Beyond Party Politics? Visitors and Meaning-Making in the National Museum of Taiwan Literature
Emily Mae Graf – 2022
Visitors are to museums what readers are to texts. Yet little attention has been paid to the reception of literary spaces, such as the National Museum of Taiwan Literature (NMTL), a literature museum established in Tainan in 2003. Going beyond exposing the museum’s political message, this study argues that a constructed sense of belonging to a nation is but one form of identification that comes into play in the museum visit. By juxtaposing production and reception in a two-week window in 2011, this paper shows how politics are written into the museum displays, but also how politics are neglected, confirmed, debated, and rejected by visitors in their spatial readings of the displays. The analysis is based on interviews that inquire about visitors’ concrete experiences. This study examines what motivates visitors to come to the NMTL, which aspects of their visit are most memorable, and to which exhibits visitors ascribe meaning. The reception of the NMTL is then placed into the context of its “authorship” by presenting insights into curatorial practices and planning from the perspective of museum staff, including Director Li Ruiteng. The interviews show that visitors actively select objects to which they assign meaning. I argue that visitors are most likely to choose exhibits with the strongest connection to their everyday life and their personal past. These meanings and experiences can bear a relation to Taiwanese, Chinese, or other forms of collective identities and yet enable them to engage with an identity discourse that is potentially disconnected from politics.