Faculty Publication: Associate Professor of East Asian Studies Shiamin Kwa
Chapter on "Surface" in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Literary Theory
Author: Shiamin Kwa
Source: The Oxford Encyclopedia of Literary Theory, published by Oxford University Press and edited by John Frow, May 2022
Type of Publication: Chapter in a book
Description: The Oxford Encyclopedia of Literary Theory includes "180 full-length essays written by international experts discuss the theoretical categories and formal structures; the institutions that support the production, dissemination, interpretation, and valuation of literary texts; the identities of the real and textual persons who interact in the study of texts; and the systematic methodologies of literary interpretation and understanding."
Shiamin Kwa is co-chair and associate professor of East Asian languages and cultures and co-director of comparative literature. Kwa's chapter, in Part I "Formal Concepts" is on "Surface":
Thinking about surface and its historiography in the early 21st century is a way of thinking about ways of seeing in the world, and how people define themselves in relation to the things around them. From literary texts to the decorative arts, from graphic narratives to digital stories, and from film to the textile arts, the ways of reading those texts frequently raise questions about interactions with surfaces. Theories of surface have been engaged in many ways since their invocation by French theorists in the final decades of the twentieth century. They have a steady but by no means identical presence in the field of visual studies, history of architecture, and film studies; they have found an application in discussions of race and identity; they have enjoyed an early 21st century turn in the spotlight under the auspices of a broadly defined call for a “surface reading.” This critical move defines surface as worthy of scrutiny in its own right, rather than as something that needs to be “seen through,” and makes its most profound claims less by reactivating attention to reading surfaces, which arguably has been done all along, but by a shifting away from a model of interpretation that makes claims for authoritative symptomatic readings by an all-knowing interpreter.