“Doing” Theory In and About East Asia: Transgression and Translation
Keywords : theory, East Asia, translation, transgression, psychoanalysis
Academics typically conceive of theory as a Western way of conceptual
thinking or producing knowledge. In today’s academic context, nevertheless,
theory is influential in the non-Western world as well, as many scholars outside
of the West adopt a theoretical stance in the production of knowledge.
Therefore, as scholars of East Asia, we must rethink its relation to theory.
Theory has been discussed in the literature in connection with East Asia,
but the place of theory, both in the study of East Asia and in the region itself,
still remains obscure if not unstable. Here, my term “East Asia” refers to both
geographical and academic sites; that is to say, the term refers to both the
region of East Asia and the academic field of East Asian studies, especially in
Western academia. Native East Asian scholars of any subject, and scholars
who study East Asia, whether they are situated in a Western or non-Western
academic context, all face similar challenges when they attempt to engage in
theory. The perception of theoretical scholars in East Asia, from both the
West and the East, is at best ambivalent, if not antagonistic. In opposition to
this perception, this paper will illuminate the positive aspects of theory in and
about East Asia. To this end, I propose the following guiding question about
the relation between theory and East: what does “doing” theory mean when it
comes to East Asia? Since the term “East Asia” risks being quickly associated
or conflated with the colonialist conception of the Orient or the Other – namely,
a mythic territory – a more helpful question might be: what does using theory
mean for both scholars of East Asia and scholars in East Asia?