Ghostly Desires

Queer Sexuality and Vernacular Buddhism in Contemporary Thai Cinema

Ghostly Desires

Book Pages: 272 Illustrations: 29 illustrations Published: June 2016

Author: Arnika Fuhrmann

Asian Studies > Southeast Asia, Gender and Sexuality > Queer Theory, Media Studies > Film

Through an examination of post-1997 Thai cinema and video art Arnika Fuhrmann shows how vernacular Buddhist tenets, stories, and images combine with sexual politics in figuring current struggles over notions of personhood, sexuality, and collective life. The drama, horror, heritage, and experimental art films she analyzes draw on Buddhist-informed conceptions of impermanence and prominently feature the motif of the female ghost. In these films the characters' eroticization in the spheres of loss and death represents an improvisation on the Buddhist disavowal of attachment and highlights under-recognized female and queer desire and persistence. Her feminist and queer readings reveal the entangled relationships between film, sexuality, Buddhist ideas, and the Thai state's regulation of heteronormative sexuality. Fuhrmann thereby provides insights into the configuration of contemporary Thailand while opening up new possibilities for thinking about queer personhood and femininity.


Ghostly Desires is about much more than Thai cinema. Fuhrmann pursues these diverse moving image-makers far beyond the nation’s moral-institutional architecture; and their “queering” of that architecture takes her far beyond the critical conventions of gender studies.” — David Teh, Pacific Affairs

"Ghostly Desires has indeed opened new conversations on the question of how the diverse genres of recent Thai cinema challenge us to refashion theory." — Peter A. Jackson, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

"A deft and delicately defined analysis of the intersections between queer sexuality, vernacular Buddhist tenets and Thai cinema, tales and images." — Rachel Harrison, Sojourn

"Ghostly Desires has achieved a rare accomplishment in the field of Thai studies. It fuses innovative, postmodern theoretical sophistication with a rich grounding and expertise in the Thai cultural, historical, and aesthetic context." — Megan Sinnott, Sojourn

"Fuhrmann mines the rich materialist indexicality of ghosts to dazzling effect in her brilliant new study of queer sexuality and Buddhist-coded tropologies of desire . . . singularly impressive achievement that stages valuable interventions in competing interdisciplinary debates about cinema, religion, and sexual publics. . . . A dazzling debut from an important new voice in feminist, queer, and Asian cultural studies that deserves a wide and appreciative readership." — Brett Farmer, GLQ

"Brilliant ... Arnika Fuhrmann’s transdisciplinary approach is a perfect example of what the queering of area studies can look like and thus fits well with the idea of New Area Studies research and its goal to investigate situated differences and formulate mid-range concepts." — Benjamin Baumann, Journal of Asian Studies

"Ghostly Desires entreats viewers to cast their glance anew in the direction of cinema’s apparitions, mapping spectral desire along previously undetected coordinates of queerness and counternormativity. Its interdisciplinary orientation renders Ghostly Desires an essential contribution to scholarship across cinema studies, Southeast Asian studies, queer and affect theory, Buddhist studies, and beyond. Fuhrmann’s is a provocative and illuminating study rendered in a register no less haunting than its subject matter." — Laura Isabel Serna and Mashinka Firunts Hakopian, Journal of Cinema and Media Studies

"Through a bravura queering of Buddhist discourses of attachment, loss, and desire, Arnika Fuhrmann advances a deft and compelling critique of the limited framing of the current debates over state sexual regulation and queer and feminist advocacy in Thailand. Modeling how a queer feminist consideration of religion and film might proceed, this extraordinary book advances a queer critique of cinema that draws on Thai politics and counterdoctrinal uses of Buddhism. A brilliant book and an unquestionably major scholarly intervention, Ghostly Desires will galvanize the study of Thai cinema while taking the study of queer and political film more generally in new directions." — Bliss Cua Lim, author of Translating Time: Cinema, the Fantastic, and Temporal Critique

"Arnika Fuhrmann's brilliant book focuses on nondoctrinal, Thai, Buddhist ontologies where queer female figures form around Buddhist melancholia, affirming an impossible, temporally failed desire. Fuhrmann shows the critical potential of Buddhist-coded anachronism to reimagine attachment and create subjects who are universalizable but only in relation to queer soteriology and to our shared historical time. Beautifully written, Ghostly Desires is a joy to read and to contemplate." — Tani Barlow, author of The Question of Women in Chinese Feminism


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Arnika Fuhrmann is Assistant Professor of Southeast Asian Studies at Cornell University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  vii

Introduction. Buddhist Sexual Contemporaneity  1

1. Nang-Nak—Ghost Wife: Desire, Embodiment, and Buddhist Melancholia in a Contemporary Thai Ghost Film  47

2. The Ghost Seer: Chinese Thai Minority Subjectivity, Female Agency, and the Transnational Uncanny in the Films of Danny and Oxide Pang  87

3. Tropical Malady: Same-Sex Desire, Casualness, and the Queering of Impermanence in the Cinema of Apichatpong Weerasethakul  122

4. Making Contact: Contingency, Fantasy, and the Performance of Impossible Intimacies in the Video Art of Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook  160

Coda. Under Permanent Exception: Thai Buddhist-Muslim Coexistence, Interreligious Intimacy, and the Filmic Archive  185

Notes  199

Bibliography  231

Index  249
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-6155-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-6119-0
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