Monday, January 15, 2007

Relinquishing the Modern Fantasy of Sovereignty

We all know that feeling, when we find the most intimate meaning in most random or even puzzling or paradoxical of places. I know that many Pacific Islanders feel this sort of serendipity or finakcha'i when they watch Bollywood movies. The geographical, cultural, historical, political differences/specificities are obvious, regardless of whether we identify with them because of some post-colonial or anti-colonial solidarity. But yet, amongst so many Pacific Islanders (and occasionally Native Americans, but at a much rarer rate) when they would watch Bollywood movies, they would feel an immediate intimacy with the representations of large families, love of singing and song and "exotic" foods.

In the United States, one film through which nearly all groups marked as "ethnic" meaning not apa'ka or not normative, felt a sense of "home" was My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Filipinos, Chamorros, Indians (Asian not American), Mexicans, Black people, some Asians, friends of mine from each of these groups, each exclaimed when either watching the movie or recalling watching the movie, "my family is so like that!" In other words, "this thing which is completely not me, is so me! There is something in it that either reveals something important about where I come from, or it leads me back to where I am from in a different way!"

Or take for instance the first few minutes of the film Wayne's World, after they finish recording their episode and are strolling around Aurora, Illinois singing along to Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody. For so many people my age who have seen this movie, this is one of the most lasting sequences of the film, and constantly taints the possibility of any previous or potential memory of the song apart from this film. For many this persistence might just be attached to the way it makes a catchy song even catchier, however after watching the film again this morning, I realized that the scene also stays with you because of the way, Wayne, Garth and their friends, while driving through their small town, drive through the "small" town that each of us grew up in. Even if we grew up traipsing the globe in private jets or in the most frenetic bustling city, the home, meaning the place where we came from, is generally always remembered through a smallness, a humbleness, a lost intimacy. Thinking back to how many people react to scenes like this one, where kids piled into a small car, driving around their neighborhood with all the "mom and pop" stores, saying hi to people as they go, it replays a position or a place which we are all familiar with.

This sort of dynamic is not abnormal, it is the only way that we can ever know home, through a sharing of vision and an assumption of both another place which we can make home against, as well as another gaze through which we can see home through.

The claim to be able to create something which is wholly self-determined and fundamentally self-sustained and therefore exists unto itself is the bedrock theoretical aspiration of the Enlightenment, the mythical wet dream of Europe and the First World. It has unfortunately also become entwined in the rhetoric by which a nation is narrated into existence, a prerequisite for a nation to exist without the crippling dependency which we find in colonies such as Guam and neo-colonies such as the Philippines.

I know I am getting away from the initial intimacy of this post, but theoretically there are two levels from which one could go here. First, that this sort of delusion is a necessity for a nation to be formed, and if a collective or community never experiences this moment of isolated self-definition, then it will always be a dependent nation, one which sees itself only through the eyes, the imagining, the rule, the largesse of another nation. Take for instance this painting by Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People.

In it, we see the matriarch of the new French Republic leading its citizens forward into the future, their banner flying high above them. This scene in a way represents that primordial moment, the genesis or the "birth of a nation."

Every modern nation can be seen through this scene. With the United States it might be George Washington leading the people. But, if we take the work that my friend Madel is doing on the formation of the contemporary Palauan nation, then we see a sort of small prop change which changes the whole meaning, the whole possibility of a new born nation. Given the rhetoric through which the Palauan Government relates and identifies itself to and through the United States (ma u'usa i fino' familia enlugat di i fino' inatungo'), if we return to the moment of Palau's birth, instead of finding the flag of the Palauan nation being triumphantly held forth by the Palauan people, we instead find the flag of the United States.

Actually, we need not imagine this point at all, you can see it performed before your very eyes by heading over to youtube, and watching the performance of Palau's UN ambassador Stuart Beck on the Colbert Report.

I wrote several months ago about President Bush as a theorist of sovereignty, because of the way he accidentally articulated a devious truth which must be hidden both about Native American tribal sovereignty as well as sovereignty in general. After being asked a question about Native American tribes in the 21st century, Bush expelled this gem for all to hear:

"Tribal sovereignty means that; it's sovereign. You're a -- you've been given sovereignty, and you're viewed as a sovereign entity. And, therefore, the relationship between the federal government and tribes is one between sovereign entities."

For Native Americans Bush's slip is a terrible truth, for them sovereignty is not really sovereignty because in contrast to the way sovereignty is understood or represented by disciplines such as political science or international affairs, for them sovereignty is something which is given, dolled out in small pieces, always held away or deferred from them. The history of legal decisions and colonization of Native Americans by the United States is one based on infantilization and paternalism, they are not ready for sovereignty and so we have to keep it from them until we say they are. This logic of course is not limited to these groups, but really, the rest of the world as well.

The notion that "sovereignty" is given however, or that it is dependent, not existing unto itself, not unfettered, untrammelled is true for all others as well, despite the dominant definitions of sovereignty. This leads me to the second level, where we find certain nations, primarily First World nations who never leave this moment of unmediated bliss, but constantly see themselves as rocks against which the rest of the world may crash against, want to seek shelter upon, but could clearly exist without the sea around it.

Esta un tungo' i sinangan, "ni hayi na taotao un isla?" no? Well, the logic here is that there are some men which are islands, which can and do exist unto themselves.

The most fundamental legacy of structuralist thought is the inescapable notion that all things exist only in a system of differences. The world is a sea of things which only gain meaning through differences. The only meaning apart from this difference is the void, a nothingness which is hardly a prohibition on meaning or a dead zone, but is instead a force which is fina'subject productive in that it haunts all attempts to assert an existence which is not determined by difference, but rather is the transcendent translucent norm against which all other assertions of meaning and identity must crash against in order to mean anything.

Sovereignty in this sea however, if we trace the trajectory of modern European thought is derived from the staking out of spaces within this sea, which are meant to be the islands, the rocks which are exempt from this ontological requirement.

This is the problem with thinking of people of color as "racialized" is that it implicitly accepts that dream of white people to be the norm, to be unmarked. White people "American" people are racialized, but they are racialized in such a way as to be excluded from the equation, the marks seemingly erased both from their consciousness and from the organizing and politics of those who are racialized. They are not the norm, and can only be given that status through a mix of material accumulation and misrecognition.

European modernity is ultimately an attempt to create an existence which is self-determined. A system of thought which can control the breaks and gaps in continuity, culture, which can determine the content of impossible and absent origins. We see the tepid, confused desire amongst Enlightenment philosophers take the nature of reality away from some "other" place beyond the reach of man, beyond the transcendent memory of God and find a place for it in the world of "men." In most instances the driving force for life then becomes reason, and politically, the modern nation state becomes the vehicle for creating earthly and men driven histories, the means for collective self-definition.

It is imperative here, first not to fall into this trap of believing in a being, collective or otherwise which can have this sort of mastery over itself, and second not to give the United States or Europe credit for inventing the ability to "transcend" culture and differentiate themselves from the world around them through knowledge.

I wrote about this last week when I was discussing how indigenous peoples seeking to revitalize themselves or decolonize often bump up against the colonizing limit captured in the division between the cultural and the political. The indigenous person lies on the cultural end, which is reduced to existence in a particular moment, which is always beyond their ability to both reach and change. History creates a wound from the contact of different races, and this wound becomes the marker for purity and limited/limiting possibility. The "modern" or in Guam's case, the American person, lies at the political side, and while apparently deprived from any culture, is gifted with the ability to float around locales, cultures and ideas, and somehow defining the limits of all others.

This may be a tough point to swallow, but it is nonetheless true. For those who conceive and act through a Chamorroness as primarily cultural, they accept a small and dead domain from which they can act authentically, ethically. By doing this, they acede the ability to change reality, to change history, to change the moment that the Chamorro exists to someone else, the free floating, "uncultured" modern subject, thus condemning the existence of the Chamorro to be either a solemn and weeping collection of the scattered pieces of our shattered and lost culture, or an active existence which can only preserve, can only act to save something that is being lost, and never be authentic in creating something new, something for the future.

Through this argument though, you shouldn't assume that I am some ridiculous postnationalist saber rattler, who is abstractly critiquing the concrete desires of indigenous peoples. I am interested in the futures of Chamorros, and refuse to relinquish the rights to our futures to others, by fetishizing or glorifying the past in such a way that it assumes our only authenticity lies there and nowhere else.

But if we leave behind the articulations of our existence which are dependent upon death, loss, abjection, dependency or being trapped in time, then is our only resort the mildly delusionist nationalist project of self-defined and self-sustaining sovereignty? Is there a way to develop this this community without resorting to this often times violent and regularly racist delusion? On Guam we talk often about inafa'maolek, which means interdependence, or literally making things better for each other. Is there a way that this congnizance of the dependencies of nations and interconnections can come to the international level without being a ploy or a ruse to either fatta imperial benevolence or be the rhetorical level to make use of imperial sovereignty?

As I read the work of different indigenous theorists and see the different grass roots, social/governmental projects which are taking place around the world, I have hopes for something different to emerge and to not be brutally smashed to pieces. Now that I'm back in the states, I'm hoping that me, Angie and Madel will start making our Voicing Indigeneity Podcasts again, because that is the perfect form for just these discussions.

There is one more point however which I must make to make this post a tad bit more complete, and absolutely more confusing. Two years ago I wrote a post on this blog titled "Why the Bones Should be Buried" which referred to the debate over whether bones of ancient Chamorros that are unearthed through construction or exist today in collections should be buried instead of studied to deduce where the "original Chamorros" came from. For those of us without the simple pleasure of having big bulky nation states or impressive military empires, existence often hands by a thread, a thread of easily unraveled difference.

In my post for example I discussed how easily claims to Chamorro existence are unraveled, often times by Chamorros themselves, by simply arituclating the points of existence for the Chamorro as either somewhere else (Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia) or some other time (1521, 2000 B.C. 1698), or through a signifiers of Chamorros being a multicultural tapestry which then naturally pulls the local to pieces and takes any political claim away from Chamorros to be given sovereignty based on their existence because of the way they are cut across borders, cultures and time zones to produce a cruel deferred diffusion of possibility. I have heard the following sickening statement often on Guam, always in the context of denying the Chamorro a political existence or some form of contemporary sovereignty:

“you think you’re Chamorro, but you’re all really just _____ (insert other ethnic category, whether it be, Asian, Filipino, Mexican, Spanish, Malaysian, Indonesia, Chinese, Taiwanese, etc)”

Let me end this rambling post, with section from my post on why the bones should be buried, and make it clear that although I am critiquing different searches for sovereignty here, I nonetheless recognize the need for it to be found and to be rooted into the soil of Guam. It is the lack of sovereignty by Chamorros which leads to this delikao na existence, where we can be brushed aside into non-existence by any Joe Amerikanu or Jon Tagalog simply by calling into question the nature of our existence.

...This tactic [of saying the true Chamorro is found always elsewhere] can be used on nearly anything in Guam, where the attempt to assert something as local, can be contested easily by attributing its source to elsewhere. The most annoying example which pops into my head is the Wall Street Journal article "Guam Struggles to Find its Roots Beneath Piles of Spam" from 2000 which discussed Chamorro non-existence. Such a search for pure signifiers took place, around food, where the article's brodie author, asks Tony Lamorena to show him what "real" Chamorro food is. A handful of food dishes are mentioned, each leading to somewhere else, not Guam. At last when a real Chamorro dish is found, fanihi, its mentioned to be illegal to hunt and eat. Thus making it clear in unclear, salient yet silent terms that whatever this Chamorro is (which is not this cruel diffusion), is inaccessible to us. There is a prohibition on it, which puts it beyond the reach of Chamorros today. The article ends in a way too painful perfect for proving my points, with this frightening empe' Real:

"Who's a Chamorro, and who's not?" asks 18-year-old Menchie Canlas, a Filipino ticket-taker at the cliff. "I don't think anybody knows any more."

I mas na'triste put este
, is that one can find such blunted and frightening searches in attempts to positively assert a Chamorro as well. Scenes similar to the ones I mentioned above from The Wall Street Journal, can be found in Chamoru Dreams by Eric Tydingco. When should the bones not be buried, and then studied? When huge fundamental shifts of meaning take place in Guam, when culture is re-imagined and the common qualifiers of "real" or "really" Chamorroness are no longer necessary, because we begin to see culture outside of those western notions of cultural purity and impurity. This meaning, that we should study these bones and learn from them, once Guam has changed to the point where this inquiry would not blatantly vaporize the Chamorro, would not be (to na'takpappa' i sinangan-na Si Alan Moore ginnen Watchmen) the Reasoned light through which the Chamorro is taken into a thousand pieces. What we are stuck with today is the Chamorro now as a foolish myth (as I saw last year on a military message board "these people are so stupid (Chamorros) they're all dead, they just don't know it yet), where as these journeys through scientific discovery and reason which lead us to Taiwan, Bali, the Philippines have the aura of facts. What must take place is a switching, where those journeys become the myths which we can build coalitions and connections to others in the Pacific, in Asia in Micronesia, but we can only do this if we begin and end that trip in Guam. If we do not accomplish this move, then the things which divide Chamorros from the rest of Micronesia, or the Pacific will not be overcome, because what constitutes the Chamorro will not be indigenous connections, affiliations through abjection or survival or colonialism, but instead their entwining intimacy with the United States.

The problem with the ways in which those who are interested in issues of sovereignty in Guam, tend discuss sovereignty is that it is extremely narrow, and doesn't reach this place where the meaning of the Chamorro remains colonized, existing and not existing at the beck and call of cruel anthropological or American definitions. Independence for Guam, Free Asociation Status for Guam, even voting in plebiscites, none of these things guarantee or even require that this ambiguous, darkly lit, constantly threatened existence will be addressed or replaced.

Let me make this point very very clear, bei na'sen lebok este, bei na'sen klaru este: If Chamorros have Filipino blood, Chinese blood, American blood, Spanish blood, Japanese blood, so what?! The presence of this blood should have no impact on whether or not the can or does Chamorro exist today or set the limits of what politics that Chamorro can have, since our argument should never ever be that purity existed or that it should exist. Once we relinquish that thoroughly modern argument and fantasy, and establish this even more fundamental form of sovereignty over the meaning of our lives, and upon what basis do we exist, then the larger more discussed issues of political status and Sovereignty can find true tracition and real meaning.

1 comment:

SiKinYu said...

"The claim to be able to create something which is wholly self-determined and fundamentally self-sustained and therefore exists unto itself is the bedrock theoretical aspiration of the Enlightenment, the mythical wet dream of Europe and the First World. It has unfortunately also become entwined in the rhetoric by which a nation is narrated into existence, a prerequisite for a nation to exist without the crippling dependency which we find in colonies such as Guam and neo-colonies such as the Philippines."


"I am interested in the futures of Chamorros, and refuse to relinquish the rights to our futures to others, by fetishizing or glorifying the past in such a way that it assumes our only authenticity lies there and nowhere else."


"Once we relinquish that thoroughly modern argument and fantasy, and establish this even more fundamental form of sovereignty over the meaning of our lives, and upon what basis do we exist, then the larger more discussed issues of political status and Sovereignty can find true tracition and real meaning."

= I think I can die now.

1)It is true that the language that fueld the American and French Revolutions will continue to contribute to the political thought of all potentially independent countries, it has already in the formation of various constitutions in the developing world. At the same time it seems that creating an entirely new political philosophy to justify one's "non-western" soveriegnty seems like reinventing the wheel.

2)I'll have to agree with you that the identity of Chamorro people should never have been an issue of geographical or genetic markers. If we wanted to get snippy about it, then whe're all Africans! Suddenly evryone's a geneticist and a linguist: if it's not antigu then it's not Chamorro. Basta di ma leche! An immatterial Chamorro Ontology, in other words, would pave the way for solving the hinderances for "justifying"(how pathetic) our own sovereignty.
keep bloggin, out.


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