Madeleine Moment: The Technology of Memory and Sentiment

Madeleine Moment: The Technology of Memory and Sentiment

The Praxis School is a series of themed lecture programs curated on an annual basis at the TheCube Project Space which began in 2016.Continuing in the focus on modern living and technology, the theme of the Praxis School for 2022will revolve around discussions of collective sentiments and memories. The theme title “Madeleine Moment” is an allusion to Marcel Proust’s renowned stream-of-consciousness masterpiece Remembrance of Things Past, where the taste of a madeleine (a small shell-shaped cake) evokes a memory of childhood hidden in the recesses of the protagonist’s mind, conjured by his gustatory senses. Worthy of mention here is that the birth and popularization of the madeleine pastry was a result of the popularization of metal baking molds in 18th century Europe. This lecture series will begin with this story as a starting point, and progress to a series of discussions on the ways in which objects of technology relate to the creation of memory, identity, emotions, and even collective psychological constructs. Speakers Hung Kuang-Chi, Li Shang-Jen, and Chen Chung-Jen have been invited for the first three lectures to launch our discussions on the relationship between objects of technology and the construction of human memories and histories from multiple perspectives of technological history, medicine, philosophy, and literature. Speakers Chen Chieh-Jen, Jon SOLOMON, Huang Chien-Hung, Huang Sun-Quan, Shen Bo-Yi are slated to present subsequent to these three lectures on topics soon to be announced.

▍Schedule of the Lectures

*The dates of following lectures would be announced at a later day. 

▍Outlines of Lectures

A Theory of Taiwanese Landscape
Hung Kuang-Chi

In the 1894 book A Theory of Japanese Landscape by Shiga Shigetaka, the Sapporo Agricultural School alumnus proposed an innovative perspective on the Japanese landscape. In this lecture, I will describe how this landscape theory evolved, and its influence on how the Taiwanese landscape was defined by the Japanese Empire after the numerous ideologies of the Taisho Democracy were incorporated.

Inarguably, “landscape” is a pivotal word in the study of Taiwanese art history during the Japanese colonial era. However, my protagonists are not arts workers. They’ve never participated in art exhibitions; they unlikely even set foot in an art exhibition. They possibly rarely picked up a paintbrush or camera. Even if they did, it would not have been with the intention of creating art. In reality, a number among them were hostile toward art. Interestingly, their perspective on the scenic landscape had a profound influence on how arts creators view the landscape. This group comprises experts in forestry, and garden and landscape architecture. Between the 1920sand 1930s, they joined forces with government bureaucrats, construction companies, the transportation industry, and hydroelectricity producers to define the quintessential bourgeois garden, as well as designate the type of “great landscape” that would put the Japanese Empire on the world stage, and proposed the preservation of this landscape in a national park system. In the words of geographer Neil Smith, they were key proponents in the transformation of the so-called “first nature” into “second nature. ”Researchers in current landscape studies are mainly concerned with the landscapes under the brush of art creators. Few have touched upon the ways in which the landscapes before the artists’ eyes have been created. This is the topic of my ongoing research, and I anticipate that this will bridge the gap in Taiwan’s landscape theory.

Memory of Disease: From Vampires to COVID-19
Li Shang-Jen

The sudden advent of disasters often creates a sense of the unreal among those who experience them. The outbreak of major infectious diseases has a similar effect. The exponential increase in the numbers of those infected, accompanied by conditions favorable to super-spreader events, often initially escape detection. By the time society is awakened to the fact, the number of infected has reached alarming levels. This triggers vertiginous feeling of rapid temporal acceleration, and an overwhelming sense of pressure suddenly descends. The pandemic and pandemic prevention measures that follow disrupt daily lives and the social order, while apprehension and death further influence the human perception of the world. Accurate observation and documentation are indispensable to the prevention and control of the threat of disease. Human beings record diseases in various ways to not only prevent further infection but also to commemorate and soothe the pain caused by disease, and memorialize the deceased. Historically, human beings have utilized a variety of technologies to undertake the work of documenting disease: from the earliest paper-and-pen to printed documentation, to the mechanical reproduction of photography and audio-visual recordings, and even to the mobile phones, computers, and the internet of the digital age. However, memories can become distorted or forgotten due to panic, pain, anger, and even calculated profits. Whether in the midst of a pandemic or in the post-pandemic era, the memory and documentation of disease are often highly politicized. The refusal to forget or to distort is also a form of resistance.

Through a discussion of literature and art creations based on epidemics, including the novel Dracula, the film12 Monkeys, and recent literary works regarding Covid19, this lecture will explore the knowledge and power of the technology of memory and the documentation of disease.

The Masked Face: The Collective Memory and Technology of Emotion in the Time of Pandemic
Chen Chung-Jen

The facemask has become an essential item in daily life since the outbreak of the pandemic. The mask conceals facial features and masks identities, and hides expressions and emotions. The masked face becomes different and unfamiliar. In addition, the choice of facemask also enables a signaling of personal status and style identification to reshape connections in interpersonal interactions. The mask conceals our faces, but provides us with a new face, a thoroughly unfamiliar identity and imagination.

However, the call to mask appropriately existed long before the past two years. After the 2003 outbreak of SARS in East Asian countries with their emphasis on the collective consciousness, facemasks became an immediate indicator of community-mindedness and self-regulation. In the post-SARS era, numerous respiratory infectious diseases have continuously erupted, making the facemask a standard accouterment in  personal health protection. In reality, long before the out break of COVID-19, we have been accustomed to the facemask as a part of daily life. From a historical perspective, the facemask has had a long tradition on the frontlines of healthcare, protecting individuals against infection: At the height of the Black Death at the beginning of the 17th century, the curious beak-shaped masks were a line of defense for physicians’ health; during the cholera outbreak of the 19th century, the well-to-do wore masks filled with various herbs and greenery, revealing class disparities under the pandemic. This lecture will examine the facemasks worn throughout history in the name of disease prevention, and read through important works of literary history that write of facemasks, to investigate how the facemask became a pivotal incision into the dialectics between individual rights and collective safety. The facemask is an individualized technology that links the historical memories of collective trauma, constructs a recognized ethical standard, as well as establishes a system of discipline in daily life.

Healing or Fear? The Experience of a Dark Ecology Ambiance

Shen Bo-Yi 

How has the techniques of life governance transitioned from tangible imagery to the intangible, ambiance-like control? How do environment, ambiance, and experience serve as emotional control techniques? How do algorithms and drones ubiquitously pervade our lives akin to clouds? Why does contemporary art performance put such a strong emphasis on situational ambiance? This lecture will discuss how the “invisible ambiance” has challenged the “embodied experience”in the alienation of commodity in the past, and how experience in the present has once again become another form of control: encapsulating senses, situational design, lighting, sound, and smell are used to shape the audience’s experience (the audience not only observes the work but also interacts with the environment).

This lecture proposes how a bright ambiance conspires with neoliberalism to shape an escapist therapeutic experience for mind and body. Through interdisciplinary works by Lin Chiwei, Ghost Mountain Ghost Shovel and Liu Yu, it will present how artists create a “dark ambiance”  with “ambient fear”  short-circuit system control’s harmony, allowing people to feel the extreme pressure, passivity, and unease of reality shrouded in dark clouds (echoing pandemics, wars, and big data, akin to the instability of reality enveloped by the ambiance). This is not about soothing calmness, nor being in a closed, healing bubble; instead, it is about tuning the ambiance in an extreme way to make people feel the omnipresence of power, violence, inequality, and oppression (from past explicit to today’s subtle and elusive). The ambiance here is not just an unmodulated background for engagement, but a re-tuned ambiance by artists that mostly confronts the audience with the bizarre reality of disharmony and the sweetness of “disconnection/resonance” in a dark ecology.

The Time of Indi-Genius under the Catastrophe of sensible
Huang Chien-Hung

Bernard Stiegler’s Symbolic Misery, Volume 2,entitled “The Catastrophe of the Sensible,” features Joseph Beuys, Andy Warhol, Jacques Rancière, Marcel Proust, and Ahaz engaged in dialogue. Among these, there are profound and focal points of discussion that involve the “social sculpture” of Beuys, the “partage du sensible”(the distribution of the sensible), the “aesthetics” of Rancière, and the “remembrances” of Proust. He suggests that the core relationship between “art” and the “technological society” can be discussed through the phenomenon of the “vanishing of the participating individual,” either caused or encountered by “the externalization of organs” carried out by “short term memory devices.”

However, Stiegler’s readings on the topic of social sculptures and paintings return the circulation of information, the externalization of organs, cybernetic systems, etc. shaped in humans and society as a result of “technology,” and describes the scarcity, disappearance, and atrophy confronted by human beings and society. These discourses implicate ways in which new temporal dimensions are created between information and materials in the context of digital technology. This temporal dimension that is intimately related to an open environment and cybernetic systems can be regarded as a certain production of temporal “indi-genesis” that penetrates the mesh of identity politics to confront the possible connections between technology and the “indi-genesis.

Four Dreams: The Socio-Cultural History of Information Technology
Huang Sun-Quan

Storytelling, the telling of different stories rather than different versions of the same story, is the most effective method of contemplation. Telling different stories becomes a philosophical text; not an explanation of perspective, but the perspective itself.

From personal computers to the world-wide web, from the internet to NFTs, people have persistently regarded information technology as a method of breaking through the power and rebuilding the self. Amidst the marijuana, LSD, student movements, and hacker powers on the U.S. West Coast, the Community Memory Project and the People’s Computer Company came into fruition in1974.

In the year 2000, “The People’s Media” was an information revolution against globalization. The Independent Media Center movement and the advent of blogs created grass roots media and citizen journalists. With the rise of Facebook in 2004 and Twitter in 2006,people’s media became social media.

Subsequent to the financial crisis in 2008, the trend turned toward “The People’s Trust” as Satoshi Nakamoto published his White Paper on Bitcoin, enabling people to establish mutual relationships of trust through blockchain technology without the conduit of governments and big banks; the same time,“ plat form cooperativism ” emerged at The New School in the United States. The former uses technology and the latter uses consensus to actively create “trustless trust.” By 2021, the “people’s value ”became the spiritual slogan for Web 3.0,DecentralizedAutonomous Organizations (DAO). Individual reading, writing, and values are held into their own hands, however, the distribution of wealth became increasingly unjust. Beginning with the rise and fall of four dreams, this lecture will examine the historical process of the ways in which capitalism utilizes information technology to escape popular revolt.

The Infinite Dream of the Abandoned and Exiled
Chen Chieh-Jen

The Infinite Dream of the Abandoned and Exiled
Chen Chieh-Jen

My illiterate mother based all of her important life decisions on her dreams. Soon after she died, my older brother, who devoted himself to creating his own “alternative knowledge” databank, also passed away.

They say that a human being could dream 100,000 dreams over a lifetime, but I could previously only recall one dream about the death of my younger brother. After they had each passed on, the dreamscapes my mother had described to me when she was alive began appearing in my dreams, with such clarity that they could be recalled in my waking hours. Initially, these dreams emerged in the form of flashbacks, but as the dreams increased in frequency, I realized that these dreams had a shared theme: Fragmentary histories of being abandoned by or exiled from various communities.

In one of these dream fragments, a person in exile sits under the hot sun by a dry riverbed, tapping on an old aluminum basin with a pebble held in his hand and singing an unintelligible song to an orderly row of corpses of five unidentifiable animals. The abdomens of these five corpses have burst open, and in the perspective of the dream, countless maggots in the abdominal cavities are fighting, competing to feed, and decomposing the corpses.

In the dream, a soothing breeze shields the dreamer from the intense heat of the glaring sunlight. In that breeze, I seem to arrive at an understanding of the lyrics in the song sung by the exile: “… Vie for rotting flesh. Vie for rotting flesh. So you can become a fly, lay eggs in the next corpse, and create more maggots…” My mother had recounted this dream to me without mention of the lyrics in the exile’s song. She had sighed and then remained silent for some time. In my continuation of my mother’s dream, I somehow knew some of the lyrics. How did my mother plant her dreams into my mind? Is there a method of disseminating the fragmented histories of the abandoned and exiled?

 The Proust Effect: The Fiction of Nationalism, the Modern Regime of Translation, and Global Species War

What if the sense of collective experience said to sustain modern nationalism(John Stuart Mill’s “community of sympathy”) was essentially fictive? The “Proust effect,” for example, assumes that memory is a repository of prior experience that responds to or is activated by external stimuli. Curiously, once the psychosomatic presuppositions inherent to this concept have been eliminated (perhaps by linking the Freudian phenomenon of “repetition automatism” (Wiederholungszwang) to cybernetics, as Jacques Lacan did), that with which the “Proust effect” confronts us is a curious temporal structure.

What theoreticians inspired by Freud have called “afterwardsness” (nachträglichkeit) forms the basis of a temporal gesture widely seen in modern, globalizing capitalism. “In its most abrupt, and hence most paradoxical, definition, afterwardness designates,” writes Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe in a text devoted to the geophilosophy of Europe, “the belated—but recognized—manifestation of something that did not happen or did not have even the slightest chance of happening. Of something that took place, thus, without taking place.” (Géophilosophie de l’Europe 1992, 74) This temporal structure ascribed by Lacoue-Labarthe to the West–the template of the modern area, we might say–is seen nowhere more clearly than in the modern regime of translation analyzed by Naoki Sakai that sits at the basis of modern nationalism.

Relying upon a representational schema of the unity of language, the modern regime of translation makes it appear as if the unity of the two languages between which translation takes place exists autonomously prior to the translational relation or encounter, when in fact it is the opposite that is rather the case. It is only through the performative act of translation that the representation of the unity of a language becomes possible. In effect, the modern regime of translation creates the illusion of a prior memory–in this case, the unity of “my national language”–that never actually existed but is rather the projection into the past of the essentially future-oriented, poietic practice of making continuity out of discontinuity (i.e., the practice of translation).

This poetics of translation is something with which Proust himself, despite his investments in psychosomatic models of reality, would not have been unfamiliar. A translator himself, Proust even declares in Le Temps retrouvé that, “the duty and the task of the writer are those of the translator.” If the “Proust effect” most often includes an element of prosthetic or technological mediation (as seen in the metal molds used to bake the madeleine pastries that incite an involuntary, or automatic, recollection of the past), it behooves us to examine the relations among language, translation, and technology in the context of global species war.

▍About the Lecturers

Hung Kuang-Chi
Hung Kuang-Chi earned his Ph.D. from the Department of the History of Science, Harvard University, with specialization in environmental history, biogeography, and evolutionary biology. He carried on his postdoctoral research at the Arnold Arboretum, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Needham Research Institute. Currently he teaches as an assistant professor in the Department of Geography, National Taiwan University.

Li Shang-Jen
Li Shang-Jen received his Ph.D. from the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, Imperial College, University of London, and worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine. He is now a research fellow at the Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica. Li works on the history of Western medicine in nineteenth-century China and the history of tropical medicine. He has published a book entitled A Physician to the Empire: Patrick Manson and the Founding of British Tropical Medicine (2012) and numerous articles.

Chung-jen Chen
Chung-jen Chen is a professor in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at National Taiwan University (NTU), Taiwan. His research interests include nineteenth-century British novels, contemporary British fiction, and interdisciplinary studies in medicine and literature. His book, Empire, Medicine and 19th-Century English Literature (Bookman,2013), examines the interrelations between medical advancement, literary imagination and imperial expansion. His latest publication, Victorian Contagion: Risk and Social Control in the Victorian Literary Imagination (Routledge, 2020) investigates how Victorian medical discourse around cleanliness and contagion developed into a culture of medicalization, a politics of health, and an economy of morality.

HUANG Chien-Hung
HUANG Chien-Hung born in Kaohsiung City, Taiwan, Based in Taipei, Taiwan. Professor of Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Arts National Taipei University of Arts, Institute of Trans-disciplinary Arts. He has published numerous books, including Trans-fiction: Investigation project of Asia (2017), Discordant Harmony (2016), Smile of Montage (2013) , Trans-Plex Agenda (2011), An Independent Discourse (2010).Huang has curated shows such as Trans-Justice, in Taipei MoCA(2018),Discordant Harmony in Kuandu Museum, Trans-Archiving in Photo Aura Space(2016),Discordant Harmony in Artsonje Center, in Seoul; Exhibition Histories in Asia, in ACC of Gwangju; Discordant Harmony in Hiroshima MoCA(2015),POST-movements: Nights of Café Muller in Kuandu Museum(2014),Romance of NG in Tina-Ken Gallery, Schizophrenia Taiwan 2.0 in Linz(2013).

Huang Sun-Quan
An artivist across architecture, media, social movements, and art, the speaker received his doctorate from the National Taiwan University Graduate Institute of Building and Planning, and was a former editor of Pots Weekly. He is currently a professor at the China Academy of Art where he is the director of the Institute of Network Society at the School of Intermedia Art (SIMA), and instructor of the Local Practice and Spatial Production Research of the Institute of Production of Space and the Rural Praxis under the Center for Chinese Visual Studies (CCVS). In recent years, he has been involved in organizing six annual conferences for the International Network for Social Network Analysis which established a research network comprising 80 internationally renowned academics and over a hundred young scholars, including Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin; Microsoft Social Technology CTO, and co-author of Radical Markets, Glen Weyl; as well as notable leaders at key institutions from the U.K.,U.S., Japan, and Europe. He has organized several Art Hackathons and Coopathons with over400 participating artists, curators, designers, and programmers; established a social media platform practice on a distributed network platform (, as well as collaborated with metaDao to construct a model of 1940s era Beibei City on Decentrall and to become among the first pioneers in building a village in the metaverse where creators, artists, engineers, and social practitioners receive $COOP social currency to the value of their labor.

Chen Chieh-jen
Chen Chieh-jen born in 1960 in Taoyuan, Taiwan, Chen Chieh-jen currently lives and works in Taipei, Taiwan. Since 1996, he has collaborated with unemployed laborers, day workers, migrant workers, foreign spouses, unemployed youth and social activists. Together, they have occupied capitalist-owned factories, slipped into areas cordoned off by the law, and utilized discarded materials to build sets for his video productions. In order to visualize contemporary reality and a people’s history obscured by neoliberalism, Chen embarked on a series of video projects in which he used strategies he calls “re-imagining, re-narrating, re-writing and re-connecting” to further his goal of generating dissent and starting a second wave movement.

Starting in 2010, Chen began actively focusing on the fact that many people around the world have been reduced to working temporary jobs and lost sense of existence due to the corporatocracy’s pervasive control technology. Chen refers to this near universal plight caused by automation as “global imprisonment” or “at-home exile.” Employing the Buddhist methods of transforming desire with desire and detoxifying illusion(幻象)with māyā(幻相), he considers how this pervasive control technology can be qualitatively changed.

Jon SOLOMON is a researcher at the Université de Paris Nanterre and a professor at the Université Jean Moulin (Lyon 3). He specializes in the biopolitics of translation. Recent work includes “Crash Test Dummies, Autonomous Weapons, and Capital’s Native Language: Towards Rebellious Translation. ”The Contemporary Journal(Feb2020);“Discovering the Modern Regime of Translation in China: Liu Cixin’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past and Wuhe’s Remains of Life, ”Journal of Translation Studies3:1 (2019);“Lucian Pye and the Foundations of Area Studies in White Settler Colonialism,” in Naoki Sakai and Jon Solomon, eds., Epistemic Decolonization at the End of Pax Americana, London and New York: Routledge, 2023;“Beyond a Taste for the Dark Side: the apparatus of area and the modern regime of translation under Pax Americana,” ed. Federico Italiano, The Dark Side of Translation, London: Routledge, 2020; etc.

Shen Bo-Yi 

Interested in the invisible, chance, paradox, contradiction, and anachronism over the expected. Focuses on contemporary art, emotional techniques, critical theory, essay film and planetary realism, and attempts to develop writing with a chaotically playful yet serious method of “mi mi mâu mâu”. Currently a doctoral student in the Department of Fine Arts at Taipei National University of the Arts, with writings scattered in Artouch, CLABO, Taiwan Digital Art, ACT, Critical Asia Archives, and The Reporter, and manages the platform Mi M1 MeW MəW.

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