I am so excited to be presenting at the 2018 Association for Asian American Studies conference: “Solidarity and Resistance: Toward Asian American Commitment to Fierce Alliances” (March 29-31).
Our panel, “Entangled Ecologies: Transpacific Alliances and Resistance in a More Than Human World” (Friday, March 30; 8:00AM – 9:30AM; Yorkshire) explores the contributions Asian American studies and Asian Americanist critique can offer to unfolding discourses on ecological crisis and the anthropocene. I am thrilled to be in conversation with a brilliant cast of thinkers, teachers, artists, and activists: Chad Shomura (University of Colorado Denver), Jess X. Snow (New York University Tisch School of Arts), and Heidi Hong (University of Southern California). Please join us tomorrow as we think together about aesthetics, culture, entanglement, resistance, survival, temporality, space, and super pigs.
You can find our full panel description and the abstract for my paper on Bong Joon Ho’s urgent and beautifully executed film Okja below. Hope to see you bright and early at our session!
Panel: Entangled Ecologies: Transpacific Alliances and Resistance in a More Than Human World
Session Abstract: In our contemporary moment, human-driven climate change continues to disproportionately affect working class communities of color, devastate animal and plant life, and threaten indigenous ways of life. This panel explores Asian American and Pacific Islander strategies of resistance against imperialism and militarization that also attends to our entanglements with nonhuman ecologies and organisms. It acknowledges that lands, oceans, and organisms not only witness colonial violence, but also produce vibrant materialities and connections in its aftermath. Our panel asks: What resistant strategies and tactics form alliances between seemingly disparate geographies, populations, and species? How can we develop alternative ways of being that recognize the knowledge, resilience, and resistance of landscapes, oceans, and non-human animals? In what ways can Asian American studies align itself with struggles against ecological destruction and dreams of sustainable futures?
Paper: When Empathy is Not Enough Cross-species Alliances and Other Practices of Looking in Bong Joon Ho’s Okja
Abstract: Bong Joon-ho’s 2017 film Okja transports audiences to a near future where genetically modified “super-pigs” have been developed to provide humans with high-quality meat products that purportedly address ecological concerns. It tells the story of Mija, a Korean girl’s journey to save her friend, the titular super-pig, from the fate that awaits her in the slaughterhouse to provide a scathing critique of factory farming. My presentation explores the insights this movie offers for contemplating what solidarity and resistance mean when we extend these concepts to include both human and nonhuman ecologies.
The film follows a rather conventional plot that centers on the deep bond between Mija and Okja, which derives its force from viewers’ empathetic responses. I argue, however, that Bong’s reliance on science and speculative fiction to fashion the character of Okja, who is a strange amalgamation of pig, hippopotamus, and dog, also enables other dissident modes of seeing, looking, and understanding that unsettle the individualistic bent of such narratives, which often involve the rescue of one particular life. I demonstrate how the movie invites us to engage in what Anna Tsing calls, “arts of noticing,” compelling attention to what is usually rendered invisible beneath the main plot- backdrops, minor subjects, and tiny details. By tracing these ephemera, my presentation aims to elucidate how Okja offers not just empathy, but entanglement—a mode of recognizing at once imbricated relationships and uneven conditions of precarity—as a method for negotiating fragile cross-species alliances in efforts to imagine more equitable worlds.