In-between Media: The Culture of Interface from Early Modern to Contemporary China
1: Weaving Reading Interfaces: Xi'nang cunjin and the Possibilities of Literary Creation
Thursday, March 24, 2022
12:30pm – 2:00pm EST
Virtual Paper Presenter(s)
University of Chicago, United States
Can a medicine cabinet or a weiqi board be considered as an interface? To what extent can we “read” and “read beyond'' these objects? This paper explores these questions by studying an eighteenth-century collection of reading games Xi’nang cunjin (Bags of Small Brocades) compiled by the scholar and publisher Zhang Chao (1650-1707). In this collection, poetry is designed to be read on material objects other than books, while the objects are, in turn, remediated into printed reading surfaces. These text-bearing objects represented in the reading games ask the readers neither to focus solely on the texts nor on the objects’ immediate material properties. Rather, they hint to double the ways of reading the text by directing—sometimes, misdirecting—the readers to think about other possibilities to “weave” the textual units. The words of a poem, for instance, are arranged as if black and white pieces in the weiqi manual. The medicine names on a cabinet are supposed to be composed into a lyric. Designed to frame the poetry, the objects become an interface, or a relation effect and a threshold condition that delimit the space of the texts while opening new situations for active readerly participation. As the readers are invited to draw connections between words and phrases, serious knowledge and playful tricks, I argue that the games, in a frivolous yet innovative way, ultimately test the boundaries and conditions of reading and literary creation in the graphic and cultural landscape of early modern China.