This essay solders together a historical case study of advertising on the China mainland in the early twentieth century with a series of generalizable appraisals and determinations to establish how the catachresis woman is evental. The event of women emerged historically in part because commercial advertising alleges that it did, and in part because at roughly the same time a subjective claim—“I am a woman”—began to be voiced. Although registered orthographically, woman 女性 is not simply a rhetorical category or a natural fact; it is not the effect of abyssal sex difference or an array of performatively accreted social subjects. It is a historical novelty. This essay universalizes a case rooted in Chinese- and Japanese-language archives and historical specificities, particularly the international advertising ephemera that presents a multiple (Badiou’s language for a set or “context”) or site where a historical event could have erupted and, in this case, did erupt. Ephemera are useful in historical analysis, as Walter Benjamin suggested a century ago, because historical events lie immanent in detritus as potential dialectical images, which the determined historian can extricate. Reading Badiou’s philosophy creatively, the essay makes the case that women or woman is an emergent, historical, modern, and universal truth; direct critique of Badiou also drives home the point that philosophy (or “theory”) is vulnerable to history and that historically, factually, actually, and in truth, women and feminism are foundations of modernity no matter how modernity is qualified.
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Tani E. Barlow; Event, Abyss, Excess: The Event of Women in Chinese Commercial Advertisement, 1910s-1930s. differences 1 September 2013; 24 (2): 51–92. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10407391-2335058
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