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Reading Rey Chow

Visuality, Postcoloniality, Ethnicity, Sexuality

Paul Bowman

This is the first book-length study of the groundbreaking work of Rey Chow, whose work has transformed the fields of postcolonialism, cultural studies, film, ethnicity and gender. It describes and explains the features and the breadth of Chow's interventions and illustrates Chow’s arguments by way of the analysis of a range of engaging examples drawn from the fields of film, popular music, identity and popular culture. Chow’s work is of interest and importance to anyone working on questions of international and transnational film; popular culture; postcolonialism; poststructuralism; and Chinese, Hong Kong and Asian identity in different national contexts; as well as sex, gender and ethnic politics in general. This book elaborates on and illustrates Chow’s fascinating contributions to scholarship and knowledge across many different fields by arguing that her work can best be understood in relation to the «projects» of cultural studies and postcolonial studies. In this way, the work sets out both the enduring importance of these wider projects and the importance of Rey Chow’s contributions to them.
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Chapter One. Rey Chow Reading Postcolonialism and Poststructuralism


As more than one reader of Rey Chow has observed, the challenges and values of Chow’s work arise because it has such a comprehensive and active relationship with the very activity of reading. James Steintrager puts it like this:

[The way that] Chow constructs her analyses...suggests an ongoing passion for close reading and interpretation, albeit mingled with a skepticism about institutional interests, the prestige of literary studies, and the values of close reading. She loves theory in a way that can appear alarmingly irreverent to the disciple because she reads it less for what it is—for what it reveals—as for what it does. (Steintrager 2010: 300)

Steintrager’s intermingling of two putative opposites—reading (and, what is more, reading Theory) and doing—is significant. For, these two terms (reading and doing; theorizing and doing) are all too easily opposable, and they frequently acquire the values of passivity to activity and, hence, negative/inferior to positive/superior. The consequences of such oppositions become apparent when faced with the set of questions that are almost begged by the very term “Theory.” For what is the object of “Theory”? What is the other of “Theory”? Or, indeed, what is the point of “Theory”? There are certain answers that are almost ineluctably preprogrammed into such questions. These answers include highly valuing terms like practice, action, doing, reality, etc.—all of which seek to consign “Theory” to the category of the inferior and the less important.

However, Steintrager’s formulation suggests...

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