Archive | May, 2013

Les Murray: Poems

30 May

Some favourite Les Murray poems.

Cockspur Bush

I am lived. I am died.
I was two-leafed three times, and grazed,
but then I was stemmed and multiplied,
sharp-thorned and caned, nested and raised,
earth-salt by sun-sugar. I was innerly sung
by thrushes who need fear no eyed skin thing.
Finched, ant-run, flowered, I am given the years
in now fewer berries, now more of sling
out over directions of luscious dung.
Of water crankshaft, of gases the gears
my shape is cattle-pruned to a crown spread sprung
above the starve-gut instinct to make prairies
of everywhere. My thorns are stuck with caries
of mice and rank lizards by the butcher bird.
Inches in, baby seed-screamers get supplied.
I am lived and died in, vine woven, multiplied.

The Fishermen at South Head

They have walked out as far as they can go on the prow of the continent,
on the undercut white sandstone, the bowsprits of the towering headland.
They project their long light canes
or raise them up to check and string, like quiet archers.
Between casts they hold them couched,
a finger on the line, two fingers on a cigarette, the reel cocked.

They watch the junction of smooth blue with far matt-shining blue,
the join where clouds enter,
or they watch the wind-shape of their nylon
bend like a sail’s outline
south towards, a mile away, the city’s floating gruel
of gull-blown effluent.

Sometimes they glance north, at the people on that calf-coloured edge
lower than theirs, where the suicides come by taxi
and stretchers are winched up
later, under raining lights
but mostly their eyes stay level with the land-and-ocean glitter.

Where they stand, atop the centuries
of strata, they don’t look down much
but feel through their tackle the talus-eddying
and tidal detail of that huge simple pulse
in the rock and their bones.

Through their horizontal poles they divine the creatures of ocean:
a touch, a dip, and a busy winding death gets started;
hands will turn for minutes, rapidly,
before, still opening its pitiful doors, the victim
dawns above the rim, and is hoisted in a flash above the suburbs
– or before the rod flips, to stand
trailing sworn-at gossamer.

On that highest dreadnought scarp, where the terra cotta
waves of bungalows stop, suspended at sky,
the hunters stand apart.
They encourage one another, at a distance, not by talk

but by being there, by unhooking now and then
a twist of silver for the creel, by a vaguely mutual
zodiac of cars TV windcheaters.
Braced, casual normality. Anything unshared,
a harlequin mask, a painted wand flourished at the sun,
would anger them. It is serious to be with humans.

Quintets for Robert Morley

Is it possible that hyper-
ventilating up Parnassus
I have neglected to pay tribute
to the Stone Age aristocracy?
I refer to the fat.

We were probably the earliest
civilized, and civilizing, humans,
the first to win the leisure,
sweet boredom, life-enhancing sprawl
that require style.

Tribesfolk spared us and cared for us
for good reasons. Our reasons.
As age’s counterfeits, forerunners of the city,
we survived, and multiplied. Out of self-defence
we invented the Self.

It’s likely we also invented some of love,
much of fertility (see the Willensdorf Venus)
parts of theology (divine feasting, Unmoved Movers)
likewise complexity, stateliness, the ox-cart
and self-deprecation.

Not that the lists of pugnacity are bare
of stout fellows. Ask a Sumo.
Warriors taunt us still, and fear us:
in heroic war, we are apt to be the specialists
and the generals.

But we do better in peacetime. For ourselves
we would spare the earth. We were the first moderns
after all, being like the Common Man
disqualified from tragedy. Accessible to shame, though,
subtler than the tall,

we make reasonable rulers.
Never trust a lean meritocracy
nor the leader who has been lean;
only the lifelong big have the knack of wedding
greatness with balance.

Never wholly trust the fat man
who lurks in the lean achiever
and in the defeated, yearning to get out.
He has not been through our initiations,
he lacks the light feet.

Our having life abundantly
is equivocal, Robert, in hot climates
where the hungry watch us. I lack the light step then too.
How many of us, I wonder, walk those streets
in terrible disguise?

So much climbing, on a spherical world;
had Newton not been a mere beginner at gravity
he might have asked how the apple got up there
in the first place. And so might have discerned
an ampler physics.

Poetry and Religion

Religions are poems. They concert
our daylight and dreaming mind, our
emotions, instinct, breath and native gesture

into the only whole thinking: poetry.
Nothing’s said till it’s dreamed out in words
and nothing’s true that figures in words only.

A poem, compared with an arrayed religion,
may be like a soldier’s one short marriage night
to die and live by. But that is a small religion.

Full religion is the large poem in loving repetition;
like any poem, it must be inexhaustible and complete
with turns where we ask Now why did the poet do that?

You can’t pray a lie, said Huckleberry Finn;
you can’t poe one either. It is the same mirror:
mobile, glancing, we call it poetry,

fixed centrally, we call it religion,
and God is the poetry caught in any religion,
caught, not imprisoned. Caught as in a mirror

that he attracted, being in the world as poetry
is in the poem, a law against its closure.
There’ll always be religion around while there is poetry

or a lack of it. Both are given, and intermittent,
as the action of those birds–crested pigeon, rosella parrot–
who fly with wings shut, then beating, and again shut.


Samir Amin on globalisation

30 May

“The law of globalized value – the foundation of the global system – is at the very origin of world polarization (contrast: centres/peripheries). Capitalism as a world system cannot be reduced to the capital mode of production, as the capitalist mode of production assumes an integrated three-dimensional market (goods, capital and labour).

      This integration, effected in the context of the history of the formation of central bouregois nation states, was never extended to world capitalism. The world market is exclusively two-dimensional in its growth, progressively integrating exchanges of products and the flow of capital – to the exclusion of labour, for which the market remains compartmentalized. This very fact is enough to bring about unavoidable polarization.” (Samir Amin, “The Challenge of Globalization: Delinking,” in Poscolonialism (Volume V) ed. Diana Brydon, London and NY: Routledge, 2000), 1893-1894 1893-1899).

“The 20 or 30 years if the relatively integrated capital world market (1850-1880) were followed by over 60 years of inter-imperialist rivalries (1880-1945), so violent that they led to two world wars; and, as from 1917, by 70 years of effective delinking by the Soviet Union, then by China. Unification of the world through the market and hegemony, far from being the rule in the history of capitalist world expansion, is the exception, and both short-lasting and fragile. The law of the system is continuing rivalry and delinking.”

An Excellent Introduction to Taiwanese History

30 May

Yet even this work to establish a Qing dynasty presence over every inch of
Taiwan could not prevent the interest of the eager imperialists of the Japanese
military, who hoped to protect their nation from European and American expansion in Asia by expanding their influence in the same fashion as these Western powers. Many in China sensed this looming threat and made attempts to
keep Taiwan out ofJapanese hands. In 1894, Yung Wing, famed as the first Chinese graduate of an American university (Yale, 1854), proposed instead leasing
Taiwan to a Western powel at the price of $400 million for ninety-nine years
(Yung 190 9, 244).

The reckoning finally came in r89S, when Japan defeated the Qing in the
Sino-JapaneseWar, started by theJapanese in 1894 overtheweightyChineseinfluence in Korea. In the Treaty of Shimonoseki, Japan demanded possession of
Taiwan, along with an indemnity of 200 million ounces of silver and various industrial privileges in China. Li Hongzhang, the unfortunate Qing envoy entrusted with the Japanese negotiations, sought to save the island by trying to
convince the Japanese of just how troublesome Taiwan could be, what with the
malaria, the BritiSh opium pushers, and the dangerous rebels who rose up from
time to time to kill officials. The strategy failed, however; his counterpart Ito Hirobumi merely answered, “We have not swallowed [Taiwan] yet and we are very
hungry” (NCHI89S).
Eventually, the decision to trade Taiwan for an end to the war became an
easy one for the Qing. The governor of Taiwan, Tang Jingsong, learned of the
cession two days later in a simple telegram, in which the imperial court reminded him that “Taiwan is certainly important to us, but obviously not as important as Beijing … since Taiwan is all by itself out there in the ocean, we 

would not be able to help defend Taiwan anyway” (Lishi Jiaoxue 1954, 51). Forsaken by Beijing, the scholarly elite of Taibei formulated another strategy of
avoiding colonization by the Japanese: an independent Taiwan, which could
not be ceded legally by the Qing. These elites, with the reluctant cooperation of
Governor Tang, founded the Taiwan Republic (with Tang as president) and issued the following statement: “The Qing court has not heard the mandate of
the people; in ceding Taiwan they totally ignored our anger. . . . The public is
full of grief and fury; a call for autonomy [zizhu] will arouse the people…. We
must unite the people and gentry of Taiwan and establish a Taiwan Republic
[Taiwan minzhuguo]. Together we will push forward a draft of a constitution,
taking the good points of the American and French models…. This will be
Asia’s first republic” (Zheng 1981, 81).
In terms of international Jaw, the Taiwan Republic’s advent 1endered
meaningless the Treaty of Shimonoseki, which ceded the island (Chen and
Reisman 1972, 633). Yet the legal status of Asia’s first republic was no match for
the military might of Asia’s first modern imperialist power. By the end of 1895,
any large-scale organized resistance was squashed, and the Japanese were able
to purchase with special privileges and honors the cooperation of gentry leaders up and down the island in helping to suppress the local anti-Japanese guerrilla activities that would plague the new government for years (Lamley 1964,
Many in Japan had supported the war with China as a way of prOVing
Japan’s newimperialistmettle, inorderthat “Japan could no longerbe regarded
as a mere Far Eastern park … [but] should now be reckoned with as a definite
world power,” but they had not seriously conSidered taking on any colonies in
the process. After Taiwan fell into their laps, some Japanese offiCials even suggested the by now very unoriginal idea of selling the island to France for 100
million yen-an amount that would have been more than Japan’s annual government expenditure (Chen 1977, 62, 71; Halliday 1975, 85). 

But for others in
Japan, the conquest of this “stone pointing toward the south” was a first step in
the “southern strategy” (nanshin) of establishing a Japanese presence throughout Southeast Asia-and their view won out. Another deciding factor was the
“living space” argument. Many Japanese were overjoyed that their population,
constrained for so many centuries by Japan’s mountainous terrain, could now
look to colonies like Taiwan (and soon Korea and Manchuria) as extra living
space for a surplusJapanese population, which could then exploitthe resources
of the colonies to help feed the healthy, growing homeland (Peattie 1984, 89).
It was for these reasons that, in just days, Taiwan went from being a model
proVince of the Qing dynasty to Asia’s first republic and then to the first colony
of Asia’s newest imperialist power. (12-13 Andrew D. Morris, “Taiwan’s History: An Introduction,” in The Minor Arts of Daily Life: Popular Culture in Taiwan, ed. David K. Jordan, Andrew D. Morris, Marc L. Moskowitz. Honolulu: Univ. Of Hawaii Press, 2004), 3-31.


The complicated relations between the guomindang and “liberated” Taiwan go some way to explaining the fondness which some of Taiwan’s establishment hold today for the Japanese imperial period:

Perhaps not understanding the excitement most islanders felt about being
annexed by the ROC, the conquering regime immediately began working in
Taiwan toward two main goals that had little to do with the hopes of the re­
centlyliberatedTaiwanese. First wasthe projectofreplacing anyJapanese orun­
orthodox customs with Chinese, in order to make the island safe for ROC rule.
Nothing bothered the Nationalists more than the fact, after eight years of awful
war against Japan, that their newest and richest province looked, acted, and
sounded Japanese!21 The new regime’s second goal was to use Taiwan’s relative
wealth-in 1939, Taiwan’s per capita value of foreign trade was thirty-nine 

times that of China (Chen and Reisman 1972, 6n)-to win their new civil war
on the mainiand against the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
The implementation of these measures served qUickly to erase the gOOd­
will that the new government had won just for being Chinese. As Taiwan was
officially and forcibly resinicized, unemployment lines became distinctly Tai­
wanized. Some 37,000 Taiwanese government workers lost their jobs in the
transition, a trend made the more galling by the fact that only 22 percent of the
posts in the Guomindang official bureaucracy were held by Taiwanese, as op­
posed to 56 percent of the posts under the Japanese (Lai et al. 1991, 65). A pro­
gram of de-Taiwanization, designed to “eradicate the slave mentality” among
Taiwanese, meant the banning of Japanese newspaper pages, rendering voice­
less an entire generation of intellectuals educated under the Japanese and prop­
agating an official cult of the benevolent and sagely dictator Chiang Kai-shek,
honored as “Savior of the People” and “Grand Family Head” (Hsiau 2000,
53-54; Chang 1993, 141).
The ROC’s takeover of Taiwan also involved the establishment of control
over all aspects of the economy for the public (but far too often, the private)
good. The official “Taiwan Provincialjapanese Property Managing Committee”
enriched the ROC state and its officials by relieVing governmental organi­
zations, enterprises, and individuals of 50,856 pieces of property worth
10,990,900,000 yen, or some 17 percent of Taiwan’s 1946 net domestic product
(Ito 1993, 141; Lai et al. 1991, 71). Since Taiwan now belonged to the ROC, what
belonged to Taiwan would belong to the ROC as well; organized carpetbagging
units descended on Chinese Taiwan, stripping the island of everything from
railway wiring and signal eqUipment to luggage on random rail baggage cars,
industrial machinery, plumbing eqUipment, and entire factories-all to be sent
back to Shanghai, Xiamen, or other coastal mainland cities (Kerr 1965,132-135;
Peng 1972, 49). This was in addition to the great amounts of raw materials­
sugar, coal, salt, and cement-appropriated and shipped to the mainland in of­
ficial fashion. Inflation qUickly set in, reaching a rate of 350 percent during the
first eight months of Guomindang rule (Lai et a1. 1991, 73, 81). 

Official neglect
also reached staggeringly dangerous levels. It was probably no coincidence that
the first cholera epidemic to strike Taiwan in twenty-seven years came in the
summerofr946, afterjustseveral months ofNationalistrule, killingsome1,460
Taiwanese. Others were diagnosed with the bubonic plague, totally eradicated
by the Japanese thirty years before the arrival of Chinese forces. The govern­
ment had other worries, however; as the director of Public Health explained,
“after all, only the poor people are contracting the disease” (Kerr 1965, 179-180).
Tensions were only exacerbated by the condescension with which so many
Taiwanese viewed these arrivals from a very poor China. The follOWing passage
vividly expresses the shock that so many self-conSciously modern Taiwanese
felt in 1945 upon their first contact with “China” in fifty years:
The ship docked, the gangways were lowered, and off came the troops of
China, the victors. The first man to appear was a bedraggled fellow who 

looked and behaved more like a coolie than a soldier, walking off with a
carrying pole across his shoulder, from which was suspended his umbrella,
sleeping mat, cooking pot, and cup. Others like him followed, some with
shoes, some without. Few had guns. With no attempt to maintain order or
discipline, they pushed off the ship, glad to be on firm land, but hesitant to
face the Japanese lined up and saluting smartly on both sides. My father
wondered what the Japanese could possibly think. He had never felt so
ashamed in his life. Usinga]apanese expression, he said, “If there had been
a hole nearby, I would have crawled in!” (Peng 1972, 51-52)
Taiwanese resentment of the corruption and waste that plagued the island
under the Nationalists often was voiced in class terms; stories circulated about
the military forces that the Taiwanese derided as “blanket soldiers” washing
their rice in toilet bowls, mistaking hair dryers for fantastic pistols, and stealing
bicycles but not being able to ride them. Taiwanese protests against the Guo­
mindang began to take the shape of direct (and unanimously unfavorable)
comparisons with the]apanese colonial regime. Voicing such concerns loudly
was not wise, however, and was treated as the work of “disloyal subversives”
who could only be planning Communist rebellion against the ROC. The gov­
ernment gave lip service to their promises of democracy; in 1946 public elec­
tions were held for village and town councils, who then elected county and city
council representatives, who then elected a Provincial Consultative Assembly.
These organs were very heavily represented byTaiwanese citizens, but they were
given only “consultative” or advisory powers and thus could do little to relieve
the frustration that was growing so rapidly (Phillips 1999, 286). 

Disaster struck on the evening of February 27, 1947, when several Guomin­
dang agents beat a forty-year-old widow for the offense of selling black market
cigarettes. When word spread of the incident, pent-up Taiwanese anger at the
Nationalist regime erupted in forms ranging from organized protests to pre­
meditated violence against random mainland officials and soldiers. Protesters
removed the characters for “China” from official and commercial signs, others
put up Japanese-language banners screaming “Down with Military Tyranny,”
while others chanted Taiwanese-language slogans such as “The Taiwanese want
revenge now!” “Beat the mainlanders!” “Kill the pigs!” “Let Taiwan rule itselfl”
and “Let’s have a new democracy!” Even angrier Taibei residents began interro­
gating any mainlanders they could find and beating the unlucky ones who
could not answer in]apanese or Taiwanese languages (Lai et al. 1991, IOS-I07).
Over the next four days, through March 4, violence erupted throughout all of
Taiwan’s cities as the retribution for one original act of violence grew into a £Ull­
fledged urban uprising against Guomindangrule (121-134).

As this raw Taiwanese rage boiled over in the streets, elites in Taibei and
other cities qUickly founded Resolution Committees (Chuli Weiyuanhui) in or­
der to negotiate between the Taiwanese majority and the Nationalist military
government. These committees were in fact dominated by pro-Guomindang
Taiwanese elites who should have been able to formulate demands amenable to 

the government. Negotiations between these committees and the state stalled
for days, but the commander of the Fourth Gendarme Regiment called on the
Taibei Resolution Committee on March 8 to promise: “The Central Govern­
ment will not dispatch troops to Taiwan” (Kerr 1965, 291). He was lying. Begin­
ning that same day, two entile divisions of ROC troops were transferred to Tai­
wan from the mainland, and a reign of state terror against its opponents began.
The Resolution Committees wele abolished, and some outspoken members
were tortured and executed (Lai et a1. 1991, 138-150; Peng 1972, 70). Chinese
troops landing on Taiwan began 1andom killings of Taiwanese as soon as they
came ashore, many shooting guns loaded with soft-nosed dum-dum bullets de­
signed to wound even more painfully (Kerr 1965, 260). As Peng Ming-min (Peng
Mingmin) remembered: “As the Nationalist troops came ashore they moved out
quickly through Keelung Uilong] streets, shooting and bayoneting men and
boys, raping women, and looting homes and shops. Some Formosans were
seized and stuffed alive into burlap bags found piled up at the sugar warehouse
doors, and were then simply tossed into the harbor. Others were merely tied up
or chained before being thrown from the piers” (Peng 1972, 69-70).
For the next several months, thousands of Taiwanese elites who were seen
as posing a th1eat to the regime-professors, doctors, lawyers, professionals, col­
lege and even high school students-were systematically arrested and executed
in cold blood (Vecchione 1998). As George Kerr, a U.S. State Department official
stationed in Taiwan at the time, described: “By March 17 the pattern of terror
and revenge had emerged very clearly. First to be destroyed were all established
critics of the Government. Then in their turn came Settlement Committee
members and their principal aides, all youths who had taken part in the interim
policing of Taipei, middle school students, middle school teachers, lawyers,
economic leaders and members of influential families, and at last, anyone who
in the preceding eighteen months had given offense to a mainland Chinese,
causing him to ‘lose face'” (Kerr 1965, 299-300). 

Anyone highly educated or accomplished in theJapanese language and/or
culture could be targeted, as the “poisonous” Japanese influence on Taiwan was
blamed for the uprising (especially since so many of the protests and insurrec­
tionary radio broadcasts had been in Japanese). Taiwan was cleansed of any
Japanese items-records, publications, flags, and so on, which were confis­
cated-at the same time as it was being cleansed over the next several months
of its Japanese-educated elites, dual processes of finally “sinicizing” Taiwan for
good (Hsiau 2000, 57-58). It was this kind of violence that led Taiwanese such
as dissident Peng Ming-min’s father, a prominent Presbyterian doctor in Gao­
xiong, to abandon totally their “Chinese” identity: “He went so far as to cry out
that he was ashamed of his Chinese blood and wished that his children after
him would always marry foreigners until his descendants could no longer claim
to be Chinese” (Peng 1972,69).
Final numerical estimates of the massacres of the spring and summer of
1947 vary Widely, from an official government report estimating sixty-three 

hundred total casualties to anti-Guomindang activists’ own estimates that
more than twenty thousand Taiwanese were killed in the suppression (Lai et a1.
1991, 158-159)· And what was called the “white terror” (baise kongbu) did not
end in 1947; by the mid-1950s, the government had some fourteen thousand
political prisoners (both Taiwanese and mainlander) in custody and had exe­
cuted probably one or two thousand more (Taylor 2000, 2II-212).
In 1949, the Republic of China government was chased out of mainland
China by a victorious Chinese Communist Party after more than three years of
civil war. In what can only be called a cruel irony, this newest Chinese province
ofTaiwan, the province in which the ROC government had the least legitimacy,
became home to the entire regime. At the time of the 1947 uprising, Chiang
Kai-shek, author of that year’s brutal measures, could hardly have imagined
that in just two years, this most despised and “poisoned” province of Taiwan
would be all that he and his party would ever control again. Considering that
even in the early 1990S, some anti-Nationalist activists would still be screaming
that “KMT” really stood for “Kill Many Taiwanese” (Xu Rongshu 1991), the title
of one book on the 1947 uprising-A Tragic Beginning-is thus all too accurate in
describing early Nationalist rule ofTaiwan (Lai et a1. 1991).” 

(Morris, 19-23)

Perhaps the most important tension in Taiwan at the turn of the millennium is the presence of the People’s Republic of China right across the Taiwan
Straits. Abandoning its original position that Taiwan was a separate nation, distinguished culturally from the rest of China (Hsiao and Sullivan 1979, 447-458),
the Chinese Communist Party during the 1990S stepped up its campaign to “reunify” the entire Chinese nation by extending its control to Taiwan. Relying,
often very successfully, on the brute force of nationalism to distract its citizens
from political repression and the volatility of market transformations, the CCP
has convinced not only their own people but most of the rest of the world that
the PRC has legal title to Taiwan-an island that has never been under its control. Without realizing the possible boon that such an argument could be to
diehard loyalists of the Ryukyuan, DutCh, Spanish, and Japanese empires, the
PRe’s argument is based on the fact that since Taiwan was once part of the
Manchu Qing empire, it should be part of China in perpetuity. The great majority of people in Taiwan look at the immense changes that have occurred in Taiwan and China in the century plus since Taiwan’s cession by the Qing, and they
prefer the autonomy that has existed under more than fifty years of ROC rule.29
The PRC’s main strategy has been to isolate Taiwan diplomatically on the
international stage, most successfully by blocking any attempts by Taiwan to
reenter the United Nations after three decades of exclusion from that body. The
PRC also is able to use its almost superpower status and economic clout to prevent virtually any international recognition of Taiwan as a sovereign state. The
pettiness of these measures can be mind-boggling, such as the PRe’s unconditional demand that any international organization recognize Taiwan’s diplOmatic representatives, Little League and Olympic teams, or even Miss Universe
contestants (CND 2000) only as representatives of “Chinese TaipeL” But they
can also be deadly. In 1999, Beijing used its pull in the World Health Organization 

(WHO) to keep Taiwan out of the international body and its citizens ineligible to benefit from or contribute to advancements made by WHO (AFP 1999).
In September 1999, after a disastrous earthquake struck in central Taiwan,
killing over two thousand people, the PRC government prevented UN and Russian rescue teams from reaching Taiwan for more than two days, explaining that
“as Taiwan is not a member of the UN, then aid must be channeled through Beijing” (AFP 1999; CND 1999).30
As one China watcher puts it, for the PRC’s leaders, “Taiwan is an obsession, one that creates a hideous spectacle of a large dictatorship trying to intimidate a small democracy” (Chang 2001,37). Yet this forceful approach to resolving the “Taiwan question” is exactly what many people inside mainland China
have learned to welcome. InJuly 1999, a rare public opinion poll conducted in
Chinese cities found that 86.9 percent of those surveyed favored an invasion of
Taiwan “if necessary” (Reuters 1999).31
These actions have earned the PRC great enmity among many Taiwanese,
yet many businessmen from Taiwan have found the profits to be made in China
more significant than the threats to their nation’s sovereignty. Taiwan businesses, large and small, see China as an endless supply of cheap exploitable labor and loose environmental regulations. As a key to maintaining a “competitive edge,” these enterprises have invested more than U.S. $100 billion in
China, even as this has hollowed out Taiwan’s own industrial base (Hsing 1998;
Studwe1l2002, 280). As one Taiwan journalist writes, “Beyond the fact that the
water, power, and environmental protection costs [in China] are all low, land
can be acquired for next to nothing. Every Taiwanese businessman who comes
here feels like a prince-complete with his own fiefdom” (Li 2001, 9). Consequently, ahuge trade (U.S. $25.84 billion in1999)linksTaiwan andChina, a fact
that many observers feel makes some form of reunification inevitable in the
near future (Republic of China Yearbook 2001). Even in Taiwan itself, the struggling tourism industry is looking to well-heeled mainland Chinese tourists as a
new source of income; as one business leader said in 2001, “Taiwan can become
China’s Hawaii” (AP 2001). 

The PRC government also Wisely uses these growing
ties in order to sell Taiwan officials, academics, and businessmen on the financial benefits of reunification and has succeeded in pushing figures such as President Chen Shui-bian onto the defensive, calling for “economic war” against
China (The Economist 2000, 48; ITO 2001).
Taiwan’s unique status at the turn of the twenty-first century is reflected
best in one recent series of events. Liberal International, a London-based coalition of eighty-four liberal political parties from Sixty-seven countries, selected
President Chen Shui-bian to receive its 2001 Prize for Freedom, hailing his
“solid record as a human rights activist” (Taipei Government Information Office 2001). Liberal International was scheduled to present the award in Copenhagen, Denmark. Yet because of political pressure from China-which forbids
its diplomatic allies to allow visits by Taiwanese leaders-the Danish government refused to grant Chen a visa so he could receive the Freedom prize. And
when Liberal International offered to present the award to Chen at a later European 

Parliament meeting in Strasbourg, the French government also refused to
issue Chen a visa.32
Though it is Asia’s most vibrant democracy, Taiwan’s leaders must beg for
visas to visit the United States or other countries that supposedly stand for principles of freedom and liberty. With the admission ofTuvalu into the UN in 2000,
the Republic of China on Taiwan is the last nation in the world to be excluded
from the world body. The world’s seventeenth largest economy, Taiwan is recognized by less than two dozen tiny African and Caribbean nations. A sovereign
nation in every way, Taiwan has to justify continually why it should not be swallowed up by the PRC, a regime that has never administered an inch of Taiwan’s
territory. And, intimately tied culturally and economically to China, Taiwan’s future as a sovereign nation depends on its ability to convince the world of its historical independence from the mainland. Yet somehow these singular conditions seem fitting for Taiwan, an island whose history, as the following chapters
describe, has been nothing if not complicated and extraordinary.”

(Morris, 29-31)

Marx and Bakunin: A Conversation

30 May

Below is an excerpt from the marginal notes Marx made in 1874, while reading Bakunin’s Statism and Anarchy. Copying passages from the work, Marx then made comments on each, the result reading like a dialogue:

Bakunin: … in the election of people’s representatives and rulers of the state — that is the last word of the Marxists, as also of the democratic school — [is] a lie, behind which is concealed the despotism of the governing minority, and only the more dangerously in so far as it appears as expression of the so-called people’s will.

Marx: With collective ownership the so-called people’s will vanishes, to make way for the real will of the cooperative.

Bakunin: So the result is: guidance of the great majority of the people by a privileged minority. But this minority, say the Marxists…

Marx: Where?

Bakunin: …will consist of workers. Certainly, with your permission, of former workers, who however, as soon as they have become representatives or governors of the people, cease to be workers…

Marx: As little as a factory owner today ceases to be a capitalist if he becomes a municipal councillor…

Bakunin: and look down on the whole common workers’ world from the height of the state. They will no longer represent the people, but themselves and their pretensions to people’s government. Anyone who can doubt this knows nothing of the nature of men.

Marx: If Mr Bakunin only knew something about the position of a manager in a workers’ cooperative factory, all his dreams of domination would go to the devil. He should have asked himself what form the administrative function can take on the basis of this workers’ state, if he wants to call it that.

See: “On Bakunin’s Statism and Anarchy” in David McLellan, ed., Karl Marx: Selected Writings (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1977), 563. Translation modified.

Below is perhaps the most concise summation of the premises of “historical materialism” Marx ever wrote:

The first premise of all human history is, of course, the existence of living human individuals. Thus the first fact to be established is the physical organisation of these individuals and their consequent relation to the rest of nature. Of course, we cannot here go either into the actual physical nature of man, or into the natural conditions in which man finds himself – geological, hydrographical, climatic and so on. The writing of history must always set out from these natural bases and their modification in the course of history through the action of men.

Men can be distinguished from animals by consciousness, by religion or anything else you like. They themselves begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence, a step which is conditioned by their physical organisation. By producing their means of subsistence men are indirectly producing their actual material life….

In direct contrast to German philosophy which descends from heaven to earth, here we ascend from earth to heaven. That is to say, we do not set out from what men say, imagine, conceive, nor from men as narrated, thought of, imagined, conceived, in order to arrive at men in the flesh. We set out from real, active men, and on the basis of their real life-process we demonstrate the development of the ideological reflexes and echoes of this life-process. The phantoms formed in the human brain are also, necessarily, sublimates of their material life-process, which is empirically verifiable and bound to material premises. Morality, religion, metaphysics, all the rest of ideology and their corresponding forms of consciousness, thus no longer retain the semblance of independence. They have no history, no development; but men, developing their material production and their material intercourse, alter, along with this their real existence, their thinking and the products of their thinking. Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life.

ibid, The German Ideology, 160, 164


Capital represents itself in the form of a

29 May

Capital represents itself in the form of a physical landscape created in its own image, created as use values to enhance the progressive accumulation of capital. The geographical landscape which results is the crowning glory of past capitalist development. But at the same time it expresses the power of dead labour over living labour ad as such it imprisons and inhibits the accumulation process within a set of physical constraints…Capitalist development has therefore to negotiate a knife-edge path between preserving the exchange values of past capitalist investments in the built environemnt and destroying the value of these investments in order to open up fresh room for accumulation. Under capitalism, there is then a perpetual struggle in which capital builds a physical landscape appropriate to its own condition at a particular moment in time, only to have to destroy it, usually in the course of crises, at a subsequent point in time. The temporal and geographical ebb and flow of investment in the built environment can be understood only in terms of such a process. David Harvey, “The Urban Process Under Capitalism,” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 2, 1978: 101-31; 124


And Polo said: “The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space. 

Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities, tr. William Weaver, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1974: 165

Rey Chow and Comparative Literature

29 May

While the command of multiple languages should remain one of comparative literature’s disciplinary concerns, it should also be possible for students who do not necessarily have a deep knowledge of language other their native ones [sic] to be introduced to comparative literature through the study of poststructuralist theory, simply because one of the key pedagogical aims of poststructuralist theory is the scrutiny of language itself. In he case of North America, where many students have English as their first language, this is crucial because of the multiple languages and cultural enclaves that already exist within English – precisely owing to the ‘international’ history of British and American imperialism. Instead of asking our students to learn Arabic or Chinese in place of the more traditionally revered French or German, what about asking them to study black English, English as used by writers in British India, or English as used by present-day Latin American and Asian American authors?…

        In other words, just as multilingualism does not necessarily prevent one from becoming an intellectual bigot, so monolingualism does not have to mean that one’s mind is closed. Instead of having students add on languages without ever questioning the premise of language-as-power, we could also, within comparative literature, teach students how to be comparative within ‘single’ languages. (113-114;  Rey Chow, “In the Name of Comparative Literature”, in Comparative Literature in the Age of Multicultualism ed. Charles Bernheimer, Baltimore, Maryland: John Hopkins Univ. Press, 1995), 107-116

This reminds me of a typically excoriating passage in another Rey Chow book I’ve enjoyed for many years, Writing Diaspora:
“The widening of our curriculum to include such things as the ‘third world’ and minorities, and the extension of job opportunities to African American, Hispanic, and Asian scholars are part of an ongoing program of instrumentalizing language and culture. Indeed, we can say that the current ‘cultural studies’ programes in institutions of higher education are homological entities to the ‘literacy campaigns’ that are aimed at the lower strata of American society. While the poor need to learn how to read and write, the educated need to read and write other cultures. The universalist ambitions by way of terms such as ‘culture’ and ‘discourse’ belong therefore to a market economy in which ‘culture remains a force but largely of social control, a gratuitous image drawn over the face of instrumentality.’ ”
(Rey Chow, Writing Diaspora: Tactics of Intervention in Contemporary Cultural Studies. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana Univ. Press, 1993, 129.

In Theory: Aijaz Ahmad

29 May

One cannot reject English now, on the basis of its initially colonial insertion, any more than one can boycott the railways for that same reason. (77).

In social processes at large, this privileging of a particular language is indicated by its uses in state administration, in those more powerful sections of the media which are considered ‘national’, in higher institutions of education and research, in its differential availability to the propertied and the working classes respectively, in the greater access it provides to the job market and hence the great prestige that attaches to the person who commands it with fluency, and so on. Once these processes are fully in place, with the bourgeoisie and the professional segments of the petty bourgeoisie fully incorporated in them, two things about ‘literature’, at the very least, become self-evident for all those who are thus incorporated. First, it seems inevitable that if an archive of a ‘national’ literature is to be assembled, it can be done only in this language. Second, as regards individual texts, only those that become available in this language can be said to have a representative character, so far as the ‘national’ literature is concerned; all else is ‘regional’, and a ‘regional’ novel, let us say, can become part of the ‘national’ archive only in so far as it is represented, either in full translation or through some extended summary and/or commentary, in the language designated already, through official proclamation or not, as the one appropriate for the construction of the ‘national’ archive. (77-78).

While the logic of capital is now irreversible in Asia and Africa, the great majority of these countries simply cannot make a fully fledged capitalist transition, now or at any point in the foreseeable future. European transition occurred when there were no external, imperialist, far more powerful capitalist countries to dominate and subjugate the European ones; when the world’s resources – from minerals to agricultural raw materials to the unpaid labour of countless millions – could form the basis for Europe’s accumulation; when vast reservoirs of European populations could simply be exported to other continents; when the European working classes could be pressed into service for commodity exports to the markets of the world, establishing a global hegemony of European capital. Where can India send the approximately five hundred million people for whom Indian capitalism simply cannot provide, and whose minerals is the Indian bourgeoisie to extract to fuel our economy and guarantee our balance of payments for the next two hundred years? It has only its own forests to ravage, it own mountains to denude, its own rivers to dam up and pollute, its own countryside to consign to generalized filth, its own cities to choke with carbonized air – in a subordinated partnership with imperialist capital. lacking the historically specific global conditions which proved to be the nursery for European capital, most of the Asian zones simply cannot ever hope to develop stable capitalist societies, and the devastating combination of the most modern technology and backward capitalist development is likely to inflict upon these societies, on lands and peoples alike, kinds and degrees of destruction unimaginable even during the colonial period. Given the existing differentials of accumulation, gaps between the various layers of world capitalism – as regards not only nation-states but also populations and classes and regions within nation-states, from the most advanced to the poorest – are likely to increase. (Aijaz Ahmad, In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures. London and NY: Verso, 1992), 315-316