- Editor’s Introduction
Issue 20.4 includes an appalling note. Teresa Kuan’s “The Horrific and the Exemplary: Public Stories and Education Reform in Late Socialist China” connects crime, gore, and parenting to contemporary values debated at the highest political reaches of the People’s Republic of China. Deftly eliciting cases that evidence policy and institutional concerns about Chinese global competitiveness, Kuan shows that normative subjectivity in the state’s neoliberal political economy makes the human subject a new frontier of capital accumulation. Extending her thesis into a debate over parenting, Kuan finds carnivalesque-like materials. Disproportion, monstrosity, socialist realist narratives, and the magical paragon Lei Feng all are subjected to Kuan’s Lacanian eye. She shows precisely how the “truth lies in the form in which the symptom appears” in public telling and retelling of the disturbing case. But as she argues cogently, symptoms need not take catastrophic or brutal [End Page 947] shape, for the logics structuring the horrific also ground stories about over-performance, high social value, and rediscovery of goodness in its humblest forms. The value of the good parent mirrors the value of the bad one. That is the neoliberal popular story.
Daniel P. S. Goh’s “situated psychoanalysis” also invokes the Lacanian eye for cultural critique. In his “Oriental Purity: Postcolonial Discomfort and Asian Values,” he reads another infamous debate about value. His “subject” in this case is Singapore’s Peranakan postcolonial elite figures and their social legibility. His analysand clearly delineated sociologically, Goh argues that elites are driven with desire for originary Oriental purity at the same time as so-called Asian values give them, post- or ex-colonials, a life-line and a new neo-Confucianian alibi that bars any dream of a democratic social order. “Almost the same, but not white” drives the desiring subject to Orientalize himself in vain hope of overcoming the traumatic crisis that his Asian-appearing body triggers. The conundra of the Straights Chinese who had to try to approximate being Chinese shows why a Lee Kuan Yew would fight a two-front battle. Goh ends his essay on a warning. Politically unstable, racialized, reactionary subject forms should be put under sustained criticism. Otherwise they effectively foreclose dreams of equality.
C. J. Wan-ling Wee’s “The Suppressed in the Modern Urbanscape: Cultural Difference and Film in Singapore” raises the question of social subjects—“heartlander” and cosmopolitan—also caught in a painful double-bind condition. Nativist heartlanders live in housing blocks and are stuck in a cultural order in which cosmopolitans easily “flow” in order to maintain Singapore’s international profile as a pure Asian urbanity and modernity. Out of this twisted skein of rigid and flexible social subjects, Wee argues, realist cinema makes the city-state “a palimpsest of suppressed urban cultures,” bringing to light the vulnerable world of the stuck and deceitful celebration of their indigeneity. Wee addresses class concerns directly and unambiguously. Unlike Kuan’s aspecific dialectic of monstrosity and virtue, Wee sets his sights on unearthing the class nature of lower middle-class, male, tenement-dwelling, ethnic Hokkienese, English-speaking youths. As he maintains, the class analytic in these films shows that residents in “the public-housing estates are not an anonymous mass but participants in [End Page 948] a youth subculture that is a complex sociocultural existence that should be valuable to the city-state, for they are part of its larger multicultural reality.” In this way they do their work.
Rossella Ferrari’s “The Avant-garde Is Dead, Long Live the (Pop) Avant-Garde! Critical Reconfigurations in Contemporary Chinese Theatre” explicitly summarizes a point suffusing all the essays collected here. She does not, she says, “argue against the usage of Western theory as an analytical tool for non-Western avant-gardes,” since there is no reason to do that. The charge of being “fake” or derivative cannot be substantiated by evidence. Her larger point is that “words and acts can be appropriated, but never entirely reproduced. One can reproduce an idiom—so that a Euro-US avant-garde grows into a Chinese xianfeng—but cannot (and need not) replicate an experience.” The insistent claims of the term avant-garde...