The Practice of Theory in East Asian Cinemas

Tragically forgetting Marx, American activism has at times celebrated practice as committed action while demonizing theory as a retreat from the struggle. In any number of academic contexts, “theory” is met with suspicion if not derision—a kind of elitist terrorism waged against the sincere who simply “read” or “appreciate” texts directly. However, the rejection of theory is also a theoretical position, and any act of reading operates on theoretical presumptions.

This lecture proposes a radical reconciliation between theory and practice in the cinematic experience. The word “theory” comes from the ancient Greek theoria, which means “spectacle,” “something to look at,” as well as “the act of looking,” and “to attend a theatrical performance.” Reassessing these meanings, this talk will argue for the theoretical and practical agency of both the filmmaker and the spectator. It explores the theoretical import of filmmaking, film viewing, film analysis, the film studies classroom, and the art of programming. Finally, it reconsiders “theory” in East Asian Cinema as spectacles that are in themselves philosophical statements that in turn become occasions for discovery and re-articulating experience of the world’s meaning and the world-as-meaning.

This is the last lecture out of a series of five in the East Asia Film Literacies Lecture Series. This lecture was given by Visiting East-West Center Scholar Earl Jackson, Jr., Associate Professor of Literature at the University of California, Santa Cruz, on November 20, 2003, in Crawford Hall 115 from 3:00-5:00 PM.