Smog Signals, Dog Sirens: Jia Zhangke, Lacan, and the Anthropocene

Anthony Siu


This study is a critique of two overlooked shorts of Jia Zhangke, a leading figure from the sixth generation of Chinese filmmakers: Smog Journeys (2015) and The Condition of Dogs (2001). Contemplating the imminent demise of human and animal lives represented, it argues that the looming ecological crises in the films stress biological finitude to such an extent that fear and pity disavow the truth about capitalist co-optation. To understand capitalism’s operation behind a catastrophic Anthropocene, I put the films into dialogues with Lacan’s “University Discourse” and “Hysteric’s Discourse”, formal structures that challenge and reshape the immediate identification of a narrative. With their attention to signifiers and affect, these formal structures enable us to understand how images and sounds focalize the viewers’ experience of fear and pity while unearthing the truth about the foreclosure of capitalist ideology. But instead of performing a strictly close-reading of each film, my critique elaborates more on the very psychoanalytic logic of Lacan’s two structures. My wish is that it allows us to see how complex visual and acoustic experience could be in shaping our identification beyond socio-cultural reflections and pure aesthetics.

How to cite this article: Siu, Anthony. "Smog Signals, Dog Sirens: Jia Zhangke, Lacan, and the Anthropocene." AM Journal of Art and Media Studies  25 (Septmeber 2021): 129-142. doi: 10.25038/am.v0i25.452

Article received: April 23, 2021; Article accepted: June 21, 2021; Published online: September 15, 2021; Original scholarly paper



Jia Zhangke; Jacques Lacan; Anthropocene; psychoanalysis; capitalism.

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