Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The colonial difference

I submitted this last week to a discussion group on the film The Insular Empire which is about Guam and the Marianas as being colonial possessions of the United States. Most of the discussion I don't participate in because its usually about footage or other documentaries which I haven't really heard of or know much about. Last week though, one of the producers of the film, asked us to comment on the "colonial difference." So here was my response:


Just thought I'd share some thoughts on the colonial difference...

Most people's political interventions are built upon that principle of rectification of a hypocrisy or an error. Even when I speak in the states, I often use that stance, telling people, that "although I don't believe in the promises of American democracy and freedom, if you do, know that your country isn't living up to it, here, in Guam or anywhere else."

But of course what this position disavows is that hypocrisy or inconsistency is inherent to every system, it is what keeps it running and functioning. If you look at all the Enlightenment philosophers whose ideas the modern forms of political rights and governance are built upon, they are all based on some basic "foreclosures" or exclusions, things or people which have to be considered as "pathological" or beyond intervention. In Kant, his ideas about the rational, modern Enlightened subject were all built upon the idea that out there somewhere in places like Tierra del Fuego or New Holland, there were people who could never be modern or civilized. Locke, Hegel, even Marx, they all rooted their ideas on basic foreclosures, peoples or ideas which could never be equal or included in the world of modernity.

Bringing in back to the United States, and Guam, we find the narratives of the United States, built upon very basic foreclosures, Chamorros and Native Americans to name a few. One can call it the colonial difference as Chaterjee does, or you can refer to it as the national difference, or the indigenous sacrifice (my term), but the production of the nation, politically and at the level of discourse and meaning, requires a homo sacer (as Agamben calls it), or someone whose existence is always exceptional who is always explicitly included and excluded (homo sacer refers to Ancient Rome, and the people in a society who could be killed but not sacrificed. They existed and were included within the polity, however, only in as far as they were excluded).

But in this indistinctive existence, you find some of the most powerful justifications for the greatness of a nation. From Windtalkers, to French colonial solders, to Chamorros in World War II being "more American than Americans," these potent discourses emerging from the margins, emerging from the existences of those who "aren't supposed to be so" (because they are different, excluded, obviously outside of the nation). Already mildly present on some patriotic websites, and in a few articles I've scanned from Newsweek and other mainstream American magazines are representations of Micronesians serving and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan. These soldiers, as well as other non-U.S. resident or citizens soldiers help maintain these discourses on American greatness and wonderfulness. (the logic always similar to, why would someone without even the full benefits and pivileges of American citizenship or lifestyle risk their lives for this country? Thus, in a very interesting way, the base ideological presuppositions of a nation (we're #1!) are proven)

In terms of conveying this in a film, I don't think it could be done in a concise way, or a way which is not thoroughly depressing. It would mean tearing apart not just the United States as a nation, but an even more difficult conversation about how the nation-state system in general is an extremely violent construction (as expressed pretty well in the film Hero). What one can do (although it would be unsettling for nearly all US and Marianas audiences) is show how the US has since its 'birth" not been a bastion of freedom and democracy. This is not a new position, many liberals take up this slogan, in their fights, but ultimately with the mindset, that it is just a matter of time. women have been included, black people have been included, other immigrant groups are being included, the dream, the fantasy of the Enlightenment is possible. But what is almost always untouched, is that these exclusions were necessarily violent and racist ones (not sad and incidental omissions), and the most racist and violent one of all, that still goes almost completely undiscussed is the one with regards to Native American groups. One of the core principles of the production of the Declaration of Independence, was a racist and violence attack on Native Americans, by accusing King George and the British for taking their side, thus betraying their fidelity to modern, white European traditions.The Native American, the Chamorro, Guam, these are all incredibly productive sites, but dangerous ones as well. While they can enchant the peoples of the nation, with their loyalty and devotion, their existences hold potential disenchantment as well, as they are semi-sovereign, semi-outside, their relationship, their meaning to the nation always unclear, always something which must be controlled, dominated and made into something which is not threatening. Thus, whether it is in Native American tribes, attempting to build solidarity or sovereignty (such as AIM) or Chamorro lepers seeking to escape invasive and opressive Naval health codes which would deport them to the Philippines the United States has always reacted in terrible and terrifying ways.

Sorry to ramble on like that, if you get me started, ai adai, I'll never stop.

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