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positions: east asia cultures critique 8.1 (2000) 1-7

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Guest Editors' Introduction

This special issue of positions turns on a great irony of the postcolonial world: as the colonialists vacate their spaces of control, the colonial has gone native in the bodies of a stratum of the colonized. Nested within the positional structure of the imperial, the original and continuing power of the core states, a subimperial relation between the dominant of the dominated and their periphery emerges. The domination of the core powers over East Asia is replicated as a fractal imperial relation between forces in Hong Kong and Taiwan, on one hand, and a new domination franchise involuted within Taiwan and Hong Kong and exvoluted to China and Southeast Asia. Under the continuing sign of orientalism, a suboriental space of representation re-creates the symbolic violence of orientalism on another scale. Understanding the coming into being and the negation of this system of nationalist domination is this issue's project.

Beyond the concern with subimperialism and suborientalism, the essays here share a methodological and theoretical disposition. The structures explored here are not the unfolding of master imperial and orientalist logics. [End Page 1] Rather, they exist through agencies whose contingent patterns always admit the possibility of otherwise. Understanding how the anticolonial impetus is processed through nationalism to recolonize the present global system is a necessary condition of new forms of agency and new structure, forms sought by the authors of these essays.

The muchacho/muchacha 1 is a powerful signifier to the signified of subimperial agency, the nationalist discourse and control mediating between the imperial and the regional franchise. In Michael Taussig's exploration of the imperial rubber camp massacres directed against the Putamayo people, the muchacho is the category of rational Indian, cooked savage whose acceptance by the colonizer and whose local knowledge and skills magnified the rubber companies' killing efficiency. The muchacho was not the mute tool of the colonizer but an active agent who used the cultural capital bestowed by the colonizer to create a region of agency, a space of control over the savage majority.

If we consider the defining features of the muchacho--semimastery of the colonists' representational system, intimate knowledge of the Other to be subjugated, and a license to enforce for self and master--the concept can refer to not just the muchacho of a moment noted by Taussig but also the set of associated differences in time and place, the paradigmatic muchacho. The muchacho, institutionalized after conquest, no longer wields the machete as the main mechanism of order. Academic discourse, bureaucratic administration, commodity fetishism, and media for advertising are cruise missiles to the early muchacho's machete, weapons that distance the agents from the violent control that is the result of their position in the suboriental frame. The imperial organization and signification of the world now depends in no small part on the muchacho who in turn lives out the colonial franchise in the space vacated by the colonialist as "Chicago Boy" economist, nationalist "feminist" muchacha, and a hundred local guises in which the colonial becomes the national.

The boundaries of colonial projects live on as the nationalists appropriate borders and institutions, shifting the project from homogenizing colonials in markets, schools, and courts to the homogenizing of nationals--actually inverting the national mythology as the state invents the People that it contends called it into being. And in the muchacho celebration of a nation, a [End Page 2] demonstrably imperial invention, the muchacho franchise scrambles discourse and obstructs action along nonnational categorical lines to deal with misery inflicted on the arbitrary subordinations of gender, class, caste, and beyond. This volume breaks with the muchacho mode of relation and in its critique of that relation suggests another path, a refusal to play by the rules of the dominant game.

In this frame, the first two articles investigate the subimperial and imperial interplay. Kuan-Hsing Chen begins with the problem of agency and the paradox of doing his variant of Anglo-American cultural studies in Taiwan. Chen develops an approach...


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