Sue-Im Lee brings a very sharp critique of the “Global Village”, utilizing Yamashita’s “Tropic of Orange” as both case study and framework. There’s just one glaring problem- “romantic universalism” isn’t really an epistemological substitute as a transcendental signifier for the hypocritical, neoliberal globalism. I’m honestly not sure I understand the concept of the “romantic universal” to be all that different from the humanist thought of the Enlightenment. We have as our subjects, Manzanar, Buzzworm, and Arcangel, who herald some triumphant uprising. But on what terms? Although I see merit in Lee’s analysis, I find it lacking without identifying these subjects in their respective classes and a nod to conflict theory.
Manzanar may indeed see “profound conclusions from banal observations”, but in the end, the city of Los Angeles is still filled with teeming, hungry masses. Manzanar still has a family in poverty. I bring a question to the postcolonial positivity Sue-Im Lee gives us: how is “absolute inclusiveness” a foundation for a global “we” that doesn’t exert a dominating, normalizing force on varying human beings? Lee seems to think that our novel’s answer of voluntary cultural exchange is sufficient in justifying the power of romantica universalism as a unifying force, but I heartily disagree. Though the visionary symphony Manzanar conducts is beautiful, and Arcangel has a roaring crowd at his back as he confronts SUPERNAFTA, I contend that Lee fails to take her analysis to its logical conclusion – liberation from capitalism, or Marxist communism.
I may simply be insecure about my own theoretical biases, but the preoccupation with the “magical” element of Yamashita’s magical realism over its material conditions signals to me a reluctance on the part of Lee and other academics in the field to directly challenge the source of the First World’s oppression of the global South, and by proxy, the main hindrance towards a truly universalist society (with respect to cultural heritage): the free flow of capital and the system designed to profit the ruling class above all else.
How could Arcangel realize a voluntary exchange of culture, free from American imperialism, if the enemy is identified as merely Westernization, rather than capital and the conflict of classes? I would not go so far as to say that Sue-Im Lee is ahistorical in her usage of Yamashita’s text, but rather that postcolonial critiques of the global North and its various oppressions are largely toothless without socialist theory.