Saturday, November 04, 2006

Plantasma siha, Birak siha yan i Manmatai

Every year one of the three Ethnic Studies graduate programs in California (Berkeley, UCSD, USC) take turns hosting a conference called Crossing Borders. The reasoning behind the creation of this conference is that there isn't really a national Ethnic Studies conference for the type of comparative work that these three departments do. There is though the National Association of Ethnic Studies (NAES), but the work there tends to be Ethnic Studies work as it was first articulated in the 1960's, meaning about getting in touch with your roots, knowing your history and carving out a space for your people in the United States.

I love doing this sort of Ethnic Studies (i freskon pao-na "strategic" pat "crass" na essentialism), but unfortunately this isn't what my department at University of California, San Diego or the other two departments are supposed to do. So, if you are Chicano and are looking to learn Chicano history and become well versed in its nuances, then sorry this department my department isn't for you. In Ethnic Studies at UCSD, the issue is not race as something pregiven or beyond production, but rather racialization, the processes by which it is deployed or produced.

I attended the Crossing Borders conference two years ago when Berkeley hosted it around the theme of Ethnic Studies and Decolonization in the 21st Century. I presented a paper which was later to be the second chapter of my master's thesis there, around the impossibility of the Chamorro in relation to decolonization. My paper's title was Impossible Cultures: Missed Representations, Chamorros and the Decolonization of Guam. Although most students in my department and at the conference were a bit uncomfortable and unsure what to make of the conference's theme of decolonization, I found it refreshing, although practically no one save for me and one or two others actually attempted to write about decolonization.

Last year I again attended the conference, this time held at University of Southern California and the theme being The National and the Natural: Reckoning with the Gaps and Breaks. For this conference I presented two papers. The first was co-written with i ga'chong-hu Theofanis Verinakis titled The Consuming Sovereign and Global Nationalism: The Production of U.S. Sovereignty in the Pacific. Bei sangani hao, ya-hu este na sinisedi, sa' fihu kalang na'taiga'chong mamangge', pues maolekna este na "arrangement" sa' mamangge' humamyo yan i ga'chong-mu. My other paper was solo, titled The Decision and Human Instrumentality: Lacan Avec Evangelion...or Why Immanuel Kant Never Dated. You can find the text for my presentation on my blog under Lacan Avec Evangelion.

This year it is my department's turn to pick a theme and host the event. While attending the Crossing Borders conference last year, me along with Ma, Tomoko and Cathi from the then first year cohort broached the idea of having our theme be something about ghosts, hauntings and other manna'ma'a'nao.

For me, the thinking behind this theme, would not only be that it would be interesting or fun, and allow people to be creative if they wanted to, but also that it would be a very productive exercise for engaging with the stuff that makes up the processes of racialization. I've written over the past few weeks quite a bit about the formal vs. the obscene and this untenable but nonetheless very material and very crucial distinction is what makes the difference between whether certain bodies should be made to live or left to die. Whether the demands of some are intelligable and formal or whether they are the shrieking cries of some ghost which refuses to go away.

In starting to brainstorm on the theme for the 2007 Crossing Borders conference, I wrote the following:

Where the political (formal) ends, the terrain of the obscene begins.

Within that terrain meant to be unfathomable and beyond mapping, we find the thematics of racialization. The languages and metaphors which mark the racial and delineate the zones of indistinction which both define the Law and create the domains meant to be beyond its ability to comprehend.

But naturally this is way too abstract to be of any use to someone who isn't Peter Fitzpatrick's research assistant. So we have to move into more concrete terms by describing the spectres and the figures we find in this obscene world. The marks they embody as well as the forms of control, neutralization and resistance they require and offer. The only reason I wanted to have this theme really is because I could write stuff like the following paragraphs, where we explore the half-lit and anxiety inducing existences of these shades of racialization.

Ghosts, the remnants of a nation’s violence which continue to haunt it with anxiety inducing, seething echoes, against which denial, appropriation and exploitation seem to be the only salve for the national subject.

The monstrous is the line which constitutes the half life whose central condition is pain, a gruesome crack in the natural, and the full life which is defined by the ability to feel trauma, the life which is human. The monstrous marks the lack of rationality, those who cannot live, and therefore embody an irrational violence, requiring that all means of sovereignty be kept from them.

The dead, either bodies whose meaning is to be fought over and consumed, or the walking dead; zombies who exist only as objects awaiting the violence of the sovereign, or the masses of bare life, whose meaning will only be counted in the calculus of domestic tragedy or international genocide.

While interesting, these descriptions didn't provide much of a connection to Ethnic Studies critiques, or at least not a concrete one which people could use to work from. Thankfully through conversations with Theo who is also on the committee for organizing this conference, we were able to make a connection to Ethnic Studies via the "unsettling presence" that Ethnic Studies scholarship and scholars provide to public and academic discourse. I'm really looking forward to putting this thing together next year, and not only does the theme of Ghosts, Monsters and The Dead provide a creative way for thinking about race and resistance, but it also provides a creative way for planning the conference party on Saturday night. We were thinking of having a scholarly costume ball. Come right in, here's your costume, you're going as Immanuel Wallerstein.

Information as well as the finished call for papers, on the 5th Annual Crossing Borders Conference whose theme is Ghosts, Monsters and The Dead can be found below:


5th Annual Conference of Ethnic Studies in California co-sponsored by:
Department of Ethnic Studies and California Cultures in Comparative Perspective,
University of California, San Diego
Program in American Studies and Ethnicity, University of Southern California
Department of Ethnic Studies, University of California, Berkeley

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday March 2 – 4, 2007
University of California, San Diego

Do you have this frightening sensation that issues of race and ethnicity are being erased from public and academic discourse? This might explain why on college campuses around the country, Ethnic Studies scholars and students are often regarded as either monsters or boogeymen providing an unsettling presence. The discipline itself is often treated as a ghostly world, populated by howling specters that refuse to relinquish the sins of the past, and have therefore not been properly laid to rest. Given this declining significance of race both as an analytical tool and an object of public discussion, both the work Ethnic Studies scholars produce and the communities they are engaged with appear to be banished to an obscene world, beyond intellectual mapping or recognition, which enters into the political in an almost horrific fashion.

Within this obscene world we find three key figures, ghosts, the dead, and monsters, which are not simply anachronistic grotesque echoes of an abstract past, but rather crucial reflections of the present moment. There are the ghosts, which always embody a violence that the nation struggles to forget, and create a persistent anxiety in their resistance to their “necessary” exorcism. Then there are the walking dead, forms of bare life, which exist as objects producing sovereignty, and whose only recognition lies in the calculus of domestic tragedy or international genocide. Lastly, there are the monsters, “unnatural” existences which mark a lack of rationality, and therefore defy belief and justify violence.

The focus for the 2007 Crossing Borders Conference is to encourage the submission of papers that go beyond an engagement at the level of a formal absence, and instead engage at the level of this obscene world, by interrogating the horrifying themes of Ghosts, Monsters, and The Dead. We invite graduate students in Ethnic Studies programs or producing Ethnic Studies work to submit abstracts comprised of critical inquires which either directly or indirectly relate to these domains of “terror,” and how they are deployed, produced, and contained in processes of racialization.

The deadline for submissions is December 15, 2006 and may take the form of individual paper presentations or proposed panels. Individual submissions must include an abstract no more than 250 words, a one page CV as well as a cover sheet which provides your contact info and any AV needs. Panel proposals must contain, contact info, an abstract and CV for each presenter, as well as a description for the panel not to exceed 150 words. Please email your submissions and any questions to

For updates and more information please head to the conference website at

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