusive, helping its in-group members distinguish between outsiders and insiders. That the narratives told by those self-proclaimed cultural supremacists idealize moral righteousness demonstrates why certain talks about modern culture and social imagination have been largely dominated by those intolerant of cultural equality and diversity. Our spiritual existence is, you may agree, constantly under threat from political-motivated hatreds against different groups of people because of their very preferences for certain ways of life or, in certain cases, of their biological features.

The time I started noticing certain reports posted on servral internationally influential media is a time of realization of how far this ongoing cultural alienization could go. Rarely would there be a writer whose creative power wasn’t influenced in certain ways by the anxieties posed by the geopolitical tensions occurring at the time. Taking Orwell’s writing as an example, I should realize early how remote it feels to me to concretize his geopolitical phantasm of the names of the countries in his novel such as Oceania. What does the term exactly mean? Human imaginations of all kinds are indeed an expected universality whose meanings we should, as expected, have no difficulty of comprehending. But why—given this century’s rapid advancement of information technology and our expanding knowledge about a swath of cultural terrains previously unknown to us—are the misunderstandings about people from different countries gotten deepened?

Public opinions are prone to manipulations. Being immersed in phenomenal and fleeting waves of cultural misunderstanding, ‘people’ as a concept widely used in journalistic and cultural talks to get certain manipulators’ agenda done is a cliché whose power to make us feel home would hardly subside for this imaged cultural home is so much in need at a time characterized by social indifference that impacts the way we live now.

There have been so many opinion pieces warning us about the danger of certain countries as it turns out. Also, there are war talkers whose ‘analyses’ or ‘opinions’ published or deliberated on mainstream media impact the way the readers make sense about the perceived ‘enemies’. Theirs was a way of ceaselessly warning about the threat from an ‘enemy’ usually out of the reason that its political system is different or not rule-based. It’s since when that the notion of protecting the values become synonymous with boundless hatred and violence inciting? Warmongers often believe in order to have peace kept, wars are inevitable or, in some extent, worth waging as long as it is good at achieving their agandas. Those who voice their concerns about wars, any war, are often attacked and labeled as apologists.

War of any kind is a selfish act as its impact on the displaced, wounded, homeless, affected could only be the worst thing ever thinkable, something not only hard to behold but to experience. Yet, on certain newspapers, there are opinion sections full of pieces telling, or warning if you will, readers how dangerous is a perceived geopolitical competitor or the threat from it. It will, some may argue, disrupt the way of life as we know it if we don’t take critical actions against those perceived enemies.

“Sooner or later, an explosion will occur. Yet substituting confrontation for engagement is reckless and futile if the west is not prepared to put its money, political muscle and ultimately its armed forces where its mouth is.” the opinionator, Simon Tisdall, lamented in his piece published on the Guardian in July, warning that there will be ‘an explosion’ occurring between the two countries he mentioned. What kind of an explosion? How damaging is it?

“Confrontations, political muscle, armed forces, explosion, and futile” these words, it turns out, have the power to get the least political-sensitive person shocked if it didn’t seem crucial for the reader to see the evidences required to prove the urgency of taking measures against the described and perceived ‘threat’ before reaching out to a conclusion. Since it is always the cautious ‘analyses’ about other countries that come first to readers before facts, it is no surprise that seeing other culture or society in a more favorable light is so hard. War-wagers are praised, in many instances, as guards, fighters whose precautious talks about war are to be widely disseminated from one era to another, compulsorily learned by all members of the society’s young. Often forgotten are the horrors experienced by so many who were displaced, resettled, homeless and died during various wars.

There is a photography by Carl Mydans—first published on LIFE magazine—captioned: ruins of village near Penghu in Chinese civil war. Framed in the black and white picture is a woman, her head turbaned with traditional Chinese headwear, simple-dressed, in despair, helplessly and heart-brokenly kneeing in front of what appeared to be her hut that was ruined in the war, perhaps, by fire. The ruined hut that was almost unrecognizable with only some brunt pillars remaining standing. With Mydans’ photography, this framed painfulness becomes eternal. One even without prior knowledge about photojournalism would know how hard and heart-rendering it is to experience war, indeed, any kind of war, whether firsthand or second.

Yet photography, overall, is not an original experience; instead, it creates various visual spaces in our minds, leading us through the scenes captured in the frames. It’s a secondhand, alternative reality whose psychological effects bring us to a limited area of subjective imagining. But after seeing Mydas’ pictures, one could only get more uncertain about the war than about the sufferings immortalized inside the frames: where had the woman affected by the war gone? And how was she?

There were no answers.

It seems confusing perhaps for—if the horrors of war suffered by those silenced, wounded, killed in wars remain disregarded—such photographs, indeed, will be innumerous.

Extraordinary, Critical Seeings

There are many different ways of seeing and how others see us, as Lou Hsienhua puts it, impacts the way we deal with the world as we try hard to make sure there is no distorted image about us drawn by others. When coming to the problem of self-imagining, the way we see ourselves, Hsienhua thinks, should never be dictated by anyone else but us. Resistant youths nowadays who try to claim their independence may declare that they are not what you see, meaning what you see about them is inaccurate, distorted, and, most importantly, subjective. Seeing, overall, is a complicated matter.

By Tome Loulin 娄林桦(笔名), also known as Hsienhua Lou, he lives in Hubei’s Qianjiang city and is currently a graduate student of translation studies.

There are many different ways of seeing, all of which picture us as something other than ourselves. Seeing, as the saying goes, is believing, perhaps, because the power it has on our belief system seems too powerful to resist. And the cognitive authority of seeing that makes people believe whatever comes around them is prone to abuse. For seeing as a way of interpretation, there are ordinary seeings, biased, partial, undesired seeings, free and imaginative seeings, critical or uncritical seeings. Here, the exact types of seeing I wish to discuss are critical and imaginative seeings from which our self image comes to shape.

What follows are some points of view on the very happenings around certain places whereto I have for years stayed close at this critical era whose characteristics, it’s occurred to me, are a fluid and puzzling mixture of radical thinkings. These thoughts whose spreading around world has, at least partially, helped accelerate an ongoing process of social degeneration, can be seen in some ways as a salient form of resistance under pressure from the irresistible force of time to a haunted experience of cultural invisibility, misrepresentation, and ignorance. What was left untouched in this complete washing of our dreams along the bank of meaninglessness may be our already dimmed hope about a spiritual and personal betterment. I see, through the reflections of myself, strangers, concretes, and other things tedious, dull, beautiful, noticeable or ignorable on the dark grey window glasses I passed by in the streets of Wuhan and other cities in Hubei. It is our senses that, you may agree, shaped our very idea of what it is like for a person to be alive in this world and of what this world should look like physically. This should-look-ness provides us with the constant fresh flow of critical idealization of our spirituality and takes our imagination home.

What we see or don’t may, it appears, set the boundary of our artistic imagination. Here we are, seeing ourselves in glasses, mirrors, other people’s eyes, and any other reflective surfaces. These ways of seeing generate images that are said to be reflective of our characters, appearances, preferences whose core representations we, in the seeable and sensible world, try hard not to be distorted by the means of external seeings, perhaps, out of the fear that every image of us generated by other ways of seeing may critically threaten the survival of our very ability of seeing ourselves in a more sublime light ever imaginable in our otherworldly-defined spiritual sensation.

Seeing, it occurs to me, is essential to our ability to interpret who we are and defines the boundary between self and other. But what matters regarding different way of seeing, you may agree, is that the power to believe what we see is so strong that false impressions or stereotyped images we have formed about others or others have about us may threaten the freedom of our self-imagination. To be seen by others as something other than what one thinks oneself of is the reason why knowing oneself is a lifelong task. If we let other person’s imagination about ourselves dictate, we will lose the way. The purpose of this learning-driven kind of seeing is, perhaps, to make sure that what we see stays true to our beliefs that we are, overall, special for it is our own self who can see the potential and possibility of a self-transcendence that could hardly be seen by others. And it is we ourselves who have the ability to cast inside of us a new light whose uniqueness may determine the way of our becoming. In different cultural systems that shape how in-groupers see themselves collectively, seldom will there be no sayings emphasizing how important it is to realize the fleetingness of the images or the impressions we formed inside about certain things. Things whose change, for instance, may appear so transformational that if we don’t pay attention, we may lose our ways. Resisting it may risk us to see others in distorted lens, creating inaccurate stereotypes about things and people we thought we know.

Interpersonal seeings, which in many ways inter-influence people’s attitude towards others, are usually critical, unloving, unflattering in many different social settings. The most pronounced feature of this over-industrialized era may be that the treatment certain people could get in certain societies may be decided by their social occupations, origin of birth, age, or, in some cases, physical appearances. There are upward seeings, and downward ones. What your image looks like in others’ eyes has been, you may agree, determined by how well you fulfill the idealized or normalized standards widely accepted by a society such as the prestigious-ness of the university one graduates, the number of houses or cars one owns. Those sleeping outdoors, homeless, low-wage earners obtain only a friction of this society’s critical attention perhaps, out of the reason that if we see to much, there will only be more unbearable scenes to be discovered. It’s, you may think, endless.

What happens when I told someone who asks where my home is that I don’t know where to specify. Oh, you must feel many places home, the questioner may think. But the truth is otherwise. For many people, there may be little or no difficulties to answer questions about where we come from or where we feel home if the places one feels close to or home happens to be Beijing, New York, London, Shanghai, Quito, Rome or anywhere else whose cultural and imaginative significance created and shaped by various popular artist, authors, photographers, film directors, and journalists appears to be a spontaneous immediacy. But mine is somewhere that rarely have some people heard even in my own country, let alone in others. Geographical locations are destinies. I come from small places whose overlooked-ness also reflects a partial seeing that has been favored by our culture that uncritically instills a belief that in today’s world, the point of seeing is to make a point. A point of seeing is not a judgement, or is it?

The fact that seeing can provide us pleasures if we focus on certain things we deemed to be worth seeing indicates that our self-image, overall, is the product of our own idealization of how should we be seen; the point is how should ourselves be seen by ourselves. Am I good at this or that, or have I been fashionable or cool, people may wonder if they wish to appear more like their imagined selves. But there are certain occasions one could not even afford to take proper care of how other people will see them.

It was a breezily hot summer evening and I was sitting inside of a Starbucks in Hankou of Wuhan this year, not ordering anything but waiting a friend of mine to finish his shopping at a Sam’s Club nearby. Because this friend’s home is in the outskirts of Wuhan where getting anything after the nearest convenient store closed at nine pm appeared impossible and he had to buy groceries and ready-to-cook food almost in bulk, the time spent on waiting for him to finish the shopping was going to be long. Directionless, I was, as always, immersed in my own imaginative way of seeing the world by looking outside of the window at whatever would appear before it. A bit confused, an old man perhaps in his sixties in a white T-shirt well wore came into the cafe, looking aimless and trying to appear fine as he went across the tables to sit down on a sofa.When he sat down his gaze looked determined, contemplative, but also sentimental. Nobody, including a little boy who asked me what I was seeing outside, apparently out of his wonder that I seemed attracted by something else that he didn’t see. I wasn’t, actually, seeing anything that boy might have missed but the old man sitting silent and looking saddened by things I might not know and he might find hard to disclose to others. The man looked so sad that his eyes were, like, tearful. When he left the cafe, nobody seemed to notice. Why didn’t he, I wondered, stay inside longer for the outside was so hot and full of indifferent gazes. But what a difference could it make to stay a bit longer inside as the old man seemed to have seen enough of what he couldn’t bear to behold. Perhaps, the temperature inside of the cafe, I thought, was too cold to stay.

Seeing, I think, is not an illusive re-imagination of what we have seen, or is it?

Writing As Remembering

It is with the help of written language that our thoughts and ideas could be more widely disseminated, known, understood, critically examined or misinterpreted in the public so we won’t easily surrender our past to time.

By Tome Loulin

For many times around, I did not know what to remember not because of the forgetfulness but of the heaviness of the things gone too soon to be properly preserved or remembered. Writing is, of course, not all about remembering things worth remembering but imagining also, maybe, because for most of us, there are many different ways of interpretating an event.

Human beings are capable of telling a thing or a story from different angles, increasing the fragility of our already-too-fragile belief of the existing of truth. Writers, who are said to be the truth seekers and to occupy a moral vocation, rarely write for their own interests but for the irresistible urge to tell something ineffably important, something absolutely meaningful.

To this point, nothing stops writers from picking up their pens to write something worth our attention. In this regard, writers are more like attention guiders, instead of attention seekers. The very notion that ‘something important’, if untold, may never find its appropriate candidate who can tell and retell it clearly is still evidently relevant to and resonate with today’s critical minds who have longed for the reevaluation of our living conventions altogether not because the languages we speak fail short to regard this issue but because storytelling as a moral occupation is always a way for us to discover how incompetent a storyteller is. What a great storyteller could reveal is nothing but this: every seeing has a angle and every narrator has a standing. And the question that is yet to be examined critically by all who love, care of, concerned about literature couldn’t be more obvious: are the words we use to record the relationship between our mental world and this physical reality accurate or not, especially when they are used to describe the things that we think are the fact?

People, mostly, use language not only for communication but for the remembrance of personal significance. In our understanding, we, from a very early age, learned to separate things, things that are categorized dichotomously such as ours versus theirs, here versus there, present versus past, alien versus familial etc. so no wonder we are all like edging toward one extreme to another, failing short to maintain a grey-zone where differentness of everything is recognized and preserved as the fundamental prerequisite that guarantees our harmonious existence. And perhaps inevitably, this notion of differentness may sound unsounding to some who prefer the ultimate selection, which is usually another word for indifference, of the competence by the force of nature or natural selection for short.

And by writing, things known or unknown come to our mind in the form of labels, ambiguously defined concepts that are usually self-reflectively over-generalized without proper consideration of the untypical, odd, and rare.

Like photographs that often vivify, permanentize, and seizure the moments personally significant and precious to us because what camera captures is not merely visually preserved images but also the feelings that are related to certain moments and that could hardly be re-experienced without this medium, words are used directly for such purposes but with lesser degree for letters and characters are initially intentioned to record collectively important events. And compared to spoken language, the history of written form of languages is much near and short, suggesting a greater loss of connection between the current and the early ages. And despite of this lateness, writing system is much advantageous to withstand the test of time in term of the preservation of our spiritual selves.

And it is with the help of written language that our thoughts and ideas could be more widely disseminated, known, understood, critically examined or misinterpreted in the public so we won’t easily surrender our past to time. We can get more time to indulge in the past that existed in our mental world, even that past memory may very likely be distorted inevitably by the force of time. But we yearn for that literary remembrance because that may be the own way we can pretend that something beautiful could be at least partially remembered. And for many of us, the factualness of a written record of one’s past is not the point of concern here; instead, it’s the genuineness of the feelings inside the work that we value for we create words in order to preserve our inner selves from which our dreams come.