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Orientalizing Singapore: psychoanalyzing the discourse of `non-Western modernity Gabrielpillai, Matilda 1997

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ORIENTALIZING SINGAPORE: PSYCHOANALYZING THE DISCOURSE OF 'NON-WESTERN MODERNITY' by MATILDA GABRIELPILLAI B.A., The University of Singapore, 1978 B A. Hons., The University of Singapore, 1979 M.A., The University of Reading, 1988 A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY in THE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIES (Department of English Literature) We accept this thesis as conforming to the required standard THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA August 1997 © Matilda Gabrielpillai, 1997 In presenting this thesis in partial fulfilment of the requirements for an advanced degree at the University of British Columbia, I agree that the Library shall make it freely available for reference and study. I further agree that permission for extensive copying of this thesis for scholarly purposes may be granted by the head of my department or by his or her representatives. It is understood that copying or publication of this thesis for financial gain shall not be allowed without my written permission. Department of / £ y \ ^ The University of British Columbia Vancouver, Canada Date W r l c t . DE-6 (2/88) 11 Abstract This study represents the scandal of current colonial racist ideologizing by focusing on the American Orientalizing project in Singapore. It argues that, in the era of global capitalism and post-colonial theory, the new colonialist epistemologies rely on collaborations between the ruling classes of the 'third world' and 'first world' as well as a rhetoric of 'native' nationalism to contain threatening non-Western economic success and to create 'third world' populations and governments that will not resist the continuation of the Western/American colonizing project. Using a Marxist-Lacanian psychoanalytical theory of hegemony, of a "libidinal politics" which focuses on the role of desire in national culture, this thesis shows that the Singapore government has used American Orientalist ideology to effect disempowering cultural changes in the people. Examining political and literary texts, I argue that the Singapore government quotes American notions of 'Oriental' difference to keep "dangerous Western (liberal) influences" from 'ethnically contaminating' the nation, and that it has hegemonized an 'Asian'/'Confucianist' nationalism by hystericizing and repressing the people's desire, leading Singaporeans to disavow their location in a post-modern world. The Orientalizing of Singapore, where Chinese identity has been produced as a masquerade of Western culture, has also generated a crisis in male identity, involving an inward-looking escapist cultural narcissism that blocks a positive response to historical realities. Paradoxically, the claim to a non-Western modernity has also been used to suppress ethnic difference by producing ethnicity as 'fetish.' The East/West discourse that emerged from the caning of an American teenager, Michael Fay, in Singapore is used to reveal the entrapment of Singapore's 'Oriental' national identity in American colonial desire, and to argue that the perceived East Asian 'cultural confidence' often spoken about today overlooks the fact that such cultural certitude accrues from the East entering into the West's fantasy scenarios and staging itself as the other's object of desire. This thesis suggests that current 'post-colonial' claims to "ethnic, non-Western" modernisms be viewed with some skepticism as possibly involving the ventriloquistic 'passing' of Western colonial ideology as the voice of the 'racial other.' iv TABLE OF CONTENTS Abstract ii Table of Contents iv Acknowledgments v Chapter One Introduction: 'Non-Western Modernity' as American Orientalism 1 Chapter Two Orientalizing the Nation: The National Ideology Project 58 Chapter Three Disciplining Post-Colonial Identity: Reading the Michael Fay Caning Incident 120 Chapter Four Imagining Chinese Identity: Fictional Revisions of State Ideology 183 Chapter Five The Cut at the Center: Male Identity in Crisis in Singaporean Drama 299 Conclusion 382 Works Cited or Consulted 389 Acknowledgments This has been, in many ways, a lonely project, involving self-exile. But it has also been tremendously crowded with people from my past. Ironically, the people I am most indebted to are also those that I rail against. This work would not have been possible without the opportunities given to me to work in Singapore's media organizations and semi-government bodies, which provided an inside view of the business of creating and disseminating national meanings. I am also grateful to the work of Slavoj Zizek, which has enabled me to get past disciplinary parameters that only serve to fragment consciousness and perpetuate oppressions. More immediately, I would like to record my appreciation for the valuable feedback and encouragement provided by my thesis committee of Margery Fee, Richard Cavell and Tineke Hellwig. To Margery Fee, who was always available during moments of anxiety, I owe a world of thanks. Patricia Merrivale kept me from narrow approaches to post-colonial studies. Khoo Gaik Cheng provided a forum in which to grasp the complexity of questions concerning national 'native' identity and non-Western difference in the Southeast Asian context. Rosemary Leach smoothened my path through the Ph.D. program. Theatreworks kindly provided me with draft manuscripts of Kuo Pao Kun's play, The Descendants of the Eunuch Admiral, and Tan Tarn How's play, Six of the Best. I have the good fortune of thanking two families for emotional support. I am indebted to the Jamais, especially Farahnazz and Naheeda, for the good times I have had in Vancouver. My family in Singapore, I appreciate for having put up with my long absence and trying demands for money. Chapter One Introduction: 'Non-Western Modernity' as American Orientalism Since the 1980s, the discourse of an alternative 'Confucian' non-Western modernity has been rapidly gaining ascendance and has been viewed as a sign of the rising cultural confidence of East Asian nations. As Arif Dirlik notes, after half a century as a defunct ideology, "Confucianism began to reappear as a central ideological concern. For more than a decade now, the airwaves over the Pacific, from Singapore to the headquarters of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Washington, D.C., have been filled with talk of Confucius" ("Confucius" 229). Described as one of the most prolific intellectual industries of the 1980s, the discourse of Confucianism has commanded international partication, but it is the East Asian countries who have most heavily invested (culturally and financially) in its promotion, says Dirlik ("Confucius" 23 8).1 In China, a rejection of Confucianism during the Mao Zedong era was reversed with the leader's death in 1976 and the retreat from revolutionary communism. Over 1,000 articles on Confucianism were produced in the 1980s in China alone and conferences on Confucianism have been held annually since 1978. In 1984, a Confucian foundation was established in China. In South Korea, Confucianism, despite a troubled existence during the 1960s and 1970s when former President Pak Chung-hee had regarded it a hindrance to the republic's industrialization, is now promoted by the state and forms part of the national discourse of 'Koreanness.'4 Taiwan and Hongkong academics have also contributed to the discussion. The discourse of Confucianism as offering an alternative 'Chinese' modernity to counter Eurocentric notions of modernity was taken up perhaps most dramatically in Singapore, where Confucianist values were extolled almost on a daily basis in the early 1980s in the local media. In 1982, eight foreign specialists (including Harvard and Yale professors) were hired to design a Confucian curriculum as part 2 of a moral education program for schools, while in 1983, Singapore set up the Institute of East Asian Philosophies to promote and reinterpret Confucianism.5 In the 1990s, 'Confucianist' ideologies were used in Singapore as the basis of a new state-promoted 'Asian nativist' nationalism.6 Two markedly different readings of this phenomenon of Confucianist revival are currently competing for dominance. There is, on the one hand, as mentioned above, a sanguine tendency to view this new discourse as an assertion of post-colonial Chinese cultural confidence, as a valid effort to break the West's cultural power by speaking modernity in another language. The other interpretation posits the Confucianist revival as a Western neo-colonial strategy employed for American penetration into China's market and further exploitation of the newly industrialized economies in the Pacific Rim. This critical metanarrative deconstructs the claim of a new Chinese cultural confidence by representing the Confucian revival as a direct heir of Western 'Orientalism.' The East, it claims, is now involved in a "self-Orientalization" that repeats the terms of the earlier colonialist epistemology.7 Historicizing the discourse of Confucian-style modernization, Dirlik says that what is being revived is not so much Confucianism as it is "the ideological legacy of societies that can claim recent ascendancy within Global Capitalism and, indeed, in some measure, are responsible for creating the practices that characterize Global Capitalism" ("Confucius" 230). The coincidence of the rise of the East Asian economies with the stagnation of capital accumulation in the West, under