essay 02: positions
How do we arrive at this body of work? The present body of work that comprises this dissertation cannot be separated from the more immediate conditions of its emergence. Shortly after completing the written portion of my doctoral qualifying exams in February 2020, and shortly after the making of blue willow shards, the Covid-19 pandemic hit, intimately and drastically reordering and destabilizing the normative ways of existing. For those of us fortunate enough to “work from home”, for a little while, life — time — felt suspended. We found ourselves stagnant, foreclosed from public life and movement. We were isolated alone, perhaps with friends, or in small family clusters. There was danger in being together. Hundreds, then thousands of people were dying every day from a deadly virus that we didn’t yet have a vaccine for and we were still learning about. Those initial few weeks-turned-months following instantiations of lockdowns and stay-at-home orders were filled with a collective sense of immense uncertainty and fear. Amidst this suspension, I recall challenges to capitalist modes of work and production and calls for rest, community, and care. For us working from home, everyday life became colored by a strange spatiotemporal sensation, hypermediated by digital platforms, tools, and collapsed modes of communication, suspended between the multiplicitous rectilinear frames of screens and media apparatuses. In addition to the Covid-19 pandemic, the world has seen intense socio-political division and geopolitical and economic instability with an increasing amount of devastating climate disasters. In the United States, sociopolitical division has engendered both mass Black Lives Matter protests in summer 2020 in light of the police murder of George Floyd as well as the January 6, 2021 attempted coup of the United States Capitol by white supremacists encouraged by former president Donald Trump, ongoing mass shootings, the revocation of Roe vs. Wade. Perhaps it goes without saying, but this is an inadequate recapitulation of how we have arrived at the present context. The last two years of this PhD and the production of this body of work has occurred within an extended period of crisis and socio-political instability.
First reported and spread in Wuhan, China, Covid-19 was quickly racialized against Chinese and Asians broadly, engendering anti-Asian sentiment and violence. Then-president Donald Trump and his followers deployed Orientalist rhetoric to describe the virus, calling it the “Wuhan virus” and “kung-flu” and building on longstanding associations between the Asian body and virality, contagion, perversity, and disease that stem from colonial discourses. The contention around masking also contributed to anti-Asian sentiment and discourse, as the mask operated as mutable surface/signifier of Asian racialization and surface aesthetics. It is quite literally a mediating surface boundary that “while filtering air particles, obscures the face and stalls speech…reanimating language of [Asian] inscrutability that conflates visual obfuscation with suspicion, silence, and docility.”
As a result of the anxiety of the virus/pandemic and Covid-19’s racialization, there was a significant increase in anti-Asian violence, particularly against elders and women. There was a 334 percent increase in anti-Asian hate crimes in 2021, up from a 124 percent increase in the year before, and the initiative Stop AAPI Hate collected 10,370 reports of hate incidents from March 2020 to September 2021. Elders were beaten and attacked with acid, women were pushed onto train tracks. The increased violence against Asians reflects a role that Asians have historically played within the American imaginary as a surface to displace and project anxieties of the body, morality, and labor onto. For instance, with the Asian racialization of the face mask during the Covid-19 pandemic, the significatory association of the mask with suspicion, silence, sameness, and contagion directly reflect US American anxieties around notions of liberty, individualism, free speech, labor, and morality.
(Review section on legal personhood/immigration. Techno-Orientalism. Inhuman Figures - Robot, Clone, Alien. Automaton/Model. Robot. Dolls, mannequins. Ways that “Asians” have always persisted alongside imaginary/science-fiction + aestheticization. Race + labor)
Amidst all the tragedy and uncertainty of the last few years, institutional life continued, mediated by screens and software. As mentioned in the prior essay, this work reflects and contends with the impacts of existing within Western institutional contexts and having led multiple institutional lives, namely within the Protestant church (I am a pastor’s kid, a.k.a. a “pk”), the conservatory, computational/new media art, and academia. I spent the pandemic between Los Angeles and Vancouver. Pandemic isolation built on Ph.D isolation, and as I attempted to continue with dissertation research, I realized and began to reckon with how much of my being has been shaped and structured by institutional life and its whiteness. In On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life (2012) Sara Ahmed notes “if we get used to inhabiting whiteness (it can be a survival strategy to learn not to see it, to learn not to see how you are not reﬂected back by what is around), it does not mean whiteness does not still affect us.” I do not want to dwell here long, but the air I have breathed throughout my institutional life/ves has been heavy with whiteness.
Due to logics of diversity and institutional life, the heightened broader social attention to politics of race, gender, class, sexuality, and representation (again understood as part of colonial/modern discourses that structure our world) exacerbated the awareness of my own existence as a (minoritized) racialized and gendered being within our hypermediated institutional spaces and relations. During the pandemic period of online learning, I served as the graduate teaching assistant for the School of Cinematic Arts’ Graduate Diversity Lab twice, including in spring 2021. On March 16, 2021 amidst a spike in anti-Asian violence, eight people were murdered in a shooting spree in Atlanta, six of whom were Asian women. Four were Korean. The shooter targeted three day spas and massage parlours in an attempt to eliminate the “temptation” to his self-professed “sexual addiction”, revealing the interlocking logics of race, gender, and sexuality within this act of violence. Sociologist Nancy W. Yuen places the shootings within a larger “nationwide pattern of Asian women being disproportionately targeted in hate incidents”, noting that “racism has always intersected with sexism for Asian American women” in the United States. Feminist film scholar Celine Parreñas-Shimizu observes, “as subjects, Asian American women are born into a world where a representational tradition of hypersexuality forms and shapes general consciousness.” Again, I do not want to dwell here long but as an Asian woman and as the TA, in the diversity lab session following the shootings (about a week later) I recall feeling overexposed and hypervisible, exacerbated by students’ private messages I received in response to the lab instructor’s inappropriate and inadequate facilitation of the conversation acknowledging the event. I make note of this incident not to criticize or direct blame at anyone, but to note that institutions and institutional life remain bound by colonial logics that directly impact their inhabitants — and I continue to grapple with my own inhabitance of such contexts.
Furthermore, this project has always existed within the context of having to quite literally, “write a dissertation,” which in more traditional academic disciplines would typically consist of a multi-chapter precursor to the tenure-granting academic monograph. While the permissiveness of this practice-based Ph.D in Media Arts + Practice frees me from having to perform that particular gesture, I still find myself compelled to produce at the very least an approximation of such a project. Though this creative body of work moves beyond what we would traditionally recognize as “writing” in its use of multiple forms and modes of media, these pieces have emerged while participating in a series of writing workshops and programs that encouraged me to probe and consider my relations to writing, self, and media.
In the Spring of 2022 I participated in Holly Willis’ Creative Critical Writing Workshop, an experimental craft-based workshop that invites students to explore techniques of writing about — or with, alongside, or near film, still images, sound, and other forms of media. This course has bookended my time in Media Arts + Practice; I also participated in the workshop in spring 2017, during my first year in the program. The course has given space to consider writing and criticism expansively, and for me engendered an experimental process of writing with and against existing pieces of media in ways that felt inaccessible to me before. In addition, in May 2022, I joined a twelve-week arts writing mentorship program run by Centre A, Vancouver’s International Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, which ran up to the week of the dissertation exhibition. As an eight-member cohort of “Asian-identifying” emerging artists and writers, we met weekly with established writers, curators, editors, and program mentors to discuss our relationships to writing and learn more about navigating the arts writing world as Asian writers and artists. A number of works that comprise this dissertation directly or indirectly came about as part of my engagement in these writing workshop spaces — the preface to the exhibition zine, “moy”//“mui”, INTERLINKED, and untitled:aftertheevent. These pieces in part contend with racialized and gendered forms of labor and violence that are often elided or not recognized as such, and attempt to surface the impacts and consequences how we discursively form and conceptualize Asian bodies within our social and cultural imaginaries, which are deeply informed by not only by political and economic discourse, but also by the entanglements with cultural/aesthetic sites and institutions, including cinema, art, fashion, video games, music, and social media broadly.
As a final thread to the institutional context I have been laying out thus far, within the neoliberal logics of academia and the art world, there is an acute pressure to make oneself and one’s work transparent, legible, relevant. We exist within an attention economy that prioritizes spectacle and surface, newness and technology. The self is a product, a brand to be put on display, sold and consumed, a CV to be built and lengthened. I’ve always felt great discomfort with this aspect of institutional life, but it seems necessary in order to survive in this world (ostensibly by getting a job). I’m grateful to be joining the faculty in Digital Futures at OCAD University in Toronto where this work will continue in all of its forms and affects.
How then to enter into this body of work? What is the frame? Is that not the point of all this writing? Yet it is not so easy given the imbricating and conflicting positions I occupy. Filmmaker, theorist, and writer Trinh T. Minh-ha notes
the growing ethnic-femininist consciousness has made it increasingly difficult for her to turn a blind eye not only to the specification of the writer as historical subject (who writes? And in what context?), but also to writing itself as a practice located at the intersection of subject and history — a literary practice that involves the possible knowledge (linguistical and ideological) of itself as such. On the one hand, no matter what position she decides to take, she will sooner or later find herself driven into situations where she is made to feel she must choose from among three conflicting identities. Writer of color? Woman writer? Or woman of color? Which comes first? Where does she place her loyalties? On the other hand, she often finds herself at odds with language, which partakes in the white-male-is-norm ideology and is used predominantly as a vehicle to circulate established power relations. This is further intensified by her finding herself also at odds with her relation to writing, which when carried out uncritically often proves to be one of domination: as holder of speech, she usually writes from a position of power, creating as an ‘author,’ situating herself above her work and existing before it, rarely simultaneously with it. Thus, it has become almost impossible for her to take up her pen without at the same time questioning her relation to the material that defines her and her creative work.
Minh-ha’s essay “Commitments from the Writing-Mirror Box” articulates how writing, in its circularity and referentiality, presents a dilemma (a “triple bind”) for the “triply jeopardized” woman-of-color writer. Writing is already caught up in gendered and racialized modes of labor — who is permitted to write, the privileged time, how they write, in what voice. For the woman-of-color who writes, who occupies multiplicitous and uncertain positionality, “writing woman” fragments into modes, strategies, approaches, tactics that intersect, align, and contradict. First is the “Priest-God” scheme, where the writer is connected to a greater Feminine energy and is the conduit for God’s message. This positions her as “omniscient and omnipresent, she is everywhere and understands everything at the same time”. She disperses herself in the writing, leaving readers and critics in a process of contextualizing, guessing, unraveling. In this formation and “charged with intentionality, writing is therefore disclosing (a secret), and reading is believing.”
The second schema acknowledges the endless “to-and-fro movement between the written woman and the writing woman.” This is the writer that lets go of her self in hopes of finding/forming her self; this is writing as an “ongoing practice that may be said to be concerned, not with inserting a ‘me’ into language, but with creating an opening where the ‘me’ disappears while ‘I’ endlessly come and go, as the nature of language requires.” Minh-ha notes that there is danger in this, that the embodiment of the shared process of Life/Death may lead to the belief in a purer-truth that obliterates the self and leads back to the mirror-box. (“Writing as an inconsequential process of sameness/otherness is ceaselessly re-breaking and re-weaving patterns of ready-mades. The written bears the written to infinity.”)
The third strategy is the now-familiar feminist “write your body.” The body demands its boundaries, limitations, consequences. It is a voice that must be heard and listened to. The woman writer’s body raises the point of difference of gender and power — and its relation to reproductive organs, capacities, allegories. Writings are birthed, they gestate, move through the body. The “womb” becomes a site that is leveraged differently for genders; for men the “womb” can separate a part of woman from woman, allowing them to lay legal claim to it, as well as to separate it from the other parts of her (body and mind). She becomes their fabrication: a “specialized, infant-producing organ.” On the other hand, women use “womb” to “re-appropriate it and re-unite (or re-differ) themselves, their bodies, their places of production.” This process of writing from the womb, from the body, is nurturing, a way of “keeping-alive”; it resists separation of and into parts. It is a repetitive gestation that creates woman — defined by Cixous as “whole composed of parts that are wholes” born repeatedly through language. This is connected to a queerness, a writing of and from the whole self as a kind of bisexuality. A queer (non-homonormative) reproduction.
In the fourth and final mode, Min-ha suggests and examines writing the (woman) body in theory. Min-ha calls for an unsettling of our relations, a reactivation of the nascent stages of the modernist project that shifts the relation to knowledge and theory from mastery to non-mastery by calling everything into question. Now that we write woman’s body, the relation to theory becomes suspect; its position as the “Voice of Knowledge” needs to be called into question through language and “writing the body”, a process that is enacted and formulates a new relation to theory. Towards what ends? Writing-the-body is a “way of making theory in gender, of making of theory a politics of everyday life, thereby re-writing the ethnic female subject as site of differences. It is on such a site and in such a context that resistance to theory yields more than one reading…Woman as subject can only redefine while being defined by language.”
I have been touched by all these modes, yet their traces cannot be so easily identified or delineated — which forces to trust?
Elsewhere cultural theorist Rey Chow notes that in the “irreducibility of language as a phenomenological actor,” colonial processes such as racialization “demands to be grasped first and foremost as an experience of language, not least because lingual relations are themselves caught up in the aggressive procedures of setting apart that racialized naming and interpellation ineluctably intensify…even as one transcribes and expresses oneself through skin, as one must, it also wounds and humiliates one.” Queer Chicana theorist Gloria Anzaldúa writes “my dilemma, and that of other Chicana and women-of-color writers, is twofold: how to write (produce) without being inscribed (reproduced) in the dominant white structure and how to write without reinscribing and reproducing what we rebel against.” Perhaps it is cliché and tired to say so, but we privilege the written word too strongly.
This dilemma of the circularity of writing is also reflected in critiques of the Western academy as one part of the university as a colonial institution. Gurminder K. Bhambra, Dalia Gebrial and Kerem Nişancıoğlu note in the introduction to Decolonising the University, “it was in the university that colonial intellectuals developed theories of racism, popularised discourses that bolstered support for colonial endeavours and provided ethical and intellectual grounds for the dispossession, oppression and domination of colonised subjects”. Further than this, the university (and more specifically the Western academy) not only created the intellectual grounds for the “dispossession, oppression, and domination of colonised subjects”, but is a key part of the very possibility and production of the colonized subject that is dispossessed, oppressed, and dominated through the making of colonial difference. As decolonial theorist Walter Mignolo puts it: “the enunciated is always invented by the enunciators (actors, institutions, languages), rather than the other way around" (Mignolo & Walsh 2018:196). This intersects with what Indigenous scholar Linda Tuhiwai Smith calls “research through ‘imperial’ eyes”, an approach that leverages “systems of classification and representation [that] enable different traditions or fragments of traditions to be retrieved and reformulated in different contexts as discourses, and then to be played out in systems of power and domination, with real material consequences for colonized peoples” (2012:46). Academic organization and disciplinary formation are part of a “system of power which blocks, prohibits, and invalidates” other forms of discourse and knowledge; “intellectuals are themselves agents of this system of power” (Foucault 1977:207). In The Intimacies of Four Continents, Lisa Lowe observes the “modern division of knowledge into academic disciplines, focused on discrete areas and objects of interest to the modern national university, has profoundly shaped the inquiry into [“New World” colonial] connections” (2015:1). The academy, organized into schools, colleges, centers, degree levels, degree types, disciplines, majors, and specializations all work to instantiate the academy’s own “expertise” and authority while also creating the very terms, conditions, and domains of colonial difference. The formalization of fields such as ethnic studies creates what Lowe terms an “inevitable paradox” that forces submission to the demands of the university and its “educative function of socializing subjects into the state.” Anzaldúa further notes, “those in the academy find themselves constantly trafficking in different and often contradictory class and cultural locations; they find themselves in the cracks between the world.”
The colonial organization of knowledge surfaces in the oft-asked and seemingly benign question, “So, what’s your [research, dissertation, project] about?” Identifying a shared irritation with aesthetic and queer theorist José Esteban Muñoz in her essay “It’s Not about Anything”, literary theorist Kandice Chuh points out that the question of “aboutness” operates as an assessment of relevance, an “instrumental analytic” that more notably is also a determination of time-worthiness, “as in, is this lecture or book [and/or artwork] worth my time?” The logic behind the question of “aboutness” permeates and structures the organization of knowledge in the academy and its partitions into fields, disciplines, and methodologies, evident in exam lists and course titling, and the forms and venues in which knowledge is shared (conferences, publications, exhibitions, symposia, etc.).
Chuh arrives at this offering by asking “What is Asian American literature about?” Or, “in perhaps more skeptical and sometimes aggressive form, what is Asian American/queer/black/feminist/brown about that piece of writing, music, criticism?” By challenging the subject of literary and critical production and the conditions of its emergence, Chuh reveals how institutional forms of knowledge continue to produce and intensify mentalities that hold knowledge formations apart from each other. She states,
I am among those who locate the critical leverage of Asian Americanist critique in the fact that taking Asiatic racialization seriously opens and sometimes compels avenues of inquiry and raises questions and creates archives that would otherwise be unavailable. Such a stance is counter to the ways that the field is read by those seemingly external to (and sometimes within) it and, within the field coverage model, as producing knowledge “about” Asian Americans. Despite the fictionality of the construct “Asian American” or the ways that the scholarship identifies Asian Americanness as a problem space for the consideration of everything from the onto-epistemologies of modernity to the circulation of capital in the era of globalization, a rubric like Asian American literature announces its subject matter as the Asian American rather than the literature. In brief and crude terms, “aboutness” indexes the specific ways in which race operates within the modern regime of truth as it structures the academy.
As Tuhiwai Smith points out, “the concept of discipline is even more interesting when we think about it not simply as a way of organizing systems of knowledge but also as a way of organizing people or bodies” (2012:71); that is, “research has not been neutral in its objectification of the Other. Objectification is a process of dehumanization” (2012:41, emphasis mine). “Aboutness” enacts representational processes of definition and determination that prefigure the divisions and relations of knowledge, halting the potential to engage in different modes and practices of world-making.
This epistemological quandary has been long noted and discussed, particularly within the interrelated and blurry sites of “Asia studies”, “Asian American studies”, “ethnic studies”, “diaspora studies” and related fields. In Orientations: Mapping Studies in the Asian Diaspora (2001) editors Kandice Chuh and Karen Shimakawa note the disciplinary constructions of “Asia” and “Asian American” as epistemological objects, suggesting “working from the eccentric perspective of the Asian diaspora” as way of attending to “how ‘Asia’ materializes through historically specific institutional and symbolic economies.” In more specific terms, literary scholar Laura Hyun Yi Kang articulates the epistemological binds tied into the discursive specification, “Asian/American women.” Here, the “intervening slash” is a “diacritically awkward shorthand for the cultural, economic, and geopolitical pressures of the continental (Asian), the national (American), and the racial-ethnic (Asian American) as they come to bear on an implicitly more solid gendered ontology (women).”  Her study Compositional Subjects: Enfiguring Asian/American Women (2002) tracks the conditions under which “Asian/American women” have become visible and legible, a process intimately and vexingly tied to “disciplinary regimes of codification and documentation.” The use of “Asian/American” foregrounds the taut and relational nature of the term as an political and epistemological formation, building on work by scholars such as David Palumbo-Liu, who notes in Asia/America: Historical Crossings of a Racial Frontier (1999), “Asian American social subjectivity now vacillates between whiteness and color…its function is…to trace a racial minority’s possibilities for assimilation.” In addition to collecting together an “unwieldy set of points of ‘origin’ traceable to different Asian states”, the construction “Asian/American” points to the tension of this trajectory: “as in the construction ‘and/or,’…the solidus at once instantiates a choice between two terms, their simultaneous and equal status, and an element of indecidability…as it once implies exclusion and inclusion, ‘Asian/American’ marks both the distinction between ‘Asian’ and ‘American’ and a dynamic, unsettled, inclusive movement” between them."
Kang thus proposes the “Asian/American woman” as a “productive configuration” for “trenchant interdisciplinarity” where “interdisciplinarity” signals not an accumulative acknowledgement of combining methods and objects from multiple disciplines, but rather an “ongoing problematic and contestation about their proper and most productive location in relation to the academic disciplines.” Kang expands this purview in Traffic in Asian Women (2020), where she leverages “Asian women as method” to trace how “Asian women” might be “reframed not as a bounded and knowable population but as a critical prompt for mapping varying configurations of power, knowledge, and justice.”
This call to interdisciplinarity echoes Trinh T. Minh-ha’s articulation and approach; as a composer, filmmaker, theorist, and writer, she states, “Interdisciplinarity has, in my context, not been a question of accumulating expertise — that is, of gathering and juxtaposing specialized knowledge while leaving their boundaries intact. It is rather one of working on their very encounters so as to substantially shift and alter them.” Yet as Erin Manning and Brian Massumi note, the professionalization of artistic practice and institutionalization of interdisciplinarity — “where collaboration really means that disciplines continue to work in their own institutional corners as much as before, meeting only at the level of research results” does “little to create new potential for a thinking-with and -across techniques of creative practice.” Disciplines and their configurations of knowledge production often overlook the differing relationships to objects of study and the intellectual processes that bring them into being, assuming shared orientations and trajectories for how knowledge is considered, produced, and shared. What does it mean to do “interdisciplinary research” within a practice-based PhD? What does it mean to locate or situate creative practice within interdisciplinary contexts? How does one orient towards the methods, objects, goals, and results of research and knowledge production? “Interdisciplinarity” is brought forward not only within the theoretical and critical contexts of the work, but is further reflected at the aesthetic point of contact through which others encounter the work and research. What is the “thing” that is worth encountering? What is the object worth knowing? Being in relation with. To what ends? Sara Ahmed notes,“organizations can be considered as modes of attention: what is attended to can be thought of as what is valued; attention is how some things come into view (and other things do not).” As observed by arguments presented earlier, the process of identifying and determining the objects of inquiry holds real material and psychological consequences for colonized peoples.
In D-Passage: The Digital Way, Trinh T. Minh-ha writes
I don’t see the relationship between content and form as complementary. They are inseparable: a single reality, like the two facets of the same coin. In this monkey business of the mind, one can say that the forces of the form determine the forces of the content; both the “what” and the “how” take shape during the creative process. You don’t pour new content into an old, pre-prescribed mold, because you’ll then remain in conformity.
This approach to creative practice holds significant ramifications and promise for those whose work facilitates personal and autobiographical dimensions. When asked about the relations of her work (which spans documentary, video, film, writing, sound, music) to autobiography, Minh-ha notes the shared space with the use of terms such as “autoethnography, bio-mythography, or autobiophotography,” (and I would add autotheoretical to this) stating
In telling one’s story, one is told. I’s comings and goings in the verbal or visual text is a linguistic necessity, but it is an empty site where many I’s can find a habitat...The art and practices of the self is not a mere matter of retrieving one’s individual past; it is an investigation of the self and other that also involves an inquiry into the tools of investigation — here film, video, or writing. To picture and relay events of one’s life activities is potentially to produce new knowledge in a field of infinite relations. With such a transformative process of self-discovery and self-invention, one can explore the creative aspect of self-narration, or, as in my case, of narrations that take the self as an experiential site of reference — while addressing questions of representation and identity, of personal and collective memory. Such an exploration calls attention to the instance of consumption and contributes to the emergence of new subjectivities.
Gloria Anzaldúa considers writing as a “gesture of the body, a gesture of creativity, a working from the inside out…writing begins with the impulse to push boundaries, to shape ideas, images, and words that travel through the body and echo in the mind into something that has never existed. The writing process is the same mysterious process that we use to make the world.” In an interview with Nancy N. Chen, Trinh T. Minh-ha articulates a method of “speaking nearby” in her filmwork. “Speaking nearby” is a
speaking that does not objectify, does not point to an object as if it is distant from the speaking subject or absent from the speaking place. A speaking that reflects on itself and can come very close to a subject without, however, seizing or claiming it. A speaking in brief, whose closures are only moments of transition opening up to other possible moments of transition…this is not just a technique or a statement to be made verbally. It is an attitude in life, a way of positioning oneself in relation to the world.
Theorizing processes of translation and creolization, Caribbean philosopher and playwright Edouard Glissant proposes and encourages Relation as a radical site of destabilization and possibility, for “in Relation every subject is an object and every object a subject.” The poetics of Relation “remains forever conjectural and presupposes no ideological stability. It is against the comfortable assurances linked to the supposed excellence of a language. A poetics that is latent, open, multilingual in intention, directly in contact with everything possible.” In closely analyzing the principles and processes that form the modern (Kantian) subject, philosopher Denise Ferreria Da Silva writes
Towards re-imagining sociality, the principle of nonlocality supports a kind of thinking that does not reproduce the methodological and ontological grounds of the modern subject, namely linear temporality and spatial separation. Because it violates these framings of time and space, nonlocality allows us to imagine sociality, in such a way that attending to difference does not presuppose separability, determinancy, and sequentiality, the three ontological pillars that sustain modern thought…what nonlocality exposes is a more complex reality in which everything has both actual (spacetime) and a virtual (nonlocal) existence.
Towards this, da Silva offers “hacking the subject” less as a method and more as a “refusal as a mode of engagement.” Hacking is a de\compositional process that actively and purposefully mis-understands, mis-reads, and mis-appropriates, simultaneously exposing, unsettling, and perverting while recomposing and imagining anew. Hacking heeds the “ethical mandate to challenge our thinking, to release the imagination, and to welcome the end of the world as we know it, that is, decolonization, which is the only proper name for justice.”
How to approach this body of work in writing? How to "hack this subject"? How to write a dissertation without reproducing the violences of modern thought in the constitution of the subject/self? In what voice? In parallel terms, what can we expect an artwork or a body of work to hold, to do, to speak to? These questions, in part, draw on what Kandice Chuh calls for in conceiving of Asian American studies as a “subjectless discourse”, aiming to “create the conceptual space to prioritize difference by foregrounding the discursive constructedness of subjectivity” and to “point attention to the constraints on the liberatory potential of the achievement of subjectivity, by reminding us that a ‘subject’ only becomes recognizable and can act as such by conforming to certain regulatory matrices. In that sense, a subject is always also an epistemological object.” In Chuh’s conception, “subjectlessness” as a conceptual tool serves as the ethical grounds for what she calls a “strategic anti-essentialism”, which acknowledges and underwrites the shared incoherencies within the field and category of “Asian American”. If Asian American studies is subjectless, rather than completing or filling the category of ‘Asian American’, to “actualize it by such methods as enumerating various components of differences (gender, class, sexuality, religion[…]), we are positioned to critique the effects of the various configurations of power and knowledge through which the term comes to have meaning.” The notions of “subjectless discourse” and “strategic anti-essentialism” radically disrupt how we consider the representational and relational nature of knowledge production. Inspired and motivated by the work of Sylvia Wynter, Chuh elaborates this logic in The Difference Aesthetics Makes: On the Humanities “After Man” (2021) and offers possibilities of an alternative trajectory in her conceptualization of “illiberal humanisms,” which
bring forward an understanding of human beingness to be defined not by discrete and self-possessed individuality but instead by constitutive relationality; they argue the displacement of the primacy of the visual characterizing the epistemologies of bourgeois liberal modernity by the generation of rationalities that make sense through visceral multisensory experiences of the world; they afford the emergence of a critical taxonomy that features encounter without conquest and entanglement in lieu of terms and concepts inhering in knowledge paradigms that hold the political and cultural, and economic and artistic as discretely bounded realms; and they facilitate the articulation and elaboration of epistemes thoroughly incommensurate with the developmental geographies and temporalities of bourgeois liberal humanism.
How might this come about? Aesthetic inquiry offers one mode; as holding a preoccupation with the particularity and singularity of the art object — aesthetics opens a site that challenges the specificity and entrenchments of knowledge formation. The aesthetic points to an encounter with the art object that allows a rewriting of knowledge formations into an alternative logics of being-with, one that sensorially destabilizes and offers a multisensorial attunement to the world. At the same time, the aesthetic encounter in itself cannot facilitate such a shift; aesthetics has not been neutral in not only how it has contributed to the divisions of who is granted inclusion and status as the modern liberal subject, but has been foundational in the constitution of this Universal Subject that necessitates and engenders the subjugation of Others, often along lines of race, gender, class, and sexuality. In Under Representation: The Racial Regime of Aesthetics (2019) David Lloyd reads against the Subject seminally proffered by Kant to articulate how in the name of universality aesthetics and aesthetic theory structures relations of power and domination through what he calls a “regime of representation”. This builds on powerful projects by philosophers and scholars such as Sylvia Wynter and Walter Mignolo, who have argued for the “overrepresentation of Man” and the “invention of the Human” as overlapping concepts within the decolonial project that work to destabilize modernity’s hegemonic entrenchments. One of the key questions within decolonial and postcolonial thought is not “what is human” but rather “who determines the category of human”. The idea of “human” is an invention: “human was a fictional noun pretending to be its ontological representation.” Aesthetic inquiry and practice that aims for the (re)articulation and (re)presentation of the subject cannot help but reproduce and reinscribe modernity’s violence and bindings. As Gayatri Spivak’s influential essay “Can the Subaltern Speak?” suggests, representation cannot provide recourse.
Perhaps all this can be summed up by the opening paragraph to feminist philosopher Luce Irigaray’s essay “When Our Lips Speak Together” (1980): “If we continue to speak the same language to each other, we will reproduce the same story. Begin the same stories all over again. Don’t you feel it? Listen: men and women around us all sound the same. Same arguments, same quarrels, same scenes. Same attractions and separations. Same difficulties, the impossibility of reaching each other. Same…same….Always the same.”
Here we are, caught in a language. (Written. English. Academic.) Again and again and again, always the same.
 Vivian L. Huang, Surface Relations: Queer Forms of Asian American Inscrutability (Duke University Press Books, 2022), 7.
 Sara Ahmed, On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life (Durham ; London: Duke University Press Books, 2012), 35.
 Nancy Wang Yuen, “Opinion | Atlanta Suspect’s Excuses Spotlight America’s Sexualized Racism Problem,” NBC News, accessed November 25, 2022, https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/atlanta-spa-shooting-suspect-s-bad-day-defense-america-s-ncna1261362.
 Celine Parrenas Shimizu, The Hypersexuality of Race: Performing Asian/American Women on Screen and Scene, Illustrated edition (Durham: Duke University Press Books, 2007), 12.
 Trinh T. Minh-Ha, Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism, Underlining/margin Notes edition (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009), 6.
 Ibid, 30.
 Ibid, 35-36.
 Ibid, 36-38.
 Ibid, 39-40.
 Rey Chow, Not Like a Native Speaker: On Languaging as a Postcolonial Experience (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014), 8.
 Gloria Anzaldua, Light in the Dark/Luz En Lo Oscuro: Rewriting Identity, Spirituality, Reality, ed. AnaLouise Keating, Bilingual edition (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press Books, 2015), 7-8.
 Gurminder K. Bhambra, Kerem Nisancioglu, and Delia Gebrial, eds., Decolonizing the University, Reprint edition (London: Pluto Press, 2018), 5.
 Walter D. Mignolo and Catherine Walsh, On Decoloniality: Concepts, Analytics, Praxis (Duke University Press, 2018), https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctv11g9616, 196.
 Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples, 3rd edition (London: Zed Books, 2021), 46.
 Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977, ed. Colin Gordon, 1st American Ed edition (New York: Vintage, 1980), 207.
 Lisa Lowe, The Intimacies of Four Continents (Durham: Duke University Press, 2015), https://doi.org/10.1515/9780822375647, 1.
17] Lisa Lowe, Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics (Durham: Duke University Press Books, 1996), 41.
 Gloria Anzaldua, Light in the Dark/Luz En Lo Oscuro: Rewriting Identity, Spirituality, Reality, ed. AnaLouise Keating, Bilingual edition (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press Books, 2015), 71.
 Kandice Chuh, “It’s Not about Anything,” Social Text 32, no. 4 (2014) https://doi.org/10.1215/01642472-2820496, 129.
 Ibid, 131.
 Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples, 3rd edition (London: Zed Books, 2021), 71.
 Ibid, 41.
 Kandice Chuh and Karen Shimakawa, Orientations Mapping Studies in the Asian Diaspora, First edition., E-Duke Books Scholarly Collection. (Durham: Duke University Press, 2001), https://doi.org/10.1515/9780822381259.
 Hyun Yi Kang, Compositional Subjects: Enfiguring Asian/American Women (Durham: Duke University Press, 2002).
 Ibid, X.
 David Palumbo-Liu, Asian/American: Historical Crossings of a Racial Frontier (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1999).