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Romancing Human Rights

Romancing Human Rights: Gender, Intimacy, and Power between Burma and the West

Tamara C. Ho
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt13x1k49
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    Romancing Human Rights
    Book Description:

    Highlighting and critiquing Burma's fraught terrain, Ho'sRomancing Human Rightsmaps "Burmese women" as real and imagined figures across the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century. More than a recitation of "on the ground" facts, Ho's groundbreaking scholarship-the first monograph to examine Anglophone literature and dynamics of gender and race in relation to Burma-brings a critical lens to contemporary literature, film, and politics through the use of an innovative feminist/queer methodology. She crosses intellectual boundaries to illustrate how literary and gender analysis can contribute to discourses surrounding and informing human rights-and in the process offers a new voice in the debates about representation, racialization, migration, and spirituality.

    Romancing Human Rightsdemonstrates how Burmese women break out of prisons, both real and discursive, by writing themselves into being. Ho assembles an eclectic archive that includes George Orwell, Aung San Suu Kyi, critically acclaimed authors Ma Ma Lay and Wendy Law-Yone, and activist Zoya Phan. Her close readings of literature and politicized performances by women in Burma, the Burmese diaspora, and the United States illuminate their contributions as authors, cultural mediators, and practitioner-citizens. Using flexible, polyglot rhetorical tactics and embodied performances, these authors creatively articulate alter/native epistemologies-regionally situated knowledges and decolonizing viewpoints that interrogate and destabilize competing transnational hegemonies, such as U.S. moral imperialism and Asian militarized dictatorship.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-5392-1
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. Note about Names
    (pp. IX-XII)
  4. Burmese Acronyms and Terminology
    (pp. XIII-XIV)
  5. Preface: Through a “Burmese Looking Glass”
    (pp. XV-XX)
  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. XXI-XXVIII)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-9)

    Romancing Human Rightsfocuses on the representation of real and imagined Burmese women as authors, cultural mediators, and transnational practitioner-citizens—figures who migrate and translate across borders of culture and nation.¹ This study of representations written by and about Burmese women in the twentieth century illustrates how gender is a currency exchanged and differentially valued between varying cultural ideologies, produced in relation to other contemporaneous embodied performances. My queer/feminist analysis situates “Burma” as a nexus of overlapping transnational interests, exceeding disciplinary, regional, and geopolitical boundaries. Using Burma as a case study to triangulate Asia, the United States, and Europe, this...

  8. 1 From Orwell to Rambo: Interracial Affiliations and Transnational Antagonisms in the Age of Human Rights
    (pp. 10-24)

    This chapter surveys a range of Anglophone representations in order to highlight discursive patterns in how “Western eyes” have imagined Burma (cf. Chandra Talpade Mohanty). From George Orwell’sBurmese Days(1934) toRambo(2008), Euro-American cultural productions have repeatedly portrayed Burma as a jungle. The bulk of popular media, literature, and film produced in the United States and Europe in the twentieth century and early twenty-first century tends to represent Burma as a contemporary “heart of darkness”: an oppressive, primitive, dangerous unknown full of mysterious Oriental allure and excess. This naturalistic metaphor situates a country that was once considered a...

  9. 2 The Making of a Modern Burmese Wife: Gendering the Local and Possessive Investments in Masculinity in Ma Ma Lay’s Not Out of Hate
    (pp. 25-51)

    To begin exploring Burmese perspectives on cross-cultural encounters, this chapter focuses onNot Out of Hate,the English translation of a novel written in the early years of Burmese postcoloniality by Journal Kyaw Ma Ma Lay (1917–1982), a prominent activist-author-publisher and now canonized woman of letters.¹ Originally published asMon ywe mahuin 1955,Not Out of Hateis the first translated work of modern Burmese literature and dramatizes a crisis of cultural contact brought on by British colonization of Burma.²

    Not Out of Hateoffers an alter/native view of the end of British colonialism. Rather than focusing on...

  10. 3 “Truth has a witness”: Postcolonial Adjudication, Interracial Passing, and Human Rights
    (pp. 52-63)

    In this chapter I examine postcolonial adjudication by white women of the global North and the role that such interventions play in the circumscription of Burmese women. Analyzing two human-rights exposés, Inge Sargent’s memoir,Twilight over Burma: My Life as a Shan Princess(1994), and the filmBeyond Rangoon(1995), directed by John Boorman, this chapter problematizes the politics of white women “going native” and visually “passing as Burmese” in the late twentieth century. These narratives seek to bring attention to the tragedy and “evil anachronism” of postcolonial Burma through the intimate dyad of a white Western woman and a...

  11. 4 Performative Politics of Aung San Suu Kyi (or Papa’s Baby and Mama’s Maybe)
    (pp. 64-91)

    In this chapter I will examine the iconic figuration of Aung San Suu Kyi, contrapuntally juxtaposing her writing and performativity alongside how Western and Burmese sources have read and inscribed her. Although various sources attribute Aung San Suu Kyi’s appeal to an unwitting combination of birth and “destiny,”¹ here I highlight her flexible and tactical use of displacement. Building on feminist scholarship on modern Asian women, rhetoric, and discourse, my analysis examines her parentage, entry into Burmese politics, and the manner in which she negotiated antagonistic oppositions, such as male/female, military/citizenry, intellect/body, religion/politics, and Burma/West. Focusing primarily on her performativity,...

  12. 5 Wendy Law-Yone: Burmese Displacement and Co–occupancy in the United States
    (pp. 92-107)

    Four decades after Ma Ma Lay’sNot Out of Hate,the work of diasporic author Wendy Law-Yone takes up Burmese women’s literary exploration of displacement, intimate labor, sex, and contact zones. Law-Yone is the first author of Burmese descent to write and publish fiction in English. To date, she has published two novels in the United States and one in England, in addition to a memoir of her father, a few short stories, and a number of nonfiction articles and book reviews. Her first two novels,The Coffin Tree(1983) andIrrawaddy Tango(1993), introduced to the Anglophone literary landscape...

  13. 6 Diaspora and Daughters
    (pp. 108-118)

    To see Burma simply as a bizarre, exotic land that is not shaped by and implicated in Western dynamics obscures a critical understanding of globalization, the power relations of the past, and the competing agendas of the present. In this book I have offered a contrapuntal reading of Burmese in/visibility through narratives of interracial encounters between Burmese and Western(ized) bodies. My genealogy of real and imagined Burmese women deconstructively tracks figures of Burmese femininity as marginalized effects of representation—legible only through Orientalist fantasy and certain acts of spectacular violence—and as vexed authors—gendered writers shaped by a fraught...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 119-160)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 161-176)
  16. Index
    (pp. 177-184)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 185-189)