Should critique be a felony?
In this general issue, contributors demonstrate how hard it is to execute a law-breaking scholarly project. Queer arts practices, retooled archives, ambiguous playacting, collages that come out of pickled brains, so-called limbic measures, investigation into how national shame is engineered, ambiguity, indecisiveness, candid and parodic claims, composites and imaginary types, all these are the things for erudite critics, inventors, and readers. The articles here show critics burrowing into interstitial worlds, digging out implicit command structures, provoking ways to disarm those banal powers holding in place what is unrelenting, malicious, tiresome cruelty.
Jan Christian Bernabe’s essay, “Queer Reconfigurations: Bontoc Eulogy and Marlon Fuentes’s Archive Imperative,” takes the reader into a counterhistory of an imaginary historical figure, Markod, who appears and disappears [End Page 723] in a counterarchival film Fuentes created using US imperial archival images. The essay is complex. Bernabe illuminates the notion of queerness in political arts, coming up with a transportable notion of the queer composite strategy. As an insight into how colonial stereotypes operate the queer composite body of the imaginary grandfather, Markod is shown to be an end product. Kinetic and composite, as Bernabe puts it, Fuentes’s film, and he himself as actor in the film, transforms his own singular brown body into the position of native as, acting the native, he demonstrates how that abstraction—native—got compiled and fixed in the first instance. Bernabe’s scholarship references many items familiar in this genealogy of the nativization of racial imperial subjects: the World’s Fair, the eugenic anthropologists, American foreign-policy mandates, and forced migration. However, in his hands, each takes on a queer tone as Fuentes’s film reinvigorates singular bodies and “marks them as disruptive bodies to the colonial order.”
Readers get the full Monty critique of ethnology in Inhye Kang’s “Visual Technologies of Imperial Anthropology: Tsuboi Shōgorō and Multiethnic Japanese Empire.” Providing a counterargument to tired clichés about how all selves are dependent on another, Kang argues instead that the practice of photographing alleged racial ethnic differences was a foundational element in Japanese state anthropology. In the first case, Tsuboi’s pioneering anthropological philosophy took shape around visual data so that definition and seclusion of “racial ethnic difference” depended on accruing and compositing pictorial stereotypes. In the second, the graphic representations of these alleged races or ethnicities reinforced Tsuboi’s hallmark argument that the Japanese empire’s strength was its capacity to assimilate difference into itself. Strength and legitimacy of Japanese imperialism was credited to its multistoried social structure built up of optics, statistically anticipatable racial differences, the conceit of typicality and the specimen, and the scientistic measures of classification, taxonomy, and comparison. The ultimate result of Tsuboi’s thesis, assimilation of difference, was to privilege an all-seeing eye, Japan, to continuously monitor the nation’s capacity to sustain its empire. Outing Tsuboi’s grotesque and influential philosophy is a felonious assault on the national myth.
In their seriously comical essay, “Readymade Mao: Impersonation and Affective Relations,” Nicholas de Villiers and Yongan Wu focus on the [End Page 724] filmmaker Zhang Bingjian’s documentary Readymade. The film analyzes two famous Mao Zedong impersonators, one male and one female, and the critics use Zhang’s work to meditate on the contemporary Mao-signified. (Those of the Cultural Revolution generation may read this essay with delighted chagrin.) The core arguments are that Zhang Bingjian captures in Mao impersonation the transformation of Chairman Mao into commercial entertainment. Even as commodified performances, “Maos” have a capacity to elicit feelings in viewers, including cathartic emotions. Turning attention onto the pedestrian lives of the impersonators, Zhang shows how Mao impersonators live normal yet not normative lives in ordinary towns and villages. Back end and front end, the actors, Villiers and Wu argue, seem readymade in a moment of performance, and yet they are only sublime the way ducks appear in water: actors chaotically paddle in the turmoil of their queerly normal lives, to achieve the spectral Mao’s characteristically sublime calmness. Then Villiers and Wu turn on US-rooted scholarly dogma about “queer performativity.” Their essay suggests that inside the presumptive...