Iyko Day, “Alien Capital: Asian Racialization and the Logic of Settler Colonial Capitalism”

Iyko Day, “Alien Capital: Asian Racialization and the Logic of Settler Colonial Capitalism”


Hello again, everyone. Let’s officially get
this party started. So my name is
Colleen Kim Daniher. For those of you
who don’t know, I am a Presidential Diversity
Postdoctoral Fellow in Theatre Arts and Performance Studies. And as the principal organizer
for the CSREA faculty grant, I want to welcome you
to this conversation on comparative
racialization and settler colonialism in North America. First of all, I want to
thank the campus-wide support networks that made
today’s event possible. The Center for the Study of
Race and Ethnicity in America and its fabulous team of
Tricia Rose, Caitlin Murphy, and Christina Downs generously
provided resources, guidance, and logistical support
through, as I mentioned, a CSREA faculty grant. Thanks also to our
co-sponsors, the Cogut Center for the Humanities, the Office
of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, , and the
Departments of English American Studies, Theatre Arts
and Performance Studies, and Modern Culture Media. And finally, I want to thank
my collaborator, English PhD candidate, Jennifer
[? Wei, ?] who was instrumental to the
planning process throughout. So it is with great pleasure
that I introduce today’s visiting guest,
professor Iyko Day. Professor Day is an associate
professor of English and Chair of the Program in Critical and
Social Thought at Mount Holyoke College. She is also co-chair
of the Five College AsianAsian/Pacific/American
Savings Program. Professor Day’s research
focuses on the intersection of Asian racialization,
indigeneity and capitalism in North America,
exploring such topics as the settler colonial
biopolitics of landscape art; the transnational
coloniality of Japanese internment in
Canada, the US, and Australia; as well as
comparative approaches to the blackness and
racial information in Canada and the US. Her articles have
appeared in journals such as Critical Ethnic Studies,
American Quarterly, Amerasia Journal, and
Canadian Literature. And her book, Alien
Capital, Asian Racialization in the Logic of Settler
Colonial Capitalism, published by University
Press in 2016, offers a significant
contribution to scholarship on
Asian-American racial formation, settler colonial studies,
and the emerging field of critical ethnic studies,
by re-theorizing the history and logic of settler colonialism
through its relationship to Asian racialization. That was one sentence. In-depth readings
of Asian-American and Asian-Canadian literature
and visual culture, anchored by a rigorous
engagement with Marx, Day argues that Asians
came to personify the abstract and negative
dimensions of capital, and in the process,
challenges us to think about the racial
dynamics of entanglements of land, labor, and capital. Please join me in
welcoming Iyko Day. Good afternoon. I want to thank
you for all coming. It’s so wonderful
to be here at Brown. It’s actually my
first time here. I’ve heard so much about it from
some people that I know here. But I also want to really think
Colleen Kim Daniher, Christina Downs, Caitlin Murphy,
and Jennifer Wang for organizing this event
and giving me the opportunity to share my work. I also want to thank
the seminar participants from earlier today for their
really stimulating questions and the discussion that
we had earlier today. I’m really honored by your
interest and engagement. So I thought I would
talk a little bit about the origins of the project
and focus a little bit on some of the visual culture that
didn’t make it into the book, as well as some of the
visual culture that did. And I think I need to make
sure I have my pointer thing. It’s very high
tech here at Brown. OK, so the origins of my
work on settler colonialism stemmed from the desire to
understand Asian racialization beyond the comparative
touchstones of anti-black racism
in the US, where the racial content
of Asian-Americans is understood to be
between black and white. As someone from Canada,
I’ve always had a hard time with this idea that
Asians were sort of in between black and white in
this middle minority theory. So the reason for
this difficulty was mainly kind of
anecdotal or experiential. My adolescence and
early adulthood were marked by First
Nation’s blockades, rather than the
rural-urban blockades and rather than that urban
uprisings that mark it now. So on my right,
is the Oka crisis. I think I was in the
10th grade, and this was a big moment for me. And then also the history of
the Native Blockade Movement in British Columbia
was something that was very formative
in my thinking about race and difference in terms of my
own burgeoning consciousness about my Asianness. And then, of
course, this is sort of my contemporary
reality of urban uprisings around anti-black
police violence. So by reflecting on the
distinction between Canada and the US, I’m not
trying to minimize or deny the violence of anti-black
racism in Canada. Rather, I just
want to acknowledge that the interplay of
race and indigeneity has unfolded in different
ways there than in the US and that the legacy of
indigenous dispossession has taken on a paradigmatic
status in Canada. Can everyone hear
me OK in the back? OK, good. But despite these
differences that have shaped the distinct
racial and ethnic trajectories in Canada and the US,
a notable exception is the racialization of
Asian North Americans. So when it comes to Asians,
public sentiment and policy in Canada and the
United States has really unfolded in lockstep, from the
history of labor recruitment, exploitation, and
expulsion of Asian labor; restricted immigration policy
and segregated bachelor enclaves; from
wartime internment to post-war immigration reform. So my question was
like, what can really account for those
parallels given the vast differences in US
and Canadian racial formation? So if from a broader
North American standpoint, how do we approach this question
if Asian racialization can’t be understood as a
purely derivative form of anti-black racism? So I wanted to turn to settler
colonialism for. answers. So what this meant
was that rather than thinking about the
racialization of Asians as being constituted between
blackness and whiteness, I wanted to explore Asian
racial otherness in relation to indigenous land. So before I proceed, I just
want to make a few very general, broad points about
settler colonialism, just to distinguish it from many
other colonial formations that exist, in particular,
franchise colonialism, which is the one that most
people are familiar with. So settler colonialism is a
distinct colonial formation for three main reasons
that many people cite. The first is that
settlers don’t leave. In fact, they’re
engaged in the project of replacing native peoples. Secondly, settlers’ primary
objective is to acquire land rather than to exploit
indigenous labor, which is distinct from
say, the exploitation of Indian labor in India in
a British-French colonial situation. So the point again here is
to replace native people, not to exploit their labor. And the third, which is
that settler colonialism is, “a structure, not an event,”
to reiterate Patrick Wolfe’s often quoted phrase, which
means that the dispossession of indigenous people is
continuous and never ends. There is no post-settler
colonialism. So I thought I would talk
a little bit about some of the romantic
settler mythologies that I think are part of the
cultural projection of settler colonial mythology. And one is that as part
of settler culture, you have a kind of
imperialist nostalgia, where it makes racial domination
appear innocent and pure, where people mourn the transformation
of what they’ve caused to be transformed, so that you
have a romantic identification with a noble savage figure. A second aspect of
the cultural formation of settler colonialism
is the practice of going native, where
the white man is an ally and displaces the responsibility
for native genocide. So the white man is a
kind of super native. And so examples of these kinds
of settler colonial projections are rampant in popular culture. And I’ll just give
you a few examples. Oh, sorry, wrong slide. I was worried about this. OK, let’s see. Oh, OK. Well, sorry, I apologize. This is a PowerPoint
presentation that I usually use a
different set of slides. So I will be going back
and forth through them. So my apologies for that. So we see here with a
paradigmatic example as going native, where
Kevin Costner, of course, becomes the hero of this film in
a more interplanetary context. You can not only
go super native, but you can go super Navi
and transpose yourself into this indigenous
personality. And then another
example of a film that most people haven’t seen–
it’s kind of a bad film– but where you have
actually indigenous people and cowboys
allied together against a technologically
superior, and I read Asian, invasion. And they’re this extractive
alien labor force. So the settlers and
indigenous people, they’re opposed to
this alien formation. So this settler imaginary
symbolically alleviates white settler colonial
responsibility for the genocidal dispossession
of indigenous peoples while promoting their romantic
fantasy of white settlers’ natural affiliation to land. This is something that I was
talking about today earlier in terms of my own
struggles with this project as a graduate student. But I do want to just
mention that when I started this project about 15 years
ago, the focus on North American settler colonialism was
really considered very obscure against the more
prominent emphases on US empire at the time. And when I started
graduate school, Antonio Negri and Michael
Hardt’s book, Empire, had just been published. So that was what
everyone was doing. So as a result, a
lot of people’s eyes glazed over when I said,
settler colonialism. And then they glazed over
a second time when I said, Canada. So while people could
really readily accept that Canada, Australia, and New
Zealand were settler colonies, it was harder, at
that time actually, for people to get on
board with this idea that the US was forged out of
British colonial processes that were analogous rather
than exceptional. But what does distinguish
the US as a settler colony is in the way that it
epitomizes a paradigm of endless invasion of both
indigenous and foreign lands. OK, now I’m going to go
back to my deSouza slide. So, as I mentioned,
I wanted to give you that little bit of some of
the origins of the project but also to look at some
of the visual culture that didn’t make it and also did
make it into my project. So my book– even though I do
a lot of abstract theoretical work in my — there’s also a lot
of visual culture. There’s lots of pictures. So if you’re interested
in pictures, then hopefully you’ll be
interested in the project. So the reasons for my project’s
multimedia focus are twofold. First, my engagement
with visual culture attempts to grapple with
the ideological expression of white settler colonialism
as an anti-Asian sentiment in North America, as a
multimedia and particularly visual projection. Secondly, the visual
works I incorporate respond to Hollywood
constructions of Asians that evoke mystery, deception,
or inscrutability. The mystery and treachery
often reinforced through the visuality of
Asians in popular culture and in popular media are
distinctive because they always point to something that
is invisible or unseen, suggesting that the negative
content of Asian racialization is something that
you can’t visualize. It’s abstract. So the visual culture
presented in my book offers visual responses
by Asian-American and Asian-Canadian
cultural producers, who take up the
challenge of visualizing what is unrepresentable. And because there’s a lot
of abstract theoretical work in my book, it’s a
welcome pleasure now to just focus and
spend some time offering some reflections on the
visual work that’s in the book. So this is a slide
of an image which didn’t make it into the book. And It’s from Allan
deSouza’s series, which is entitled, Terrain. On first glance,
deSouza’s piece evokes a southwestern
landscape, conjuring up mythologies of a fabled
19th century frontier. Simultaneously, you
can think about how it evokes a heroic tradition
of American landscape art from Thomas Cole’s
spiritually-inflected paintings of the Northeastern
seaboard, to Ansel Adams’ operatic mountainscapes. So Cole and Adams really
epitomize a colonial way of seeing a patriarchal
vision of land as an idyllic terrain of
patriotic nationalism, heroic masculinity,
and imperial expansion. But I’ll warn you,
deSouza’s work is deceptive. His landscape isn’t
actually a painting, but actually sits on a table
as a miniature diorama. The rocks and foliage
are constructed out of hair, eyelashes, earwax,
dead skin, pubic hair that he collected off of his
bathroom floor, which is really gross. But this is his point– by refiguring and re-scaling the
landscape as bodily detritus, DeSouza offers a
grotesquely queer rethinking of the colonial sublime, where
the land’s bodily vitality is refigured as the site
of colonial decomposition and waste. It is a bodily
distortion of nature and an assault on our senses. So while my own
research is invested in the economic modality of
Asian labor in North American settler nations, it also draws
on the degenerative, and here the disgusting, to call
into question settler mythologies invested in a
pure and purifying landscape in the land. Also I think that given
deSouza’s relation to post-colonial India, as
an Asian-American artist, his work also might represent
a transcolonial gesture of solidarity. So examining works like
deSouza’s in Alien Capital, my book explores the
way Asian North American literature and visual culture
rework the economic modalities of Asian racialization, from
late 19th and early 20th centuries, of unnatural,
excessive efficiency, to 21st century analogies
and Jewish upward mobility and productivity. I argue that the historical
alignment of Asian bodies with labor, and labor with
capitals abstract and negative dimensions, reflects a logic
of settler colonial romantic anti-capitalism, in which
romanticization of social life is understood as the
natural, visible world, which is epitomized by the
figure of the native that the settler is trying to
become, and on the other hand, rendering invisible, abstract,
anti-natural, and non-human– the figure of the Asian alien. I pushed beyond
existing approaches to settler colonialism as
simply a native settler binary in order to theorize
settler colonialism as a dynamic triangulation
of native settler and alien positionalities. My book’s transnational
frame draws on corresponding racial
policy-making in the US and Canada at key
historical turning points, from Chinese railroad
labor in the 19th century to the late 1960s
neoliberalization of immigration policy. So in addition to exploring
Asians’ alien relation to indigenous land,
this project also grew out of the question of
why Asians were symbolically associated with negative
forms of capital and how this related more
broadly to settler colonialism in North America. And so this brings
me to this slide of the newish Canadian
hundred-dollar bill and the controversy that
erupted around it in 2012, when the Bank of Canada issued a
public apology for purging the image of an Asian female
scientist from the face. So based on internal reports
obtained by the Canadian press, the decision to remove
the Asian scientist came in response to focus
groups who previewed the design and felt that her Asian
appearance did not represent Canada. So although the
bank never actually released the original design– I would kill to see it– a spokesperson
indicated that the image of a Caucasian-looking
was substituted to quote, “restore neutral
ethnicity,” unquote. So news of the bank’s
decision obviously met a lot of criticism
from Asian advocacy groups, particularly the
Chinese-Canadian National Council, who criticized
the bank and urged it to stop erasing visible
minorities from Canada’s money. And even US blogger,
Phil Angry Asian Man– some of you might
follow his blog– weighed in on those
who called attention to the stereotypical
nature of if they had put this Asian scientist
up– if they said, well that would have been
so stereotypical. He retorts, you
know, sure there’s a stereotype of Asians
excelling in math or science, but let’s be real. The reason why people didn’t
want an Asian-looking woman on a hundred-dollar bill is
because an Asian-looking woman couldn’t possibly represent a
face of Canada, thus the rush to redesign her with
more Caucasian features. So for Angry Asian Man
and countless others, the controversy’s significance
turns on the variable race of the scientist against the
assumed stability of the money form of capital as a
representation of nation. So to restore the
Asian-looking characteristics to the scientist
would, by extension, restore equilibrium
between race and nation. But to me, what seemed to be
missing from this discussion was a peculiar intersection
of race and money, of race as a form of
money, or vice versa. And also as an aside,
in the US context, what’s also been missing from
discussions about the decision to add Harriet Tubman’s face
to the twenty-dollar bill is the disturbing irony
of using an ex-slave to personify a fungible
commodity in light of our national
history, founded on what Saidiya Hartman identifies as
the fungibility of blackness. So for me, the controversy
over the hundred-dollar bill exposes the ways that
Asians are uncomfortably associated with capital,
revealing an economic modality that linked to constructions
of the Asian and the Jew, giving new meaning to the
label given to Asian-Americans as the New Jews. Obviously, the New Jews
is meant as a compliment, or is supposed to be meant in
a congratulatory sense that’s supposed to recognize
the increasing affluence and assimilation of a
historically excluded minority. So even though the New Jews is
supposed to be a positive label to reference Asian
immigrant success, my research focuses on strictly
the negative side of the New Jews association
and specifically how Asians, like
Jews before them, have come to personify a
negative form of capital, or bad money. In particular, the
Asian-Jewish analogy compels a recognition
of the economic context of modern anti-Semitism as
distrust or disdain of Jews, which can sometimes be
motivated by envy or resentment of an identifiably
separate group that’s significantly wealthier than
the population at large. So the economic conflation
of Asians and Jews also has its own history. It’s quite a long history
that Jonathan Friedman has looked at. And he’s noted that
Chinese merchants, who were traditionally active
throughout eastern Southeast Asia faced, like Jews,
resentment, discrimination, and even the occasional pogrom
as a result. Intercepting expressions of industriousness,
greed, and evil have been infused
in popular culture representations of both groups
in Europe and North America, from novelist George
du Maurier’s 1895 creation of the Jewish
descendant Svengali to novelist Sax Rohmer’s
1921 invention of Fu Manchu. Both characters are
perverse, evil geniuses who aspire to world domination. The Canadian hundred-dollar
bill controversy is a heightened expression of
this economism of racial form, insofar as the humanized
economism of the Asian simultaneously represents the
personification of capitalism. So what precedes the
economism of Asian racial form is the so destructive economism
historically attributed to Jews, highlighting the more
disturbing registers of the New Jews label. Moishe Postone focuses
on the secular elements of anti-Semitism that flourished
under national socialism in Germany, illustrating a
historical process by which Jews became associated with the
abstract evils of capitalism because Jews have
long been segregated in finance and
interest-generating sectors of European society. Traditional anti-Semitism
identified Jews as owners of money. Perhaps the most notorious
literary example of this is Shakespeare’s Shylock, who’s– depending on which
version you see of it– is the sinister or
sympathetic [INAUDIBLE] in The Merchant of Venice,
whose penalty for late payment is nothing short of
a pound of flesh. However, by the 19th
century, modern anti-Semitism not only identified Jews
as the owners of money, but held them responsible
for economic crises in a range of social
restructuring and dislocation resulting from rapid
industrialization. In short, as Postone
explains quote, “Jews became the personification
of the intangible destructive immensely powerful and
international domination of capital as a social form.” I have a couple of
propaganda posters from the World War II era. But the one on the
right is in Russian. And I think it says, “In whose
interest is the current war? It’s in the Jews’ interests,”
and then, “Nations fight and die for them, and
the Jews make a profit of it.” I think that the
image on my right– the most left one for
you– is interesting because it’s turning
human beings into money. And so that’s literally
this transformation of something concrete
into something abstract. And then in the French
poster on the right is, “The Jew is behind
everything,” so this idea that this war is happening. But Jews are organizing
it and profiting from it. So here, the attributes
of abstractness, intangibility,
universality, nobility, that are associated
with Jews, are striking to me and
their resonance with characteristic forms
of Asian racialization in North America. The racial signifiers
of inscrutability, perpetual foreignness,
transnational ability, and flexibility similarly
register the abstract features of Asian racialization
that I align with the evolution
of settler colonial capitalism in North America. So in the manner that Jews
came to personify processes internal to finance capital
under national socialism, I argue that the Asian
subject in North America personifies abstract processes
of value formation incurred by labor. From the economic
efficiency associated with Asian
racialization, denigrated as cheap labor in the
19th century in value as efficient in the 21st,
Asian North American cultural production
magnifies the manner through which Asians are
aligned with abstract labor, a concept that anchors
Marx’s labor theory of value. I’m just going to
pause here for a moment to elaborate a bit more on
this connection between race and abstract labor. In particular, by emphasizing
the category of abstract labor, my project diverges
from the important work of scholars like Lisa Lowe,
David Roediger, and others who’ve argued that
capitalism has profited by not
rendering it abstract, but by producing
racialized difference. For instance, in
Lisa Lowe’s critique of the labor theory
of value, she hones in on Marx’s homogenizing
definition of abstract labor to demonstrate that capital has
profited from this specifically gendered and racialized
character of labor, qualities that are far from
indistinguishable or abstract. In short, she writes
quote, “Asian immigrants and Asian-Americans have
been neither abstract labor nor abstract citizens,” unquote. David Roediger extends
this line of argument asserting that, “Far from
flattening difference by buying undifferentiated
units of labor time, US management studiously
bought into inequality, preserving and continually
recreating race,” unquote. So while my project
is absolutely in harmony with the claim
that capitalism produces racialized difference,
I propose that these differentiating
effects are not actually in contradiction with Marx’s
formulation of abstract labor. What is missing from Lowe’s
and Roediger’s critiques of abstract labor
is the recognition of its dialectical
relation to concrete labor. Concrete labor represents
the racialized, gendered, and qualitatively distinct form of
actual labor that is rendered abstract as a value expression. Where I locate the principle
violence of capitalism is in the very way it abstracts,
or renders homogeneous, as commensurable units of
labor, highly differentiated gendered and racialized labor
in order to create value. It is therefore the
law of value that obscures the racial and gender
character of labor power. For value itself is
what necessitates what we could characterize
as a metaphoric process a turning particular labor
into quantifiable units of abstract labor. So in response to the
suggestion that racialization is irreducible to the conception
of abstract labor because of its gendered and
racial particularity, no value would be produced
if this were the case. Rather, all
commodity-determined labor plays a socially-mediating role
that is structured by time. Capital maximizes profit
by controlling time, socially necessary labor time. So nothing prevents
the exploitation of racial and gendered
labor from being a social necessity that
determines average labor time. Indeed, one core logic of
the settler colonial mode of production, I explore centers
on the systemic exploitation of racialized, gendered, and
sexualized alien labor force. The structuring role of
time is precisely the reason that capitalism is an
abstract form of domination, what [INAUDIBLE] characterizes
as, impersonal domination. This doesn’t mean that we
don’t daily bear witness to brutal working conditions
or the near-enslavement of racialized and
gendered labor. Rather, the very
violent of abstraction is what subsumes the horrors
of highly differentiated labor into an abstracted
quantity that is commensurable with
all other things. It is the duplicity of
value as a social relation that Marx denounces. To put it another
way, we don’t control the products of our labor. We are controlled by the
products of our labor. Therefore, while I agree
that capitalism produces racialized difference, my book
defines social differentiation as a form of disruptive
abstraction anchored by a settler colonial ideology
of romantic anti-capitalism. So to recap– I know that was a lot
to digest, sorry– my book’s primary thesis, again,
is that Asian North America literature and visual culture
present a geneology of settler colonialism that
magnifies a key logic of romantic anti-capitalism
that misperceives capital relations as an opposition of
concrete and abstract realms. Inspired by the aesthetic
dimensions of romanticism that glorify the natural
role as a spiritual refuge from the corruptions of
the capitalist modernity, romantic anti-capitalism
glorifies the concrete over the abstract dimensions. It glorifies the real, the
natural, the thingly, the pure, the sensory. Native peoples, who
are characterized as existing outside
of time and money oftentimes personify
that concrete dimension. Asian aliens, on the contrary,
are a biological expression of the abstract dimension,
the personification of the destructive abstraction
of capitalist modernity. And evocation of this romantic
anti-capitalism are common, I think, in American culture. They’re actually
pretty pervasive. From Henry David
Thoreau’s excursion to Walden Pond to live
without material comforts, to the feature films
I’ve mentioned, which characters go native. But also even I’m thinking
of Chris McCandless who set fire to his cash,
basically, to live in the Alaskan wilderness. And so there is this idea
that you need to rid yourself of this modernity. And actually burning
your cash will not do anything to help
capitalism, so don’t try that. Anyway, so as a counterpoint
to the romantic identification with indigenous peoples, with
the concrete qualitatives here of capitalism is,
again, the association of Asian laborers with the
abstract quantitative sphere of capitalism. So those are the
big claims that I make in terms of
thinking about settler colonialism, romantic
anti-capitalism, and abstract labor. And now I’m going
to turn to just give you a little
bit of an overview of the chapters in the book. So I’d like to begin with
this sketch from the 1880s by William Van Horne. He was the general manager of
the Canadian Pacific Railway. I like to show this image as
much as possible because I was not given permission to
actually reproduce it in my book because the CPR– the
Canadian Pacific Railroad– they’re assholes. And they said that, this
image– which has actually been reproduced elsewhere– tarnished the reputation
of the gentleman. The fact that he has drawn a
profile of a Chinese laborer, somehow, they thought would
tarnish his reputation. So I still have a reading of
the sketch, however, in my book. But in my reading what I focus
on– so you have a profile of the Chinese worker and then
he’s surrounded by all these mathematical calculations– and so I draw on the
way that it evokes the relation between the
concrete and the abstract, the concrete specificity
of the racialized labor, and abstract– the abstract
universal equivalence of money. And in particular, I look
at how Van Horne’s sketch evokes the idea of racialized
labor as a form of money. And I have a reading
of how the tally marks and the way in which
his mustache– there is a kind of rhyming element–
and just the aesthetics of the image. So I think about how
money and racialized labor can exist in a
substitution relationship. So I argue that this is a form
of racialized substitution. That establishes my
book’s primary claim that the economism of
Asian racialization arises from an alignment
of Chinese bodies with time, which is
the basis of value. This establishes the relation
between Chinese labor as a personification of
abstract labor, which represents the social average
of quantified labor time. So following the completion of
the transcontinental railroad, Chinese bodies
become increasingly associated with
degeneracy and vice that become the mark of
their excessive efficiency. This temporal excess is rooted
in the social deprivations of Chinese domesticity
and civic life that render Chinese labor
both non-human and also a threat to the qualitative
value of white labor. So analyzing two works
about Chinese labor on the transcontinental
railroad, I focus on the range of gender
and sexual substitutions represented in Richard
Fung’s, Dirty Laundry: A History of Heroes, to the
Canadian experimental film alongside Maxine Hong
Kingstons, China Men. I argue that these
works demonstrate how we abstract racialization
of Asian alien labor is established through
their alignment with a perverse temporality. While Fung’s and Kingston’s
work expose the fungibility of alien labor condition by
biologized notions of time, they also point to
the queer potential of [INAUDIBLE]
concept of history, too, that resides
within abstract labor but does not reproduce
the logic of capitalism. My second chapter
turns its attention to the concrete dimension of
capitalist social motivations personified in artistic
depictions of the settler landscape. So analyzing the photographs
of Tseng Kwong Chi, which is the bigger black
and white photograph, and Jin-me Yoon– this is a front and back view of
this huge series of photographs that she’s done– I argue that the
photographic citations of 1920s and 1930s-era
landscape art parody its romanticization of
whiteness as a form of nature during a heightened period of
Asian immigrant restriction. In particular, Tseng
and Yoon respond to themes of regenerative
whiteness, an identification with indigeneity
that are personified in the majestic landscapes
by American artists, Ansel Adams and Gutzon Borglum,
and Canadian artists, Emily Carr and the Group of Seven. Disidentifying with
the romanticization of of the concrete purifying
landscape, Tseng’s and Yoon’s photographs expose the
politics of whiteness invested in the identification
with nature and indigeneity. Further developing the theme
of perversity associated with abstract labor
that I developed in the first chapter, I also– looking at [INAUDIBLE]
Yoon’s photographs, I highlight how
Asian bodies evolved to denote a degenerative,
anti-natural force associated with the abstract dimensions
of romantic anti-capitalism. In my third chapter, I
moved to an examination of Japanese internment
in Canada and the US. This slide features one of Ruth
Asawa’s hanging sculptures, which to me, evokes an alien
landscape, the opposite of the landscapes that
are in the second chapter, pondering an inverted
force growing downward into an underworld. It is quite literally
the opposite of a patriarchal vision
of the settler landscape. Her hanging sculptures
provide a motif of negative space,
which Asawa describes as a shape that is inside
and outside at the same time. Her tied-wire sculptures offer
a visualization of dialectical process holding both concrete
and abstract, hard and soft, inside and outside, mechanical
and organic intention, while evoking a bodily form that
would cause a kind of memory– what she calls, quote, “Those
things your body doesn’t allow you to leave behind,” unquote. So Asawa’s art’s
abstract qualities provide a framework for my
analysis of Joy Kogawa’s novel, Obasan and Rea Tajiri’s
film, History and Memory, where I explore aspects of
Japanese internment in North America that defy
concrete representation, elements that contribute to
the way Japanese internment can never be fully
compartmentalized in the past but rather live on as
a haunting excess that persists as post-memory. So in this chapter, I
argue that before the war, the excessive
efficiency attributed to Japanese agriculture
and fishing labor in the United States
and Canada contributed to the false impression
that Japanese labor held a destructive control over the
production of relative surplus value. In particular, the
association of Japanese labor with the modernizing
displacements of technological
innovation fed a perception that Japanese labor
monopolized the creation of relative surplus value. That’s the value above
and beyond surplus value. So I examine how the destructive
power of Japanese labor mutated following west coast
expulsion and relocation. Focusing on Kogawa’s novel
and Tajiri’s video memoir, I examine how symbolic
identification with Jewish persecution
before the war shifted toward an identification
with native identities after relocation. This cross-racial identification
with native context evokes the neutralization
and re-naturalization of Japanese laborers
threatening association with the production
of unnatural value. So following relocation,
Japanese labor is reconstituted as an
ideal surplus labor force through the symbolic
and spatial proximity to native relocation
and dispossession. My fourth chapter examines
the persisting and evolving economism of Asian racialization
in the post-immigrant exclusion era After the United
States, Canada removed race-based immigration
criteria in 1965 and 1967, respectively. So this slide is
meant to signal, the resentment towards
monster houses in Vancouver. And so, you can see that
there’s a huge house right beside the small house. And so there’s a lot
of anti-Asian racism around the construction
these kinds of homes. So in this chapter, I focus
on Ken Lum’s multimedia works, along with Karen Tei Yamashita’s
novel, Tropic of Orange, tracking their
reconceptualizations of labor, labor migration, and
neoliberal identity politics. Their works point to the
capacity of a neoliberal border to recruit and restrict
surplus labor populations from around the world,
while preserving the racialized
abstractions that surround both high tech, flexible
Asian labor, and working class and poor labor. As such, free trade
becomes a further conduit for the fungibility
of bodies as capital across borders and the
continuing perils associated with the new Jew. Far from civilized and
multicultural inclusion, I suggest that the
border is essential motor for the expanded fulfillment
of a settler colonial mode of production that relies
on a disposable migrant labor system. And I’ll come back
to this image, but I’ll just talk
a little bit more about the artist Ken Lum,
which many probably aren’t familiar with necessarily. And I’ll just spend some
time talking about him. So Ken Lum is the
Chinese-Canadian artist, who is often associated with
the Vancouver Photoconceptual School. He is a student of Jeff Walls,
And as a multimedia artist, I think he offers a
really interesting vision of Vancouver. And it’s often very
unsentimental, darkly humorous. And he often incorporates
ideas about borders, labor, and the city of
Vancouver, in particular, as a place that really
epitomizes the contradictions of neoliberal multiculturalism. So here’s an example of his
furniture sculpture series. And while they don’t
really immediately seem to be about borders,
what’s interesting about them is that there’s actually
no way to use them as furniture. As you notice, the
red circle, there’s no way to actually access
the interior of the sofa to sit on it. Similarly, in this cheesy hotel
lobby formation down here, all the sofas are so
closely locked together that you can’t actually,
again, sit down. And then I think
most dramatically is in many ways, the sofa
bed that’s been opened out. But yet, it’s
against the corner, so you can’t actually sit down. And in particular, a
sofa bed is something that you take out when
someone’s visiting you. So in all of these works, you
get this idea of exclusion, right? You can’t sit down, a thwarted
hospitality, or an excluded temporary visitor. And so I think
that together they do offer an interesting
allegory of the border. So he’s a multimedia artist. He also has this
interesting portrait attribute works as well. So this one is
called Nancy Nishi and Joe Ping Chau, Real Estate. And so in this one, I think
he offers an alternative view of Asian racialization against
the more familiar scene of Vancouver’s cosmopolitanism. The high-rise apartments that
populate the photograph’s background are a signifier
of the city’s elite alias as Hongcouver, the
name which is used in both celebratory
and pejorative context, stems from the significant
Chinese population in Vancouver, as
well as the city’s purported architectural,
cultural, and economic resemblance to Hong Kong. So redirecting a pop emphasis
on exaggerated artifice, Nancy Nishi and Joe Ping
Chau, Real Estate, Lum’s advertising motif
almost works too well. I mean if you saw this,
you might actually think it’s actually an
ad for this real estate. So we move from the
art gallery context– which is another thing he does. He often puts these
huge billboards outside of the gallery. The only element that alerts
us to its status as art is the real estate part, which
has this Flintstone’s quality to it. So the unrealistic veneer
of the lettering humorously underscores the
realness of real estate. In addition to the contrasting
relation between image and text, between the concrete
buildings and the background, in a photograph and the
abstract textual representation of buildings as real
estate commodities, we can make out a
subtle reference to the antinomy of concrete
and abstract dimensions of romantic anti-capitalism. Here the abstract representation
of concrete real estate is reduced to a comically
inadequate imitation of actual concrete buildings. Yet at another
level, the portrait of Nancy Nishi and
Joe Ping Chau adds to the more racially ominous
registers of the friction between image and text. Their relation to the
Flintstones’ real estate logo adds an air of
illegitimacy and artifice to the earnest expressions
that they bring to their professional endeavor. On the one hand, this
sense of illegitimacy broadcast their artificial
relation to property. Their belonging is rendered
under abstract signifier against a more concrete
sense of citizenship. On the other hand, the
artificial concreteness of their profession
as realtors also alagorizes an
anti-Asian animosity stemming from the
perception that Vancouver has been overrun by Hong Kong
real estate investors, which is about the monster house image
that I showed at the beginning. For example, Catherine
Mitchell notes that in Vancouver,
Hong Kong Chinese are perceived as responsible
for house price escalation as a result of using
homes for profit through the practice
of speculation rather than as using
them as places to live. Although the roots of the city’s
demographic shifts and spatial reconfigurations are the
result of state-led efforts to expedite
Vancouver’s integration into the global economy,
the racial outcome of these processes has
effectively reinforced the perception that Asians
represent pure market rationality. Their desires represent
the psychology of capitalist expansion. Asian investors and
business immigrants have only economic rather
than human motivations. By contrast, for white
Vancouver residents, as Mitchell also points
out, purchasing homes secures profit yet does not
have to be pursued as profit. The personification
of capitalism that renders Asians
less human remove from the concrete associations
that align whiteness with property and belonging. As such, Nancy Nishi and
Joe Ping Chau, Real Estate, evokes the form of
racial anxiety associated with the abstract fear
of foreign investment and real estate speculation. In this light, the celebratory
discourse of legislating multiculturalism functions
as a screen hiding the fact that the infusion of
Asian foreign investment and rise of Asian
migration to North America underscores the abstract
economic rationality that is mapped onto the Asian body. Through the substitution
of economic desirability for racial desirability,
which still continues to exclude the racialized
migrant poor in immigration reform, we can see how
the Asian embodiment of economic extraction
once again threatens the concrete human
values invested in traditional settler
belonging rather than flexible citizenship. In response, Lum’s work
exposes the contradictions of multicultural belonging
by disidentifying with the visual tropes of
multicultural inclusion in his depictions
of Asian working class and professional labor. So I’m just going to close with
some brief points in relation to a newer artist
that I’ve discovered in the process of
writing this book. And he is the Vancouver-born,
currently London-based artist, Tommy Ting. So I was writing
my book, and I was struggling with how to end it. And my mother told me about
seeing an exhibition featuring Tommy Ting, which gave me an
idea about how I could finish. And so the reason I was
interested in Tommy Ting’s work– this is image is
called The Iron Chink– it’s in the museum in my
hometown of Victoria, BC. It’s in the Royal
British Columbia Museum. And basically what it is,
is a fish gutting machine. And you can see in my
terrible photograph of it, that you can see the
actual letters “Iron Chink” at the top of it. And it was invented in
the early 20th century. And it was named for the
Chinese butchery crews it replaced in salmon canneries
along the Pacific coast. And so in light of the
arguments in my book, the Iron Chink evokes the
dehumanized abstraction of Asians as machines
but also evokes the way Asians as
machines are designed to cut human labor time, which
is a threat to white workers. So Tommy Ting’s piece
is called Machine, and he has a reference
to the actual Iron Chink. And he says it’s invented
in 1903, found out the Gulf of Georgia
cannery in Steveston, British Columbia, fabricated
in Beijing, China. So I actually like
to think of his piece as monstrously reanimated
Asian Frankenstein, rebelling, I should say,
against its creator with all of its
China Red attitude. So part of the dark
comedy of Ting’s piece lies in how it
perfectly embodies the dehumanized abstraction
tied to Asian racialization throughout book. In its shiny new
modern form, Machine not only evokes the
continuing metaphorization of ancient labor, but also
dramatizes its ongoing allure through its vibrant
China Red color. In its seductive appeal, Machine hyperbolizes
the sexualization of the Chinese migrant, who
was subject to the 1875 Page Law, the United States’
first federal immigration law designed to bar
entry to Chinese women based on their presumed
sexual morality. In this light, as a
feminized Asian Frankenstein, Machine stands as
an ironic invocation of the sexualized and
racialized migrant system so central to the
settler colonial mode of capitalist reproduction. But equally, Machine’s
China Red paint clearly evokes the color of communism. On the one hand, the
China Red color cheerfully promotes the communist ideal
of collective ownership over the production. And on the other,
the color alludes to communism’s association
with the mechanization of human labor. But the reality is that Machine
remains, at the end of the day, a commodity whose value
is commensurable, and thus exchangeable, with
all other commodities. As the monstrous personification
of dehumanized equivalence, Asian Frankenstein
expresses the contradiction between the value
of human beings and their exchangeability
as equivalents. And then my last
very last slide, which is the cover of my book,
is also a work by Tommy Ting. So elaborating on the
relation between Asian labor as an expression
of fungibility is the image I use on the
cover of my book, which features a piece called,
Workers Posing as Workers, by Tommy Ting. And so what you can’t really
tell from the cover is — on the right, sorry that’s
a blurry photograph– but it’s actually one of those
cardboard or wooden structures where you can stick your head
through where the faces are. And so it obviously
powerfully engages with this idea of
the fungibility of Asian alien labor. So like a currency,
Asian labor is subject to endless substitution
and quantification, which is itself
a crucial feature of capitalist abstraction. So to close, if
abstraction is ultimately tied to value
production, making things commensurable for
exchange, my book draws out the
racial implications of that metaphoric
process while initiating a call for the radical
incommensurability of life and labor in the
allied struggle for historical self-determination
for racialized aliens and indigenous peoples. Thank you.

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