Below the cut is an example of the messy, imperfect work of writing. If you’re new around here, you should know that I use this space to help organise my brain when writing my dissertation, and also to keep my writing muscles moving when I’m stalled out on other projects. What I’m doing here (and in the next few posts, actually) is basically free writing, but free writing in an attempt to help me sort out how to articulate a connection that I need to bridge two sections of the chapter I’m working on. Also, the writing under the cut is currently incomplete, but I’m posting it in order to feel like I’m getting things done. You know, for motivation. I’ll indicate when it’s edited/closer to complete.
Oh. Here’s a picture of the inside of my face:
” ‘I’ subordinated by the abstract ‘we'” (Wendy Brown 391 Wounded Attachments)
“That is, the latent conflict within liberalism between universal representation and individualism remains latent, remains unpoliticized, as long as differential powers in civil society remain natural- ized and as long as the “I” is subordinated to the abstract “we” encoded in
the state’s guarantee of universal freedom and equality. This subordinationis achieved either by the “I” abstracting from itself in its political represen- tation, thus trivializing its “difference” so as to remain part of the “we” (as in homosexuals who are “just like everyone else except for whom we sleep with”) or by the “I” accepting its construction as a supplement, complement, or partial outsider to the “we” (as in homosexuals who are just “a little different,” a bit “queer”)” (Brown 391)
My reading of the interaction between Tamaki and Tamaki’s Skim and Wendy Brown’s Wounded Attachments has changed, very slightly, since reading Monica Chiu’s A Moment Outside of Time. I’ve long thought that Brown’s work applies to the scene in Skim that begins on 85-86, in which Skim and Hein (a transnational adoptee from Vietnam who appears in only this scene) are kicked out of a birthday party, but haven’t been able to fully articulate that idea. It’s important to the text that splash pages remain outside of chronological time (this deserves its own post/bit it the dissertation, but they can be called inherently queer for being outside of narrative chrononormativity- y’all need to read Elizabeth Freeman); as Chiu points out, splash pages in Skim operate as a tool that simultaneously forces the reader to stop and consider race, gender, and sexuality, and sits neatly outside of the narrative (could be removed without having any impact on the plot). Chiu’s observation is, I think, key for this reading: these two pages represent what we might call a “politicised moment,” that only reads as such in accordance with Brown’s theory when the splash page and the following page are taken together. (This is a bit of an adaptation of Chiu’s theory, which is that the splash pages are themselves the only references to the political that the text allows.) My reading is interested in this moment as both the only moment in which Skim mentions race (“Asians first” (86)), and a moment that lends itself to misreadings of community and belonging; for example, several scholars refer to Skim and Hien as “friends,” when their relationship is far more circumstantial than “friends” suggests. Both of these readings- the significance of race in this context and the compulsion to read Skim and Hien as aligned in opposition to the ballerinas- come out of a social interaction in which the balance between “I” and “we” is forcibly shifted outside of that which, for Brown, is depoliticised. The first piece of Brown’s formula for depoliticised interaction, which occurs when subjects marked as other “abstract” themselves from the collective in order to minimalise their own difference, is arguably maintained throughout the majority of the text. Other than the phrase “Asians first” on 86, references to race are all oblique, happen outside of the narrative thrust (in splash pages), and thus her embodiment of race is hardly and rarely signalled as a factor that others her (though it very clearly does). The absence of an articulation of Asian-ness in the text’s prose is, in effect, a subordination of the “I” under the “we.” This is compounded by Skim’s insistence on being strange, other, or “unique” in particular other ways- she is moody when the others are joyful, calling herself “goth,” and takes up the practice of Wicca: for a teen so focused on difference, she staunchly avoids taking up her racialised embodiment.
The second piece of Brown’s formula for a depoliticised encounter, which occurs when othered subjects accept themselves as othered, paralleled, mirroring, or complementing hegemonic subjects, is evident in the reading that produces Skim and Hein as “friends.” Similarly to the homosexual subjects “that are just a ‘little bit queer'” (Brown 391) (but certainly not queer enough to pose any kind of challenge to normative sexualities and intimacies, and likely not queer in a varied way amongst themselves), Hein and Skim are regularly read as being affectively and intimately aligned in their shared difference. In fact, a reading of the scene that ignores the splash page on 86 produces that kind of intimacy quite naturally- Skim and Hein both fail to find community among the ballerinas, and deal with that failing by opting to change their location but remain in the house (“Hein and I watched The Secret of NIMH in the living”); Skim and Hein are most easily read as different enough that they don’t enjoy or fit into the party, but not different enough to disrupt the festivities.
The splash page disrupts this balance by pointing to the precarious position of the minority subject: despite remaining properly subordinate to the white, thin “we,” Skim and Hein are not granted access to the promised “universal freedom and equality” (Brown 391), and, in being named as precarious subjects in this way, become subject to a politicalising moment.
It is important that the phrase “Asians first” is embedded in a kind of anxiety about Hein’s, rather than Skim’s, experience at the party, because it speaks to a third possibility outside of Brown’s “I” and “we:” a citizen in the future-tense.