Tears of the Black Tiger
“the nostalgia film is unable to recreate a real past but only a simulation of it, based on pre-existing representations and styles. For Jameson, the nostalgia film therefore expresses ‘pastiche’ and the loss of historicity, substituting for history an ‘idea’ of the past that reflects our postmodern difficulties of naming the present” pg 202 (Do you think TOTBT is a nostalgia film?)
“Wisit Sasanatieng’s (re)construction and reinvention of a Thai cinematic past represents not so much an indigenous postmodern crisis with regard to history as it does an untroubled statement of uninterrupted and unsullied continuity between past and present” pg 205
Which of these critiques of the film do you think is more accurate? Why?
Pg 196: “Peripheral nations have few channels for self-representation within global media; their image is highly reductive. For this reason a director upon whom international critical acclaim is heaped cannot avoid the burden of national representation.” What does the film (and its huge success abroad) say about Thai nationality? Is the film inaccurately representing the country? (i.e. is it “speaking” for a silenced group? And by doing so, silencing that group?)
TOTBT was a huge success internationally, but a total flop in Thailand. What does this say about the director’s interpretation of Thai “locality?”
Many critics have claimed that TOTBT was heavily influenced (or, in Bhabha’s words, “mimicked”) by old Westerns and its post-colonial past. Do you think using these images (the Western, throwing in references that international viewers relate to, etc) detracts from the film’s appeal to Thai people?
Questions from Hillary
1.) Hedman suggests that “downtown” Manilla emerged during the American colonial period, as an attempt to instill a commodity culture. The emergence of the mall, as a creation of and for the elite, evidenced that “the cultural forms of consumerism [were] well ahead of a national mass consumer economy.”(123) How does the author trace the subsequent geographic shift of the mall from downtown to the suburbs in relation to the change in demographics? No longer the primary commercial/consumer center of the elite, how did the proletariat appropriate and re-imagine the downtown space? What were the distinguishing characteristics between downtown and the mall as social spaces? (Consider this quote: “…downtown Manila thus in many ways emerged as both site and target for the escalating political violence that seemed to polarize the nation…” (127))
2.) “..the malls of the post-Marcos reconstruction period today appear as the ‘most enchanted dreamworlds’ of the spectacular consumer culture now rising out of the rubble of the of the past decade’s protest politics. Far from both everyday relations and historical memory, these malls seem to yank ever-growing crowds out of not merely present social conditions in residential areas and work places but also away from past lived experiences of political mobilization and struggle.” (134)
Does simply employing the forms of consumerist culture create a true facsimile of the consumerist culture? Consider this statement: “Indeed, as the most spectacular monuments to commodity culture, malls have to a certain extent appeared as a reflection of modern Philippine society itself.”(133) Does this statement hold true if the mall functions as an idealized variation of the real urban landscape?
By employing Katheleen Adams’ discussion of Southeast Asian attempts “to add their capitals to the list of “preeminent global cities” by transforming them “into international ‘command posts’ for finance, technology, markets, media, and creative genius…” (38), could the “malling” of Manila be viewed as a step towards becoming a global city? or simply an attempt at modernization?
3.) For Adams, “danger- zone travel, then, both inscribes cities such as Dili and Jakarta as a global metropoles, and simultaneously marks them as wild urban jungles.” (57)
It seems that throughout her piece, Adams relegates the growth of international tourism in Southeast Asian cities to a particular genre. She notes that the attraction of danger zone tourists to these cities is the imminence of danger as a result of political instability. It is precisely under these conditions that these cities become global metropoles. Does this notion run counter to Adams’ notion of global cities iterated above? Or is she saying that it is a global city solely for this genre of tourist? In other words, is their status as a global city derived solely from their appeal as a danger ridden zone? If these cities were to achieve political stability would they acquire a more conventional status of global city, or be stripped of it altogether? Would their tourist markets necessitate a change in order to attract an international interest?
4.) In Adams’ examination of literature written for danger-zone tourists, she notes that the pages of Fielding’s The World’s Most Dangerous Places “are illustrated with smaller cartoons of exploding demonstrators, bazooka carrying troops, burning dynamite sticks, and fierce killer bees. These comic images seemingly ‘tame’ the terrors of riots and warfare, offering the subliminal message that dangerous travel can be somewhat entertaining.” (43) This “romanticization” of danger and violence doesn’t seem to be problematic for Adams. How does do the mediums of online journaling and blogging contribute to the inviting and thrilling image of these danger zones? How do the self-images of these danger zone travelers as “activists, humanitarians, or activists seeking firsthand experiences”(53) and adrenaline seekers shape these accounts? Adams notes that danger zone tourists’ “itineraries are generally inspired by the imagery of nightly news reports from the world’s tumultuous zones” (57)—how might these media accounts compare to danger-zone tourist accounts?
The Transnational and the Nation
- In Aihwa Ong’s Chapter, “Flexible Citizenship: A Momentary Glow of Fraternity” he/she introduces the term, “alternative modernities.” He/she uses the term to denote the new self-confident political “reenvisioning” of Asian features that challenges the assumption of inevitable Western domination. He/she goes on to state that in Asia, the state officials argue that Asian modernity is an alternative to the West. The Asian narrative believes that capitalism “should strengthen state control, not undermine it” (pg 82). Therefore, how does Ong’ argue that the “momentary glow of fraternity” forged in alternative Chinese modernities will in fact renegotiate and reposition American global domination? What does he/she mean by “momentary glow of Fraternity”?
- Consider Huang’s contrast of “profits versus patriotism.” Scholars elaborate that there are differences between Chinese from the Mainland and Chinese nationals from other countries. Some Chinese foreign nationals invest in China primarily for profits, not because they are loyal to the Chinese nation state. He also comments that the overseas Chinese have different levels of attachment to the ancestral homeland, and distinguishes between two groups, the first and second generation Chinese. He/she states that one cannot count on the loyalty of overseas Chinese, only in their desire to profit off of China. Considering this, do you believe that it is possible to construct an economic zone that is based solely on race? How does it stand against the political and economic conditions? Would it work?
- In Benedict Anderson’s Chapter, “Long-Distance Nationalism” he ponders the paradoxical double movement of integration and des-integration in regards to the world’s “single capitalist economy” and he questions whether or not capitalism is responsible for producing new forms of nationalism. He quotes Acton’s own aphorism which states that, “exile is the nursery of nationality.” Do you agree with this statement? How does Anderson go about in refuting or defending this statement?
The Transnational and the Nation
“In contrast to the self-generating solidarity basic to most ethnographic accounts of community, I heard Meratus describe community formation as a state project that they could fulfill or frustrate. Local leaders constructed their authority not by reiterating community hierarchy but by emphasizing their ties to state rule. Yet this enthusiasm forms the crux of a contradiction: Rather than integrating Meratus into Indonesian politics as citizens, national political discourse has demarcated Meratus as savages outside its reaches. It is this kind of contradiction that I explore under the rubric of marginality.” (Tsing 8)
In her definition of marginality, what does Tsing do with the viewpoints of thinkers like Bhabha and Spivak? Do you agree with her characterization of their positions and how do you think she attempts to solve the problem of the “global dichotomies of colonizer and colonized” (17) that she presents?
A related question to the above is: what does she see as the problem with studying marginal communities by using definitions such as the First World and the Third World, the West and the East, Us and Them? How does she extend this discussion to examining marginal communities within a nation-state? (Look at analogy on bottom of page 27).
The Meratus construct their locality and the local authority of figures like The Bear and Uma Adang by negotiating varying ideas of power, violence, development, cities/villages and temporality which come from the opposition of their community and the Indonesian nation. She gives an example of this in the story of the headhunters. Does her account of locality differ from Arjun Appadurai’s discussion in “The Production of Locality?” What mechanisms are used to sustain locality for Appadurai? Is the way in which he describes the interaction between the nation-state and the neighborhood the same as Tsing’s description? Specifically, what conflicts exist between the nation-state and the marginal community/neighborhood for each scholar?
Appadurai describes some problems between the nation-state and the neighborhood in this passage: “Neighborhoods as social formations represent anxieties for the nation-state, as they usually contain large or residual spaces where the techniques of nationhood (birth control, linguistic uniformity, economic discipline, communications efficiency, and political loyalty) are likely to be either weak or contested” (190).
In addition, he summarizes the problems facing the production of locality on page 189 and contrasts this with the way the nation-state maintains itself: “The nation-state relies for its legitimacy on the intensity of its meaningful presence in a continuous body of bounded territory.” How specifically does media, especially the Internet, and immigration, with the subsequent creation of diasporas, disturb this idea of the nation-state? Is it similar to the more traditional conflicts as described by Tsing? Can the above passage from page 190 equally depict the conflict in the pre-1989 world and the contemporary world?
Majorities and Minorities
Southeast Asia Discussion Questions
1) “It is essential to bear in mind the conditions of the colonial era when we turn to look comparatively at the rise of nationalism since it was the colonial experience that profoundly shaped nationalism (323).”
Anderson argues that the colonists’ awareness of their own political illegitimacy in the colonies, based on the fact that they were minority rulers, caused them to create “majority coalitions” in order to inhibit the rise of groups that could compete with them on majority terms. To create such coalitions, partners of “a certain size, power, modernity, and cohesion were required (320).” In creating majority coalitions based on these criteria, the colonists greatly reconfigured ethnic and cultural boundaries. How did these reconfigurations of the colonial era shape the rise of nationalism? To think about this question consider the comparison between Indonesia and Malaysia. While it is true most Southeast Asian nations have been greatly influenced by the conditions of colonialism, these conditions interacted with aspects of each individual colony differently. How does Anderson’s comparison between Indonesia and Malaysia show the different ways in which colonialism has shaped politics in the post-independence era? Does the comparison bring about further questions about the influence of colonialism on nationalism and post-independence politics?
2) Anderson makes a distinction between two types of minorities: those were involved in colonial-nationalist politics and those who were not. While minorities of sufficient demographic size and political and economic sophistication were recruited to take part in the colonial political coalitions, minorities who were geographically isolated, not well educated, and not economically sophisticated were not. What were the costs of becoming part of the colonial political majority? How have the minorities who have negotiated with the colonial elite to become part of majority coalitions affected the realm of post-independent politics? What place is there in a new society for the minorities who have played no role in colonial-nationalist politics? Do they have any value?
3) “We live in Shan state and we are Burmese, but not Burmans. The Burmans are the majority, ruling people of Burma and we were one of the smallest of the minority tribes and people (10).”
What does Thwe mean that he is Burmese but not Burman? How does his status as a minority in Burma affect him politically? Does Thwe’s story support Anderson’s notion of minorities whose “humble wish is simply to be left alone” or does his status create an incentive to challenge the political elite. In other words, because he has had no part in the majority coalition of the political elite, is he then more likely to challenge the political remnants left over from the colonial era? What questions does his story raise about the nature of political dissent? Are only those on the outside in a majority position motivated to foster opposition? Are minorities who have been included in the majority coalitions not motivated to dissent at all or perhaps could they have a role in political bargaining? What might Anderson say?
Karaoke Fascism, Part 2: 11/3
1. Reflect upon the role of the body in Skidmore's analysis of Burma. She describes the body as key to both resistance and oppression, as a tool for both the citizens and the regime. "The ultimate form of deterritorialization," she says, is "the remaking of the body as an 'unsafe' zone and its reconstruction as an 'automaton,' or tool of the State" (111). Later, she discusses how the body can be used as a coping mechanism, referring to the Burmese body as "flexible...with detached agency" and "porous" (200) in her analysis of mimicking death (193-203).
According to Skidmore, how does the body function in Burma? How do the roles of the body reflect upon the nature of the regime? How utilization of the body support or resist the regime? Who has ultimate control over the Burmese body?
2. Skidmore's work repeatedly references Buddhism as a central force in the construction of the regime and resistance. Trace the role of Buddhism in the regime, including Skidmore's discussion of Buddhist kitsch (124), forgiveness of the regime (180), conceptions of time (209), the body and spirit (201), etc.
What role does Buddhism play in the regime? How does religion function as a means of resistance? How does religion function as a means of dominance? Does Buddhism support or influence one position (pro-regime versus anti-regime) over another?
3. "The subjunctive mood is the mood of Burma. To live with liminality, with the unexpected, and with possibility, is the normal modus operandi of the entire nation" (183).
Define "the subjunctive mood." Where does it originate? How does Skidmore see it manifested? What might the long-term outcomes be of this subjunctive mood?
4. Although this question of the end of fascism was briefly broached in the last class, the second part of the book presents new perspectives on the question, so it is worth bringing up again. Skidmore quotes Aung San Suu Kyi on page 181: "Morality (sila) can be upheld only when the stomach is full." This concludes her discussion of the poverty and structural violence in Burma. She indicates in this section that many cannot resist the regime as their primary focus is, by necessity, survival.
If we take this Burmese saying as true, is resistance against and overthrow of the regime possible? What might it take for successful resistance to occur--amelioration of poverty, increased starvation so that those in rural areas have no choice but to rebel (see pg 177), or something else?
5. Skidmore ends the book with a quotation from Orwell: "Flory 'had learned to live inwardly, secretly, in books and secret thoughts that could not be uttered...but it is a corrupting thing to live one's life in secret" (212). Throughout the second half of the book, she focuses closely on the alienating nature of Burmese escape tactics.
What does Skidmore want the reader to understand by ending on this quotation? Is she suggesting that the Burmese cannot psychologically, emotionally or physically survive if they continue to use escape as a survival method? How might the Burmese coping methods (silence, mental escape, "the subjunctive mood of culture," etc.) be corrupting?
Karaoke Fascism Part 1: 10/29
1. (7) Skidmore: "I use the term 'karaoke fascism' not only to describe the particular modern Burmese form of oppression as it is played out in the cities, but more specifically as the label for the response made by the Burmese people to a life of domination...'karaoke fascism' is the term I have chosen that best describes the psychological survival strategies of contemporary Burma."
What do you imagine Skidmore means when she describes Burmese psychological survival strategies as "karaoke fascism"? What's the connection?
2. (12-13, 20) Skidmore begins Chapter 2 with an anecdote about her visit to the Shwesandaw Pagoda. She notes how it was disrupted by the Burmese Giant Forest Scorpion and then explains that "it is no wonder Burmese Buddhists flock to these emotional heartlands when menaced by the frightening greenish-back scorpions of the military variety." Later in the chapter, Skidmore revisits her analogy, saying "Like the armed forces, the Burmese Forest Scorpion lies in plain sight, its matte surfaces absorbing the tropical sun. But armament alone is not sufficient for a feeling of safety."
What is the purpose of Skidmore's repeated reference to the Burmese Giant Forest Scorpion and comparison with the military? What is she trying to say and what does the allusion accomplish?
3. (21-23) Skidmore: "I realize that I've stopped taking field notes. What is a field note anyway? All I have now is snatches of conversations and partial views of incidents; there's no time for analysis. I have no sense of the overall plan, just fragments:"
What is the purpose of Skidmore's list of fragments? By dumping her stream of consciousness en masse, is she simply giving us an idea of what life is like in Rangoon? Or is there a more subtle message? Can you draw any connections to the politics of memory?
4. (29-32) Skidmore recounts an interview with Zin Maung, a student activist. He says, "We had no other choice. They could beat us if they wanted to. We didn't care any more, we had nothing to lose." Later, Skidmore notes that "very few people I spoke with in these confusing and frightening weeks had eyes that remained dry as they recounted the heroism of the students...the most gratifying element of the defiance was the sheer youth and inexperience of the students. These young men and women were born under dictatorship. That they have both internalized the desire for democracy and not succumbed to the grinding propaganda and seduction of a military-controlled modern future is knowledge that breaks through even the most hardened psychological barriers of the older generations."
What does being born under dictatorship -- and not knowing anything but dictatorship -- mean for the youth of Burma? By what means do they find the courage to protest? How does Zin Maung's nothing-to-lose philosophy tie in to his heroism?
5. (33, 45) Skidmore: "Ethnography conducted under conditions of fear and terror defies traditional methods of data collection." Skidmore: "I do not mean to downplay the actual atrocities perpetrated by the dictatorship but, rather, I want to draw attention to the powerful impact that the State construction of terror can have on everyday life under conditions of dictatorship."
How does Skidmore's situation with regards to her personal safety contribute to her ethnography (field study)? Does it help or hurt her representation of life in Burma under the military dictatorship? What is the impact of state construction of terror on everyday life? Where do rage and hope fit in?
6. (59-60) Skidmore characterizes Burma as "controlled by incipient or potential fascism." It is this quality of life -- the possibility that a "cigar" may at any moment transform itself into more than just a cigar -- that keeps Burma citizens awake at night.
Keeping in mind Skidmore's four key ways in which totalitarian methods are used -- community organization, propaganda, censorship, and informers -- how does the incipient fascism contribute to psychological livelihood in Burma? Is there any escape or is fascism inevitable?
7. (80-86) Skidmore describes the "veneer of modernity" in stark terms -- a "landscape of gilded pagodas and gold paint that tarts up the wizened pagodas and moldering downtown terraces for the sensual pleasure and seduction of foreign companies with hard currency." She relates the narratives of young heroin addicts, tying in a culture of narcotics in everything from the macroeconomy to architecture in order to expose this veneer.
How does the veneer of modernity contribute to psychological control in Burma? How does it contribute to the general suffering beneath the veneer? Finally, what role do narcotics play in the psychological life of Burmese citizens? Are they an escape, a tool, or something else altogether?
The Politics of Memory in Thailand, Oct. 27
- Haberkorn writes that "in Thailand…while the identity of those targeted by state actors may change, a rooted culture of impunity prevails." Thongchai focuses on the connection between the past and present: "Memory is always the projection from the present moment of remembering onto the past" (263).
Consider the events described in Haberkorn through Thongchai's conception of present imaginings of the past. Given Thongchai's analysis of history and memory of the October 1976 massacre, what connections can be drawn between present conceptions of that event and contemporary state violence? How does a lack of memory or complete, truthful history of the state violence in the 70s perpetuate this culture of impunity? Might a more unified national memory or accurate retelling of the past change that contemporary impunity or state violence?
- Anderson, 161: "One way of getting a sense of the dimensions of the cultural crisis that developed out of the economic and social changes sketched above is to begin with one striking contest between Siam and its regional neighbours. Thanks in part to their colonized pasts, most Southeast Asian countries have inherited a political vocabulary and rhetoric which is essentially radical-populist, if not left-wing, in character…"
Consider the histories of post-World War II violence in Indonesia (McGregor and Roosa) and Thailand (Anderson, Haberkorn and Thongchai). What role do colonial legacies play in the state violence in these countries? Because Thailand was not formally colonized, how does violence in Thailand differ from a previously colonized society like Indonesia? How, if at all, does a colonial past determine the nature of state violence?
- Anderson distinguishes between "the state as law and the state as apparatus" on page 178. What does this distinction mean? In Thailand, how did the state operate (or continue to operate) as or through law and in what ways did it operate as apparatus? How was violence manifested through the state as law or as apparatus?
- "Modern Thai historiography is a saga of the unity of Thai people under benevolent rulers, mostly the monarchy, in confronting the threats, and consequent sufferings, posed by foreign countries, in the course of which the nation survived and prospered." (Thonghchai 263)
- Trace the connections between the lack of colonial history, the idealized Thai national history and the massacres according to Thongchai. How does a lack of colonial history allow idealized conceptions of Thai national history? Is Thai nationalism based on this imagined past? If so, how might a more complete understanding of its recent violent past challenge Thai nationalism?