The Death of Meaning in the East and West
“Once the author is distanced, the claim to ‘decipher’ a text becomes entirely futile”
“Thereby, literature (it would be better, for now, to say ‘writing’), by refusing to assign to the text a ’secret’, i.e., an ultimate meaning, liberates an activity we may call ‘counter-theological,’ properly revolutionary, for to refuse to halt meaning is finally to refuse God and his hypostases, reason, science, and law”
- Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author”
The Cultural and Philosophical Struggle Beneath the Surface of Chinese Scriptwriting
Over the last twenty years, Marxist literary criticism has fallen out of style in the construction of storylines, and has been slowly replaced with stories based on the old models of the “Four Great Novels” in Chinese popular media. With China turning on to the road of capitalism and business in the last thirty years, the formula that equates all of life with class struggle and the need for revolution has fallen out of favor. This progression is also remarkably like the process whereby the four Buddhist influenced novels replaced the Chinese Confucian Cannon, the “Four Books and Five Classics” in the Ming Dynasty! One form of storytelling gave way to another as the culture changed its focus and became something other than it had been. Analysis of contemporary Chinese media shows a semiotic shift of epic proportions within the course of the culture’s ability to conceive, tell, and enjoy a storyline. While Chinese shows may be boring and predictable, this catastrophic process of cultural overhaul is not… so start popping some popcorn!
As a Christian, my life in the world of Chinese media has been sobering, a jarring reintroduction to the world of doubts that I had encountered before as a much younger man. I survived the first onslaught by discovering C.S. Lewis, Ravi Zacharias, and G.K. Chesterton… and by talking down to my attackers in a cloud of academic terms in flustered act of self-preservation. My technique of using calm response and a plethora of approaches to shock opponents from their high horse of “all-Christians-are-ignorant-fundamentalist” failed me in China because of my struggle to use this language with the same sort of aplomb. For the first time, I found myself in the place where I was at a loss of words to respond comprehensively to an attack against my faith. Now, even when I communicate my ideas, in relative fluidity, the boundaries of my language and difference in life-experience is so painfully obvious that people are not willing to invest the time to work through them with me, merely brushing me off as unlearned or irrelevant.
An Issue of National Cultural Security
The leaders of this nation have come out with a new list of songs not to be played on the television or radio, calling it an issue of “National Cultural Security”. This should be a relief to many music world lawyers and executives, because popular songs are often used as background without a cent being paid in royalties to American record companies. The songs are primarily those now popular that mention sex, but also those that hint of overt anger and destruction of society. I know of several instances when explicit songs have been broadcast on television and as filler before movies at movie theaters, within the hearing of children (not to mention my children, who speak English), because no one knew what the lyrics meant.
© 2013 Guanxi Master