Saturday, March 11, 2006

We Goin Fiji, We Goin Fiji

I got an email yesterday, that I seriously hadn't been expecting.

I posted several months ago an abstract that me and my buddy Theo had submitted to the Pacific Epistemologies conference at the University of the South Pacific, Fiji, which will take place in July 2006. The abstract was pretty decent, but I felt kinda sure that the form of our paper didn't quite match what is generally considered to be "pacific epistemology" or "indigenous epistemology."

I felt that the critique we were making could easily be construed as outside of indigeneity, and therefore we probably wouldn't fit the intent of the conference. No, no, I haven't suddenly realized that there is no such thing as "inside" or "outside" of cultures, if anything the untenability of this distinction makes it return even more forcefully. (case in point, isn't interesting how all the wonderful globalization literature out there on crossing borders, just enables new forms of nationalism and insularity? This is one of the reasons why despite the obvious limits and silliness of certain parts of Empire by Hardt and Negri, I have to admire how, rather than just trashing the nation, they formalize it within their articulation of resistance.)

[attempt here to connect to the sentence before the tangent] But what I have realized is that me and Theo's critique fits perfect within what I've been trying to articulate for the past few months, namely negative universality and the indigenous critique. It is therefore not so much the aura or insular mystique of the indigenous position, but more so what that position exists as an effect of. What it represents in relation to modernity, to the nation.

But this relationship, this critique is usually lost amongst more compelling and exciting discussions of alterity and subversive difference, which I usually enjoy, but have for the past few months been forsaking.

Most "indigenous critiques" are derived from the past, and involve critical archeologies and excavations. They are explorations of the past to see what can be brought into the present. My most recent paper that involved such a journey was presented last April at Columbia, since then I have become more involved in the present. The past is always an effect of the present and so therefore such trips into the past usually require a troublesome presupposition of what constitutes that past (such as anthropology, or in the case of Guam, Destiny's Landfall). This isn't meant to discount such moves, because they have been, can be and will always have certain effects, but what I am interested in changing, will not come about through such adventures. For me, the key to changing the past, lies in the scenes which lies in the present, but hegemonize the past.

Providing a critical history of Guam's "liberation" by the United States in 1944, in the sense of telling the story from different sides, included previously excluded voices, is important yes, and can have impacts, but will not necessarily disrupt the power that event, that scene has over Chamorro lives and the future of Guam today. So long as the intervention is intended for the past, for things that have already happened, the efficiency of your intervention on the efficiency of the scene will be limited. That shifting of history will not necessarily lead to the shifting of the present, but rather become another means through which the present is (re)produced. For example, critiques of Liberation Day that question the benevolence of the United States, that clearly call it out as a colonizer rather than a liberator, are too often easily reforumulated as possible only because of the very thing they critique. To put it succintly, you can only call the United States a colonizer, because you were liberated. The freedom for you to even say such unpatriotic things is only possible because of the freedom and democracy loving tendencies of the United States.

Even as historians, the present is always where we must make our interventions. To do otherwise is to the leave the knot that binds together the very flow of time and history will remain beyond the reach of our critique.

The paper that me and Theo are working on is definitely not focused on the past in any hermetic sense. It isn't looking for resistance or critique in the oppositional, alternative sense, as something recovered from elsewhere. It is instead something which lies within that which we are critiquing, not separate, but very much a part of it, an uncontrollable excess of sorts.

We presented a short version of our paper last week at The National and the Natural: Reckoning With Gaps and Breaks, the 4th Annual Crossing Borders Conference at University of Southern California. It was fairly well received, people were pretty excited about it, and not in the usual graduate student conference excited way (great work but I totally saw it coming), but more so, "great work, I'm not really sure yet what to say about it."

We'll have to fix it up before Fiji, especially since the crowd will be completely different. Completely different meaning a number of the top scholars in Pacific Studies/History. But this doesn't worry me at all, I'm sure I can hold my own in most any debate over my work, what does worry me is whether or not we'll be able to get the money together to fly all the way to Fiji.

Anyways, while I'm searching the net for possible funding opportunities, I'll post here the list of questions that I posed for Theo that helped write our paper. We started with a basic premise and came up with a number of questions for each other. Here's the ones I wrote for Theo:


1. Does the application of Bataille’s theory to everyday life undermine its critique, since as Lacanian theory indicates, all of life is nothing more than an excess which could not be accounted for, and our life is an attempt to narrativize a relationship to that excess? To ask this another way, how can Bataille’s general concept of sovereignty have relevance to everyday existence, without resorting to an explanation which names potentially all acts (such as showing up late for work or stealing office supplies) and excesses sovereignty producing moments?

2. What is the relationship between the indigenous subject/non-subject and the nation? To put this question in a more concrete forms, 1. what question does the indigenous person pose to the nation? 2. what excess does it represent? 3. And what function does it serve?

3. Rather than fixate on control (plenary, military, legal) how can we see sovereignty produced through the discontinuity and heterogeneity of elements and relations in Micronesia? What role do the numerous political statuses of the peoples of the American Pacific play in this production? Does the emphasis on a sea of political differences merely hide the fact that there is a sovereign homogeneity?

4. What role does violence, or rather the banal violence of militarization play in the production of American sovereignty in the Pacific?

5. How can the metaphoric scene of Bataillean sacrifice and sovereignty be developed to describe the production of American sovereignty in the Pacific? For example, how can the pieces of the metaphor be retold to account for the death of an American soldier on a distant battlefield? How does the scene or reading change if the dead soldier is one the nation could not adequately account for except perhaps in death (someone from the colonies, the reservation, a soldier serving for citizenship)?

6. How would one go about de-naturalizing the naturalness of the positions of Micronesia today in relation to the United States (isolated, empty islands, dependent, patriotic, shattered broken cultures)? What sites? What resources? What discourses? To put it another way, in the American Pacific, colonialism and militarism are not just naturalized, but celebrated, how can we explain critically this naturalness and what would a critical intervention into the de-naturalization of this look like or look at?

7. What role does the lack of knowledge amongst Americans about these islands play in producing American sovereignty?

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