Colloquium | Jinying Li

Nov 10, 2021 @


Jinying Li

Between Cheng (Wall-City) and Ping (Wall-Screen): The Archeology and Genealogy of Walls-as-Media

As global networks promise boundless access, we are facing increasing layers of walls in digital media: the Great Firewall (GFW), the Facebook Walls, and the virtual walls in VR environments. The existence of the walls shatters the myth of an infinitely open “space of flow,” and highlights the significant functions of certain apparatus in managing, controlling, and mediating information, knowledge, and experience. My talk proposes a theoretical framework to explore the meanings and functions of the wall in media history by studying its archeological formation as a media device as well as its genealogical development as a discursive metaphor. I first examine the media archeology of the wall as a material artifact, focusing on cheng 城 (wall-city) and ping 屏 (wall-screen) as two archetypal walls in Chinese media history. In their various renditions and configurations, both cheng and ping define the wall as an asymmetrical and contradictory structure, which is simultaneously a blocking barrier that encloses a territory and community and a displaying surface that expresses feelings and powers. This duality between a barrier (cheng) and a surface (ping) further informs the genealogy of wall as a discursive formation, which I examine by comparing the development of the wall as a structure metaphor with that of the window metaphor in the competing conceptions of screen as a media system. I argue that the wall presents an alternative genealogy from the window, shifting from optical apparatus to spatial devices. This conceptual shift from the window to the wall, from optical projection to spatial construction, is also a move away from the perspective-centric conceptualization of modern media, pointing toward surface-oriented media configurations of environmental management, mobility control and socio-political demarcation.

Jinying Li is Assistant Professor of Modern Culture and Media at Brown University where she teaches media theory, animation, and digital culture in East Asia. She co-edited two special issues on Chinese animation for the Journal of Chinese Cinemas, and a special issue on regional platforms for Asiascape: Digital Asia. She completed her first book, Geek Pleasures: Anime, Otaku, and the Cybernetic Affect of Knowledge Culture (to be published with Indiana University Press), and began her second book project, Walled Media and Mediating Walls.


Recording of the presentation here.