Constructing Tibetanness from the 'in-between' : self-representations of hybrid identity in Tibetan fiction films




Carlton, Scott Andrew

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Tibet is a contested and ambiguous concept perched precariously between multiple and contradictory sociocultural and historical discourses. In this thesis, I examine self-representation in the liminal space of Tibet through twelve Tibetan feature films in order to determine how the filmmakers, crew, and actors use the poetics of film to construe Tibetan individual, cultural, religious, political, and national identity. These films, with Tibetan directors, Tibetan actors, and largely Tibetan crews, have been described in the press as “Tibetan.” I adopt a neoformalist approach informed by postcolonial theory, especially Homi K. Bhabha’s conception of hybridity, to examine Tibetan self-representations in fictional feature films. The twelve films consistently make use of narrative structures in which protagonists embark on physical quests in order to locate ambiguous or unknowable entities. Their stories often take the form of road films, and emphasize internal yearning and development over external plot detail. Internal character development and identity are conveyed through cultural performance of songs, theater, and storytelling that serve as narrational devices for self-expression and identity articulation. Thematically, identity is represented on these journeys through paradigms of tradition and modernity, complex hybridity, and disenfranchised masculinities. The thesis concludes with an analysis of the career and films of auteur Pema Tseden, an internationally respected auteur. In Tseden’s films, the implications of liminality for Tibetan identity are dire, but the possibility for the processual and ongoing articulation and construction of Tibetanness through the medium of film are emphasized. This group of Tibetan film representations may not reveal an essential Tibetanness, but they do constituate an invaluable platform for critical deconstruction, formulation, articulation, and continual rearticulation of Tibetanness.


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