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Tainan, City Pluriferent

January 31 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm

David Liu

Speaker: David Liu, Ph.D.

Visitors to Taiwan never miss Taipei, its capital for over a century, but the older counterpart Tainan gets unjustly missed as a global city. This talk is a Sebaldian exercise in narrating Professor Liu’s native city “from the outside.” Playing with Gilles Deleuze’s notions of the virtual/actual and exo-/endo-consistency, Liu will weave a diegetical tapestry of that city through its wealth of (trans)historical vectors to/from all over the world. These vectors also give occasions for tangents and excursuses by which to meditate on the porous MULTIPLICITY of such a locale as its myriad relations equally external and internal. This is what Professor Liu wants to show of Tainan’s “pluriference.”

To begin at the macro-level, we should know that Tainan and its ambient island are the product of a geological split from the Eurasian landmass 10,000 years ago, which later launched the Great Migration through the Indian-Pacific waters from Madagascar (from which the city’s official tree hails) to the Easter Islands. Then in the 17th century, the native Sirayans of Taiyouan (later Taiwan or Tainan/Tai-lam) came under the control of the Dutch and then the transplanted remnant of the Ming Chinese. The former’s cultural loss, not unlike that seen in the Americas, was accompanied both by the extinction of the Ming line and the preservation of the much older Han dynastic clan, to which Liu belongs. (Analogies come to mind of the Stuart line dying off in Rome, and the Confucian house surviving even into Communist China.) These shifts occurred in the course of successive rule by the Qing (1682-1895), Japanese Empire (1895-1945) and Republic of China (1945-) – and resistance thereto. At the same time, the retreat of the Dutch in 1662 also evokes a meditation on the related fates of New Amsterdam (New York) and Batavia (Jakarta), both crucial to the building of their global capitalist empire, and the vicissitudes of local Hokkien products like tea and “ketchup,” which went West a fish brine and came back a tomato sauce, and their syncopated potencies in history.

The inevitably creole character of Tainan (not unlike that of Hong Kong, Macau and Malacca) both as city and synecdoche of Taiwan, can be seen in its robust preservation of Ming Chinese heritage (often lost on the Mainland) along with contemporary high tech and agriculture and global cultural reach – with the largest collection of superb antique violins of Italy; a revival of Sirayan language and promotion of written Hokkien Chinese, with edgy models of its native literature coming NOT from China, but from Turkey, France and Central Europe; and a slate of sister/friendly cities from all continents yet indicative of the diplomatic precariousness of the country. Among these are several from the US, STILL the official occupying power from WWII empowered to issue territorial passports to citizens of the derecognized ROC. What will come of the city’s – and the island’s – future out of this pool of intensities, is a quite open matter.

What such a differential web of ties presents is an exo-consistency of lines and surfaces sutured to an endo-consistency, the virtual with the actual, in a perforated spatio-temporality. That, in turn, suggests a new way of discerning the ontology of cities no less than other things. Of Tainan itself, we might say that its complex profile intones not simply the resurgent Phoenix City of its sobriquet, but of a floating abode, ever extending and renovating its pluriference.

David Liu is a Visiting Scholar in the Department of Religious Studies, where he also received his PhD before teaching at NCSU and back at Duke. Before coming to Durham, David also spent time learning and researching in Tokyo, Rome and Jerusalem. His work ranges from theory of religion, Continental and transcultural philosophy, to aesthetics and critical new media studies. As a social entrepreneur, David is also starting a new institute in Rome called Mangroves. Long “exiled” from his hometown of Tainan, Taiwan, he is personally interested in thinking about that city “from the outside.”

This event is presented by the John Hope Franklin Center, and the Duke University Center for International and Global Studies. A light lunch will be served. Parking is available in nearby Trent Rd. and Erwin Rd. parking decks. The series provides 1 hour parking vouchers to guests.


January 31
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
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Catherine Angst


Ahmadieh Family Conference Hall
2204 Erwin Rd. Room 240
Durham, NC 27708 United States
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