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Lovely SMRN Meeting of August 2019

SMRN had another lovely meeting on August 30 with members joining including: Steve Baris, Mansoor Behnam, Juan Castrillón, Siying Duan, Tarek Elhaik, Azadeh Emadi, Farshid Kazemi, Navine Khan-Dossos, Laura Marks, Mahmoud Nuri, JR Osborn, Sheila Petty, Kalpana Subramanian and Yvan Tina.

Two of our members, Tarek Elhaik and Siying Duan, presented their work in progress. Tarek shared his current book project regarding a story from Jorge Luis Borges, “Averroës’ Search”. Tarek’s project has two parts. First he examines the figure of Ibn Rushd (1126-1198), whose name was Latinized by his translators as Averroës. Tarek pointed out that Averroës/Ibn Rushd is actually two figures, one in Arabic philosophy, one in Western philosophy, and he is interested in the productive tension between them. He then introduced Jorge Luis Borges’ story, in which Averroës falls into deep melancholy because he cannot decide how to translate terms like “tragedy” or “comedy” from Aristotle’s Poetics. Tarek proposed to see the story as the tension between two philosophical schools: Neo-Platonism and Aristotelianism, or nominalism and realism, rather than just about Averroës’s lack of language ability to translate Greek terms into Arabic. Effectively, Tarek intends to reboot cultural anthropology by swapping its nominalism (imposing abstractions on culture) for realism.

Also encountering the difficulties in translating terms situated on the verge of two different cultures and ways of thinking, Siying introduced the term “empty shots” (kong jingtou 空镜头) from Chinese film studies. Siying first made a comparison with the similar terms of “empty shots” in Anglophone film studies. With examples from the Chinese classic film Spring in a Small Town (Xiaocheng zhi Chun 小城之春, Fei Mu, 1948), Siying then identified empty shots through its two features: how the visible scenes shown in the empty shots are imbued with invisible emotion (“fusion of emotion and scenery/landscape”, qing jing jiao rong 情景交融), leaving the empathetic space for the audience to feel what the characters are feeling; and how it works as a virtual space in the actual film (“the actual and the virtual mutually give birth to each other” xu shi xiang sheng 虚实相生), allowing the audience to travel afar through the poetic natural scenery and “encounter myriad things” with a suspension of everyday perception, existing biases, and the deviation between self and other.

The two presentations were followed by enthusiastic feedback and discussion as always.

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