Iyko Day. Alien Capital: Asian Racialization and the Logic of Settler Colonial Capitalism.
Unsettling romantic anti-capitalism
Iyko Day's Alien Capital offers a necessary and deeply welcome investigation into the intersections of race, indigeneity, and white settler colonialism. This book comes at a time when the problematics of settler colonialism have renewed urgency. From pipeline protests in Burnaby, British Columbia, and Standing Rock, North and South Dakota, and beyond, to reviews of the Hollywood blockbuster, Wonder Woman, settler colonialism's currency resonates. Close observers of postcolonial criticism already know that the power of settler colonialism, as a theoretical problem and an analytic, has been longstanding. Almost three decades ago, Stephen Slemon noted in "Unsettling the Empire" that postcolonial criticism cannot afford to be reduced by easy binaries between centre and periphery or colonizer and colonized. For Slemon, the "radical foreclosing by postcolonial criticism on settler/colonial writing" means losing sight of "the radical ambivalence of colonialism's middle ground" (34). The productivity of this ambivalence, of the way in which "the illusion of a stable self/other, here/ there binary division has never been available" to settler colonial writers emerges in Day's book through her triangulation of indigenous, alien, and white settler colonial positions.
The ambivalence of the settler colonial position emerges most profoundly and clearly in Day's virtuoso critique of romantic anti-capitalism. For Day, romantic anti-capitalism privileges the value produced by concrete labour unmediated by forces of abstraction. In contrast, abstract labour is mediated, enabling the rise of commodity fetishism. Day "align[s] Chinese bodies with abstract labor" or "human labour in the abstract" and, correspondingly, identifies white bodies as symbolically aligned with concrete labour (46). This analysis beautifully underscores the imbrication between late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century anti-Asian racism and labour activism in North America.
Alien Capital is structured to highlight the continuities between Asian Canadian and Asian American identity formations and between past and present. Each of the four chapters engages with an historical event to unfold the continuing resonance of that event in both Asian Canadian and Asian American cultural forms. In each chapter, Day explicitly pairs an Asian Canadian cultural text with an Asian American one in order to illuminate the complexities of history in the present: the building of railways in Richard Fung's video Dirty Laundry and Maxine Hong Kingston's China Men; the construction of natural landscapes as contested by the photography of Tseng Kwong Chi and Jin-Me Yoon; Japanese internment in Joy Kogawa's novel Obasan and Rea Tajiri's video History and Memory; the making of neoliberal borders as refracted in Ken Lum's photographic work and Karen Tei Yamashita's novel, Tropic of Orange.
In this pairing of cultural texts across each chapter, Day embraces the critical complexities of Asian North American cultural criticism. At the same time, she refuses to obscure the specificities of Canadian and U.S. contexts. What is more, the range of textual forms that Day analyzes in this book--film, video, novels, art installations, sculpture, and photography--points to the virtuosity of her work as a critic. In her reading of each cultural text, Day offers original and illuminating analyses that not only consistently further the main argument of her book but also make major contributions to the Asian North American cultural criticism more broadly. The book is methodologically dazzling in how smoothly it moves across genres and media.
At the heart of Day's argument is a call to triangulate indigenous, Asian, and white settler colonial subject positions in order to "distinguish both the heterogeneity of race and the heterogeneity of alien racialization" (34). As Day persuasively argues, it is a formation that "is uniquely tied to settler colonialism, which requires a disposable reserve army labour force" (34). This formation identifies the crucial role of racialized labour in white settler colonialism. It usefully disrupts any easy binaries between settler and native, colonizer and colonized.
In this disruption, Alien Capital also sets up the work that is still to come. The triangulation of subject positions in this book calls us to the unfinished work of thinking through the complicity of racialized subjects in the white settler colonial project. Although this problem is not a central feature of the argument of Alien Capital, the book's commitments to thinking across race and indigeneity suggests the necessity of this next step. In their guest editorial for a special issue offeral feminisms, "Complicities, Connections, and Struggles: Critical Transnational Feminist Analysis of Settler Colonialism," Shaista Patel, Ghaida Moussa, and Nishant Upadhyay outline the often painful and difficult work of identifying the ways in which racialized subjectivities can work in tandem with white settler colonial agendas. Thinking through the continuities between the figure of the Muslim terrorist with that of indigenous activists who continue to be labeled as dangerous to the state, Patel asks,
How could I live on this land, on which my presence was facilitated through the very colonial and racist institution of citizenship, and talk about violence directed at my body and at my people, without situating that violence and my work for social justice within the history of a nation-state literally founded on the dead bodies or presumed to be always-already dead and erased nations of Indigenous peoples? (9)
At the same time, Upadhyay recognizes that "not all people of colour are complicit in the settler colonial project" and that "[c]omplicity cannot be theorised in isolation. Complicity in one structure does not erase complicities in others. Rather, they are always enabled by, and enable other structures of complicity" (13). Upadhyay suggests re-centring indigenous knowledge and forms: "we need to develop our understanding that Indigenous lands first need to be decolonized before we ourselves can claim to be decolonized. We need creative and ethical ways to develop relationships of solidarity with Indigenous nations in order to effectively support struggles for Indigenous sovereignty across Turtle Island" (14).
Patel, Moussa, and Upadhyay call us to account for differential complicities in the unrelenting racial logic of settler colonial capitalism that Alien Capital exposes. In providing a sophisticated and careful analysis of the triangulation of indigenous, alien, and white settler colonial subject positions, Day's book clears significant ground for the decolonizing work ahead.
Day, Iyko. Alien Capital: Asian Racialization and the Logic of Settler Colonial Capitalism. Durham: Duke up, 2016.
Dabashi, Hamid. "Watching Wonder Woman in Gaza." Aljazeera. 10 June 2017. Web. 20 June 2017.
Patel, Shaista, Ghaida Moussa, and Nishant Upadhyay. "Complicities, Connections, and Struggles: Critical Transnational Feminist Analysis of Settler Colonialism." feral feminisms 4 (Summer 2015): 5-19.
Slemon, Stephen. "Unsettling Empire: Resistance Theory for the Second World." World Literature Written in English 30.2 (1990): 30-41.
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|Publication:||English Studies in Canada|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2017|
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