Saturday, November 15, 2008

I am Splattered with the Blood of your Origin

The past month has been gof mappot for writing. The chapter that I'm working on for my dissertation right now is a MONSTER, un mampos dongkalo na birak, pat GATOS. Guaha nai hinassosso-ku na ha kekepuno' yu'! Guaha nai lokkue', na hinasso-ku yu' na esta matai yu', sa' malingu i titanos-hu, humuyong ya sumaga'naihon gi iyo-ku computer screen, ya nina'langga' yu'.

The chapter involves too many different things, directions from looking at and critiquing sovereignty, and rather than taking the easy way out and simply using what other people say, I've done my best to develop my own route for looking Guam's ghostly place in relation to the concept of sovereignty. Mind you, what I'm saying isn't ginnen taya' or from scratch, its informed by different things, mainly my experiences and my interactions, anecdotal evidence of Guam's colonial status. But I resisted simply putting my dissertation on other peoples' shoulders, for me, that would have shown a weakness in my arguments, and furthermore it probably given the lack of this sort of scholarship on Guam, it would have reinforced the idea there really isn't much there when speaking about Guam anyways. That it is a site, because of its smallness or because of its not that violent colonial history, has to rely on other sites for its visibility or for it to make any sense.

One aspect that I've somewhat enjoying writing about for this chapter, is the role of the development of "sovereignty" as a concept which thus reduces the struggles for "sovereignty" of indigenous or colonized people today, as irritants or minute details, hardly anything worth caring about or considering, merely domestic matters, which in the case of Guam, the United States government can handle just fine. I always enjoy writing about the relationship between indigenous peoples and the nations which are built upon their displacement, there is such rich albeit violent imagery involved. In my master's thesis I used the film Memento to analyze the relationship between the modern nation and its "natives" or indigenous peoples. Writing that section was an important moment for me, because it helped move my frame of reference, my consciousness out of just Guam's examples alone, but also to a larger, more general level about the relationships between nations and indigenous peoples.

In writing for this dissertation chapter, (which will hopefully be done soon!) I absentmindedly wrote the following line, "I am splattered with the Blood of your Origin." as a sort of metaphorical/theoretical point to write of the role that national constitutions or treaties have played in subjugating and neutralizing native peoples. Eventually I edited this, pushed it to the end of the chapter draft where all the other similar points go, which are meant to enable my thinking, but which I couldn't actually find a place to put. As I was writing this section I continually found myself thinking back to what I'd written before, and I decided that since I don't have time to write something new today, I'd just share a section from my Master's Thesis with you, which I later modified to be used in my qualifying exam in my department. Its not the Memento section, but its still very interesting.

Hopefully I'll have something new to write soon! Hu diseseha mohon na ti apmam bai hu mas gaitiempo, ya sina manuge' yu' mas nuebu na posts!

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The nation is supported and threatened by an ever-changing mélange of images, narratives and fantasies.[1] It is the modern answer to the problems of origins. In order to avoid that amorphous, catastrophic rupture (which despite being in the past, therefore necessarily constantly looms before us) which is always looming on the horizon, the nation is an attempt to create a concerted rupture, a controlled blast, an act of violence which will stand in for that always present, always absent origin. What the nation represents then is a new communal cut across time, a violent break, that redirects the movement of time forward through a particular group or people.[2] This “new” origin that can emerge violently only from nowhere nevertheless relies upon a somewhere to constitute itself, both in the sense of contrast and filling.

In “A Critique of Violence” by Walter Benjamin we find this paradox in terms of law making violence.[3] When an instance of this violence takes place, there is a radical cut, a new law is constituted, but a new order cannot emerge on its own, it cannot come from nothing. War and conquest are always the moments where law making violence is at its most radical, where the violence between armies, between soldiers, between soldiers and civilians, between armies and prisoners, actively create new regimes of truth and order. But when the battle is over, a “peace ceremony” of some sort always takes place. A shifting through the ashes of the moment prior must take place, to constitute the meaning of any act, the agents it has reconstituted and the new order it inaugurates.

This is the paradoxical double gesture of the nation, which is summed up well in when Benedict Anderson asks, why is it that nations celebrate their age, and not their youth?[4] The nation is always an assertion of a positive, forward movement, a never before now, which can only articulate itself by reaching into the past, which always leaves it haunted by that which it must use, and the ghosts it cannot exorcise or be seen to fear.

Both the migrant and the indigenous represent fearsome figures that haunt the edges and centers of the nation, but in different ways. For the migrant, the means through which the nation demonstrates its benevolence and sovereignty through the incorporating, assimilating or consuming of this other can be on the one hand, the means through which the nation is protected from the taint of foreign bodies and the (re)producing of its essential color or core, but these gestures at the same time make tangible and perceptible in regularly traumatic ways, the threads which still reach elsewhere which the nation can never completely cut or re-signify. The migrant signifies the contingency of the nation, the way it was formed of chaos, disparate threads and might not have happened. The migrant threatens to destroy the claim to destiny, to inevitability and to forward progress

In terms of the indigenous other, it is another fearsome and ever-threatening thing. As the nation cuts across time and makes “history,” the indigenous subject through its mere existence cuts across that very cut.[5] If the nation is a collection of longing and dreaming, then the mantra of the national subject to the indigenous thing can be found in Yeat’s “He Wishes For the Clothes of Heaven” as used in the 2002 film Equilibrium. “But I being poor, have only my dreams. I have spread my dreams beneath your feet. Tread softly, for you are treading upon my dreams.”[6]

In the way that the existence of the “indigenous” person represents this conflicting and competing cut, in standing atop these “dreams,” it represents a line which runs through my national now, into the moments prior. This indigenous thing produces anxiety, and must be banished, must be destroyed. But not for the commonly given reasons of its incomprehensible foreignness or difference, it does not terrify me because of the distance I feel from it, but because of the proximity, the nearness to me that it represents. The fact that the indigenous persons straddles my dreams, makes a cut across time that cuts through me, means that there is something in it, a knowledge, perhaps a secret, my secret, which it keeps from me.[7]

The indigenous is a knowing or unknowing guardian of the secret of the nation, the immortal and invincible sentinel at the door of the absent origin of the nation. The one who knows its violence, who cannot but remember its violence, whose existence ensures it cannot be forgotten (it is in the body), but also that that origin, that nativeness, that first position will always be beyond the reach of the modern nation and subject.

These two positions are distinct, but in terms of racialization, continually intermingle and mix, to create different racial and temporal fantasies.[8] The migrant will take on various characteristics of the native, and will be produced as pre-modern, backwards, unable to understand progress, money, improvement, unable to change, mired in culture. They will be similarly reduced to culture, and transformed into either echoes that speak soundbytes to the civilizing and humanitarian prowess of the nation, or nasty fading echoes of previous stages of human development. Similarly the native is always something to be obliterated, civilized, destroyed, and explained to be a migrant itself. In an effort occupy the prized position of the indigenous, we see the settler, the nation working to prove the lies of the indigenous’ indigeneity, by using science, genetics, archeology to reveal the secret of the indigenous, namely that it came from somewhere else as well, and can now be incorporated as just another immigrant in a nation of immigrants.[9]

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[1] There are different ways of narrating the existence and genesis of the nation, and depending on you articulate it, you can pronounce certain groups, features, dynamics, fantasies and fears. The narration that I choose here, is by no means the best or the most complete, but is the one which helps me best make the point in terms of the indigenous other.
[2] Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture,
[3] Walter Benjamin, “A Critique of Violence” One Way Street
[4] Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities,
[5] Ella Shoat and Robert Stam, Unthinking Eurocentrism, (London, Eurocentrism, 1994).
[6] Equilibrium, dir. Kurt Wimmer, 107 mins, 2002.
[7] Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever
[8] Joanne Barker, that the racialization of the native and the migrant as the same thing is precisely what keeps the state legitimate and keeps its aura of whiteness. “Looking for Warrior Woman,” in This Bridge We Call Home: Radical Visions for Transformation, ed. Gloria Anzaldua and AnaLouise Keating, (New York, Routledge, 2001). “Indian ™ U.S.A.” Wicazo Sa Review: Journal of Native American Studies, (18:1), Spring 2003.
[9] Vine Deloria Jr., Red Earth, White Lies, Alice Te Punga Sommervile, Maori: Indigenous vs. Pacific? Paper presented at the Indigenous Studies Conference at the University of Oklahoma, May 2007.

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