Sunday, October 15, 2006

Can Anyone Speak Without Citing Spivak?

Mayulang i kareta-hu giya Los Angeles, mientras sumusungon yu' ginnen Atascadero asta San Diego. Ai dimalas todu!

Hu pega gui' gi un tendan kareta gi Tuesday (giya Thousand Oaks), ya trinain yu' para San Diego gi Wednesday. Ma agang yu' nigap ya ma sangani yu' na esta mafa'maolek, ya i apas para un mayamak na bomban hanom, $288. Pa'go bai sungon ta'lo hulo' para Thousand Oaks ya chule' tatte i kareta-hu.

And for those of you familiar with my blog, you know what happens when I don't have time to post things on my blog, yet feel obligated to put something new up. Magahet hao! I post response papers that I've written in my grad seminars. I'm pasting below one of my less coherent but therefore more interesting ones.

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Michael Lujan Bevacqua
ETHN 200b
Professor Da Silva
3/9/05

Reproducing Empire: Race, Sex, Science and US Imperialism in Puerto Rico by Laura Briggs.

I’ve spent the past hour trying to figure out how to critique Reproducing Empire: Race, Sex, Science and US Imperialism in Puerto Rico, and have just decided to give up. Of course I’ll discuss the reasons why, and possibly in that discussion I’ll make a few blind and feeble statements which might be cool enough to pass off as a critique.

Although Puerto Rico is tens of thousands of miles away from Guam, it shares a hauntingly similar and dissimilar history to Guam. When me and Jose (Fuste) give presentations or talks (like we did at the conference last week in Berkeley), we are both constantly struck by how much we remind each other of each other’s islands, whether in presence, in history, in current political dramas. “Listening to you speak” Jose said in Berkeley, “its just reminds me exactly about Puerto Rico. Similar problems, similar situation.” I nod, and he nods back, but then we both retreat quickly in a way indiscernible only to people who have made similar too overdetermined (not in the Althusserian sense) connections, but then felt an ethical pulse of consuming the kernel of the other. “Well, not exactly.” We both say at the same time in different ways. “There’s differences, too of course. Guam is not Puerto Rico and Puerto Rico is not Guam.”

When Brigg’s discussed how Puerto Rico is the most important place in the world, I cringed for too many reasons both unknown and known to me. I have made similar statements about Guam, for both the reasons she provides as well as others which aren’t as applicable to Puerto Rico. While I still feel that this statement for both our “territories” is very much true, the way I make that statement, and the way it makes me is very different now (at least I hope). The primary reason I cringed when Brigg’s wrote that, is because after more than two hundred pages of discussing how discourses on science were the main means that Puerto Rico was colonized and created (and of course, the US and US scientists, social sciences and own ideas about development as well), her own articulation of Puerto Rico as being important requires a thick, juicy and heavy scientific metaphor for it to function, that of the laboratory. After discussing in-depth and at length the ways in which the US used Puerto Rico as a developmental laboratory to develop the technologies of development that run the libidinal economy of globalization, she then re-casts the island as a different type of laboratory. A laboratory for resistance, a laboratory which offers a critical genealogy for the wars against the global south. (For example, she makes an important addition to the way “women’s rights” another great modernist narrative has been used as a discursive cover for intervention, whether in Puerto Rico, in the Western frontier of the Continental US, Bosnia, or Afghanistan).

When I first began my masters in Guam, this was a big part of my arguments. In Guam one can see the emergence of Empire, a space where as Zizek notes, a nation will explicitly “act globally, but think locally.” The nation-state system as primary, dissolving itself in the process (but with of course, the nation-state the last one to know). In Guam one could see the impending re-territorializing of the rest of the world. The nation-state would be kept from “knowing what it was doing” however through the use of carefully crafted, and generally uncontested empty signifiers (meaning ones which are not fought very hard to make mean different things), in Guam there are “territory,” “protectorate” slogans such as “where America’s day begins” for the rest of the world there are terms such as “humanitarian intervention” and “just war.” I represented Guam to those on it and from it, as well as those from elsewhere as an important laboratory model for those wishing to see the entanglements of the US empire, militarization and soft-core colonization. Later, after reading more Pacific scholarship, I situated myself in a long-standing discourse on the value of the Pacific islands, which made me pause in this assured value of Guam. Pacific scholarship was developed out of an awareness of Pacific islands’ value as isolated, cultural laboratories. They became anthropologists wet dreams or Liliths, the isolated islands, taking the place of one most desirable mountainous and remote regions in places like Papua New Guinea. But even for sociologists, economists, political scientists, the ways the ocean wrapped around these islands seemed to suggest that they were laboratories ripe for use and exploitation. The foundation of research in the Pacific has been for decades that in these geographically and culturally isolated places we can unlock the secrets of human relations, and find the structures of human existence.

I fear Brigg’s may fall into this trap, despite her bold and yet obviously expected citation of the article which everyone quotes by a certain Brahmin scholar who teaches at Columbia University, and will only fly first class. (But I will not quote it here, precisely because everyone quotes it and most who do don’t even understand the article, but just want to ask a question (using the word subaltern) (or just want to speak for the subaltern and make it ok to do so) and then feel compelled to cite her, because then their question will be housed in some hegemony happy notion of academic preparedness and investigation! (look I’ve cited it correctly, look! See! See! (although one might argue in the very psychotic parallax of the previous sentence I have quoted her.)) (anymore parentheses, and then this paragraph is overcooked (here’s just a few more, I swear). Presupposed in my statement a few parentheses back is that I do or must know the secrets of Spivak. I don’t, but a more important point is that neither does Spivak. I’m reminded here of a quote by Hegel, too often quoted by Zizek (in at least three of his books!) and that is that the secrets of the Egyptians, were secrets for the Egyptians as well.))

I wonder here though, would I feel differently if the language and metaphors she used instead referred to Puerto Rico as an archive for understanding and resisting globalization, as opposed to a laboratory? Does this very question and discomfort I am badly addressing right now, refer us back to how science is understood (or more importantly not understood) in terms of society and peoples? The laboratory is the place where facts are made, where one can find locked up and tightly protected the white roses of truth (as opposed to the yellow roses of spoilers such as Haraway or LaTour). The archive however, despite the heavy emphasis of the social sciences on the written word, is a place of relative uncertainty. As Derrida as said, it is never our place to know what an archive means, it can only mean something in times to come. Attached to the archive is the temporal signifier of “soon.” A “soon” which we can rarely ever interact with, it is the abstract, amorphous, absent soon (in Chamorro it is the difference between gaige and guaha.) that we cannot use for scheduling, planning, prescribing (which requires presence).

Does the use of the word and idea of an archive allow things which the laboratory does not? I wish I knew more of this to discuss it more, but this is just me bouncing around the parentheses in my mind and my this page. (my own answer to this question is probably not, this is probably just me playing a lame word game. I recently skimmed through a text which discussed a woman’s body as an archive, and one Guam scholar (Vince Diaz) has referred to the body of a certain Chamorro woman, Beatrice Emesley, as providing an archive of Chamorro experiences during World War II. I wonder though, is the archive presupposed by a laboratory? Do the metaphors of the body as a complete coherent system, a cartography for social relations and social functioning (which are the repressed side of the rationalist laboratory) necessarily become tangled in any attempts to use the body otherwise?) (I keep using the word presupposed, because after watching an episode of Seinfeld while I was at the gym last night, I found a good pop culture example for describing the phrase “always already there.” For those interested it’s the episode where Jerry, George and Elaine are waiting for a table at the Chinese restaurant.)

Those of you reading this are probably thinking now, “shit, looks like Miget didn’t even read the book, he’s talking about everything but the text!” To be honest, my discomfort in discussing this text comes for some of the reasons I have already mentioned, but also because I haven’t been able to form any distance to it yet. I have been thoroughly seduced by it because of its lure of sameness, because it traps me in the blindspot of the one who writes or sees, and can only be found through an insistent absence. I could not interrogate my own vision, because it was all I could see. I couldn’t separate the text from my friend’s book on a similar topic in Guam (Colonial Dis-Ease by Anne Perez Hattori, published by University of Hawa’ii press.

In Brigg’s conclusion she used the three texts which I used in a conclusion of a paper about Guam (Spivak, Avery Gordon, Silencing the Past). As I said before, Brigg’s reports my own repressed conclusions about the value and importance of Guam and Puerto Rico when the terms of discussion become global.

Much in the same way that me and Jose carefully talk about our projects in Puerto Rico and Guam to each other, I am wary to talk about Reproducing Empire. The discomfort comes not because we are too far apart from each other, or different, but precisely because we are too close to each other. The anxiety derives from an overproximity, and a fear of over identification. In dominant ways of understanding geography, culture and territoriality, Guam and Puerto Rico are as far apart as Habermas and Derrida. But in critical ways of thinking about those very same things, Guam and Puerto Rico become almost obviously and too easily too close (eerily, as I am uneasy and suspicious of the easiness with the belief that Guam and Puerto Rico must be thought of together or as similar, Zizek felt similar uneasy about the union of Habermas and Derrida in 2003 in an attempt to assert Europe’s important etho-political identity in contrast to US hegemony and the Chinese future.). US colonialism connects them, just as Guam connects to the Philippines and Samoa and Hawaii and so on. But when confronted with the intended to be super simple productive statement of “US colonialism, duh!” I always back away cautiously, uncertain about how to proceed. Obviously more must be said about the explicit US colonies in relation to each other, but therein always lies a threat. As sexuality is a form of colonization, as categorization can be a colonization, so can be this sort of easy and obvious alliance. (the re-mapping of the world based on this simple variable, will mask other forms of inequalities, which often come out when I talk to Puerto Rican activists or intellectuals, such as Ramon Grosfugel. Who rearticulates in our newly found brotherhood, the old dynamics of High island and Low island. “Our problems are real and complicated, your problems are simple and easy.”)


1. Why does Brigg’s historically situate the crack downs on prostitutes as something started in Britain as opposed to something started in relation to its colonial possessions? In that she, gives the colonizer a position of prior existence, when in reality those discourses on disease and uncleanliness were started in the process of colonization.

2. Can anyone speak without citing Spivak? Why can’t people stop citing her “perennial” “essential” “ground-breaking” “mind-bending” “awe-inspiring” article “Can the Subaltern Speak?” (To paraphrase a quote from baseball player, Yogi Bera, “it’s the most famous article that no one has ever read.”) If anything it has led to the fear that she expressed in a 1987 interview, of what the US academy would do if it latched onto that word, it would lose nearly all meaning or productive power. (although I have to admit, at least Brigg’s discussed what is often the most often forgotten part of that article, and that is its attacks on Delueze and Foucault for locating real knowledge in the subaltern).

3. Why doesn’t Briggs mention Guam? (sniff, sniff) [wiping an invisible tear away from my cheek., and vowing to never mention Puerto Rico when I write my dissertation! hehehe]

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