Photographing a dance is never an easy task, photographers have to use a rigid frame to constantly capture moving bodies. Dancers are sometimes close, sometimes far, they sometimes go left, and sometimes right, at times they crouch, and at times they leap. Often, as you confidently press down on the shutter button, the dances suddenly change their moves, and spill out of the frame. Something that happens even more often is that when you press the shutter, you don't get the whole person: you might cut off an arm, a leg, or even a head if you can't anticipate the next movement; this makes pressing the shutter button an exercise in (good or bad) luck. However, this randomness can also bring about unexpected surprises; these blurs created as the dancers move their bodies trace the movements of the dance, and produce photos full of dynamism.
For a novice photographer like myself, capturing these moments imbued with rhythm is obviously harder than hard, so when shooting in the Pacific Festival of Arts, it seemed like the dancers and I were performing our own particular play: "You run I follow". But, because of my love for dancing, even though I failed quite regularly, I felt like my enthusiasm could overcome the difficulties; if I pressed the shutter button a few more times, eventually there would be a beautiful figure captured and retained in a moment of extraordinary luck.
For the people of Oceania, dance is not only a form of performing art, it's also a part of their culture and life; to dance is to share one's culture. This is probably what made my experience enjoying their performance all the more special; they broadened my horizons, and allowed me to discover the beauty of a different world. No matter if it was the performance on the opening night of the ceremony on the grass football field, or the performances on the "Pacific Stage" on successive dates, they were all breathtaking spectacles. The bodies of the Oceania dancers were like a work of art of sorts: suntanned, powerful, rough, and full of natural unruliness; smooth contours, slender shapes, and fair and delicate skin, are not the standards for beauty here.
With a rhythm brimming with power accompanied by a melody composed of traditional instruments and the voices of singers, these performances were just like the fireworks that were set off every night of the festival, bursting out with glorious vitality, and moving people profoundly. I still remember when I was in front of the dancers, totally absorbed, lost in the continuous action of pressing the shutter button. I could see their hard-earned beads of sweat drip to the floor, and yet they still had a full smile on their faces, without a trace of weariness. Occasionally our eyes would connect and we would smile at each other... these wonderful moments have become the most unforgettable memory in my life.
Watch an excerpt of the Opening Ceremony for the Festival of Pacific Arts
Perhaps, everyone has a crazy side; it’s just the extent to which it manifests that is different. If this is the case, how can we then draw a clear line between normal and abnormal?
When compared to other diseases that can be diagnosed in a clear-cut way, mental illness has always been an unsolved riddle. What makes people sink into insanity? Is this insanity a disease? These are problems that psychiatry is constantly faced with. Psychiatry has been a specialized subject for less than a hundred years; however, in the space of this short history, it has already experienced several paradigm shifts. Obviously these questions are always under scrutiny, and there have been no definite answers thus far.
Examining “insanity” throughout different paradigm shifts
Since ancient times, humankind has tried to explain “insanity” from every possible angle. In excavations of Mesopotamian Civilization remains, human skull bones that had been bored into have been unearthed, which reflects the belief of this ancient people that madness was a consequence of evil spirits entering the body. Because of this, it was necessary to bore a hole into the persons head to allow the evil spirits to escape. This kind of religious explanation has never quite completely disappeared. A few years ago the Catholic Church reinstated the practice of exorcism for believers with mental disorders.
However, following the rising popularity of the “rationalization” movement, and the Ancient Greek explanation of Humoral medicine, people began to believe that madness was brought about by an imbalance in bodily fluids. At the end of the sixteenth century, with the rise of dissections and anatomical medicine, the Humoral medicine model was superseded, and “insanity” began to be attributed to problems with the nervous system, and attempts were made to find lesions through dissection; but in the end it was not possible to determine a clear cause in this way, so mental illness began to be described as a problem with the “functionality” of the nervous system. After that there was the theory about the degeneration of the nervous system which was in vogue in the latter half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century. This theory believed that this kind of degeneration was hereditary and could be passed on from generation to generation.
In addition, psychoanalysis and other such theories have attempted to explain mental illness from the point of view of psychology (which was once the main theory of psychiatry), particularly in this age where biological medicine is still unable to propose theories and treatments capable of convincing people. In the last few decades, psychological medicine has been slowly declining whereas biological psychiatry (which investigates mental illness from an organic approach, and believes that the cause for the disease is biological, for example an imbalance in brain neurotransmitters, brain lesions, or a change in the balance of the chemicals found within the body) is gradually increasing in popularity.
It can be said that humankind’s search for the cause of mental illness has never really ceased. Of course, the transformations aren’t necessarily dramatic, but rather have been developing consistently over time; the power of rationalization has always existed.
The blurry line between normal and abnormal
As the main school of thought in psychiatry today, biological psychiatry reflects the fate of psychiatry as a whole. Since the nineteenth century, it has wanted to become a genuine scientific discipline, yet it is still unable to reach its goal. Psychiatry can never treat sickness by just putting out a clear-cut diagnosis in the way that general medicine and surgery do. This inherent problem is very hard to resolve.
Throughout the seventies and eighties, the challenges that psychiatry was faced with were the exact opposite of those it has now. At the time, anthropology and psychology questioned the validity of psychiatry by saying that the change of someone going from normal to abnormal is on a gradual continuum, whereas psychiatry, due to its status as a medicinal science, and it’s concept of dealing with the disease, requires that a clear-cut judgment of whether there is an illness present or not be made. This inherent problem is hard to resolve. They also criticize the fact that the line separating normal from abnormal is completely manmade, lacking any biological basis whatsoever. Because of this, at that time, there were some anti-psychiatry campaigns, which believed that psychiatry was just a way for society to control things, labelling those actions that mainstream society deemed unacceptable as a disease.
Psychiatry, therefore, faced challenges from all walks of life, and at the same hadn’t really achieved a definite position in medicine, which caused it to react in a slightly paradoxical manner; because others criticized it for being too subjective, it decided to become arbitrary to the extreme. Psychiatry began anew, standardizing its diagnostic process in order to strictly define every disease, eventually giving shape to a set of standards, so that there would never again be room left for personal interpretation. In this way, stricter, more artificial classifications were created.
Does a standardised method take into account differences between patients?
This kind of mental illness diagnostic method frequently looks over the different backgrounds and causes of people and their illness, and groups everyone who exhibits the same symptoms together. Moreover, these subjective symptoms are often voiced by the patient itself, so the communication between the doctor and the patient needs to be based on the same semantic constructs in order to be successful. This means that diagnostic criteria need to be translated into a method that is common for the whole world, which requires mutual communication throughout the process.
The reason the number of people diagnosed with depression is increasing is actually because the language doctors and patients are using is moving closer to being identical. In reality, in the diagnosis of mental illness, it is often enough to simply follow certain indicators to reach a conclusion, doctors don’t conduct checkups which offer up anything to the patient about his mental and physical condition that he or she doesn’t already know; the patient can probably figure it out without even coming to the doctor. This is very different from our usual concept of disease, and depends on too many factors, and there are too many differences in opinion from different people included in its definition. The intrinsic structure of this logic is actually rather absurd, and can also cause problems to arise during diagnosis.
But amongst the many different kinds of mental illness, there are those that are hard to identify and those that are easy. Some serious conditions such as schizophrenia cause a big gap with normal affairs, those people cease any normal interaction or conversation with other people. Also, for these kinds of conditions, the use of medication is a very effective form of treatment, and can help us understand very clearly where the problem lay after all.
In contrast, less severe forms of mental illness, such as depression, often have a much more subtle and complicated background or origin. A lot of different illnesses can produce the symptoms common of depression. Using the standardized questioning method mentioned above, depression is commonly diagnosed, but, are all the diagnoses correct? Is there really a clear-cut way to determine what constitutes depression?
Diseases shape identity
Psychiatry has created many names for the illnesses it diagnoses. Before, people would say that these names were just a form of societal control, but, currently, there are many situations where people will actually accept these labels. The behaviour of some of these patients fits their diagnosis perfectly; their depression has even become a very important part of their identity.
Recently, in the psychiatric clinic, the amount of people with depression has been gradually increasing, and some of those people base some of their identity on the sentence “I am a depressive”. When they acknowledge this part of their identity as important, their identification as depressives will colour the way they view their own identity, their interactions with other people, and their roles within society. Some people with depression see it as an illness, and therefore consider that their moods should not be considered and cannot be dealt with in the same way as normal moods can, instead requiring professional help. They will require that they be treated as a special patient, and not as an ordinary person.
Achieving identity through illness is a very unusual phenomenon, and reflects the fact that the psychiatric vocabulary of the last 20 years has become more ingrained in Taiwanese society, and has become a part of some people’s identity, to the point where it has become a topic of discussion in everyday life. This is a process that has been given shape over a long period of time by many different factors. Some of the most important are the propagation by the media, the collapse of traditional social structure and institutions, and the increasing power of individualism, amongst others.
Irrationality in a rational system
How can we describe psychiatry’s role in society? Psychiatry is a space for irrationality within a rational system, which allows the mad individual to express their irrationality therein. This is not repression; it’s just a way of managing irrationality. As Michel Foucault wrote in “The History of Sexuality”, this really isn’t simply a power mechanism between the oppressor and the oppressed, but rather the mad part of you is dealt with by a relatively more tolerant rational mechanism.
There is a trend in our society in which only those who emphasize rationality and know how to suppress their emotional selves can be deemed normal and healthy. Over the last few years the words “mental health” have grown in popularity, but ultimately what is mental health? Mental health does not necessarily equate to happiness. In fact, there are two models for mental health. The first is the positive model, in which we pursue positive development, this kind of positive development can be reached through many different kinds of deep personal experiences; even short spells of depression can transform into positive energy, and lead to a more enriched and interesting mind. However, this aspect of mental health has little to do with treatment, and can probably be experienced in religious or social activities. The other model is the negative model, and is the way in which modern psychiatry treats irrational behaviour.
Function and position of psychiatric treatment
The welfare mechanisms in our society are very weak and offer very little support to the mentally ill; the resources dedicated to them are also limited. As a psychiatrist, it sometimes makes me feel utterly powerless. Because every patient a different story (maybe their husband died, or they got divorced, or became unemployed when they were middle-aged) at the root of their problems, even if I prescribe medicine for them, it does not guarantee that they will get better. If their personal environment and circumstances don’t change at all, it is not easy for their state of mind to take a turn for the better. Everybody has their own stories; some people are subjected to systematic domestic violence when they are growing up, or have many unbearable experiences, to the point where they can’t take it anymore and come to see a doctor. Only if the doctor can establish a long-term and deep psychotherapeutic connection, can he perhaps guide the person through growing up once more. If this connection cannot be established, in the brief period of time spent at the outpatient service, the help provided is often negligible.
Psychiatric treatment is one part of the societal mechanism for dealing with emotions. As psychiatrists, we come into contact with a lot of people’s emotions and innermost crazy conceptions, and these patients can only voice these in the presence of psychiatrists. Psychiatrists themselves are a part of the mechanism that manages and governs these irrational emotions. The knowledge that makes up this mechanism and its practical application may have some problems, but the problems it has have been balanced so far by the positive effects that it has brought about.
Interview with doctor Wu Yuquan.
Translated from the Chinese by Daniel Pagan Murphy.
Working with mentally disabled children in Taiwan then and now.
Father Giuseppe Didone was born in a small town near Venice in Italy in 1940, he joined the Camillians at the age of 10, and was ordained in 1964. In 1965 he came to Taiwan, and later, in 1983 he founded a centre for intellectually challenged children, in 1987 he set up a similar centre in Yilan.
In this video he talks about his experience in Taiwan struggling to convince parents to overcome the stigma attached to mentally disabled children and get help for children in dire need of it, he also reflects on a shift in attitude from when he founded the school in the 1980s to the present day:
(Press the subtitle icon for English subtitles).
Video translated and subtitled by Conor Stuart
採訪│江婉綾、陳雨君 整理│陳雨君 圖片提供│劉瀚之
I am from Taizhong and I went to Taizhong First Senior High School, where I always got good grades and I enjoyed studying. However, after joining the school’s National Music Club and learning how to play zhongruan (Chinese alto lute), because of my deep commitment to the club’s affairs, I gradually drifted away from the world of books. In my 3rd grade, when I didn’t feel like studying anymore, I saw this drama course at the National Taiwan University of Arts. At the time I wasn’t even very clear about what it was, but I registered for entry exams anyway, and as a result, I passed them! In fact, before that time I had never seen a single stage play.
After joining the drama department, I found that moved afar from my expectations and speculations. Once, after going through a rough patch, I suspended my studies. In my first year there were virtually no performances and until the second semester we hardly touched things relevant to the course, so I decided to work at a movie theatre. In the second grade I thought I should give myself a bit of challenge, so I took up an acting job outside the school, thanks to which I gradually developed an interest for stage performance. Actually, most of the students from our department have gone through a similar process of fumbling our way through the dark. Most of us felt quite confused, so we actively tried doing many different things. Anyway, the proportion of my classmates going into theatre after graduation was not high at all, only roughly 30 or 40%.
Learning to Play off the Audience
An actor’s professional skills are accumulated from everyday self-training. We have to learn to multitask, to watch our appearance and posture anytime and anywhere. Let’s take me as an example. Because I have a habit of hunching, I have to make sure that I hold my head high and upright at all times. It is similar to practicing reading a newspaper aloud while holding a pen in your mouth. Biting a pen helps you to get used to straining your lips while speaking. Or let’s take learning how to “cry”. I am in fact a very easily moved person, but on a stage I could never weep. Thus I attempted to train myself to tear easier. Only later I have discovered that the reason why I couldn’t cry on the stage was because I was not concentrated enough, I didn’t enter my character’s mental state deep enough. However, when I devote myself wholeheartedly during the entire play, the emotions are coming out naturally. Before, I wasn’t experienced enough to understand this principle. I was trying to find ways to think of something sad in order to help myself, but my efforts were always to no avail. It is because emotions that are faked can be easily seen through and can’t touch anybody.
What gives you the biggest sense of accomplishment as an actor is when the audience either laughs or cries after your performance, it is really touching. While standing on the stage during a performance, you can actually feel the mood of the audience, although it’s very subtle. In a theatre, the play’s plot is fictional, but the emotions definitely must be real; the audience that is watching a play is real, but sometimes we must pretend that they’re not there at all; because we must often direct our bodies toward the audience in order to make the reception easier for them, our dialogues and postures are also not realistic, because a usual dialogue does not look like that. It is thus a constant transformation between fictional and genuine. To sum up, while on a stage it is impossible not to feel the audience and so it is impossible for the audience not to feel the actors, and what is really interesting is the communication between them.
For instance, today you are performing slipping after stepping on a banana peel. If the whole room bursts into laughter, it can give you a huge boost. However if you fail to entertain the audience and they remain awkwardly silent, it can also influence your next performance. When I first came across such a situation I was completely devastated, but now it’s not so bad; if they don’t find a joke funny you just need to continue the show.
Determination that is Keener with Every Setback
In my acting career I had one major setback. I was never very good at acting and after going through a long period of fumbling and practicing, only in the second semester of my fourth grade I got things straight in my head. It was like suddenly I knew what acting is all about. My classmates and teachers say that I improved a lot and my self-confidence also started building slowly at that time. Nevertheless, during the last class of some course the teacher gathered everyone to sit in a circle to talk about our plans after graduation and said: “I think that among the 12 students in our course there are only two people suited for performing”. I was not among the two people that the teacher had mentioned. It brought me, originally full of confidence, straight from heaven down to hell in a flash; at once I felt really depressed. Later I thought I should have said to him: “you say I am not suited to acting, but I will prove it to you and one day I will be good enough to perform with you”. As a result, to this day I have always carried within me an unwillingness to admit defeat and a passion for acting.
After retiring, I participated in a casting for The First Lily, staged by the Ping Fong Acting Troupe at the 2010 Taipei International Flora Expo, and as a result I was successfully recruited. Out of my acting experiences, this was up till now the most accomplishing and the most beautiful one. Although I only played a supporting role as a clan warrior, the play was staged almost 200 times, which cultivated in the entire team a profound revolutionary spirit, and the whole staff felt like a family. The best thing is that thanks to that play I have met a Formosa Aboriginal Song and Dance Troupe. They often took us, Han people, to perform traditional aboriginal ritual dances and songs. From their bodies I could see their love for own traditions and a sense of mission to pass on the aboriginal culture. It was very touching to me and it also influenced my later decision to join the Golden Bough Theatre.
The Formosa Aboriginal Song and Dance Troupe made me realize that I should probably also make effort for the sake of my own culture. I am Taiwanese, yet I can’t speak the Taiwanese language (Hoklo), and the Golden Bough Theatre requires its members to speak good Taiwanese and to perform local Taiwanese stories. I really need to work harder on these things; it is what I expect from myself for the future.
Translated from the Chinese by Witek Chudy
By Yoshi (34 / Male / Vagrant), edited by Raining Be, translated from the original Chinese by Conor Stuart, artwork by Arvid Torres
I have had two experiences of love online. The first was in 2001, just before I graduated from university, I met a girl online. I saw a message she had left on a BBS forum, and thought she seemed interesting, so I made an effort to befriend her. We exchanged messages online, and talked on the phone for about 3 months, and we agreed that we were officially dating. At that time she was studying in Texas, I even went there to visit her. The second time also began on a BBS forum, the girl was a friend of a friend. We kept in touch using Skype, although she refused to show me what she looked like (maybe she thought she wasn't pretty enough), I didn't really care about it at the time, as I think someone's character is the most important thing. This state of affairs continued for quite a while, in the meantime I had gone to study in Britain, until I returned to Taiwan and finally got to meet her.
Although both these online love affairs eventually fizzled out, the experience was not so different from other dating experiences, the feelings were all for real, in the end we still met in person, and there was proper interaction in both cases. These experiences made me realize that the online world and the real world are not parallel to each other, the internet is still just a part of the real world, it is not another dimension. The reason online love is not actually as unreal as one might think is that there are forms of intimate interaction with the internet, like phone sex for example. Phone sex is pretty interesting; it is really just two people getting off by themselves. I think that there is a link between the experience of phone sex and that of real sex, the difference is quantitative not qualitative. What I mean by quantitative is that phone sex relies only on stimulating someone with only their sense of hearing, it is not like real sex where all 5 senses are stimulated, but you are still interacting with the person, so there's no difference in the quality of the experience. It is like the difference between holding hands, kissing, and sex, they are contiguous, there's no defined boundary. In reality, phone sex is more intimate than holding hands, in my experience.
According to research into social psychology, it is easy for people to lose their inhibitions when using the internet, which means that when you are separated from other people by a computer screen, without the physicality of distance, people often feel more confident and secure. An example of this would be people who normally feel or react in an inhibited way, being able to talk to strangers about their private lives. So it is very common for people's speech and behaviour to be very different online compared to the real world.
This difference in mentality is very interesting when it comes to love, if ordinary dating is physical proximity, online these stages can be skipped, hence unique phenomena like phone sex can occur. It's like hitting a proverbial home run, without any actual physical contact. Perhaps, because I'm not so much about materiality when it comes to these things, it was easier for me to adapt. It's not enough, of course, but it allows people to reach a level of intimacy that other people only attain after several months or even several years -- it is something extremely personal, it requires trust, and an intensity of passion. Maybe this is what they refer to when they say it "lowers your inhibitions", the situation is extremely real.
However, you have to invest a lot more energy into love online than you would normally when you are dating someone in real life, with the exclusion of students and successful entrepreneurs, I doubt there are many people with the time to keep something like that going. The fact that it relies on voice and language means that if you are not a good talker, or you are clumsy with language, this kind of love affair is probably not for you, you have to be very sensitive to words and tone. The two girls I dated online had nice voices, and that was the main attraction really.
By Ni Ming, edited by Chen Yujun(Raining), translated from the Chinese original by Conor Stuart, artwork by Arvid Torres
I don't think I would survive without online games. I've enjoyed playing all kinds of computer games since I was little. In first year of university, all the guys in my class were playing ‘World of Warcraft’, so I decided to start playing it too. At one point I was playing for 8-10 hours a day, which would normally give me a headache and make me feel a little queasy because of the 3D gameplay. I had to sprint to the toilet all of a sudden.
The world of online games is like a microcosm of society. One needs to invest a lot of time and money in it. There are even people who arrange to go online every day at a certain time like punching a time-clock. As each team is made up of different characters with different classes, someone will be in charge of inflicting as much DPS (Damage per second) as possible, others heal, and others still tank, so if you are missing a team member it is impossible to continue with a quest. For the most part I undertake quests, play PvP (player vs player), or purely wandering around inside this other dimension made up of a fusion of technology and beauty. At times, when playing instances with randomly selected strangers as team members, I would be on the verge of tears from the pressure, although I also had good experiences. As the more challenging parts of the game need cooperation and communication between team members, if you make a mistake it can lead to the death of the whole team, so when you make a mistake it is hard to avoid feeling frustrated, that you have let everyone else down.
However, not everyone's attitude to the online game is the same, not everyone takes it as seriously as others. As well as this, due to controls set in place by the CCP on the mainland, if mainlanders want to play the latest version of World of Warcraft they have to find a way to use the servers for Taiwan and Hong-Kong, which means the servers are overburdened. Differences in culture, habits, and ways of talking inevitably cause friction between players. For example, one time when our team were in the middle of a game, one member of the team suddenly stopped responding, I was stunned, after a quite a long while someone said, "He runs a store, he's with a customer...". Everyone commits a lot of time and money to play, but this guy just abandoned the game without even a word to his team members! It leaves you speechless. As well as this kind of thing, there are quite a lot of strongly worded political arguments conducted between Mainland Chinese and Taiwanese players, which destroy the experience of the game for many people, leading some of the game's older devotees to stop playing altogether. Although the simulated world of the game is not so far from the real world in terms of how people interact, in the game gender is not important except in appearance, it all depends on the skill and style of the player, this makes the game's reality different from real life. Although it is not easy to tell a player's real gender, in the world of the game, girls often play male characters and male players often play as pretty girls, which is pretty interesting (although because male players are the majority, when people come across a female character they will often assume that the player is male).
On the whole, the current World of Warcraft is very diverse, although this diversity comes hand and hand with the problems mentioned above. People still organize player get-togethers, arrange to meet in the real world and make friends but the game lacks the sense of community that it once had. This is also true of the internet in general, due to changes in society, it has become less and less safe, and it is impossible to go back to simpler times. My experience of online gaming has influenced my value system, because it is real experience, even if it occurs in a simulated world, it is still an extension of the real world.
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