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Journal of Asian American Studies 6.2 (2003) 199-205
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Reframing Displacements in the U.S. Pacific and Asia/Pacific Field-Imaginary: Transpacific Displacement: Intertextual Travel in Twentieth-Century American Literature, by Yunte Huang (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002) and Displacing Natives: The Rhetorical Production of Hawaii, by Houston Wood (Boulder, CO: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999).
In this essay, I invoke three large-scale displacements taking place in the postcolonial Pacific, considered as a region of transnational impact, flow, encounter, and contact zone: ecological, financial, and semiotic. I will here be concentrating more on the last framework in the context of the former two, but I will be urging that we read literary-cultural texts and sign-flows in these larger planetary, geo-material, and global/local contexts that would implicate postmodern/postcolonial modes of semiotic "displacement" (as such) in the very material dynamics of ecological and financial imbalance, catastrophe, and unrest. I want thereby to contest the limits of any too-loosely tropological or text-centered displacement models that are transforming the postcolonial field imaginaries of Asia/Pacific study in productive, if uneven, ways.
Pushing this small intervention towards a U.S.- and field-situated conclusion, I will here focus upon two scholarly works written from inside the (too often disconnected) fields of Asia-Pacific and Pacific American studies that would trenchantly give "displacement" contrasting registers and applications: Yunte Huang's counter-orientalist study of textual mimicry and transcultural translation of China into America, Transpacific Displacement: Intertextual Travel in Twentieth-Century [End Page 199] American Literature, and Houston Wood's more indigenous-centered study of rhetorical and political displacement in modern Hawaii, Displacing Natives: The Rhetorical Production of Hawaii.
Both of these strong and ably articulated works are not just about displacement, as their titles suggest. Rather, they activate it as an organizing trope for how they would go about challenging and displacing more nation-based areas or segregationist knowledge frames. Both of these works thereby give the reader of transnational cultural studies powerful twists upon the meanings and "border" tactics of representing transpacific and Asia/Pacific "displacement." Both works demand, as a necessary aspect of establishing a more de-centered U.S. field-imaginary for doing ethnic-national or post-area study, the very conjunction of national/transnational frames and a dialogical interactive model of trans/Pacific study. Mired in postcolonial newness and the lurch towards affirming the all-too-utopian hybridity of diasporic unsettlement, we still need a broader and more geo-material internationalist vision of external linkages and trans-area concepts than any neo-liberal pragmatic or (merely) nation- or area-based rationale can now provide.
For Yunte Huang, as he goes about enacting the scholarly tactic of working in the transnationalized field-imaginary of his first academic study, "displacement" is less a flow (or forced removal) of Asia/Pacific peoples, cultures, weapons, or commodities as such, than a sign-sign textual effect of American modernism/postmodernism, as mutual meanings migrate, mimic, and transform both the objects of representation and their entangled agents of inter-textual creation. "Transpacific" is thus given an affirmatively postcolonial meaning that at once defamiliarizes the more orientalist vocabulary of East/West domineering exchange we have grown used to recognizing after the anti-disciplinary work of Edward Said, Masao Miyoshi, David Palumbo-Liu, Rey Chow, Lisa Lowe, and Johannes Fabian and so on. "Transpacific" becomes by this latest return to entangled ethnography, global cultural flow, and trans-regional travel, less a policed and nation-regulated "border" site of exclusion, nationhood, and containment than one that opens towards a more fluid, trans-oceanic, borderless zone of textual crossing and cultural mixing.
This overtly "transnationalized" field-imaginary of Asian/Asian American/American studies, as it goes on cutting across area studies, needs to attune itself to these inter-textual dynamics and semiotic flows, but, I would urge, not exclusively so. 1 As Huang summarizes the key methodological turn to his innovative and against-the-grain study, "What I call transpacific displacement is a historical process of textual migration of...