Beyond commemoration : the 2-28 incident, the aesthetics of trauma and sexual difference
This dissertation considers three questions arising from the annual commemorative art exhibitions of the February 28 Incident in Taiwan in 1947, where the Chinese nationalist coloniser systematically eradicated Taiwanese intellectuals and massively victimised the civilian Taiwanese population across the island. The exhibitions started to be held in 1993 and corresponded with the project of new Taiwan nation-building that was based on the historicisation and commemoration of the 2-28 Incident that had begun during the mid-1980s and continued into the 1990s. This commemoration of the 2-28 Incident has, I shall argue, contributed to the discursive formation of contemporary Taiwanese national and cultural identities and subjectivities. The first major question this thesis addresses is: is the Incident an event which is already in the past so that the Taiwanese should look forward and move on, as it was frequently argued particularly after the mid-1990s? This position is symptomised by Sadness Transformed. 2-28 Commemorative Art Exhibition in 1997. Within this commonly agreed narrative, the 2-28 men victims have been redeemed as the national heroes to become subjects for the new Taiwan nation; a post-2-28 harmonious political utopia has been declared, as Sadness Transformed also seems to witness to. Against this question, a second one asks: why and how were `women' and `the female body' integrated into this narrative and by that means rendered unremembered again? The thesis thus explores the gendered terms of commemoration hingeing on distinct degrees of feminine invisibility in both constructions of national identity and in `new forms' of subjectivity. The two phenomenal commemorations, the 2-28 Hand-in-Hand Rally and the 2-28 Heart-Linking-Heart Rally by two different political camps for the 2004 Presidential Election Campaign, and the division of people in Taiwan worsened by the dispute over the results of the Election clearly show that the 2-28 Incident has not been resolved by the commemoration narratives. Instead it appears to return compulsively to haunt Taiwan again and again. Therefore, the third question concerns the power of historical events, such as the 2-28 Incident, to haunt a culture? How can aesthetic practices contribute to the processes of witness and transformation? I shall argue that the 2-28 Incident should be considered not as a historical event alone but also as a historical and political trauma. Trauma has long term, unknown and unbound affects and effects, so that it returns to haunt even today. Hence, it is necessary for us to revisit the making of the 2-28 memories, through contemporary art in this case, and carefully work out its structure and mechanism as trauma rather than merely as a traumatic event. In the meantime, I shall indicate that the new Taiwan nation narrated through 2-28 commemoration and historicisation is indeed a patriarchal one with very rigid boundaries. It rendered women and other people who are different from the Taiwanese 2-28 elite men victims unremembered or remembered briefly to be forgotten again. The force of trauma lies in its mechanism identified by Sigmund Freud not only in terms of individual psychic suffering but also in terms of the formations of cultural identities and traditions: early trauma-latency-defence-neurosis-partial return of the repressed. I shall show how the making of the 2-28 memories in Taiwan largely repeats this cycle that defines trauma as a structure. I shall suggest that only through witnessing and listening to the wound: the 2-28 Incident as having the character of trauma, can this trauma cycle be transformed. In the final chapter, I shall discuss how certain artists exhibiting in the exhibition Sadness Transformed provide an aesthetic model for such `transporting' of trauma.