Semiotics of Exile and Displaced Film Codes: Jia Zhangke’s Three Films

  • Hong Zeng
Part of the Semiotics and Popular Culture book series (SEMPC)


This chapter will examine how displaced film codes constitute the semiotics of exile. Displaced film codes, such as disjunction between image- and soundtrack, are conducive to the alienation effect underlying the discourse of exile. Bertolt Brecht proposed an aesthetics of heterogeneity, characterized by what he called the radical separation of the elements that operates both horizontally and vertically. Horizontally, each scene would be radically separated from a “neighboring” scene. Vertically, each track (image, sound, etc.) was to exist in tension with other tracks.1 In Peter Wollen’s concept of counter cinema, estrangement is achieved through distanced acting, and sound/image disjunction.2 In other word, sound/image disjunction creates the effect of estrangement potentially conducive to the discourse of exile. Christian Metz also talks about mutually displacing filmic codes that may contradict each other and be interrelated dialogically.3 The Bakhtinian concept of heteroglossia likewise stages the conflicts and competition of languages and discourses4 that might be staged, in filmic terms, through the conflicts of film codes. Such conflicts of discourse implied in the disjointed film codes create an estrangement essential to the expression of exile.


Migrant Worker Ordinary People Popular Music Direct Recording Theme Park 
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    See Bertolt Brecht, Brecht on Theater, trans. John Willett (New York: Hill & Wang, 1964).Google Scholar
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    Peter Wollen, Readings and Writings: Semiotics Counter Strategies (London: Verso, 1982), 6–17.Google Scholar
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    Christian Metz, Language and Cinema (The Hague: Mouton, 1974), 103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    See Mikhail Bakhtin, The Dialogical Imagination, translated by Michael Holquist (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981).Google Scholar
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    See Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida (New York: Hill and Wang, 1981).Google Scholar

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© Hong Zeng 2012

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  • Hong Zeng

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