By: Penny Yeung
A little more about Penny: Prior to coming to Rutgers, Penny spent four months working for a non-profit, Very Hong Kong, an explorative community project that combines art and urban development by inviting local creatives to transform underused public spaces. She is now eager to continue her research interests in geocriticism and Romanticism, and hopes to further explore the relationship between literature and politics, as well as transnational dynamics of the novel in a Sino-French context. Penny also holds an M.A. in Comparative Literature from King’s College London.
On Thursday, March 2, Professor Carlos Rojas of Duke University spoke to a roomful of audience on the topic of “Anticipatory Nostalgia: Queering the Hong Kong Handover,” as part of the China Lecture Series organized by the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at Rutgers University. This upcoming July 1, 2017 being the twentieth anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China, Professor Rojas noted, the occasion is sure to invite critical reflections on how the historical transition will be commemorated and remembered.
Professor Rojas opened his lecture by way of a discussion of Dung Kai-Cheung’s Atlas: The Archeology of an Imaginary City. Atlas was published in 1997, the year of the handover, and reprinted along with three of Dung’s novellas in 2011 as part of what is now known as the V-City series (V-City being the shorthand for Victoria City, a fictional stand-in name for Hong Kong). The preface of the V-City series provides a suggestive perspective to rethinking time: using an imaginary vantage point in the future to reassess the present and the past, and taking an imaginary vantage point in the past to assess the present and the future. The upshot is a troubling of the present as a stable reference point.
Rojas then turned to the notion of “déjà disparu,” put forth by Ackbar Abbas in his elegant and seminal monograph Hong Kong: Culture and the Politics of Disappearance (1997). “Déjà disparu” posits that in Hong Kong’s case, culture and identity are articulated—paradoxically—at the brink of their disappearance. Their formation always already entails a belatedness; their manifestation, in this sense, borders on the spectral—as something already lost, or in the process of becoming so. In Rojas’s theorization he coupled this with Freudian conceptions of fetishization and deferred action. The temporal dimensions in both Abbas and Freud allow for a theorization of the forms of remembrances, both anticipatory and nostalgic, set into motion by the 1984 signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which laid out the provisions for Hong Kong’s handover to China. As Rojas pointed out, the signing of the 1984 declaration triggered a concern with imminent loss, which in turn, ended up generating what would then be lost.
Drawing on the notion of queer futurity and utopia in Lee Edelman’s No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive and José Esteban Munôz’s Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity, Rojas further argued that a queer perspective of the handover may offer ways to think about alternative potentialities and possibilities of the future. Professor Rojas illustrated this through close readings of three works created right around or shortly after the handover: Wong Kar-Wai’s film Happy Together (1997) (paired with a reading of Italo Svevo’s Confessions of Zeno); Fruit Chan’s film Made in Hong Kong (1997); and Dung Kai-Cheung’s novel Works and Creations (2005). Rojas argued that in all three, depictions of futurity are delinked from heteronormative visions of youth and childhood. Diverging from narratives of conventional reproduction, these depictions challenge notions of linear time and seem instead to align with queer futurity. There is a turn to the past to critique the present, while being simultaneously resonant with desire for the future. Optimism exists, Rojas asserted, albeit one that is mediated through a meld of fear, anxiety, and frustration.
Professor Rojas’s talk provided provocative insights into how trauma may be revisited, reenacted, and possibly transcended. Prior to the lecture, Professor Rojas graciously shared his time with a group of graduate students, during which the conversation ranged from contemporary gender issues in China, comparative literature and methodology, to the vexed yet productive intersections between postcolonial and national discourses.