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Postmodernist chutneys

Birch, D. (2005) Postmodernist chutneys. Textual Practice, 5 (1). pp. 1-6.

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Li Bo is a poet. He is in bed, drunk, when an order arrives for him to go to the Chinese Court at once. To get there as fast as possible he will need to use a horse. He staggers out of bed, out of the house and mounts his horse. It is at this point in the Chinese opera, ‘Li Bo Composing a Poem While Drunk’, that an actor playing this role has to demonstrate extraordinary skills because horses in Chinese opera are always portrayed by the actors riding them-a long tasselled switch is the only prop that is used. The point, of course, is that Li Bo is drunk, but the horse is sober. The complication arises, however, because the horse is not signalled in Chinese opera by discrete bits of the actor’s body. The whole. of the actor is the horse and the whole of the actor is Li Bo the poet. The actor has therefore to be both drunk and sober at the same time. Signalling a discrete difference, therefore, between sobriety and inebriation is not the skill involved-what is, is showing and not showing the difference simultaneously whilst establishing the identity of the horse and maintaining the identity of Li Bo. This dialectical combination of opposites is central to Chinese opera, and to its underlying constitutive relations of Taoist, Confucianist and Buddhist philosophies. Central to this syncretism is a mode of thinking which involves a dynamic of several modes of thought and action operating at one and the same timewhat might be referred to as a dialogic concept of totality1-a ‘non-violent unity of the multiple’;2 what Jameson considers in terms of the allegorical ‘which seeks a designation for a form able to hold radical discontinuities and incommensurabilities together without annulling precisely those ‘differences’.3 Linda Hutcheon refers to this as parodic, not in the sense of imitation for the purposes of ridicule, but as a practice ‘which redefines parody as ironic signalling of difference at the very heart of similarity’.4 Parody in this sense enacts both change and cultural continuity where, as Hutcheon points out, para has both the sense of ‘against’ or ‘counter to’ and ‘near’ or ‘beside’.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Social Sciences and Humanities
Publisher: Routledge
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