How Are Body and Identity Linked?
Prior to beginning, let me start with identifying the ground (however undulating) from which I speak. Western philosophy, as influenced by the modernist and scientific traditions, privileges logos (factual content) over ethos (character) and pathos (emotional appeal). Yet having been mentored, very effectively, by Nietzsche, to nurture an appreciation for both rhetoric and philosophy, I believe it is important to pay attention to all three: to who speaks, how she or he speaks (and for whom), and what she or he says (and why).
The position from which I spring, as outlined in an earlier book, Inside Notes from the Outside, moves across, attempting to translate across, multiply hybrid realms of being and becoming—of being perpetually both inside and outside, negotiating differences and attempting, in collaboration with others, to translate across incommensurabilities, knowing that translation, ultimately, can never be perfect or exact.1 That, to me, is not sufficient reason to give up trying.
The Insider-Outsider Position
By the late twentieth century, our time, a mythic time, we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids … in short, we are cyborgs.—Donna Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women
We were visiting with good friends, Roy and Leslie Engle, during the Christmas of 1998 at Stow, Ohio. As we sat across from each other, enjoying the meal, the warmth, and each other’s company, I became aware of their three-year-old son’s wide-eyed gaze. [End Page 191]
“Are you black, or are you white?” Benjamin’s adorably dark brown eyes were unblinking. He looked earnestly confused.
I was told by friends that the eminent Slavoj Žižek had asked similar questions as I stood at the podium, introducing him for Florida State University’s Colloquium Series in October 2000. “Who is she? You must tell me, where is she from?” he reportedly inquired, with an imperative tone, as I continued with my introduction. When he learned I was from the Philippines, he remarked, “Oh—you mean, like Imelda Marcos?”
It is instances such as these two anecdotes that have spurred me to reflect on bodies, power, and identities. In both cases, the apparent resolutions of the question concerning my identity—that is, that I am “brown,” neither black nor white, and that I hail from the same place as Asia’s glamorous and extravagant “iron butterfly”—seem inadequate as labels. Somehow, there is something about these neat categories that, in Eliot’s terms, “slip, slide, and perish … will not stay in place.”
The politics of race, gender, and class has sparked much interest and even controversy in contemporary academic and wider public circles. The questions I attempt to wrestle with are not particularly uncommon ones. They are issues that have loomed over anyone who has had to come to terms with concrete, pragmatic questions regarding identity and courses of action within the interacting spheres of race, gender, class, and power. The specific cast I give these questions and my attempts at seeking answers to them are formed by my own experiences as a woman of ambiguous ancestry raised in the Philippines; who was educated in the Philippines, England, and the United States as a biologist and philosopher; and who has traveled in Europe, Asia, and the United States as an academic, artist, and DanceSport champion. Ultimately, I also speak as a former student leader who grew up as a Martial Law baby in the Philippines during the Marcos regime, one among thousands who joined the peaceful throngs that stopped most tanks during the 1986 People Power Revolution; as one among hundreds who temporarily had to go into hiding during the forty-eight-hour crackdown on student leaders prior to the Marcoses being flown out of Malacanang Palace by U.S. forces; and as someone who left, once I saw that the only factor that held opposition forces momentarily together was a powerful ressentiment against the Marcoses.
I speak as someone who lived in Seoul, South Korea, from 1991 to 1993, during the hottest clashes between North and South, knowing that Seoul, an ally of the Unites States, could easily...