Toshiya Ueno (by way of Geert Lovink <>) on Tue, 23 Mar 1999 21:27:18 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> The Situation and Idea of an "Inter-East"

     [Text of a talk given at the Inter-East Forum at the 
      Next 5 Minutes 3 conference, Amsterdam, Sunday, 14 
      March 1999.]

The Situation and Idea of an "Inter-East"

Toshiya Ueno

Terms like "pacific Asia" and "inter-Asia" are so popular key
terms for projects in publishing and academic conferences all
around the world. But the future imagination and new vision of
Asia should not be restricted and projected onto the mere
geographic (or geopolitical) perspective. Certainly, the term
"Asia" is catchy and easy to understand; but there are other
views, some long established, some recent, which are not based on
"Orientalist" discourses. The time has come to free ourselves
from simplistic geographical hand-me-downs that perpetuate
various forms of exoticism.

A good example of how deep this tendency reaches is the common
use of terms such as "trance" throughout most of the Westernized
world (notably including Eastern Europe) to describe certain new
phenomena--types of techno music, rave cultures, and/or
computer-generated animations. One sees not this term but this
kind of gesture throughout much wider circles like cultural
studies and leftists thinking. Now, the interrelations between
Europe--again, certainly including Eastern Europe--and East Asia
have a history that is long and varied, so this kind of
linguistic appropriation doesn't take place in a vaccum. In fact,
this history is complex enough to cast doubt even on the use of
terms like "East Asia" or "Asia Pacific" in this context, because
these relations have involved hegemonic competitions between
nation-state formations in these regions.

I would like to suggest the term "inter-East," which conveys this
broader awareness. In my view, the term includes not just "Asia"
or the "Pacific regions" but also East and South Asia and even
Eastern Europe. In the present context--that is, discussions on
Tactical and Independent media and spaces--such an awareness is
important. Unlike earlier terminology, it can refer both to the
past relations but also the future ones as well.

Another interesting term might be "cyberdiaspora" or "digital
diaspora"--not in the sense of human lives or  bodies
"disappearing" into or onto the net. Rather, I mean a diaspora
through the net--within it, across it, by means of it.
Historically speaking, diaspora cultures have traveled around the
world; these travels were accompanied by--and not always from or
to the same places--material circulations cultural circulations:
ideas, lifestyles, food, art, music, and so on. Some
theoreticians of this subject have used terms that sound very
familiar to us in a "digital" or "cyber" context, for example,
Paul Gilroy's idea of the "diaspora web."

Now, though, this kind of terminology is no longer a metaphor;
rather, it is a sort of an allegory of reality itself. The rise
of network technologies have presented us with "cyberspaces," and
not merely through the use of computers radio and telephones, for
example, have brought about kinds of "spaces" that alter the
spaces we live in, in ways similar or analogous to the sea. My
intent isn't to emphasize the power of the Internet; rather, I
simply want to point out that there are refugee and diaspora
groups that maintain cohesion and communication--culture--by
means of video distribution, computer networks, and other
electronic technologies. For example, there are the Croatian and
Macednian communities in Perth, Australia, who rely heavily on
videos to maintain connections to their origins; or the
independent media in Amsterdam in  support of people coming from
former Yugoslavia. There's no question that information
technogies and telecomunications have allowed diasporas to
develop  in new direction.

Of course, diaspora strictly speaking almost invariably involves
migrations imposed by power relations, whether economic,
political, religious, and so on. But there are also looser though
no less real aspects of diasporas--dreadlocks, T-shirts, music,
and so on--which we might refer to as "cultural diasporas," or at
least think about these phenomena in those terms. Certainly,
diaspora always means a sort of cultural traveling; but we should
take care not to confuse these transmissions, disseminations, and
circulations with the effects of globalization or with a generic
"postmodern" pastiche-eclecticism based on an "anything goes"
aesthetic. The boundary isn't a clear one, and it's becoming even
less so: there are no easy way to distinguish between real
refugees, illegal migrants, asylum-seekers, "suffering
diasporas," and rave or "hooligan" travelers, various forms of
tourism, and "cultural diasporas," between forced settlement and
voluntary migrations.

To return to my initial remarks, terms such as "Pacific Asia,"
"Pacific rim," and "Asia" in general are especially significant
for the purposes of thinking about "cyberdiaspora culture." These
areas have long and rich histories of displacements, refugees,
and diasporas. This, in part, accounts for the influence that
Asian--or perhaps Inter-Asian cultures have on the imagination
and the actuality of cultural diaspora through electronic
technology and cyberspace. For example, musical styles such as
"Bangra" and "Ragamuffin" as elaborated by blacks in the UK are
connected to East Asian cultures, as is the so-called
"psychedelic trance" style of techno music, born in Goa, India.
These newer diffusions are hypermodernized "tribal" cultures--I
use that word cautiously--in an effort to grasp "Oriental"
phenomena in the information age. In film and animation, too--for
example, Japanese Anime--Pacific Asian landscapes and cultural
elements play an important and sometimes subtle role. But is is
important to recognize that even the "originary" material being
"appropriated" isn't single or monolithic. Just as it may now
derive from a combination of older traditions and newer
technologies--many of them, of course, facilitated by electronics
legendary for being "made in Japan," "made in China," "made in
Korea," and so on--the older traditions themselves are

These combinations and recombinations can be a very clear
expression of what I mean by "inter-East": one melody can be
heard as something Indian, something Japanese, and something
Bosnian, which in turn will have roots in Asia Minor, now
"Turkey," and  the rhythms may derive from somewhere else. These
hybrids, with many meanings, are not merely "postmodern
eclecticism" based on ethnic origins. They often have an entire
other set of origins as well: raves, for example, are closely
connected with green movements or other new social  movements,
movements resisting global capital. In this regard, we can think
of these hybridizations as "tactical syncretism" and distinguish
them from mere pastiche. The fact that these cultural
hybridizations aren't limited to one aspect or register of a
"trend" would support this, I think. Thus we see an "Asian"
influence on record sleeve and flyer design as well. Some, of
course, are simply fakes or simulations, arbitrary choices made
within a "postmodern" visual superstore; but others are not.

I don't want to overemphasize the details of subcultures:
"cultural studies" does not mean a theory of subculture or a
critical discourse on cultural ephemera. But it is important to
be aware of these strata, and to be open to what they might offer
us as we think about the functions of subcultural diaspora in a
translocal context. We cannot lose sight of the fact that
refugees, travelers, and illegal or smilegal migrants travel
around the world from in rave parties and club circuits. A detail
here or a person there may not be so significant; but the
trajectories they trace--for example, a DJ playing in Taipei,
then Tokyo, then Sydney--is not reducible to "globalization." In
the wake of these movements, we may find new types of solidarity
of urban tribes or alternative public sphere which happen to be
elaborated through music.

In the context of cultural diasporas established or propagated
through worldwide networks, dichotomies such as local/global
begin to lose their original meaning--in other words, they change
their meanings, maybe to the point of uselessness. Generally,
"peripheries" (which I distinguish from liminalities) can appear
at the "center" not only theoretically but also substantially; or
they can become terminal, an end. Under the circumstances, we
must reconsider the relationship between the universal (or the
world) and the native (or the indigenous). For example, in
thinking about the East as an orientation and an indication, Asia
can mean "far east," "south east," "middle east," and so
on--posited for or against the West but, at the same time,
somehow inside Europe, since "former socialist regions" are
represented politically as well as geographically as "the East."
In this regard, the very idea of "globalism," or of a "global
standpoint," becomes problematic as a way to form positions: it
too is still deeply based on "civilizationalism in the West" and
is not sufficient for understanding the workings of global
tribalization and so on. Unless we adopt a newer, better-suited
conceptual framework--for example, "translocal," which is neither
global nor local--our positions will fall into the same
transversal traps that ideas like "the East" do. "Translocal," on
the other hand, no longer essentializes "the East" as "Asia" or
"former communist areas"; it does not speak of any necessary
direction. This, the orient(ation) itself becomes multiplied,
hybridized, and divergent.

It should come as no surprise, then, that I would prefer the term
"Inter-east" over "Inter-Asia," because it can speak of the same
phenomena without falling prey to programmatic or projected in
geographical and geopolitical imaginations. Terms like "Pacific
rim" and especially "Pacific era" are similarly problematic; the
latter term is especially so, because it remaps spatial
projections onto temporal ones--since the alternative is, of
course, an "Atlantic era."

In the framework of globalization and transnationalism within
Asia or Pacific, it seems strange or paradoxical--but undeniable
an effect--that one nation or one country-state or one continent
should always be considered a center for global capitalism and
historical prestige. This is still a developing discourse. Notion
such as "Asia" and " Pacific Rim" have served at various points
as "strategic" imagery to help deconstruct the Western "core."
These and other ideas allowed people to decenter and recenter the
world--to Taiwan, say, or Australia or Japan. However, the
troublesome gesture of establishing a center and a homogeneous
field remains: "Asia" and "Pacific Rim" still very much impose
ethnocentrisms or state-nationalisms on "Asian" countries.

For example, the term "Pacific rim" is not quite new; not
surprisingly, this idea has a history. During the World War II,
in particular, the idea of a "Great East Asian Co-Prosperity
Sphere" ("Dai Toa Kyouei Ken") was promoted by the Japanese
fascist-militarist regime as an imperialist vision in which a
peaceful order among Asian areas would be led and enlightened by
Japan. And, of course, this idea too had a history as well; the
alternative world that it assumes, in which Asian areas were not
led or enlightened by Japan, speaks of a less stable or
homogeneous image of these areas, divided by economy, culture,
ideology, and so on. Thus wee see that it ideas about "Asia" and
so on are not at all uniquely "American," "European," or
"Orientalist" in their origin or effect.

More specifically, during the Edo period, Japan adhered to a
policy of "isolation" and took account of the West in two primary
ways: as an object of intellectual curiosity, and as a military
threat. On the one hand, Japan have tried to detach itself from
its immediately neighboring area and, on the other, it responded
to Western world domination in political and diplomatic ways. In
doing so, it destroyed the Chinese imperial order and brought a
new order to East Asia. It was in this period that the previosuly
mentioned "Asian" notion of "Asia" was developed as a way to
counter the West's hegemony and to diminish any China-centric
ideas of what a more native hegemony must be. In this sense and
in others, Japan has served as a sort of "interface" between the
Western civilizations and Asian ones.

This kind of classificatory complexity and depth is very much
present in discourses about "Orientalism" in general.
Historically speaking, for the West "the Orient" has most often
meant the "middle east"; consquenetly, Orientalist discourses
have tended to address ideologies involving those regions and
areas. But as "Techno-Orientalism" has become a crucial factor
for Western cultures--indeed, for all cultures--Orientalist
discourses have shifted to include or even focus on Japan, India,
Taiwan, Australia, and so on. Naoki Sakai highlights this point

    The Orient is neither a cultural, religious or linguistic unity.
    The principle of its identity lies outside itself: what endows it
    with some vague sense of unity is that Orient is that which is
    excluded and objectified by the West, in the service of its historical
    progress. From the outset the Orient is a shadow of the West.

It should be clear, then, why I am so skeptical about
geographical definitions and distinctions: they obscure the
tremendously complex and subtle histories that have led up to the
"global" age. It's for these reasons that a more subtle and
complex term--I advocate "inter-East"--seems much more fruitful.
Such a term invites us to recognize without totalizing the
oriental melodies in Trance-Techno-music as played by a Croatian
DJ, and to discuss in a more nuanced way the many apsects of VCR
network within the Macedonian and Croatian refugees and exiles in
Australia (see, for example, Dona Kolar-Panov, "Video, War, and
the Diasporic Imagination," Routledge, 1997). And, of course, it
allows us to analyze the effects and influence of Japanese
subculture throughout other Asian area's contexts or to research
the active development of "Bollywood" film industry in Mumbai,
India. Such a view invites us to think about Techno-Orientalism
as both an ideology and a tool of critical thinking--not just 
about "Asia" or the "Orient" but also about the complex
interrelations and interactions of many cultures. And surely what
we should consider in an inter-East forum is not just cultural
ephemera but also many kinds of media activisms and social
movements and their artuclations.

Needless to say, there are many cultural and political
differences between East Asia and Eastern Europe; we cannot
overlook or underestimate them. But each of these regions is
similarly home to enormous cultural and political differences.
These differences invite careful observation and regard for the
variety of practice of making free space, using the net and
radio, organizing sociability, and so on. And in this regard,
"inter-East" is very helpful too: not only does it free us from
needless geographical assumptions, but it opens up into newer
virtual "spaces," psychogeographic "spaces," and so on. And this,
in turn, allows us to use concepts involving the "translocal"
more fluidly, which sidesteps the obsolete dichotomy between
"local" and "global."

Despite this promising vision, it will be difficult to move
beyond regionally specific diffrences. It is hard to "invent"
translocal imaginations in many inter-Eastern areas. But there
are histories and efforts that are related, some of them decades
old: free radio movements, pirate and gay TV in Malaysia, fre
space and free media movements in Seoul, the free radio and
anti-wiretap movements in Japan, independent Internet activities
in other areas, and so on. These might be a good place to start
as we try to elaborate new critical theories relevant and
adequate to the inter-East and translocal phenomena.
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