Dialogue with Fong Tai-Chor: Crossing Disciplines and Media

FONG TAI-CHOR 方太初 (BA 2005) is a writer and cultural critic in Hong Kong. Using a cross-disciplinary perspective, her articles and books such as The Pathos of Things (浮世物哀) and Fashion and Melancholy Objects (衣飾無憂) analyse the relationship between culture, fashion and politics. She shares with us her latest project that attempts to cross not only disciplinary boundaries but also media and industries.

Laying an early foundation for what’s to come

One of the most memorable courses Tai-chor took was Prof. Tambling’s gender studies course. Although it was only an introductory course, she remembered delving into texts like A Doll’s House and Kiss of the Spider Woman in the first few classes. Through their discussions on gender roles, she learnt that “everything is ideological”, and how language shaped gender politics. “In a way, my first year of study has already laid down an overarching framework for what I’m going to study in my senior years.”

PLaying the “Language game”

As a writer, Tai-chor sees words not as something romantic or independent. “It’s all about the logic you use to organise your thoughts, and less about the writing itself. It’s about a mindset.” In fact, the training at Comparative Literature has taught her how to play around different modes of thinking and manipulate language. “We have become so familiar with playing this game about language, and acquired the tools to play well. These skills are useful as we can get around complex and difficult ideas by extracting only what’s accessible and appealing. It’s almost too easy!” she confessed.

While these manoeuvres may not produce the most in-depth analyses, as she admitted, they enable her to carve a niche for herself. In one commentary, she draws a connection between Walter Benjamin and a fashion designer, writing about fashion, culture and politics from a novel perspective. “Comparative Literature has at least equipped me with the skills to write about politics
through fashion. It may be a kind of ‘misreading’, but a meaningful one!”

Of all text types, novel is a form that Tai-chor still feels unready for. Pragmatic issues like distribution aside, it is the perceived lack of sufficient understanding of the world that deters her from writing a long story. “I want to write a story that involves different generations, covering the period from the 1980s till now. But I haven’t put them on paper yet as I’m still trying to figure out this story of Hong Kong within the context of this world. I wouldn’t start unless I feel confident that I have developed a vision about this world and Hong Kong’s role in it.”

Fusing together different roles and experiences

Having worked as a journalist, writer, critic and curator, Tai-chor recognises the importance of integrating the perspectives and insights she has developed over the years. Being a journalist and writer has enhanced her sensitivity towards readers’ needs and interests, while working in the media industry taught her ways to promote and publish different kinds of work. With this knowledge and experience in processes from creation, execution to dissemination, she has recently established a cultural enterprise called “Once”—an initiative that attempts to tie all these strands together.

She described a triangular conceptual model she has in mind when developing Once, “On the tip of the triangle there is Once, which focuses on promotion and dissemination. On the left-hand corner, there are follow- up activities and events; and the right-hand corner is all about literary and cultural products.” As she observes, the view that these processes and roles are distinct is too one-dimensional. Just as how Comparative Literature emphasises employing multiple perspectives, she believes the cultural and creative industry in Hong Kong will benefit from a more well-connected network of resources, talents and ideas.

“Right now there lacks a tight linkage between different sectors. Hong Kong has a big enough ‘pie’ to be shared and there is much room for arts and cultural development, but we have to first connect these components together. For instance, those in businesses should be advised on how to support or invest in arts or practitioners; and writers have to find a way to maintain a sustainable source of income.” In her view, many Comparative Literature graduates possess the capability and cross-boundary perspective needed to fill these existing gaps.

Being at Ease with in-betweenness

Tai-chor’s sharing reflects an optimistic attitude, and she expressed feeling more curious than intimidated when asked about the alleged demise of print media. “I don’t see the print and digital as binary. It is an industry in transition, so it’s about whether our mindset can be in sync with this change.” Perhaps Comparative Literature has encouraged her to be more resourceful, by flexibly adapting and interweaving different ways of thinking to embrace the unique possibilities in this era.