Saturday, March 30, 2013

Notes about chapter two of Asia as Method (part one)

Chen, Kuan-Hsing. "Decolonization: A Geocolonial Historical Materialism." Asia as Method: Toward Deimperialization. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2010. 65-113.

A few quotes about what he's up to in this long chapter:
In this chapter, I propose geocolonial historical materialism as a framework for analyzing the problematic of decolonization in relation to cultural formation in formerly colonized spaces. (65)
The first task of the geocolonial historical materialist framework proposed in this chapter will be to work through the third-world discourse on colonial identification in order to first situate geocolonial historical materialism within cultural studies, and then to make the theoretical move to connect it with the spatial turn, a move inspired by radical geography. This chapter is a theoretical exercise that aims to connect and reconnect with these discursive traditions by tracing selected responses to colonialism after the Second World War; it is concerned essentially with the problems within former colonies. (66)

Part of this chapter makes use of three sources that represent three forms of decolonization, according to Chen: Frantz Fanon, who critiques nationalism "at the peak of the third-world independence movement in the 1950s and 1960s" (67); Albert Memmi, who critiques nativism; and Ashis Nandy, who proposes what Chen calls a "civilizationalism" that "is nonstatist and counterhegemonic" (94).

Chen brings in arguments about the psychic dimensions of colonialism, "colonial identification," and the struggle for decolonization:
The well-documented experiences of contemporary social movements suggest that the pain of struggle is always inscribed on the psychic body. Regarded as a personal and sometimes a shameful matter, the issue of recurring psychic suffering is rarely openly discussed, but if lessons about this psychic realm are not learned and shared, the problems will continue to return. Similarly, to fully understand the violence of the colonial condition, we need to enter this same psychic space. Hence, the psychoanalysis of colonization and decolonizing psychoanalysis are one and the same process. (73)
Continuing in this psychological vein, and citing Françoise Vergès,Chen argues that
the epistemological foundation of colonial psychology was the political unconscious of family romance: the relationship between parents and children. The colonized subjects were essentialized as being poor in linguistic expression and lacking the capacity for clear conceptualization: they believed in supernatural powers; they were fatalistic; all their knowledge came from blind faith in their ancestors' superstitions; and therefore, these natives could not mature unaided into adulthood. The colonizer's mission was to guide them. Of course, this entire formulation hid behind the name of science, and the validity of the psychologist's observation was backed by the guarantee of scientific neutrality. (74)
Chen observes that in Black Skin, White Masks, "Fanon puts Lacan's 'mirror stage' theory in the colonial context. Although subjectivity is always mutually constituting, the colonial history of economic domination has put the entire symbolic order in the hands of the white colonials, making them the defining agents of the ideological structure. The position occupied by the whites reduces blacks to the level of biological color alone. For the white subject, this bodily difference marks the boundary of the white subject. It has nothing to do with history or economics but is a 'universal' difference" (78-9).

Arguing that Fanon was aware of "multiple structures of domination," Chen argues that "[M]any postcolonial theorists focus on a singular structure of domination--along the continuum of race, ethnicity, nation, and civilization--and are unwilling to bring other structures into the picture. But if structures of domination have historically always been interlinked and mutually referencing, then colonial structures are necessarily entangled with other structures of power" (80, my emphasis).

More later...

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