Pao-chen Tang joined the University of Manchester after receiving a joint PhD degree in Cinema and Media Studies & East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. His work focuses on the intersection between film aesthetics and ecopolitics. He has written extensively on questions of the nonhuman in reciprocity with ethics, and with filmmaking (as well as other forms of audiovisual representations).
He is currently pursuing his first book, tentatively titled The Animist Imagination: A Cinematic Aesthetics of Personhood. Historically, environmental criticism of film has focused on the West—not merely an issue of exclusion but the reproduction of a certain set of discourses. The Animist Imagination provides a new way of thinking about broad-scale themes of environment and East Asian art cinemas through the logic of animism and its etymological root, anima. Through close analysis, the book accentuates, in select contemporary Chinese- and Japanese-language films, a new mode of filmmaking characterized by an engagement with the worldview of animism. What the book calls 'the animist imagination' is a heuristic to identify and describe this animist episteme on screen, wherein nonhuman entities could be understood as animate, soulful, and thus personal. It pays particular attention to the interactions between these nonhuman entities and specific types of human figures, whom the book describes as 'shamanic'. Like the ethnographic shaman who serves as a ritualistic medium between worlds, the shamanic figures demonstrate, through their particular identities and associated modes of living, pedagogical strategies of navigating the animist moving image.
Situated at specific culturo-historical intersections, the animist imagination of cinema has emerged in response to a planetary ecological condition: the instability that arises as the human subject endeavors to recognize, investigate, and comprehend numerous nonhuman others whose pervasive presence is, nevertheless, felt deeply, not least against the backdrop of present-day ecological crises. Insofar as the human can in no way solely exist in this world, the boundary of 'personhood' must be rethought to entertain the existence of the nonhuman. The animist imagination captures precisely how cinema works together with animism to reflect on this heightened, uncertain condition of humanism today.
His research has been supported by The Franke Institute for the Humanities, China Times Cultural Foundation (Mrs. Alice Tsai Yu Award), The Chiu Scholarly Exchange Program for Taiwan Studies, and The Center for East Asian Studies at the University of Chicago.
Several of his writings received prestigious awards, including the 2020 SCMS Student Writing Award, the 2019 SCMS Transnational Cinemas SIG Graduate Student Writing Prize, the 2019 ASLE Graduate Student Paper Award, and the 2015 Domitor Essay Award.