Annotation: Susan Buck-Morss’ “Hegel and Haiti” (2009)

Peer-Review: 0

This annotation was written in reference to my paper on Leonora Sansay’s Secret History. See my prospectus here.

Buck-Morss, Susan. “Part One: Hegel and Haiti.” Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009. 3-75. Print.

In this excerpt of her book, Buck-Morss emphasizes the need to further examine how Haiti and the Haitian Revolution influenced Hegel’s philosophy. She discusses that as the first philosopher to describe “the deterritorialized, world of the European colonial system,” Hegel argued that rather than freely entering a contractual agreement, human beings were always already caught in a complex network of “commodity exchange” (8, 10). Buck-Morss asserts that antislavery revolution “provides the theoretical hinge that takes Hegel’s analysis out of the limitlessly expanding colonial economy and onto the plane of world history which he defines as the realization of freedom” (12). Therefore, rather than the traditionally Marxist-centric analyses of Hegel’s work, Buck-Morss accentuates the importance of considering how the slaves’ struggle for freedom in Saint Domingue, which directly occurred during Hegel’s lifetime, influenced and shaped his philosophical thought.

Hegel’s explication of the master-slave relationship begins with the slave in the position of total dependence on the master to provide him sustenance through colonial economic surplus, where the state of “slave consciousness” is that of “thinghood” (54). Yet the reversal comes when the slaves realize the master’s dependence on them, allowing them to view themselves as “not things, not object, but subjects who transform material nature” (54). While Buck-Morss asserts that Hegel becomes “silent” about what follows this moment of realization, she contends that the slaves ultimately achieve their humanity and agency in determining to fight a revolution to secure their freedom. Buck-Morss’ elaboration of Hegel’s master-slave dialectic, how self-realization inspires a revolution for freedom will provide a helpful framework from which to analyze the events in Sansay’s <em>Secret History</em>. If she parallels the struggle for slave and female emancipation it would be interesting to consider Clara’s moment of self-realization and her own revolutionary path to freedom.

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Annotation: Elizabeth Maddock Dillon’s “The Secret History of the Early American Novel”

Peer-Review: 0

This annotation was written in reference to may paper on Leonora Sansay’s <em>Secret History</em>, as yet, still untitled. See my prospectus here.

Dillon, Elizabeth Maddock. “The Secret History of the Early American Novel: Leonora Sansay and Revolution in Saint Domingue.” <em>Novel</em> 40.1/2 (2006): 77-103. Print.

In her article Dillon asserts that while Sansay’s attention to balls and dress may appear frivolous and wholly disconnected from the revolution that rages throughout the island, both the domestic and colonial political narratives intersect and overlap in important ways. She reveals how Clara’s attempt to liberate herself from her abusive husband strongly parallels the revolutionaries’ efforts to establish a free, sovereign black nation-state. Dillon demonstrates that in the novel, colonization not only stands for the racist institution of slavery and economic exploitation but also the oppressive patriarchal order of colonial society. She emphasizes that female liberation is achieved as an unexpected consequence of the Haitian Revolution and “when Mary and Clara flee Saint Domingue for Cuba, they repeatedly find themselves in the company of unhusbanded women who appear to blossom in the absence of men who previously controlled them” (92). Dillon suggests that the novel presents America as the site where this female utopian community can be finally realized. I argue, however, that Sansay leaves us in a troubling de-localized space of transition, ending with a similar voyage on the high seas that opens the epistolary narrative. While the success of the revolution in St. Domingue will culminate in the establishment of a new contained black nation-state, Mary and Clara traverse borders and multiple terrains, forming transatlantic connections with other women that deeply challenge the notion of such a closed system, where America, as the final destination, becomes figured as more a point of continuous encounter and “exchange” in the words of Tennenhouse.

Dillon further argues that the elaborate descriptions of colonial palaces, finery and balls, in the novel, do “not bespeak sustained delusion (or colonial nostalgia) so much as an astute analysis of the relations of production and social reproduction that stand at the core of colonial politics” (78). She distinguishes “production” as economic, referring to, for example, the manufacturing of sugar, whereas “social production,” refers to the creation and perpetuation of the social relations, practices, ideologies, and environment necessary to sustain capitalism. Dillon explains that according to Marxism, the capitalistic enterprise of colonialism compels a geographic separation between the site of production and social production, where the colony serves as the economic factory or engine for wealth, while the colonizing country consumes and replicates the social conditions that enable capitalism to persist. She demonstrates that in Sansay’s novel, however, this geographic distinction is lost entirely as St. Domingue emerges as a place of both sugar production and Creole social production as exemplified by the madras headscarf, which becomes a popular consumer good.

Dillon defines Creole as a European born in the colony whose social production is considered “illegitimate precisely because reproduction has occurred at the site of capitalist production (the colony) rather than at the site of consumption (the metropole)” (86). She suggests further that the Creole occupies a liminal space as a “native who is non-native,” which is strongly reflected in their culture as the madras headscarf was used to restrain the sexuality of indigenous females and banned in Europe (95). Dillon ultimately offers the term Creole as a more productive means of conceptualizing American identity because it deftly captures the country’s vexed position as both a colonizing power and a postcolonial “nation.” Rather than “Americanization,” which suggests assimilation to some retrospective, conceived notion of a collective “national” identity, “Creolization” does not attempt to deny or erase America’s historical implication in complex systems of colonialism.

In her article, however, Dillon too readily dismisses the importance of fantasy in Secret History in favor of a more concrete analysis of production and social production. I argue that the novel is very much shaped and predicated on a fantasy structure, where the French, for example, imagine that they will be able to easily suppress the black revolutionaries, where Mary continuously fantasizes about a blissful colonial past, and where the “nation-state” itself is revealed to be merely a fantasy.

Annotation: Aihwa Ong’s Flexible Citizenship (1999)

Peer-Review: 0

This annotation was written in reference to my paper “Re-imagining Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker through the National Politics of Global Capitalism.” See my abstract here.

Ong, Aihwa. “Introduction.” Flexible Citizenship: The Cultural Logics of Transnationality. Durham: Duke UP, 1999. 1-26. Print.

In the “Introduction” of her book, Ong demonstrates a broad concern with the notion of transnationality, defining it as “the condition of cultural interconnectedness and mobility across space—which has been intensified under late capitalism” (4). She strongly questions the assertions of some contemporary scholars that globalization has precipitated the erasure of national borders and the consequent emergence of liberating cosmopolitan identities. Ong argues that states are effectively policing their national borders and identities by developing systems of governmentality to regulate transnational flows of culture, capital and peoples. She relies on Foucault’s definition of governmentality as referring to “techniques and codes for directing human behavior” (6). Ong ultimately presents a complex theoretical framework that attempts to analyze cultural productions within the context of global capitalism (Marx) and governmentality (Foucault).

She accentuates the necessity to examine how changing factors of our current global political economy has led to the creation of mobile and nonmobile subjects—those who are able to maneuver and profit from the system and those who become localized to a particular place because they lack the economic means to respond to the flows of global capital. There are also of course “mobile” subjects who are forced to engage in compulsory labor migrations. I assert that these “mobile” subjects can be compelled by other means as well, for example, the internalized need to fulfill certain social expectations and national narratives such as the function of the model minority stereotype in Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker. But Ong does ultimately express a hint of optimism towards the notion of flexibility. She asserts that while states have developed flexible means of regulating transnational flows, individuals have also developed a kind of “flexible citizenship” that can be liberating, finding markets and homes in multiple locales.

Annotation: Jodi Kim’s “From Mee-gook to Gook” (2009)

Peer-Review: 0

This annotation was written in reference to my paper “Re-imagining Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker through the National Politics of Global Capitalism.” See my abstract here.

Kim, Jodi. “From Mee-gook to Gook: The Cold War and Racialized Undocumented Capital in Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker.” MELUS 34.1 (2009): 117-137. Print.

In this essay Kim focuses on the haunting legacies of the Cold War in Native Speaker. She demonstrates how the Manichean logics of the time polarized the world into two opposing camps—“good” capitalism and democracy vs. “evil” communism and totalitarianism. Kim argues that this binary stratification obscures the fundamental antagonisms between capitalism and democracy (124). Whereas democracy (US liberalism) promises equal rights and freedoms, capitalism is necessarily hierarchical, thriving on the oppression and exploitation of certain groups of people. Kim suggests that the “model minority” stereotype is specifically imposed on Asian American subjects to uphold the fiction of US liberal democracy, to emphasize that immigrants and minority figures can all achieve economic success if they just work hard enough. This rhetoric is, however, only meant to divert attention from the deeper structural inequalities within the US political economy. Kim also discusses how the United States secretly thrives on the labor of undocumented workers, allowing these individuals to persist so long as their capital remains in the tightly confined sphere of “ethnic small business capital” (124). Once Kwang attempts to politicize that capital, he is suddenly charged with criminal offenses for handling “racialized undocumented capital” (127). While the capital of non-US citizens is permissible on a purely economic level, the attempt to give these human beings some degree of political influence with the capital they generated within the nation-state is not tolerated because it threatens to overturn the existing capitalist order.

Kim’s discussion of the ironic treatment of capital within the United States is particularly important to my own research. I plan to extend her argument and consider how Kwang’s ggeh is not only radical in enabling non-citizens to influence US politics but how it offers an alternative means of organization and identification outside state-controlled mechanisms such as citizenship and race. As a private, communal banking system, Kwang’s ggeh not only subverts government-policing agencies but also lacks the traditional state-sponsored monetary insurance guarantees. Members are therefore entirely reliant human “bonds” of trust. I also intend to explore the implications of the ggeh as the primary cause for Kwang’s political demise and how that reflects the problematic devaluation of human life in the novel. The fact that Kwang is scandalized for his financial dealings with an “illegal” money club rather than his involvement in the murder of Eduardo and Helda suggests an extreme fetishization of capital.

Abstract: Monique Truong’s The Book of Salt (2004)

Monique Truong’s The Book of Salt (2004): Unsanctioned (Hi)stories of Love Caught in the Circuits of Global Capitalism

In The Book of Salt (2004), Monique Truong challenges the conventional portrayal of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas’ lesbian love relationship as an indication of progress and greater tolerance towards aberrant sexual identities. By re-imagining their romance from the perspective of Binh, their live-in Vietnamese cook, Truong accentuates how Stein and Toklas’ relationship becomes a new normative model of love that renders Binh’s queer romances illegitimate because they cross racial, cultural, and class lines. In “The End(s) of Race,” David Eng emphasizes that Stein and Toklas are able to emerge as “the iconic lesbian couple of historical modernism” through the “forgetting of both Asia and Africa,” of queer relationships like Binh and Lattimore’s, a Vietnamese exile and American mulatto. While Stein and Toklas’ romance has been inscribed in history, Eng reveals how Binh’s love becomes a history that must be told as fiction. I further this discussion by considering how colonization and global capitalism perpetuate this historical erasure. Truong demonstrates how Binh’s status as an exiled, migrant laborer renders his love vulnerable to commodification. She presents the job hunt as a compulsory “courtship” Binh must engage in due to desperate financial straits and that as a chef he performs labor akin to prostitution.

As someone whose success in work and love hinges on ever-fluctuating market flows, Binh’s life is deprived of historical coherence—localized time and space. Unlike Stein and Toklas whose relationship has been historically integrated as part of the “Modernist” movement, Truong suggests that the romance of queer migrant laborers often remains omitted. I argue, however, that Truong reveals the power of fiction to recover marginalized, repressed (hi)stories of love. The novel allows Binh to re-appropriate the voice that has been caught and silenced in the circuits of global capitalism, providing him the agency to narrate his own tale.

Works Consulted

Babb, Florence E. “Queering Love and Globalization.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies. 13.1 (2007): 111-123. Print.

Bhabha, Homi K. “Introduction: Location of Culture” The Location of Culture. New york: Routledge, 1994. 1-18. Print.

Brocheux, Pierre. “Ho Chi Minh: A Biography.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 2008. 14 Mar. 2010. . Web.

Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble. New York: Routledge, 1999. Print.

Ciuraru, Carmela. “Gertrude Stein’s Cook.” Lambda Book Report 11.7 (2003): 24-5. Print.

Clausen, Jan. “Review: The Cook’s Tale; the Book of Salt Read.” The Women’s Review of Books 20.10/11 (2003): 23. Print.

Cohler, Deborah: “Teaching Transnationally: Queer Studies and Imperialist Legacies in Monique Truong’s The Book of Salt.” Radical Teacher. 82 (2008): 25-31. Print.

Eng, David L. “The End(s) of Race.” PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 123 (2008): 1479-93. Print. (Annotation)

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Luibhéid, Eithne. “Queer/Migration: An Unruly Body of Scholarship.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 14.2-3 (2008): 169-190. Print.

—. “Sexuality, Migration, and the Shifting Line between Legal and Illegal Status.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 14.2-3 (2008): 289-315. Print. (Annotation)

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Marx, Karl. “The Commodity.” Capital: Volume I. Trans. Ben Fowkes. New York: Penguin, 1992.125-177. Print.

Povinelli, Elizabeth. Empire of Love: Toward a Theory of Intimacy, Genealogy, and Carnality. Durham: Duke UP, 2006. Print.

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Troeung, Y-Dang. “‘A Gift or a Theft Depends on Who is Holding the Pen’: Postcolonial Collaborative Autobiography and Monique Truong’s The Book of Salt.” MFS Modern Fiction Studies. 56.1 (2010): 113-135. Print. (Annotation)

Truong, Monique. The Book of Salt. New York: First Mariner Books, 2004. Print.

Wang, Ban. “Reimagining Political Community: Diaspora, Nation-State, and the Struggle for Recognition.” Modern Drama 48.2 (2005): 249-271. Print.

Xu, Wenying. “Sexuality, Colonialism, and Ethnicity in Monique Truong’s The Book of Salt and Mei Ng’s Eating Chinese Food Naked.” Eating Identities. Manoa: University of Hawaii UP, 2007. Print.

Žindžiuvienė, Ingrida’s. “Transtextual Bridge Between the Postmodern and the Modern: The Theme of ‘Otherness’ in Monique Truong’s novel The Book of Salt (2003) and Gertrude Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1932).” Literatūra 45.5 (2007): 147-155. Print.