Translating Time

Cinema, the Fantastic, and Temporal Critique

Translating Time

a John Hope Franklin Center Book

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Book Pages: 360 Illustrations: 51 photographs Published: September 2009

Author: Bliss Cua Lim

Asian Studies, Cultural Studies, Media Studies > Film

Under modernity, time is regarded as linear and measurable by clocks and calendars. Despite the historicity of clock-time itself, the modern concept of time is considered universal and culturally neutral. What Walter Benjamin called “homogeneous, empty time” founds the modern notions of progress and a uniform global present in which the past and other forms of time consciousness are seen as superseded.

In Translating Time, Bliss Cua Lim argues that fantastic cinema depicts the coexistence of other modes of being alongside and within the modern present, disclosing multiple “immiscible temporalities” that strain against the modern concept of homogeneous time. In this wide-ranging study—encompassing Asian American video (On Cannibalism), ghost films from the New Cinema movements of Hong Kong and the Philippines (Rouge, Itim, Haplos), Hollywood remakes of Asian horror films (Ju-on, The Grudge, A Tale of Two Sisters) and a Filipino horror film cycle on monstrous viscera suckers (Aswang)—Lim conceptualizes the fantastic as a form of temporal translation. The fantastic translates supernatural agency in secular terms while also exposing an untranslatable remainder, thereby undermining the fantasy of a singular national time and emphasizing shifting temporalities of transnational reception.

Lim interweaves scholarship on visuality with postcolonial historiography. She draws on Henri Bergson’s understanding of cinema as both implicated in homogeneous time and central to its critique, as well as on postcolonial thought linking the ideology of progress to imperialist expansion. At stake in this project are more ethical forms of understanding time that refuse to domesticate difference as anachronism. While supernaturalism is often disparaged as a vestige of primitive or superstitious thought, Lim suggests an alternative interpretation of the fantastic as a mode of resistance to the ascendancy of homogeneous time and a starting-point for more ethical temporal imaginings.


“[Translating Time] is an engaging book that significantly extends the study of cinema and time through an analysis of Asian horror films. What is particularly clever about the book is the way Bliss Cua Lim’s exploration of the cinema of the fantastic extends beyond film studies out to philosophy and postcolonial theory through a concept of time as heterogeneous and non-linear.” — Teresa Rizzo, Media International Australia

“From my perspective, Bliss Cua Lim’s Translating Time is one of the most exciting contributions to film studies in a while, and a welcome addition to the growing number of Asian horror/ghost/fantastic film genre analyses. Yet it is so much more, because it is also an ambitious intervention in the literature on film and time. . . . Translating Time is an important challenge to certain ways of understanding duration. . . . It is therefore a ‘must-read’ for film scholars of all sorts, not only those us interested in Asian cinema. . . . Any work committed to understanding cinema as an art of time would do well to take on board Lim’s insights.” — Chris Berry, Screen

“Lim’s work . . . contains a breadth of reference and a political charge lost in the navel-gazing of much (if not most) poststructural film studies. It is as a consideration of contemporary postcolonial issues (what is at stake in our conception of history, what is filtered out from it?) explored through a wide range of Asian and American films, that this book makes its most valuable contribution.” — John A. Riley, Film International

“Lim's culturally specific readings of ‘fantastic’ Asian film make for a wholly original way to talk about cinema's temporal ontology. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates and above.” — S. C. Dillon, Choice

“One of the remarkable aspects of Lim’s research as a film scholar is her breadth of knowledge in philosophy, history and cultural studies—all of which she brings to bear on cinema. While Lim draws on a wide swath of film research, she uses it to totally original ends. . . . Lim’s deep, thoroughly researched, and intelligent book attests to her creativity and originality. She brings a wide range of theories to bear on her chosen cinematic mode of the fantastic, and in the process illuminates problems of time, colonialism, postcolonialism, film genre, and the global reach of Hollywood’s cinematic industry machine.” — E. Ann Kaplan, Cinema Journal

“One the one hand, one may argue that . . . homogenous time is an exceedingly difficult system to dismantle. . . . On the other hand, it may be precisely the excessive, extravagant nature of the challenge that has yielded material as wondrous and forward-looking as the works of the authors Lim has engaged, with her own volume taking its rightful place in a deservingly exalted but still-too-short list.” — Joel David, Asian Journal of Women's Studies

Translating Time is vital, fresh, expansive, and exciting. A strikingly sophisticated thinker, Bliss Cua Lim argues that a linear and progressive understanding of historical time, and its practice of history and history-writing, domesticates other times into a manageable past marked as retrograde, primitive, and naïve. Lim denaturalizes such an understanding by bringing to the fore films (and traditions of storytelling on which films are based) that depend on nonsynchonous histories. Her book will have readers far beyond the field of cinema studies, and it will push that field toward new and crucial questions.” — Amy Villarejo, author of Lesbian Rule: Cultural Criticism and the Value of Desire

Translating Time will set a new standard in cinema studies. It is not only deeply philosophical, bringing a much-needed postcolonial critique of historicism to cinema studies, but also a learned study of Asian, and especially Filipino, cinema in the context of postcoloniality and globalization. I learned an enormous amount from this book. It is quite an achievement.” — David L. Eng, author of Racial Castration: Managing Masculinity in Asian America

“Bliss Cua Lim’s extends ideas about the uncanny, the fantastic and the genre we usually call the horror film beyond its usual references to Hollywood and European cinema, which is fully welcome in this new era of global cinema. But it does much more than that. Her consideration of the uncanny and fantastic open up the profoundly untimely nature of fantasy films—and new possibilities for conceiving of the history of cinema.” — Tom Gunning, author of The Films of Fritz Lang: Allegories of Vision and Modernity


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Bliss Cua Lim is Associate Professor of Film & Media Studies and Visual Studies at the University of California, Irvine.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations ix

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction. Clocks for Seeing: Cinema, the Fantastic, and the Critique of Homogeneous Time 1

1. Two Modes of Temporal Critique: Bergonism and Postcolonial Thought 43

2. The Fantastic as Temporal Translation: Aswang and Occult National Times 96

3. Spectral Time, Heterogeneous Space: The Ghost Film as Historical Allegory 149

4. The Ghostliness of Genre: Global Hollywood Remakes the "Asian Horror Film" 190

Epilogue. Writing within Time's Compass: From Epistemologies to Ontologies 245

Notes 253

Bibliography 305

Index 323
Sales/Territorial Rights: World exc Philippines

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4510-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4499-5
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