Monday, April 08, 2013

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

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

More quotables from this chapter:

"Third-world nationalism, as a response and reaction to colonialism, was ... seen as an imposed but necessary historical choice, a choice made in order to affirm the new nation-states' autonomy from the colonizing forces" (82).

"'Self-determination,' a slogan heralded by the younger generation of imperialist powers such as the United States, proved to be not so much a humanist concern, but a political strategy on the part of the imperialists to scramble the already occupied territories in order to secure for themselves a larger piece of the cake in the name of 'national interests.' J. A. Hobson, as early as 1902, had remarked on the close ties between nationalism and imperialism: the latter, he argued, cannot function without the former (Hobson 1965 [1902]). By the 1940s, it had become clear that neoimperialist nationalism was in good shape. Cesaire's Discourse on Colonialism warned third-world intellectuals not to be deceived by this rising new power. He argues that the rise of the United States signals a transition from colonialism to neo-imperialism, from territorial acquisition to 'remote control.' Occupied by their struggle to grasp state power, third-world nationalists did not seem bothered by the formation of U.S. hegemony; in fact, they prosecuted their struggle for independence with financial and military 'help' from the United States." (82)

Chen discusses Ashis Nandy's idea of "'the second form of colonization'" (Nandy 1983, xi):
"No longer presenting itself as the face of the colonizer, but instead relying on the superior imaginary of the West, the second wave of colonialism was able to exercise its power to change the cultural priorities in the formerly colonized society. The West was no longer a geographical and temporal entity, but a universal psychological category: 'the West is now everywhere, within the West and outside; in structures and in minds' (ibid.) Nandy's main agenda is to combat the hegemonic West by rediscovering cultural practices and traditions uncontaminated by colonialism." (Chen 89)

Chen notes that in a later book entitled The Illegitimacy of Nationalism: Rabindranath Tagore and the Politics of Self (1994), Nandy "argues that nationalism is a by-product of colonialism, and that third-world nationalism buys into the belief that it is backward without the nation-state and nationalist sentiment. Nationalist independence movements are reactions against colonialism and are thus caught in a colonialist frame of mind, accepting that the formation of the nation-state is an inevitable stage in the evolutionary progress of mankind" (91).

After all of this (and some other things), Chen moves toward a conceptualization of what he calls "critical syncretism"--he introduces Edward T. Ch'ien's discussion of the syncretism of Ming Dynasty scholar Chiao Hung (Jiao Hong), which instead of treating Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism separately, mixes them and sees them as "'mutually explanatory and illuminating'" (Ch'ien 14, qtd in Chen 98). Chen goes on to suggest that this syncretism involves active agents who are "highly self-conscious when translating the limits of the self" (unlike with hybridity, which he calls "a product of the colonial machine's efforts toward assimilation") (98).

Calling critical syncretism "a cultural strategy of identification for subaltern subject groups" (99), Chen describes the goal of such a strategy as
"to actively interiorize elements of others into the subjectivity of the self as as to move beyond the boundaries and divisive positions historically constructed by colonial power relations in the form of patriarchy, capitalism, racism, chauvinism, heterosexism, or nationalistic xenophobia" (99).
"Becoming others," he writes, "is to become female, aboriginal, homosexual, transsexual, working class, and poor; it is to become animal, third world, and African" (99). I have to admit that when I read this I think of a speech by Richard Rodriguez from 1999, in which Rodriguez argues that he is more Irish than Mexican (due to the education he received from Irish nuns) and is Chinese by virtue of living among Chinese. Rodriguez asks his audience, "What if I find myself becoming you?" I wonder how Chen would respond to Rodriguez's take on identity...

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