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Book Launch: Xu Bing 徐冰 in Conversation with Professor Peter D. McDonald

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Lecture Theatre, China Centre, St Hugh’s College, Oxford

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Book Launch: Xu Bing 徐冰 in Conversation with Professor Peter D. McDonald

Sunday, 4 March 2018 5-6:30 p.m.: Lecture Theatre, China Centre, St Hugh’s College, Oxford

Supported by: Oxford Chinese Studies Society, Oxford China Forum, St Hugh’s College

Drinks reception with nibbles, free for all, register at the link below:

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For those of you who have not had enough of Xu Bing’s insights on contemporary art at the Oxford China Forum, here is another valuable opportunity to join us for an afternoon of intellectual discussion and experience-sharing with the renowned artist to celebrate the publication of Professor Peter D. McDonald’s new book Artefacts of Writing: Ideas of the State and Communities of Letters from Matthew Arnold to Xu Bing.

所有文化都以跨文化的方式存在.

All cultures exist interculturally.”

This is one of the book’s central propositions. Taking inspiration from Xu Bing’s work, Artefacts of Writing recognises that some forms of literature and verbovisual art interfere with the workings of the literate brain, posing a challenge to readers and viewers of all kinds, including professional critics. What the book also argues is that these forms of art pose as much of a challenge to the way states conceptualise language, culture, and community.

In exploring these issues, Professor McDonald draws on a wide range of materials, from Victorian scholarly disputes over the identity of the English language to the constitutional debates about its future in Ireland, India, and South Africa, and from the quarrels over the idea of culture within the League of Nations in the interwar years to UNESCO’s ongoing struggle to articulate a viable concept of diversity. In the first part of the book, he brings together a large ensemble of legacy writers, including T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, and Rabindranath Tagore, putting them in dialogue with each other and with the policy-makers who shaped the formation of modern states and the history of internationalist thought from the 1860s to the 1940s. In the second part, he reflects on the continuing evolution of these dialogues, showing how a varied array of more contemporary writers from Amit Chaudhuri, J. M. Coetzee, and Salman Rushdie to Antjie Krog, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, and Es’kia Mphahlele cast new light on a range of questions concerning education, literacy, human rights, translation, indigenous knowledge, and cultural diversity that have preoccupied UNESCO since 1945. Yet, as the postscript makes clear, Xu Bing’s work provides a guiding framework for the project as a whole because it obliges us to look at all artefacts of writing in new ways.

In this public event, Professor McDonald will be in conversation with Xu Bing to talk about some of the book’s key ideas. The conversation will particularly focus on the relevance of these ideas to Xu Bing’s artistic practices, and vice versa. The event will be of interest to anyone working on world literature, contemporary art, contemporary China, Chinese art, and intercultural communication in general. The conversation will be approximately 40 minutes long, and plenty of time will be given to audience Q & A and discussions. Copies of Artefacts of Writing will be available for purchase at a discounted price at the event, and the readers are welcome to communicate with the speakers at the drinks reception before and after the event.

You find out more about the book here:

https://artefactsofwriting.com/

Speaker biography:

Professor Peter D. McDonald was born in Cape Town in 1964 and educated in South Africa and England. He writes on literature, the modern state and the freedom of expression; the history of writing systems, cultural institutions and publishing; multilingualism, translation and interculturality; and on the limits of literary criticism. His publications include British Literary Culture and Publishing Practice, 1888-1914 (1997), Making Meaning: 'Printers of the Mind' and Other Essays by D. F. McKenzie (2002), edited with Michael Suarez, and The Literature Police: Apartheid Censorship and its Cultural Consequences (2009). He is a Fellow of St Hugh's College and Professor of English and Related Literature at the University of Oxford.

Xu Bing 徐冰 is one of China’s best-known artists, and his work has been exhibited in Asia, Australia, Europe, and the United States in various venues, including the Museum of Modern Art, New Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C., the Brith Museum, and the National Gallery of Prague. In 2008, he was appointed Vice President of Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts, where he now serves as the Director of Academic Comittee. One of his best known works, Book from the Sky 天書 (1987–1991), earned Xu international recognition in the 1990s. The work is a massive installation made up of hundreds of volumes and scrolls printed with 4,000 imagined Chinese characters, which were cut by hand into wood printing blocks. Xu’s use of a fabricated and therefore indecipherable lexicon suggests that written text may be an inherently deceptive mode of communication. His later works, such as Square Word Calligraphy, Background Story, and Book from the Ground, have continued to explore themes surrounding language and writing. In 1999, he was awarded a Genius Grant from the MacArthur Foundation.

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