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Erin Y. Huang – Ocean Media: South China Sea and Gilles Deleuze’s Desert Islands

February 24, 2021 @ 8:00 pm - 9:00 pm

Speaker: Erin Y. Huang, Assistant Professor of East Asian Studies and Comparative Literature, Princeton University

“Humans can live on an island only by forgetting what an island represents,” writes Deleuze in his short essay “Desert Islands” (îles déserte; huangdao; mujintō; no-man island). But what does an island truly represent (that for Deleuze means the constant strife between the earth’s elements)? What is producing the culture of forgetting? And why do islands appear deserted even when they are inhabited? In recent years when the large-scale Chinese state-led artificial islanding (rengong zaodao) in the South China Sea created an international territorial dispute, caused by new experimentations with the limit of the early modern European legal concept of the “free sea” (coined by the seventeenth-century Dutch philosopher Hugo Grotius), these questions that Deleuze raised in the 1950s return as the definition of the “island” increasingly gravitates toward the “technologies of islanding” that are reshaping the operations of global financial and military power. Transforming the “island” into free treaty ports, military vessels and bases, logistics cities, and special economic zones, islanding, rather than insularity, is at the heart of the critical infrastructure of global circulation. Bringing together the methodological approaches of infrastructure and media studies and the island writings of Jacques Derrida and Gilles Deleuze, this talk explores a new genealogy of island critique, from Danial Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe that marks the beginning of British maritime power to the contemporary American satellite surveillance network on Asian oceans (e.g. AMTI’s “Island Tracker”) and the expansion of Chinese infrastructural empire that is creating new conflict shorelines. Rather than defining “ocean media” at the outset, this examination probes what we mean by “media” in the context of understanding capital’s creation of “environment,” and the new conceptualizations of “Europe” (old centers of maritime power) and “Asia” (new experimenters of existing colonial techniques).

Erin Y. Huang is assistant professor of East Asian Studies and Comparative Literature and an associated faculty of Gender & Sexuality Studies at Princeton University. She is the author of Urban Horror: Neoliberal Post-Socialism and the Limits of Visibility (Duke University Press, 2020). She is currently working on her second book that focuses on maritime capitalism, islanding, special economic zones, and feminist critiques of global logistics.

The talk is part of the East Asian Media Ecologies lecture series.

Presented via Zoom
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February 24, 2021
8:00 pm - 9:00 pm
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