Author as Performer:
The Making of Authorship in The Man behind the Book

By Li-fen Chen

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 31, no.1  (Spring 2019), pp. 161-191

This essay examines The Man Behind the Book (Xunzhao beihai de ren) (2011), one of Taiwan’s most popular and acclaimed literary biodocs. I use this film as an example of the reciprocality of the quotidian and the histrionic in documentaries, and argue for a rethinking of the role of performance, particularly the author’s performance, in the documentary narrative of authorship. In the context of Taiwan, where cultural heritage is self-consciously examined and re-examined, this biodoc, in a markedly performative fashion, illuminates the meaning of “author” and cultural capital and their role in the debates over history and cultural identity. This article argues that because the author, when filmed as a subject, has the histrionic capacity to transform him/herself and is also transformed by the camera into a performative personality, he/she is reborn in the documentary representation. In this way, a literary biodoc can reveal the complex nature of the cinematic production of subjectivity and allow for a new approach to the question of authorship.