Beijing Through Sidney Gamble's Camera 一百年前的北京社会–西德尼·甘博摄影图片展

Recalcitrant Flesh: Stripping Away the Historical Burden of Chinese Women’s Bodies

By Ana Huang

Ana Huang is a PhD student in Cultural Anthropology at Duke University

“In that sense, before the body’ there is the ‘flesh,’ that zero degree of social conceptualization …”

– Hortense Spillers[i]

BODY AND FLESH

Can women’s bodies speak? Can a feminist reading of photographic archives from the early twentieth-century China offer an unmediated historical glimpse into the lived experiences of women? With the exception of voice recordings and skeletons in graves, photography is perhaps the closest point of contact we have with the material lives of Chinese women, before mass literacy enabled the majority of women to write. Sidney Gamble took hundreds of apparently uncontrived photographs of women, their bodies imprinted onto the negative with absolute mechanical precision. Scholars of Chinese history are used to reading between the lines of Chinese male authors for glimpses of women’s realities in poems, fictions, political treatises, etc., but the photographic archive is able to bypass the interloping male voice, allowing us direct access to the elusive figure of the historical Chinese woman. Photography constitutes a material tracing of women’s bodies, a recording of corporeal speech. It is perhaps a potent lens for feminist reconstruction of the past.

However, feminist projects that simply formulate counter-histories as a response to male-centered narratives fall into a familiar trap. Counter-histories are homologous methods of historical narrativization, as modern people endowed with the retrospective position perform reading practices on the site of women’s bodies in the early twentieth century. The physical body becomes a body of evidence in support of historical claims. The photo collection becomes a text upon which experts offer competing interpretations. The body is still being spoken for. Women’s subjectivities are still overwhelmingly defined by the body. The classic, liberal feminist approach to Gamble’s photo collection might, on first glance, offer reprieve from male-dominated discourses, by emphasizing women’s experiences and highlighting women in non-stereotypical roles. But such an alternative reading reenacts the imposition of historical meaning onto women’s bodies.

How then do we conduct a feminist historiography of the photographic archive that isn’t self-defeating? A different approach lies in the counter-intuitive refusal to be recognized and subsumed into the grand narratives of political history. The feminist race theorist Hortense Spillers makes a distinction between the body and the flesh, as that zero degree of social conceptualization. This nuanced distinction, when used to theorize Chinese women, opens up a peculiar way of examining historical photography. By stripping away the heavy burden of social meaning that covers the full surface of Chinese women’s bodies, we will allow the possibility of recalcitrant female flesh to break through, detangled from the web of historical narratives. Only then can we hear the incoherent screams and inaudible murmurs of female flesh, rising out of the photo print.

FOOT-BINDING AND THE HISTORICAL BURDEN

China’s image of modernization rests on the status of its women and their transition into qualified modern subjects. In the popular fashion of postcolonial and semi-colonial nations, women’s bodies serve as the battlefield whereupon imperialism, capitalism, nationalism and socialism measure their accomplishments. Their liberation was defined by and simultaneously legitimized national projects, as various markers of progress were chosen as the sites for liberation. Chinese women’s liberation in much of the twentieth century has largely been blessings from above, and mixed ones at that.

Figure 1: Chi Hua Men Chapel, Old Women 朝阳门(齐化门)教堂,老年妇女们	268-1533

Figure 1: Chi Hua Men Chapel, Old Women
朝阳门(齐化门)教堂,老年妇女们
268-1533

Gamble’s photographs captured the terse discourses surrounding foot-binding—a repeated trope central to the perception of China as backward at this time. While the photographer’s gaze shies away from intense examination of women’s feet in the public environment, the feet nevertheless demand the contemporary viewers’ attention, as overlaying narratives about modernity, missionaries, and feminism come into play. In the early twentieth century, to the Western world, foot-binding was a strange and barbaric practice marking patriarchy in China. To China itself, foot-binding symbolized a practice that must be eliminated in order for Chinese civilization to gain legitimacy on the modern, global stage. Much responsibility rested on women’s bodies, and little attention was paid to women’s agency in the anti-footbinding movement.

As Dorothy Ko demonstrated in her revisionist history of foot-binding, Cinderella’s Sisters, women with bound feet became framed as cultural embarrassments or femme fatales during the anti-footbinding movement. Christian missionaries sought to rectify the disfigurement of God’s creation, and their insistence on the preservation of the “heavenly foot” excluded any recognition of women’s power over their own bodies. Western and Chinese reformers, often male, undertook urgent measures to rid China of the backward, stubborn female bodies, enforcing foot-letting across the country, even as many women resisted the painful reversal process. First the foot was required to be bound, and then it was required to be unbound.

In Gamble’s collection, the occasional bound feet peek out of the images, as a site of tremendous contestation and social coding. Foot-binding, as well as foot-letting, was intended to turn female flesh into proper women’s bodies; it subjects unruly flesh to social codes. Narratives on the practice of foot-binding, whether sympathetic or critical, further bind the body to a historical framework. Well-intended feminist attempts can be as complicit in such a process as nation-building projects that proclaim women’s liberation as a complimentary benefit of socialism, and women’s freedom as a positive side-effect of marketization. Women’s bodies remain entangled in the web of historical narratives, and interpretations of their social presence in the photograph continue to capture raw flesh for the service of grand discourses. The contemporary feminist aversion to the legacy of Chinese foot-binding has unwittingly played into the notion of historical progress, which comforts us with the belief that Chinese women are, at the very least, more liberated today than they were before. What is left then for us to complain about?

REGULATED BODY, DISRUPTIVE FLESH

Gamble made meticulous captions for his photographs, noting ethnicity, religion, class, hairstyles – social markers that he was interested in delineating as a social scientist. But the faithful mechanical reproduction of the ephemeral moment, preserved in the photograph, betrays the intentions of the photographer and reveals many women’s resistance to the camera. Sometimes, women insert themselves into the visual composition, throwing the gaze back to the camera when it attempts to capture in stealth. Norms of etiquette had not been established between Chinese bodies and cameras. Without proprietary codes, women’s engagement with the camera, the white male cameraperson and the eventual public beholders of the image demonstrate an unruly attitude and an unabashed relation. Without speaking, they disrupt the credibility of visual documentation and challenge the photographer’s claim to realistic indexicality, with the scoffing look in their eyes, with their cocked eyebrows, with their pointed fingers.

Figure 1: Chi Hua Men Chapel, Old Women 朝阳门(齐化门)教堂,老年妇女们	268-1533

Chi Hua Men Chapel, Old Women
朝阳门(齐化门)教堂,老年妇女们
268-1533

Figure 2: Pilgrim Women Resting 休息中的朝圣妇女们 246-1358

Figure 2: Pilgrim Women Resting
休息中的朝圣妇女们
246-1358

Though Gamble sometimes composed shots and arranged people in front of his camera, women are not uniform in their bodily cooperation with the camera, as they look every other way and refuse to return the gaze when demanded to do so. The group of old beggar women resting on the pilgrimage to the Daoist temple on Miao Feng Shan, a mountain outside of Beijing, hints at a religious life that took some women great distances in non-domestic spaces, unrestricted by bound feet. On the other hand, a group of elderly Chinese women attending a Christian church in Chaoyang Men, Beijing stand in a row and pose for a group portrait in formal outfits. Their attempt at a standardized assemblage bears great contrast to the pilgrim women, who sit haphazardly on the ground, without bourgeois decorum, showing no deference for the camera.

In the photographs of church women, we bear witness to a powerful missionary project that not only sought to save souls, but also injected Foucauldian discipline of the body into Chinese modernity. The YMCA, in which Gamble participated, was part of the numerous reformist efforts aimed at increasing social productivity, managing populations, and teaching Chinese citizens new technologies of the self. The formation of biopolitical institutions such as schools, hospitals, and prisons contributed to the creation of self-regulating subjects. The female body is particularly subject to close scrutiny and social regulation, as the disciplinary techniques of modernity work in tandem with other national political projects.

Nevertheless, the attempt at posing by the church-going women is not a flawless performance, as each woman’s scattered gaze and awkward body composure indicate that photographic self-awareness was nascent in their bodies. Their stubborn flesh was not trained to hold themselves in uniform stillness before a photographer’s authoritative black box. We can almost hear Gamble’s exasperated requests for them to hold still: “Look at the camera, please!” Like the stubborn bound feet that cannot easily reverse itself, the recalcitrant flesh of the old women leaks out of their upright poses, if we know how to see. Their bodies appear, on first glance, to be pliant vessels under imperialist, religious, and technological demands. But an alternative kind of historiography allows us to recognize the subtle ruptures of the flesh beneath.

HISTORIOGRAPHY AND THE SPLIT SECOND

Figure 3: Thanksgiving Day Presidential Review, Manchu Women – Front 感恩节总统大阅兵,满族妇女正面照 219-1221

Figure 5: Thanksgiving Day Presidential Review, Manchu Women – Front
感恩节总统大阅兵,满族妇女正面照
219-1221

North China Union Women's College, Union Gateway 华北协和女子学院,月亮门 307-1759

North China Union Women’s College, Union Gateway
华北协和女子学院,月亮门
307-1759

Food Distribution, Old Woman & Cane 粮食配给,拄拐的老妪 393-2255

Food Distribution, Old Woman & Cane
粮食配给,拄拐的老妪
393-2255

Beijing in the early twentieth century was not fully modern, yet it exhibited a kind of cosmopolitanism marking contact and the simultaneous coexistence of various worlds, made visible through women’s bodily presentations of costume, hair, and feet. In the Gamble collection, we catch a glimpse of the heterogeneous gender presentations practiced during a moment of social upheaval. Recognition of such inconsistencies constitutes a positive step towards the kind of feminist historiography that refuses assimilation by grander narratives. In the photographs, bound feet appear besides unbound ones. Female university students with short haircuts in protests coexist with Mongolian women in the palace, while female laborers and beggars mark another dimension of social difference. These bodies speak of various iterations of modernity, nationalism, and colonialism. They speak of women’s diverse responses to anti-foot-binding, the mass education movement, ethnic mixing, war, etc. The rich visual symbols in these photographs, especially on the surface of feminine bodies, are tempting materials, but we must not force historical women to speak as one body, or three, or as any number of historical representations. A different kind of historiography must begin by overlooking the social presentation on the body, in order to make room for the flesh underneath.

Manchu Woman Back 满族妇女背面照 161-904

Manchu Woman Back
满族妇女背面照
161-904

Figure 4: Manchu Woman Front 满族妇女正面照

Figure 4: Manchu Woman Front
满族妇女正面照
161-903

Though the photograph retains the loaded signifiers of class, ethnicity, fashion, education, and so on, it also freezes the body in that moment, in the split second that is stripped of temporal progression. The split second has the potential to free women’s bodies from historical time, as it provides neither foreground nor background. We cannot know for certain what happens before or after. Was she frowning at the glare of the sun, or was she smiling before the unwelcome approach of the eager photographer? Is she concerned about the news of the protest yesterday, or excited about the dinner guest tomorrow? Where is she going in a hurry—a visit to her mother, an illicit affair, or a quick trip to the market? The potentiality of the next second threatens to counteract any interpretation of the present moment captured in a photograph. The bareness of the split second, ironically, relieves flesh of the burden of temporality. It escapes the incessant demand of historical narrativization.

In Gamble’s haphazard shots of women hurrying past him, we can detect the arbitrariness of the captured image and its ultimate inability to serve as textual evidence for any conclusive readings of gender and social realities. In contrast to film and its embrace of linear time, the historical photograph is better positioned to jump out of time, carrying female flesh above the timeline in a momentary line of flight. The female subject becomes light, weightless on the black and white film. The split-second quality of photography makes it a medium that does, in a sense, allow unprecedented access to female flesh. Through its negation of temporal duration, the photograph denies us the habit of historical interpretation.

Manchu Women – Back 感恩节总统大阅兵,满族妇女背面照 219-1222

Manchu Women – Back
感恩节总统大阅兵,满族妇女背面照
219-1222

Figure 3: Thanksgiving Day Presidential Review, Manchu Women – Front 感恩节总统大阅兵,满族妇女正面照 219-1221

Figure 3: Thanksgiving Day Presidential Review, Manchu Women – Front
感恩节总统大阅兵,满族妇女正面照
219-1221

Women repeatedly create a strategic distance with the photographer, so that while Gamble succeeds in capturing their image, the flesh retains its ability to refuse incorporation into historical narratives. This interaction is highlighted in the photographs of two courtly women walking arm-in-arm, passing by and turning away from Gamble, during the Thanksgiving Day Presidential Review held in the Forbidden Palace. As Gamble hurries to capture their fascinating costumes on this special occasion, their turned backs make a mockery of his eagerness. The images contain the photographer’s shadow in the foreground, dramatizing the relative positioning between the subject and the object in this interaction. The presence of Gamble’s shadow, reaching after the two women as they walk away, is reminiscent of the stereotypical, impolite tourist who takes desperate shots of the exotic animal at the zoo as it strolls away with boredom and disdain. In the act of turning away, the female couple forms a homosocial intimacy that is inaccessible to the voyeuristic masculine gaze, even while their bodies are adorned by ornate symbols of ethnic, high-class femininity. Their flesh is not subsumed by the bodily display of gender, ethnicity, and class. In the refusal to be reduced to mere social positions, the flesh offers a potential for deep-rooted agency, something more than “women’s liberation.”

In the second photograph, another pair of young women enters on the right, also with their backs turned to the camera, dressed in a vastly different style indicating their own class, ethnicity, marriage status, etc. The unintended convergence of both pairs within the same frame brings the grand narratives suggested by this photograph to an overwhelming point of excess. The spectacle of the rich costumes underscores the over-burdening of women’s bodies. The scene begins to resemble theater, or the set of a film production. The spatial configuration of the four women’s bodies, juxtaposed against the shape of Gamble’s own Western hat, reveals our own insatiable desire to cull social meaning from the surface of women’s bodies.

A Chinese feminist consideration of the photographic archive, then, will not so much note the historical changes and tides of modernity that explain the different presentations of women’s bodies we see here, but instead collaborate with the two women’s simple turn away from the inquiring, external gaze. A refusal of reading, at least of certain modes of historical interpretation, constitutes an affirmation of recalcitrant female flesh, as it is stripped free of the overwhelming burden of historical progress. In fact, a feminist historiography that resists reading practices will actually make more room for illegible flesh to be included in our backward glances. We might then attend more closely to the unruly bodies that do not bear the recognizable markers of social positions.

Figure 6: (Woman), (Old Goat), (?) (妇女),(老山羊),(?) 431-2480

Figure 6: (Woman), (Old Goat), (?)
(妇女),(老山羊),(?)
431-2480

In one of the most striking portraits Gamble took, a mysterious figure looks resolutely into the camera and commands direct engagement with the beholder. Yet we are unable to extract much conclusive meaning from the visual material. The Western style hat with a ribbon, cocked defiantly to the side; the angular, proud face; the well-worn Chinese shirt; the blurry rural background… In the archival preparations for the Gamble photo collection, one cataloger associated this photograph with a caption from Gamble that stated “old goat,” while another chose to put it into the category of “women.” Though archival work insists on some degree of categorization, it is impossible to assimilate this figure into a narrative of women, or men, without a level of uncertainty. Here we are encountering recalcitrant flesh that can no longer be gendered and sexed. We cannot easily apply queer or transgender identities to the figure, even with the best intentions. Then there is still the Western hat. The flesh here, wrapped in a conglomerate of Chinese and Western pieces of clothing, confounds our retrospective readings, revealing the inadequacy of any historical narratives. Did Gamble’s wife lend it to him/her as a prop for the portrait? Did he/she wear it while tilling the soil under the sun? Gender is not the only thing that can be thrown into question, as we ponder about this person’s adventures, without hopes of every receiving an answer. Though the flesh imprinted in the film is forever silent, it has managed to make fools of us all, try as we might to absorb the body into the social field. When the flesh truly commands our attention, as in this photograph, the setting becomes out of focus and meaningless—a tree, a house, a horizon, nothing historically meaningful, nothing that weighs down flesh. In the split-second flash of the camera, the flesh jumps out of time, stripped bare of the burden of history.


[i] Hortense J. Spillers, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book,” Diacritics 17:2 (Summer 1987): 64-81.


顽固的肉体: 剥离中国女性身上的历史负担

黄阿娜

黄阿娜是美国杜克大学文化人类学博士生

“从这种意义上说,在‘身体’以前还有‘肉体’,它是社会概念化的零点…”

霍顿斯·斯皮勒思

身体与肉体

女性的身体能说话吗?一篇对二十世纪早期中国摄影档案的女性主义解读,能让人毫无阻隔地瞥见女性历史生命经验的一隅吗?在识字普及以前的年代,大多数中国女性还不能书写,除了录音与墓中的骨头,或许照片就是我们与她们的物质生活最近距离的接触了。甘博拍摄了上百张显然未加造作的女性照片,她们的身体被以机械化的绝对精准铭刻在底片之上。研究中国史的学者习惯于在男性中国作家的字里行间寻找着女性隐藏在诗歌、小说与政论中的真实存在,但摄影档案却能绕开干扰的男性声音,让我们得以直接触及历史上中国女性那隐隐绰绰的身影。摄影让女性身体留下了物质踪迹,它是肉体话语的记述,或许也会为历史的女性主义重构提供一个强大的镜头。

然而,如果仅仅只是将反历史的阐述作为对男性中心话语的回应,女性主义研究便会落入一个熟悉的陷阱。当享有回顾过往的特权的现代人在二十世纪早期的女性身体上展开阐释活动时,反历史其实是与历史叙事化同出一源的方法。物质的身体变成了用以支撑历史观点的一堆证据。而摄影作品则成为了专家们竞相解读的文本。身体仍然是被言说的。女性的主体性仍然主要被身体所定义。如果使用经典的自由主义女性主义方法来探讨甘博的摄影作品,第一眼或许会显得像是缓冲了男性主导话语,因为它强调女性的经验及非刻板印象角色。但这一非传统解读却仍只是重复了将历史意义强加于女性身体之上的做法。

那么,我们应怎样对这些摄影档案开展女性主义的历史学,才不至陷于自我否定的境地?一种新的途径是,拒绝被习惯性地纳入到政治历史的宏大叙事中去。女性主义种族理论家霍顿斯·斯皮勒思提出“身体”与“肉体”的区分,将其作为社会概念化的零点。若把这一细微差别的区分应用于对中国女性的理论化,便为审视历史摄影另辟了蹊径。当我们剥离覆满中国女性身体表面的社会意义重负,顽固的女性肉体才会从历史叙事之网中突破而出。只有这样,我们才能听到女性肉体那语无伦次的尖叫与微不可闻的低语从照片中传出。

缠足与历史重负

中国的现代化形象依托于中国女性的生存状态与她们向合格的现代主体的转变。在后殖民与半殖民国家,女性的身体往往变成了帝国主义、资本主义、国族主义与社会主义比拼成果的战场。随着不同的进步标志被选择成为解放的场所,她们的解放被国家计划所定义,而又使这些计划获得合法性。二十世纪中国女性的解放在很大程度上是来自上方的赐予,但这赐予却并非总是福音。

Figure 1: Chi Hua Men Chapel, Old Women 朝阳门(齐化门)教堂,老年妇女们	268-1533

Figure 1: Chi Hua Men Chapel, Old Women
朝阳门(齐化门)教堂,老年妇女们
268-1533

甘博的摄影捕捉到了围绕着缠足的主要话语——而缠足是将彼时的中国视为落后的观点中不断重复着的核心隐喻。虽然摄影师的目光在公共场合回避着对女性足部的密切检视,但缠足仍然值得当代观众的注意,因为各种有关现代性、传教士与女性主义的话语都在此处层层叠加地发挥着影响。在二十世纪早期,对于西方世界来说,缠足是一种奇怪而野蛮的行径,它代表着中国的父权制。而对于中国自身而言,缠足则象征着一种为使中华文明在现代国际舞台上获取合法性而必须废除的行为。许多责任落在了女性的身体上,却少有人注意到女性在反缠足运动中的行动性。

正如高彦頤在其修正主义的缠足史《缠足:“金莲崇拜”盛极而衰的演变》一书中所述,反缠足运动将缠了足的女性构造为文化羞耻或是红颜祸水。基督教传教士们想要匡正上帝造物的畸形,而他们对于保护“天足”的坚持却将一切对女性身体自主权力的承认都排除在外。西方和中国的改革者们(通常是男性)采取了迫切的措施以使中国摆脱那落后的、顽固的女性身体,他们在全国范围内强制推行放足,即便许多女性反抗这一痛苦的逆向过程。女性的足先是被要求缠起,而后又被要求放开。

在甘博的作品集中,偶尔会有缠起的小脚在照片中出现,并引起大量争论及对其的社会编码。缠足,一如放足,都是以将女性肉体转变为合乎体统的女性身体为目的;它让桀骜不驯的肉体屈服于社会规范。关于缠足行为的叙事,无论是同情或批判的,往往都进一步将身体绑束在某个历史框架之上。在这一过程中,出于善意的女性主义尝试可以变得和国家建设计划一样,同谋着将女性解放赞颂为社会主义的益处,而女性自由则成为了经济市场化的正面效应。女性的身体依然被历史叙事之网纠缠,而对于她们在照片中的社会身份的阐释则仍旧是捕捉鲜活肉体来服务于宏大话语。当代女性主义对中国缠足传统的厌弃不知不觉地落入了进步史观的圈套,并一边用如此信念安慰着我们:当今的中国女性至少比过去解放了一些。那我们还有什么可抱怨的呢?

被管制的身体,扰乱性的肉体

甘博为其摄影作品取标题十分严谨细致,不忘提及族裔、地区、阶级与发型——这些是这位社会科学家喜欢用以进行描绘的社会标记。但照片保留下的对这短暂瞬间忠实的机械化重现却违背了摄影师的意图,揭示出许多女性对相机镜头的反抗。有时,女性将自己插入到这一视觉创作中,在相机试图悄悄偷拍时向它投回凝视的目光。在中国,身体与相机之间还未曾建立起一套礼仪规范。没有版权代码的烦扰,女性在与相机、与白人男性摄影师及与最终图像的公众观看者的交互中展现出一种不甘束缚的态度与毫无羞怯的关系。她们未曾言说,却用她们那嘲笑的眼神、挑起的眉毛、指点的手指扰乱了视觉纪录的可信度,并挑战了摄影师所宣称的照片对现实的索引性。

Figure 1: Chi Hua Men Chapel, Old Women 朝阳门(齐化门)教堂,老年妇女们	268-1533

Chi Hua Men Chapel, Old Women
朝阳门(齐化门)教堂,老年妇女们
268-1533

Figure 2: Pilgrim Women Resting 休息中的朝圣妇女们 246-1358

Figure 2: Pilgrim Women Resting
休息中的朝圣妇女们
246-1358

虽然甘博有时会预先编排一些拍摄并在相机前安排人们的动作,但女性在她们与相机的身体合作中并不整齐划一,她们看向各种别的方向,当要求回望向镜头时却拒绝那么做。一组老年乞丐妇女正在去往北京城外妙峰山道观的朝圣途中休息,照片暗示着宗教生活将一些女性带到离家庭生活很远的空间中,不受缠足的限制。而在另一张照片中,一组年长的中国妇女前往一座位于北京朝阳门的基督教教堂参拜,她们站成一排,穿着正装为群像摆着姿势。她们试图组成标准化组合的努力与朝圣妇女们形成巨大对比,后者杂乱地坐在地上,不带任何中产阶级式的端庄礼貌,对相机没有表现出任何顺从。

表现教堂妇女的照片让我们见证到一个强势的传教计划,它不仅想要拯救灵魂,而且还将福柯式的身体规训注入到中国的现代性中。甘博所参加的基督教青年会(YMCA)就是无数改革努力中的一份子,这些改革致力于增加社会生产、控制人口并教会中国公民对自我的身体技术。生命政治机构的形成,如学校、医院和监狱,为创造自我管制的主体作出贡献。当现代性的规训技巧与其他国族政治计划联手,女性的身体受到了尤为细致的审查与社会管制。

不过,教堂妇女的摆拍尝试也并非是毫无瑕疵的表演,每位妇女涣散的目光与努力保持镇定的别扭姿势表明对拍照的自我意识正在她们体内萌芽。她们顽固的肉体还未训练成能在摄影师那权威的黑匣子前保持整齐划一的静止状态。我们几乎能听见甘博激怒地要求她们保持不动:“请看镜头,拜托了!”就像固执的缠足不能轻易让自己逆转一样,这些老年妇女顽固的肉体也从她们直挺挺摆出的姿势中泄露出来,只要我们知道如何观察。初看上去,她们的身体似乎是在帝国主义、宗教和技术的要求下逆来顺受的坚韧器皿。但一种非传统的历史学却让我们得以辨识出掩藏其下的肉体那细微的裂痕。

历史学与瞬间

Figure 3: Thanksgiving Day Presidential Review, Manchu Women – Front 感恩节总统大阅兵,满族妇女正面照 219-1221

Figure 5: Thanksgiving Day Presidential Review, Manchu Women – Front
感恩节总统大阅兵,满族妇女正面照
219-1221

North China Union Women's College, Union Gateway 华北协和女子学院,月亮门 307-1759

North China Union Women’s College, Union Gateway
华北协和女子学院,月亮门
307-1759

Food Distribution, Old Woman & Cane 粮食配给,拄拐的老妪 393-2255

Food Distribution, Old Woman & Cane
粮食配给,拄拐的老妪
393-2255

二十世纪的北京还不是完全现代的,但它已经展现出一种以不同世界的共存与接触为标志的世界主义,这通过女性用身体展示的服饰、发型和脚而变得可见。在甘博的作品集中,我们得以瞥见一丝那个社会动荡的年代多样的性别表现方式。对这一不协调的承认是向拒绝被宏大叙事同化的女性主义历史学迈出的积极一步。在这些照片中,缠起的小脚与未缠的足部并排出现,出于抗议而剪成短发的女大学生与宫殿里的蒙古女性同时存在,而女性劳工与乞丐则又标志着另一维度上的社会差异。这些身体不断重复述说着现代性、国族主义与殖民主义。它们言说着女性对反缠足、教育普及运动、多族裔混合、战争等事件的多样回应。这些照片中丰富的视觉符号(尤其是在女性身体表面),是诱人的素材,但我们不能强迫历史上的女性作为一个身体、或三个、或任意数量的历史再现来说话。一种不同的历史学应当始于对这些加诸于身体之上的社会表现的无视,这样才能为隐藏其下的肉体腾出空间。

Manchu Woman Back 满族妇女背面照 161-904

Manchu Woman Back
满族妇女背面照
161-904

Figure 4: Manchu Woman Front 满族妇女正面照

Figure 4: Manchu Woman Front
满族妇女正面照
161-903

虽然照片保留下了承载着阶级、种族、流行风格、教育水平等信息的能指,但它也将身体冻结在了那一时刻,那被剥离了时间连续性的瞬间。这一瞬间具有将女性身体从历史时间中解放出来的潜力,因为它既不提供前景也不提供背景。我们无法确切知晓在此前或此后发生了什么。她是在为太阳的耀眼而皱眉吗,或者在热切的摄影师不请自来地接近她之前,她是否在微笑?她是否在关心着新闻里昨天举行的抗议,或者为明天的晚宴客人而感到激动?她如此匆匆地是要去哪里——是去拜访她的母亲,还是去赴一段违禁的风流韵事,或者很快地去集市走一遭?下一秒的潜在可能性威胁着要驳斥对照片捕捉下的这一时刻的任何阐释。讽刺的是,这无头无尾的瞬间反而将肉体从时间性的重负中解放出来。它逃脱了历史叙事对持续性的要求。

在甘博杂乱拍摄的各种匆匆走过的女性中,我们能探出所捕捉到的图像的任意性,它无法作为文本依据支撑任何对性别与社会现实的有结论性的解读。与电影及其线性时间不同,历史照片更利于从时间行进中跳离,让女性的肉体在短暂的飞跃中超越于时间线之上。女性的主体在黑白胶卷上变得身轻如燕,毫无重量。照片的瞬间性质在某种意义上使其成为了一种允许与女性肉体获得前所未有的直接接触的媒体。通过对连续时间的否定,照片拒绝了我们进行历史性阐释的习惯。

Manchu Women – Back 感恩节总统大阅兵,满族妇女背面照 219-1222

Manchu Women – Back
感恩节总统大阅兵,满族妇女背面照
219-1222

Figure 3: Thanksgiving Day Presidential Review, Manchu Women – Front 感恩节总统大阅兵,满族妇女正面照 219-1221

Figure 3: Thanksgiving Day Presidential Review, Manchu Women – Front
感恩节总统大阅兵,满族妇女正面照
219-1221

女性不断地创造出与摄影师的策略性距离,以至于甘博虽然成功拍下了她们的影像,她们的肉体却依然保留着拒绝被整合进历史叙事中去的能力。这样一种互动在两位宫廷式着装的妇女的照片中被突显出来。她们手挽着手,在紫禁城感恩节总统大阅兵时从甘博身边走过,又转身走开。当甘博急忙上前捕捉她们在这一特殊场合的迷人服饰时,她们转过身去背对他的动作像是在嘲弄他的热切渴望。图像的前景中有摄影师自己的影子,这将这一互动中主体与客体的相对位置更加戏剧化了。甘博影子的存在、它在两位妇女转身走开后伸向她们的样子,使人想起典型的无礼游客,在动物园里追着因无聊厌烦而走开的异域动物拼命地拍照。尽管她们的身体被象征族裔与上层阶级女性气质的华丽符号所装饰,在转身离开的动作中,这对妇女形成了一种同性情谊般的亲密性,拒绝窥淫的男性目光的接触。她们的肉体并未被纳入那展示在身体上的性别、族裔和阶级。在拒绝被简化为单纯的社会身份时,肉体表现出一种可能的、扎根于深处的行动性,这不止是“女性解放”。

在第二张照片中,另外一对年轻女子从画面右侧进入,同样背对着镜头,穿着完全另一种风格的服装,表现出她们自己的阶级、族裔、婚姻状况等。同一画面中两对人物出乎意料的汇合使这张照片所暗示的宏大叙事达到了过度的极点。壮观的华丽服饰突显了加诸女性身体之上的过重负担。这一场景开始变得像一场戏剧,或是电影布景。四位妇女身体之间的空旷布置与甘博自己的西式帽子的影子并置,反应出我们自己难以满足的将社会意义从女性身体表面剔除的欲望。

因此,对这一摄影档案的中国女性主义的分析不会太多提及历史的变迁或现代性的浪潮,用以解释我们在此看到的对女性身体的不同表现,而是会与那两位对窥探的外部眼光直截了当背转身去的妇女合作。拒绝解读,至少拒绝某些特定模式的历史解读,构成了对顽固的女性肉体的再度肯定,因为它剥离了压倒一切的进步史观的负担。事实上,拒绝解读行为的女性主义历史学将为那晦明难辨的肉体确确实实留出更多空间,让其得以进入我们回顾过往的视线。这样,我们或许才能更密切地关注那不带任何可辨识的社会身份标记的、倔强不屈的身体。

Figure 6: (Woman), (Old Goat), (?) (妇女),(老山羊),(?) 431-2480

Figure 6: (Woman), (Old Goat), (?)
(妇女),(老山羊),(?)
431-2480

这是甘博拍摄的最惊人的肖像之一,一个神秘的人物坚定决绝地直视着镜头,要求与观众的直接联系。然而我们从这一视觉材料中能获取的结论性信息并不多。西式帽子上的蝴蝶结挑衅地竖立在一边;棱角分明、自豪的脸;穿戴整洁的中式衬衫;模糊的乡村背景……在为甘博摄影作品集所做的档案准备中,一位编目员将这张照片与甘博写的标题“老山羊”联系在一起,而另一位则选择将其放入“女性”的类别里。虽然档案工作坚持要进行一定程度的分类,但这个人物却无法完全确定地归入任何关于女性或是男性的叙事中。此处,我们碰到的是不再能被性/别化的顽固的肉体。即使是出于好意,我们也不能简单轻易地将酷儿或跨性别认同应用于这个人物身上。此外还有那西式的帽子。此处的肉体,在中式与西式的混搭衣着包裹下,搞混了我们回溯历史的解读,揭露出任何一种历史叙事的缺陷。是甘博的妻子将帽子借给他/她作为拍摄这幅肖像的道具的吗?在他/她耕地的时候也会顶着烈日戴着这顶帽子吗?当我们不抱任何找到答案的指望揣测着这个人物的经历时,就不只是性别存疑了。虽然印在胶卷上的肉体永远都将保持沉默,但它却成功愚弄了尽力试图将那身体融入到社会领域中去的我们。当肉体真正要求我们的注意时,比如像在这张照片中,历史背景将变得不再关键且毫无意义,没有什么能比肉体更重要。在快门闪烁的瞬间,肉体从时间中跳脱出来,褪尽了历史的重负。


[i] Hortense J. Spillers, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book,” Diacritics 17:2 (Summer 1987): 64-81.

2 Responses to Recalcitrant Flesh: Stripping Away the Historical Burden of Chinese Women’s Bodies

  1. 台灣地區ㄉ中國人 says:

    希望也能來台灣地區給我們這些2300萬中國人看展

  2. “In that sense, before the body’ there is the ‘flesh,’ that zero degree of social conceptualization …” ummm good hahaha

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