Toward a Theory of Late Imperial Chinese Media: Paper-Money-Body-Internet
3: Our Primary Medium: Li Yu's (1611-1680) Remodeling of the Body
Friday, March 25, 2022
1:30pm – 3:00pm EST
Location: Conv. Center, Room 316A
University of Michigan, United States
Ever since Marshall McLuhan defined media as “extensions of man,” the relationship between the human body and the materials that mediate its experience in the world have been debated in terms of media. Philosophers in the Western tradition have suggested that understanding extensions of our bodies through the use of tools predated any consciousness of ourselves as human. This paper will explore the way in which Li Yu reimagined our most fundamental medium – the human body, with its flesh, blood, and hair – in the wake of the Ming-Qing transition. I show how he remakes the human body in fiction, drawing on metaphors of print and architectural remodeling, to propose drastic but hazily plausible alternatives to its usual experience. By presenting alterations to the human body as akin to remodeling a building, Li Yu nudges the human body into that space between fiction and the real world. I then turn to possibilities for real human bodies that Li Yu presents in Leisure Notes (Xianqing ouji), examining the metaphors with which he discusses body designs, such as likening skin to silk and proposing methods of treating it accordingly. I argue that in discarding preconceived notions about the body and reconsidering it as a malleable material form, Li Yu encouraged his readers to manage how their bodies mediate their experience of the world in an amalgamation of human body and technology that is reminiscent of modern conceptions of the cyborg, itself forged at the intersection of the fictional and the material.