Shu-mei Shih’s chapter “Globalization and Minoritization” highlights the problems with using the concepts of flow/fluidity as a form of resistance within a theoretical discussion haunted by the specter of postcolonial nationalisms. She describes recent trends in scholarship that have reversed interpretations of power in colonial legacies. Frederick Buell and Anthony King, for example, have theorized that the bitter residues of the metropole’s influence in former colonies can be re-formulated as precursors to global hybridities. Similarly, others argue that the movement of subjects of former colonies to the metropole is what has led to the coveted global status of metropoles. Shih questions however, the efficacy of these strategies, as “postcolonial and metropolitan hybridities embody two different histories, are derived from two very different experiences, carry divergent ‘values’ globally, and can never be equal” (44).
Another criticism of “flow,” which Shih explains by reworking the “nodal points” of Laclau and Mouffe, is that it depends on shifting frameworks that privilege the point of view of powerful institutions. Shih’s analysis of how Ang Lee’s seeming fluid subject position is in fact constricted between national and minority frameworks illustrates the inescapability of national nodal points. Whether he is the national treasure of Taiwan, or an ethnic minority within the nation of the United States, within this particular framework, he is still subject to the power dynamics of nation states.
Even Third World nationalism, Shih argues, despite its prevalence and usefulness in articulating resistance, “delimits the coherence of its power through the repression of internal dissent and differences, in particular, its female constituencies” (46). This criticism brings to mind Fanon’s appeals to national and continental unity at the expense of tribal differences and female agency in The Wretched of the Earth. Yet the resounding impact of Fanon’s words on other political movements cannot be denied.
Shih’s chapter is highly informative and productively challenges the theoretical turn towards coevalness. Nonetheless, I’m left feeling like I just walked in a circle. How do marginalized subjects navigate dominant power structures, and how do we theorize about this process? Since flexibility has its negative material consequences, as David Harvey points out, with what degree of caution should one tout a transcendent transnationalism?
I’m brought back to the difference between discourse and practice. When writing or theorizing about resistance to hegemonic power structures, discussions center around one of two arguments:
1.) the postcolonial subject in question meets X standard, and in fact meets X standard better than the metropole; therefore the postcolonial subject has resisted the metropole.
2.) conceding that the postcolonial subject does not meet X standard, but that’s okay because that “standard” by which we measure things is messed up anyway! What the colonial subject lacks is actually terrible to have to start with. Therefore, the postcolonial subject is more powerful than the metropole.
Whether the key terms in question for communicating resistance are “transnationalism” or “aesthetics of garbage,” these arguments, in their various forms, apply.
So where to go from here? Is there a way to bridge discourse and practice? What sort of new nodal points should one form?