I did not realize until way into the book that I am obsessed with the concept of multicentricity probably because, as Gertrude Stein'sfamous linkage posits, my mind is my geography. And my geography consists of successive residencies in literally marginal locales (on the edge of a given land mass bordering on the ocean). As a Chinese Hakka born on a peripheral island, Taiwan, I was raised in a peripheral city, Taipei, and now live in a peripheral city in a peripheral state, Los Angeles in California. These multiple sites unified in their geographic marginality are the various centers that have sustained, cultivated,
While my perception of centricity reflects the persuasion of geographies, I suspect it also has much to do with my Chinese heritage. Chung Kao ($$, “China” in Mandarin pronunciation and English transliteration) is commonly translated as the “Middle Kingdom” or the postdynastic “Middle Nation.” The Chinese character Chung ($$), however, can denote “being middle” as well as “being center.” The modest Middle Nation is then also the self-important Central Nation. Such a paradox is implied in the original Chinese character ($$), which can be used in different contexts to indicate “moderation,” “equilibrium,” or “primacy.” I am not using this paradox to justify my own hubris— after all, I theorize about multi centricity rather than uni centricity. Nor do I claim to establish the “essential” Chinese character, although I have noticed the combination of courtesy and arrogance to be a distinct predisposition in most Taiwanese Chinese I know. Perhaps the children of the Central Kingdom pay homage to their ancestors by seeing themselves as holons of centricity. “Chinese are like a plate of scattered sands!” Under a different light, this old saying, which I heard as a child, yields a picture of multicentricity, whose worst imago may indeed be a lump of scattered sands where every grain of sand regards itself as central.
My lexical play on being middle and being central indicates two things: (1) multicentricity is a descriptive and analytical angle but not a prescriptive politics, and (2) multicentricity implies an engagement with the idea of centricity. More pertinent to my present purpose, I wish to note the subliminal influences of cultural upbringing, which exerts its power over the acculturated subject because neither its etiology nor its symptoms are clearly detectable. That which is hidden from consciousness is easily assumed by inheritance. But I believe a cultural inheritance by default, when anatomized, may be selectively reappropriated as a critical methodology.
If my concept of multicentricity can be partially attributed to my Chinese heritage, then the interdisciplinary methodology that I've developed for my performance studies may bear the same partial ancestry. In retrospect, I notice at least three stylistic peculiarities that might be traceable to my acculturated
In my work on performance art, I've found it necessary to write in a discursive style that melds various genres and voices: description and analysis; poetry and theory; documentation and speculation; biography and extended, even tangential, interpretation; the critique of objects and the self-reflexive probing into the very critique. My hybrid discourse emulates the characteristics of my subject matter, performance art, which tends to draw on multiple disciplines and to mix theory with practice, concepts with percepts and affects. How can a work that strives at times to read the artist's unconscious not chart homeopathically the artist's own imaginary trajectory? The rhetorical question has offered me a rationale to see my hybrid discourse as not only valid but necessary—so long as I also maintain “critical distance” as one of my methodological centers. But this hybrid style happens to agree with a discursive propensity in classical Chinese prose works, which intentionally combine three particular disciplines: literature, history, and philosophy.“Murmurs under the pillow,” the phrase I like to use as an analogy for subliminal cultural influences, may be another reason why I write the way I do.
Throughout the book I frequently apply an isolated image (the frozen posture of an artist or a documentary photograph from a performance installation) as an interpretive anchor to a particular artist's corpus or a given performance project. I read the image as a text and a map: the text, in an elliptical way, hints at a mythology yet to be discovered; the map provides a diagram for the must-see locations in that mythology. This way of reading a picture is of course a well-honed method in art history, from which I learned my craft. But I wonder if it doesn't also reflect my education in an ideographic language, which inculcates in its users the habit of reading a picture as a word remade in calligraphy. A Chinese ideogram is usually composed of numerous independent parts: like semantic holons, each of these parts has particular denotations; combined, they suggest a range of meanings for the ideogram. “Snow” ($$), for example, is composed of two larger holons: the upper part (B) means “the rain” and the lower part ($$) is related to “a sweeper” or the act of “sweeping.” Accordingly, “snow” means, by association, a special kind of rain that can be or needs to be swept away, or a rain too heavy for the sweeper to have any use at all, because it falls on the sweeper and buries it. I may generate even more stories by going into the smaller holons within each larger one. Thus, if my critics object that I have read too much into a given image, they are probably right.
A recurrent syntactic device in the book is the catalog, listing different topics for elaboration. I argue in chapter 1 that the run-on catalog is a linguistic manifestation of multicentricity, which mirrors the horizontality of L.A.'s built