Seeing Necropolitics: The Work of Death in Philippine Photographs
Lecture: Center for Southeast Asia Studies | October 19 | 12-2 p.m. | 180 Doe Library
Nerissa Balce, Associate Professor of Asian American Studies, Stony Brook University
Necropolitics is a theory about violence and the nation-state. It refers to the absolute power of the state to kill, to allow to live, or to dehumanize people. In the early 20th century, we see necropolitics at work in American colonial photographs that depict Filipino natives as dead or docile bodies. In stereographs, postcards and other photographic images from the Philippine-American War, the Filipino corpse became a symbol of American victory, modernity and "peace".
More than 100 years later, Filipino corpses appear again in Western media, in this case as victims of President Duterte's drug war. President Duterte, who continually brings up American atrocities committed during the Philippine-American War, has himself resurrected the image of the Filipino corpse in his ongoing genocide against the poor. He has been inspired by the necropolitics of the former dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, whom he has given a hero's burial, against widespread protest, in the national Tomb of Heroes (Libingan ng Mga Bayani). Duterte is a "fascinating fascist" whose presidency is haunted by a corpse - that of the late dictator's - as well as the bodies of 11,000 victims of extrajudicial killings. In the early 21st century, what is the work of death in past and present photographs of Filipino corpses? What necropolitical ghosts do we see in the edges of the photographic frame?
BIO: Nerissa Balce was born and raised in Manila. She teaches courses on race, popular culture, Asian American studies and ethnic studies. She is the author of Body Parts of Empire: Visual Abjection, Filipino Images and the American Archive (2016). She is currently working on a book about Filipino popular culture and literature during the Marcos regime. She received her Ph.D. in Ethnic Studies from UC Berkeley in 2002.