- Series: Next Wave Provocations
- Hardcover: 144 pages
- Publisher: Duke University Press Books (April 5, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0822337320
- ISBN-13: 978-0822337324
- Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.5 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #9,150,819 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Age of the World Target: Self-Referentiality in War, Theory, and Comparative Work (Next Wave Provocations) Hardcover – April 5, 2006
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From the Back Cover
""The Age of the World Target" is a catalyzing tour-de-force. Rey Chow provides a poignant, persuasive staging of a topic that will shape the future of literary and cultural studies: the role of particular poststructuralist claims within the fields of area studies, identity politics, and comparative literature."--Bill Brown, author of "A Sense of Things: The Object Matter of American Literature"
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However, my initial excitement was soon replaced by some disappointment and more question marks. The first chapter that "applies" Heidegger to Asia Pacific and East Asian Studies remains precisely a mere application of the famous essay by Heidegger and does not add much to what the German philosopher has already written. Heidegger in "the Age of World Picture" critiques the productionist metaphysics that leads to an endless creation of "researches" and the production & destruction at once of "world" as such. Therefore, when Chow says Asia Pacific was reduced into a target of both academic research (East Asian Studies in the US) and atomic bombing, she is largely merely retracing the thesis put forth by Heidegger approximately 50 years ago. To apply and retrace important theoretical point made by others is fine. But Rey Chow has a constant tendency to sound as if she is always "advancing" and "going beyond" the points made by others (e.g., "Supplementing Heidegger, we may say that in the age of bombing, the world has also been transformed into ... a target" (31).) But less obvious and perhaps more productive is Heidegger's mysterious claim about "technology's saving power" that makes us see the reverse side of the age of world picture, but she does not at all refer to or think about the possibility of this line of inquiry...
To go through the rest of the book more quickly, the second chapter is a partial vindication of "referentiality" or the persistence of referential meaning in literature and cultural studies. So Chow sets out to critique what she calls European "post-structural theorists." Again, that kind of project is fine. However, if someone wants to offer a credible critique of "post-structuralist theorists" still current in the US academy, one should at least provide a detailed close reading and substantial critique of people like Derrida, Deleuze, Lyotard, Levinas, de Man, Blanchot, Nancy, etc. However, what Rey Chow gives us is a very brief reading of Roland Barthes'_Mythologies_ and Barthes' perhaps naive insistence of a rural woodcutter as an exmaple of someone outside the hegemonice system...For someone as acute and well-read as Rey Chow to set up this kind of straw-person argument is rather disappointing. Can one Barthes book exemplify poststructuralist tendency to reify, essentialize, and thus implicitly denigrate the cultural Other (in the guise of celebrating such otherness)? Perhaps not. Does Chow provide a contrived argument in order to artificially make the entire post-structuralist theory eurocentric? Well, others can decide for themselves.
The last chapter retains the problem of the second chapter. That is, Chow now links what she sees as post-structuralist tendency to "incarcerate" the non-Western other and fetishize "interruptive aesthetics" to Johannes Fabian's argument that ethnography usually sustains itself by denying the "coevalness" between the ethnographer and the so-called native. Even if this argument is valid, I do not see any proof of this in the book.
After a seemingly biting "critique" of post-sturcturalism, Chow's formulation of a new comparative literature works with gestures toward theorists such as Sam Weber and Harutoonian using very Derridean notions of "ghosts," "revenat," and the disjunctive "and." In a very very reductive sense, this book starts with Heidegger and ends with Derrida, with its Chapter 2 vigilantly attacking "poststructuralist theory" as ultimately inward and euro-centric.Why?
Does Chow want to say that "post-structuralist" theory per se is apolotical ultimately but certain diaspotic appropriation of it can still be politically and ethically powerful? If so, she should say so. Overall, the lack of close reading of theorists she criticizes, Chow's own very troubled and often contracitory relationship with "theory," and her constant tendency to sound like she is going beyong others whose points she seems to repeat, make this a very troubled book. This is not to say that the problems it raises are unimportant. But one whould not too quickly disavow one's theoretical background merely because it's "passe" in the US or because its political capacity was attenuated in the literature departments in the US. Perhaps the theoretical legacy Chow incorporates in this book should be acknowledged more generously, productively, and, therefore, more critically in a fair manner.