Paper Presentation at Decadence/Decay, Art History Graduate Student Conference at Carleton, March 9 – March 10
In this paper I argue that Tsai Ming-liang’s narratives of ruin are also stories of enduring love, providing a depth of interpretation beyond a simplistic labelling of him as a cynic who merely fictionalizes and exaggerates a decaying Taiwan and the failures of the modern world to provide happiness, freedom, and companionship. It is true that in The Hole (1998) and The Wayward Cloud (2005) we see the falling away of civility and morality as such by situating characters in ruinous environments; in these settings, unable to band together for collective action the protagonists do not battle for the scarce resources but accept their positions and lead bland, bleak, and solitary existences, paralleling the emptiness of an autonomous, independent, decadent life elsewhere. However, in the sexually unfulfilled Hole or the drawn out and eventual sexual encounter of Wayward Cloud, Tsai presents a lasting love between his characters without the either/or of so-called love today, i.e., according to Badiou, the well-planned marriage with procreation or the fun, passionless sexual encounter. Love is instead obstinate, as in the plays of Beckett; it is a powerful unchanging element surviving “catastrophic existence.” I suggest Tsai’s films answer Badiou’s call to rally to the defense of love. The duration of shots, minimal editing, lingering camera, lengthy scenes and silences, sparse dialogue, crumbling and collapsed spaces, and importantly the refusal of an immediate and identifiable blossoming romance between characters, all contribute to the re-invention of love as a challenge to endure.