- Toward a Decolonial Genealogy of the Transpacific
Over the past decade, the term transpacific has gained increasing currency in academic writings across different disciplines. In part responding to the cross-hemispheric turn in the ongoing transnational questioning of the single-nation framework of area-based research, many scholars in history, literature, sociology, anthropology, and ethnic studies have begun to view the transpacific as a potentially promising framework for groundbreaking scholarship. A number of books, conferences, workshops, and collaborative research agendas have promoted their projects under the transpacific rubric.1 This special issue of American Quarterly likewise considers the competing transnational figurations of “China” in North America by building on what the editors refer to as “critical transpacific studies.” The way the term has been deployed, what it means, and the purposes of such a naming are not necessarily consistent. And yet there is a growing sense of newness associated with the transpacific designation. Is the new framing simply a repackaging of old questions for the new market, or does it offer a distinctly emergent epistemology? Why the Pacific? Why now?
The perceived newness of transpacific inquiries may be understood in part as a symptom of growing North American preoccupations with China’s military, financial, political, and cultural power in recent decades. At the same time, the United States’ and Canada’s transpacific investment has deep connections to earlier Cold War geopolitics and knowledge. How might we understand the novelty of the transpacific designation and its use in relation to the intensifying fixation with “the rise of China” in our current moment as well as to earlier critical engagements with Cold War formations? And if any transpacific inquiry must reckon with the epistemological bypassing that the prefix trans invites, what elements, practices, and questions are left out of the dynamics of knowledge production when a certain type of transpacific studies literally becomes an inquiry of the geopolitical, imagined, or lived relations between the Pacific’s “two shores”? [End Page 471]
If the turn to the transpacific and “the Pacific” points to something new, we need to identify what has compelled the emergence of the transpacific analytic and ask what are the new questions and new sensibilities that cannot otherwise be illuminated without a transpacific lens. Indeed, many scholars of various disciplines have long investigated the Pacific region as an important space of violent contact, exchange, and asymmetries.2 I submit that “transpacific” as a critical methodology must mean more than the resignification of movements and interfaces across and within the arena that happens to be called the Pacific. Instead, we need to clarify the specific geohistoric conditions under which that space has been constituted as an object of knowledge and nonknowledge.3 And if we were to grasp the full meaning of the transpacific and/or the Pacific turn, we need to scrutinize the moment of its emergence and consider the interventions and contestations it may reveal or conceal. I delineate a decolonial genealogy of the transpacific—one that has been articulated and rearticulated as a transnational Asian/American critique of the United States’ militarized colonial presence in Asia and the Pacific Islands.4 In doing so, the following discussion introduces a conjunctive critique of the transpacific as a critical methodology by which to consider alternatives to transwar, interimperial, Cold War formations.5
In my view, the transpacific analytic is particularly urgent in the new century because it compels us to confront the structuring legacies of the transitional moment from World War II to the onset of the Cold War. At this transwar juncture, the vast areas of Asia and the Pacific Islands that were formerly colonized or occupied by the Japanese Empire were reorganized and then mobilized in an attempt to secure the United States’ geopolitical ascendancy, even as the region witnessed the waning of formal European colonial rule. While American supremacy could not have been achieved without military dominance and control over the overseas territorial possessions in Asia and the Pacific Islands—which can be traced back to the end of the nineteenth-century wars against the Spanish Empire and the Philippine Republic—it is also true that the United States’ midcentury ascendancy hinged on...