Political Dis-identification of Colonial Performativity:From the Sublime to the Queer of M. Butterfly

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  • ABSTRACT

    Despite its first premiere more than a century ago, Puccini’s classic opera Madame Butterfly remains a commercial sellout in both West and East. The unabated popularity of the opera would not have been possible without the geisha’s performative immortality as Butterfly. The performative colonial fantasy mediated through the abstract body of the sublime has been as prevailing and effective as before, insofar as the geisha’s symbolic death eliminates the ontological gap between the geisha and Butterfly, which turns her into a sublime being of immaterial corporality. It refers to the state of both racial and sexual fantasy realized at its purest level even beyond the spatial and periodic set of Anglo- European colonialism. Hwang’s M. Butterfly satirizes such a clichéd relationship between East and West in the original. It mocks the latter’s race and gender-specific fantasy, while criticized for reinvigorating Orientalist fantasy that renders Asian women submissive and subordinate to Western men. His play critiques the West’s projection of colonial desire onto the Oriental body by interjecting Asian otherness into Western subjectivity. In the play, Gallimard’s self-killing refers to a traumatic failure of maintaining the ideological consistency of Western subjectivity as grounded upon the tropes of masculinity and heterosexuality. The play contradicts the presumed colonial dynamic in the sense that the West’s obscene sexuality turns hysterical and the supposed hysterical one of the East becomes perverted. Gallimard’s trans-racial homosexuality exemplifies the Janus-faced dimension of the sublime, for its traumatic, as well as queer, revelation radically transforms the fascinating love object of Butterfly into something repulsive, unfathomable, and monstrous. His reluctant but inevitable coming-out opens up excessive otherness that has been repressed in the ontological kernel of his Western male heterosexual subjectivity.It makes him an unidentifiable void in the ideological reality that taboos his sexual, gender, and racial orientations. His queer performance obscures such deep-rooted ideological binaries as East/West, male/female, and subject/other; however, his suicide in a Butterfly costume makes for the restoration of systemic consistency in the ideological reality of coloniality, Hwang’s re-fashioning of Butterfly as queer is so effective that it de-familiarizes Butterfly’s colonial materiality to be obscene, perverted, and oppositional in light of dis-identification.


  • KEYWORD

    Madame Butterfly , M. Butterfly , Queer Performance , Colonial Performativity , Colonial Subjectivity , Ontological Gap , Queerness , Trans-racial homosexuality , Post-colonial Dis-identification , Psychoanalysis

  • Giacomo Puccini’s 1904 opera Madame Butterfly became a worldwide success, and the century ended with yet another stage version of the story, the hit Miss Saigon, opening in London in 1989 and running on Broadway from 1991 to 2001. Arthur Sullivan and W. S. Gilbert’s popular comic opera, The Mikado, has also delighted American audiences1 for more than a century since 1885, reflecting an “1880s craze for all things Japanese”2 (Kenrick). Another worldwide success at the turn of the century is Sidney Jones’ 1896 musical comedy, The Geisha, which spread the term geisha into many languages (Hashimoto 105). Essential to those with Oriental flavor that the America audience has enjoyed so long is the socalled “Madame Butterfly” story with a unique endurance.

    Madame Butterfly, for instance, is still ranked number one among the top twenty most frequently performed operas in North America, and Miss Saigon the tenth longest-running Broadway musical in musical theatre history.3 The former portrays the tragic tale of a doomed geisha abandoned by her American lover. In Miss Saigon, the setting is merely relocated from Japan to Saigon during the 1970s Vietnam War, and the coupling of an American sailor and a geisha replaced by the romance between an American GI and a Vietnamese bar girl. The century-long popularity of the geisha story obviously has to do with the cultural stereotype, permeated through Hollywood and Broadway, that Asians are sexually promiscuous, culturally primitive, and morally corrupt.

    In the mid-twentieth century, some remarkable changes transpired in the deep-seated stereotype, radically turning Asian Americans into the “model minority” of the U.S. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which promoted a massive influx of Asian into the country, led to profound demographic changes in favor of Asians in the United States. It marked an unprecedented break with previous anti-Asian immigration policies. This shift resulted from America’s political necessity to embrace Asians as strategic allies against the proliferation of Soviet communism in Asia. The civil rights movement in the 1960s also effected the change, when ideals of freedom, democracy and equality seized the nation. These geopolitical, legal, and social changes enhanced Asian Americans’ political and cultural visibility, and rendered the country’s national identity remarkably multicultural and multiethnic. They helped Asian Americans raise ethnic consciousness against white America (Lawrence and Cheung 11).

    American liberalism in the postwar era also endowed the model minority with a contradictory identity: the “yellow peril” discourse on Asian Americans began to be widely publicized in the U.S. imaginary of the 1960s (Palumbo-Liu 18-21). The nation accepted Asians as its normative citizens to refashion its national identity as the defender of the Free World during the Cold War era, yet they remained at odds with the popular view of Asian Americans as “perpetual aliens.” This representational inconsistency made them appear as an ambivalent neighbor of love and hate, so to speak.

    Their paradoxical image, either too exotic or too friendly to be a trusted neighbor, is still pervasive, and its ambiguity is apt to drive them compulsively to censor their self-representation, and this often causes controversial debates among Asian American scholars. A well known example is that Frank Chin and Maxine Hong Kingston had in the 1970s on the issues about cultural authenticity and ethnic representativeness.4

    David H. Hwang rekindled the debate, when his Tony Award-winning play, M. Butterfly, premiered on Broadway in 1988. This play is Hwang’s critical reworking of the original Butterfly story, which he defines as a cultural landmark placed between high art and a legacy of problematic cultural stereotypes (Hoffman 2-3). It has been, on the other hand, criticized for restaging the Orientalist stereotypes it purports to dismantle, such as sexism, Orientalism, and imperialism (Wong 51). The critical ambivalence witnessed in the mixed reception of M. Butterfly is rather ironical, considering what the playwright mentions in an interview to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the play: “I always saw Edward Said’s Orientalism as an inspiration for this show and, of course, Said was writing about Orientalism in the Middle East as opposed to East Asia” (Hoffman 3).

    The reductive concept of ethnic difference persists to define Asian American images to the extent that it has become a kind of performative role-playing in American culture. That is, acting Asians as their caricature is the most feasible way to enhance cultural visibility of their identity. Ming-Na Wen, Asian actor who played the voice of Disney’s Mulan, began her performing career “to get out of [her] own skin and be somebody else,” only to fail. Asians’ playing Asian roles nourished with the steady diet of demeaning caricatures with embarrassment and shame would not be a choice but a must do for their visibility in American culture. B. D. Wong who played Song Liling in M. Butterfly mentions: “I consciously wished I wasn’t Asian. Later I told myself that I would be a different kind of Asian. It wasn’t until I played an Asian in M. Butterfly that I could celebrate my Asianness” (Zia 115). Asian performers are not looked at as acting Asians; rather, they become what they perform, which repeats the vicious circle that the stereotype they have performed on the stage ends up determinant of their identity in reality. It is no wonder that Hwang’s portrayal of Song Liling in the play has been denounced for reenacting Asian stereotypes; the editors of The Big Aiiieeeee! pejoratively describes the character as a “good Chinese man [that fulfills] whitemale homosexual fantasy, literally kissing white ass” (Chan, et al. xiii).

    In effect, stereotype, as reified by repetitive articulations of, in Homi Bhabha’s sense, something familiar yet different, not only fixates but also destabilizes one’s identity simultaneously (130-31). It affects and intervenes in public perception of both individual and communal identities. At the same time, stereotype exposes a representational gap, through which the audiences can interferingly project their fetishistic, as well as fantastic, imagination onto the former. The historical evolution of the Butterfly narrative well supports this theoretical observation.

    Inspired by the 1887 French travelogue, Madame Chrysanthemum, American novelist John L. Long published a short story, Madame Butterfly, dealing with a white-Asian interracial romance in 1898, and Puccini revised it to stage in 1904 as we see today.5 The narrative has been so influential that Hollywood continues producing its adaptations including The World of Suzie Wong and Miss Saigon.6 Since then, stereotype of Oriental women as implied in the term “Madame Butterfly” has constantly nourished the American audience with sexual and racial fantasy of the Orient, and it eventually evolves into Hwang’s “deconstructionist Madame Butterfly” (M.B 95).

    Puccini’s opera stimulates, through its vocal and visual performance, racial and sexual fantasy which, on the one hand, confirms the audience’s presumed knowledge of Asian race and sexuality in the form of cultural stereotype. It, on the other hand, brings forth the epistemological discrepancy between the fantasy and the knowledge, insofar as the audience takes the former as a fetishistic role that the performers repeat playing. Hwang takes advantage of the ambivalent way that colonial fantasy functions in relation to cultural stereotype in American culture by ripping off the representational gap within. In other words, the clichéd reiteration of Orientalist fantasy in M. Butterfly is, de facto, designed to disavow the race-bounded fundamentals of U.S. identity politics by displacing and confusing “who” is behind the theatrical mask of Butterfly, and, in this way, it comes out with the “unfathomable” gap which perversely corrupts and traumatizes actualization of the fantasy. Having said that, this paper critically investigates the representational trajectory of the way in which Butterfly, as a colonial signifier of Oriental beauty, turns into a traumatic figure of monstrosity.

    1The American audience refers to cultural consumers who they believe come from mainstream American culture. Slanted toward the conservative U.S. body politic, they tend to regard American culture as white-oriented and other minority cultures as “ethnic.” They see Asian Americans, whether born in the States or not, as permanent foreigners who hardly assimilate into mainstream America. The notion of assimilation, in a similar vein, reflects the so-called nativist discourse which excludes people with Asian faces from the racial and cultural parameters of real American identity.  2The Mikado is known for the most frequently performed Savoy Opera, a style of comic opera that developed in Victorian England, and Gilbert and Sullivan were its original producers and most successful practitioners.  3See the website “Cornerstones: the 20 Most Performed Operas in North America” in Opera America.  4This debate created a great sensation since Chin was one of the co-editors of the first Asian American anthology Aiiieeeee! and Kingston was the author of one of the most influential Asian American novels, The Woman Warrior.  5For more in detail, see Susan Koshy, Introduction, Sexual Naturalization: Asian Americans and Miscegenation (Stanford: Stanford UP, 2004).  6Koshy explains how popular and “evolving” the narrative of Madame Butterfly has been as re-written, dramatized, and visualized via multiple medium in Western popular culture in Sexual Naturalization on pp. 29-30.

    Iconic Genesis of Madame Butterfly

    Despite its unabated popularity, the classic opera, Madame Butterfly, has been notorious for disseminating Orientalist ideas in the West and reinforcing the typical colonialist narrative of “East meets West.” Ilka Saal translates it as a veni-vidi-vici plot: “the strong Caucasian man meets, sees, and subdues the fragile, gentle Asian woman” (629). The opera, as I argue, can be considered a kind of performative ritual to materialize the West’s colonial fantasy about the East via Butterfly’s physical death and incorporeal rebirth. Such an imaginary figuration of Butterfly has contributed to the West’s masculine gender-positioning and expanding colonial modernity over the East.7

    On the contrary, Hwang’s M. Butterfly mocks this race and gender-specific fantasy, while having been criticized for reinvigorating Orientalist fantasy that renders Asian women submissive and subordinate to Western men (Saal 629). In the same vein, James Moy insists that the play inadequately “displaces the very Orientalist stereotypes it seeks to dismantle,” reifies Asian characters as “laughable and grossly disfigured,” and contributes to the “new order of stereotypical representations created by Asian Americans” (55).8 Nonetheless, his play critically responds to the West’s projection of colonial desire onto the Oriental body by interjecting Asian otherness into Western subjectivity. As the original shows that the American sailor claims a right to possess the Japanese geisha as his colonial property, Hwang reveals how narcissistic and pathological that colonial fantasy must be through the traumatic death of a white man. We, henceforth, see how his self-killing is meant to be a traumatic failure of maintaining the ideological consistency of Western subjectivity as grounded upon the tropes of masculinity and heterosexuality.

    Puccini’s Madame Butterfly portrays the East as a negative inversion of the West, as infused with the Manichean binary of colonial subjectivity, master vs. slave (Memmi 83). No wonder it premiered in 1904 when European imperialism had been reaching culminating in colonialism over Asia and Africa.9 The classic opera portrays Cio-Cio San as, in Hwang’s words, a “feminine ideal, beautiful and brave” (M.B 5), conforming to the colonial formality of rendering Asian women not only submissive but also exotic. Puccini’s Butterfly dichotomizes colonial subjectivity in such gender stereotype that, as Hwang mentions, “the West thinks of itself as masculine—big guns, big industry, big money—so the East is feminine, weak, delicate, poor” (“Afterwords” 83). Her Eastern femininity corresponds to what Edward Said defines as the tropes of Orientalism: “metaphors of depth, secrecy, and sexual promise” (Orientalism 222). The geisha, as a result, is characterized as an incarnation of Oriental beauty that must be obedient to, sexualized for, and attracted to, the masculine power of the Occident.

    Cio-Cio San is given her life substance in service of her master, Benjamin F. Pinkerton the American sailor, gratifying his sexual and colonial desire. She becomes his narcissistic self-other to possess and dominate in the name of love, which legitimizes his sexual freedom, as well as colonial, dominance in the East. Pinkerton identifies himself as an insatiable Yankee wanderer engrossed in making love to every beautiful woman in the East, when he shows up against the orchestral note, “The Star Spangled Banner,” a musical theme characterizing him in Act 1.

    As the opera coming to an end, Cio-Cio San, an inassimilable racial/sexual Other, is eliminated from the stage set up against the colonial purview of Western family ideology which taboos miscegenation in favor of racial purity and white supremacy.10 She kills herself, when she realizes that Pinkerton, who returned to Japan in three years with his American wife, Kate Pinkerton, has abandoned her. She commits harakiri, after meeting Kate who promises her to take care of her love child, Sorrow, a baby “born with azure eyes” and “sent from Heaven” (MB 2.2). The biracial baby eventually gets renamed Joy, as holding an American flag in his hands. As born out of wedlock,11 he is a colonial hybrid, which bears witness to racial multiplicity and cultural diversity in the colonial modernity of western imperialism.

    Unlike her son, Cio-Cio San is doomed to perish due to her inassimilable existence as a Japanese concubine, which cannot be let in as American after all. Given the geisha’s fatal exclusion, Kate refers to the incarnation of Western family ideology for anti-miscegenation and monogamy. Her symbolic identity as such serves as the superego of colonial authority which eliminates the geisha from the colonial universe of Western modernity. Consequently, the latter’s racial and sexual otherness becomes sacrificed for her hybrid baby to be embraced as a normative American subject, thereby completing the dramatic union of East and West.

    While dying, Cio-Cio San sobs her death to her baby: “Tis for you, my love, for you I’m dying. Never to feel the torment when you are older, That your mother forsook you!” Her sacrifice might be part of a clichéd practice of colonial discourse to justify the West’s colonial entrepreneurship in Asia. For her life and death work as a catalyst in, or is dedicated to, giving birth to the hybrid child, supporting American’s colonial universe, and, in turn, disappearing for good. The elimination of her exotic and erotic otherness off the stage can be seen as the prescribed finishing touch of colonial narrative to exclude the antagonistic kernel of Oriental subjectivity, which is incompatible with the totalitarian temptation of Western modernity.

    As implied in her dying wish for her son, Cio-Cio San’s ritualistic demise is not so much melancholic as productive, as far as it completes the ideological coordinates of American imperialism. Her inassimilable presence and perpetual absence works as a vanishing mediator that triggers the cultural and sovereign hybridization of the two opposite worlds and then vanishes. Her death, followed by Pinkerton’s return, is a selfeffacing gesture heralding the conversion of the pre-colonial Orient into a modern one under the aegis of the Western order of things. In that sense, her death performance produces, on the one hand, feelings of pathos mixed with a sense of tragic sublimity in the colonial narrative; on the other hand, it evokes feelings of suffering which ironically offer the audience a cathartic pleasure (Banham 1118).

    That dualistic emotion evoked in Cio-Cio San’s suicide performance can be further thought of in light of so-called “performativity.” In her Gender Trouble, Judith Butler develops the notion as distinct from performance in analyzing the development of gender. Performativity is conceptualized as reiterated effects of preceding dominant norms, rules, and laws that constrain and dictate the ways in which individuals act. In this regard, gender develops as performative in terms that one’s particular gender identity is always determined as disciplined and recognized based upon the performative effect of a more normative and general idea of gender called “true gender.” Thus, particularities of any single person’s gender acts tend to be obscured by and reduced to gender performativity.

    To a larger extent, subject formation is also considered performative as producing prescriptive subjectivities accepted as normative and proper. In comparison with it, performance focuses more on individuals’ autonomous will and agency as subjects performing often in opposition to what the dominant discourse of performativity dictates.12 Butler suggests that performativity works as an ideological force to make people a subject formed in accordance with the ideological dictates, while they perform otherwise.

    With that said, Cio-Cio San’s death is a tragic, as well as sublime, event corresponding to, as it were, colonial performativity, which takes for granted the West’s colonial rule in the East. In light of colonial performativity, her doomed life fits into Ralph W. Emerson’s notion of the tragic. He considers that the tragic element in life relies on the way in which ones’ lives are subject to an impassive course of life controlled by a “law,” which he calls “a brute Fate or Destiny.” The law serves them, if they happen to lie in the same course, or crushes them otherwise, so that it goes “heedless whether it serves or crushes [them]” (Emerson 217).

    Colonial performativity can be thought of further in light of the impassive law of tragedy. Cio-Cio San’s colonial subjectivity serves her life to be performative in such a way that its tragic dignity is subject to the law leading her to death. It is true that the geisha has been a symbolic obstacle to universalizing the colonial discourse, on which the West’s antimiscegenation and heterosexual family ideologies are founded. Her death performance grows more of a cathartic, event that finally eliminates her bject subjectivity from the colonial narrative by the prescriptive law of colonial performativity. This perfects the ultimate completion of such colonial entrepreneurship, and the colonial universe of Western modernity finally comes true via the elimination of the geisha’s ontological otherness, ultimately engendering the ultimate realization of colonial fantasy in Western culture.

    7In “The Economy of Manichean Allegory,” Abdul JanMohamed suggests that, in the colonial text, the West’s imaginary creation of the East as the colonial subject of feminine ideal has recourse to the former’s narcissistic identification with the latter as his mirrored image. He calls this kind of text the “imaginary text,” in which the Western subject projects the Eastern other with his either negative or imaginary images of his own self.  8For a counterargument of James Moy’s criticism on M. Butterfly, see Quentin Lee’s “Between the Oriental and the Transvestite,” Found Object (Fall 1993): 45-59. He asserts that the field of Asian American representation be more flexible to accommodate articulations of gay Asian American desire.  9In history of colonialism, from the 1870s to the outbreak of World War I in 1914 was the most intense period of colonial competition among the European imperial powers in pursuit of overseas territorial acquisitions. It reached the climax in 1898 when the fiercest imperialist rivals, the UK and France, collided bringing them to the verge of war, known as the Fashoda Incident. In the year of 1904 the two rivals barely avoided going to war by coming to terms with each other in Africa producing a series of agreements called the Entente cordiale. Such imperialistic rivalry between the European powers was one of the main causes of the outbreak of World War I in 1914. See “Fashoda Incident,” “New Imperialism,” “Entente Cordiale” in Wikipedia.  10Anti-miscegenation sentiment is common in national politics to preserve the ideological hegemony of patriarchal society. As Benedict Anderson describes nationalism as a sacrificial fraternal devotion in his Imagined Communities, nationalism is usually gendered as masculine (7). Similarly, Rachel Lee remarks that national unity poses sexualized women as the cause of brotherly separation that threatens the loss of male companionship in The Americas of Asian American Literature (26). To secure their position as legitimate rulers and uphold imperialist masculinity, the European colonial powers used to enact colonial policies to emphasize difference with the colonized; however, interracial sexuality in the colonial terrain always remained the site of regulation and contestation as witnessed in institutionalized concubinage and prostitution in India. For more, see Kenneth Ballhatchet’s Race, Sex and Class under the Raj: Imperial Attitudes and Policies and their Critics, 1793-1905,and Ann Laura Stoler’s “Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power: Gender, Race, and Morality in Colonial Asia.”  11Despite their wedding ceremony, Pinkerton’s marriage to Cio-Cio San is considered illegitimate, which is analogous to the way he purchases a Japanese house with the beautiful garden that overlooks the Nagasaki harbor for 999 years, only to cancel the contract every month. This symbolizes his ‘ownership’ of both Cio-Cio San and the Japanese house is established not on permanent settlement but on transient colonialism as Pinkerton boasts, “So I am marrying in the Japanese style: for 999 years, but with the right to cancel the marriage each month.”  12See Cheng’s The Melancholy of Race: Psychoanalysis, Assimilation, and Hidden Grief (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2001), 57.

    Madame Butterfly as Universal

    The geisha’s death is directly due to her failure of getting re-united with Pinkerton. Once together with him, she was in total happiness at its most extreme level: “now, beloved, you[Pinkerton] are the world. Ah! Night of rapture.” She feels embracing the world when being with him: “The night doth enfold us. . . See the world lies sleeping. . . . How kindly are the heavens” (MB 1.1).

    Cio-Cio San’s ecstatic union with Pinkerton indicates her fulfilled subjectivity of no lack. On a theoretical level, it is equivalent to the ontological state that Jacques Lacan terms the imago,13 the imaginary state of an ideal ego. This refers to an a priori condition of the subject whose desire has not been generated yet. For, in this primordial yet fantastic state, the ontological gap between the subject (private self) and its identity (public self) does not exist, since they remain undivided. Human desire is what originates in disparity between the ideal ego and its social substitute called the ego-ideal, causing the ontological gap, from which subjectivity comes to emerge.

    In Écrits, Jacques Lacan explains that the ideal ego is an a priori ego prior to the epistemological division of self and other, which constitutes a primordial stage of psychic development called “the Imaginary.” As in the Imaginary, the ideal ego refers to a kind of psychic totality, so totalitarian an ego that its pre-symbolic self negates everything except for itself with no centered sense of individual subject-hood. This imaginary condition of pre-subjectivity develops into the so-called Symbolic, which constitutes a good part of what we normally perceive as the reality where the identitarian notion of subjectivity comes into being. It is the impersonal framework of society in which we come to be identified as fellow human beings.

    The Symbolic, therefore, is perceived in the name of what Lacan calls the “Law of the Father,” because its purview includes everything from language to law, taking in all the social structures within to sustain itself as the hegemonic system of a normative reality. In the Symbolic where the big Other works as the superego, the repressed ego has to give up on its imaginary, pre-linguistic stage of transcendental subjectivity and finally transforms into a normative fellow subject as recognized and accepted according to the Law.

    Known as the Lacanian “symbolic castration,” the epistemological division between the ideal ego and the ego-ideal transpires, when the ego recognizes itself as a divided subject in the face of the big Other of the Symbolic and learns its language operating as the disciplinary Law of interdiction and subjectivization. In this advanced stage of ideological subject formation, the subject takes up its role as an agent “interpellated” by the big Other in the Althusserian sense, yet at the same time, attempts to recuperate from its subconscious injury of symbolic castration via its secret desire. This schizophrenic division of the conscious drives the subject of the Symbolic to regain its forever-lost ideal ego in confusion that it fictionally or mistakenly identifies its own externalized images with those of other subjects among whom it finds itself. It is in this fashion that the so-called “social dialectic” begins as to the symbolic construc-tion of the subject, which also refers to what Lacan calls the “secondary identification.”14

    The fact that human desire is narcissistic and never completely fulfilled helps figure out the fundamental cause of Cio-Cio San’s suicide. In fact, Cio-Cio San’s fateful death is part of her performative role as a colonial other with double identities: the geisha who kills herself on the stage and Butterfly whose symbolic name survives beyond the stage. The stage here represents a performative space that belongs to the colonial imaginary in which colonial performativity either eliminates or sublimates the exotic Other to sustain the Symbolic of colonial reality. In such a fantastic space, her physical death comes to produce a pure form of ideological substance, an abstract object of colonial fantasy, Butterfly, which obscenely fulfills colonial desire. That is, her death rids the name of her colonial substance, turning her into a transcendental form of the sublime, while her colonial identity as a sexual slave perishes. Given that the name “geisha” is a direct reference to her colonial otherness, its secular death gives birth to the immortal form of colonial desire in the name of Madame Butterfly. Her death, followed by her alienation, is inevitable, insofar as Pinkerton is her narcissistic ego-ideal that she fantasizes as a substitute for her ideal ego. In other words, her Oriental subjectivity ends up, owing to her permanent loss of him, denied a proper symbolization in the universal order of Western modernity.

    The fetishistic, as well as narcissistic, reification of colonial desire can come true full-fledged, when the geisha’s coloniality turns purely abstract, with no physical referent left. She laments for Pinkerton leaving her: “Through closèd gate he enter d. Life and Love enter’d with him; then he went and nought was left to us. Nothing, nothing, nothing but death.” Without him, she falls into nothing, a subject-less entity to the extent that her life-substance is solely taken up by her performative role as a colonial other. She ends up with a “life with dishonor,” a life of Japanese concubine who her white lover deserts.

    When she bitterly weeps to her baby prior to her suicide, Cio-Cio San holds herself responsible for leaving her son by defamiliarizing herself from Butterfly: “This for you, my love, for you I’m dying, Poor Butterfly.” Namely, she distances her geisha identity from her Butterfly one, melodramatizing her ontological being of multiple identities. As an ontological gap in the ideological purview of colonial fantasy, her geisha identity should disappear in light of colonial performativity. This is the only way she fulfills her desire, once and for all, to wipe off her “dishonor,” that is, her disgraced identity as an abandoned Japanese concubine.

    Her death-drive comes from the radical, or desperate, disavowing of her performative life-substance of coloniality. It allows her to exclude every bit of her traumatic identity that colonial performativity perversely constructs as antithetical to the purely abstract form of colonial fantasy. Her tragic performance in seppuku thus falls into what Keneth Burke calls the “tragic fallacy” that the fundamental mechanism for tragedy is “a calamitous persistence in one’s ways” (200). Yet what persistently drives her into such a calamitous way is colonial desire, rather than Cio-Cio San’s egoistic self, to see her pass into an indestructible and immutable entity which persists beyond the corruption of the body physical, that is, the sublime.

    13In Écrits, Jacques Lacan conceptualizes the notion of imago as the “Ideal-I.” It refers to an ideal, or a priori, image of the Self, that is, an imagined primordial state of Being in totality, called the Imaginary. It is prior to the secular condition of being that the subject experiences symbolic castration and becomes a desiring subject of lack in the so-called Symbolic.  14Lacan describes the secondary identification as “paranoiac alienation” (5) as well because the subject’s misidentification with its own reflection also means its identification with the image of the other. This process refers to the way in which desire works as he states, “the object of man s desire. . . is essentially an object desired by someone else”(12) in his influential article, “Some Reflections on the Ego.” For more on this, see particularly the two chapters in Écrits, “The mirror stage as formative of the function of the I” and “Aggressivity in psychoanalysis.”

    Madame Butterfly the Sublime

    Despite its first premiere more than a century ago, Madame Butterfly remains a commercial sellout in both West and East.15 The persistent popularity of the opera would not have been possible without the geisha’s performative immortality as Butterfly. The performative colonial fantasy mediated through the abstract body of the sublime has been as prevailing and effective as before. Her symbolic death eliminates the ontological gap between the geisha and Butterfly, turning her into the sublime being of immaterial corporality. It refers to the state of both racial and sexual fantasy realized at its purest level even beyond the spatial and periodic set of Anglo-European colonialism.

    Cio-Cio San commits seppuku with her father’s dagger, the same one that her father also used to kill himself. Prior to her self-execution, she reads what is written on it: “Death with honor is better than life with dishonor.” The “dishonor” obviously bears upon her geisha identity whose body and soul Pinkerton has disgraced. The dagger with such an inscription upon symbolizes a fatal punishment for her disgracing her own people and nation in favor of the white devil. As a result, it violently supplements her dishonored body with the inscription of “honor” through the ritualistic performance of self-sacrifice. It rips open her dishonored body and fills it with honor. Her death performance, in this way, puts together both her body and the dagger at its most radical way.

    The incorporation of the beautiful body and the horrible thing is the most critical moment in the opera that the monstrous thing combined with the spiritual honor penetrates the geisha’s disgraced body. This violent union of the ontological opposites brings forth the symbolic birth of Butterfly. This tragic but sublime ending of the opera must be less heartbroken than aesthetically pleasing to the Western audience.

    The monstrous dagger intrudes the geisha’s “void” body to supplement it with the “honor,” a deadly but sublime honor only fueled in destructive violence. It dramatizes her ontological metamorphoses into the universal symbol of colonial fantasy, rendering the Oriental character immortal in Western culture. As she mentions prior to her suicide, “memory [of her] may linger.” Her sublime death performance comes to revive her as an immortal memory haunting the audience permanently.

    Remarkable is that the tripartite elements—her corporeal body (inherent from the Imaginary as the primordial being of imago), the spirit of honor (constituted in the Symbolic as the ethical/prescriptive law of ideological subjection), and the monstrous Thing (the dagger as the Real filling in the ontological gap between the two), all condense into her dead body lying on the stage. The geisha gets punished to death for loving the married white man and having their love child, yet, thanks to it, she gets to revive beyond the performative stage of colonial narrative as immortal Butterfly with the horrifying dagger, radically conjoined with the spirit of honor, that fills her ontological gap.

    The opera ends with Pinkerton’s reiteration of unforgettable outcry, “Butterfly, Butterfly, Butterfly.” Not only is it a sound resonating throughout the opera house, but it also haunts the audience, as the tragic sublimity of colonial performativity lingers on in their mind. Interesting is that the long-admired Eastern beauty has its opposite dimension in its Political Dis-identification of Colonial Performativity 459 symbolic figuration, that is, the dead body of the Japanese concubine with a horrible stabbed wound. In other words, the geisha’s ontological rebirth as Butterfly would not be possible without the radical union of the opposites: the monstrous and the sublime.

    Slavoj Žižek observes that the ideological creation of the sublime grows possible by the radical conjunction of ontological opposites which works as a short circuit whereby “the uncontrollable externality of the body passes immediately into something bound to pure interiority of thought” (SOI 223). The ritualistic performance of Cio-Cio San’s seppuku is when the so-called “short circuit” takes place enabling such a radical conjunction. The geisha’s dead body represents a failed signifier in the colonial order of Western modernity, a pure object of nothing, yet the body united with the dagger that stands for the spirit of “honor” makes possible the immortal creation of sublime beauty.

    This theoretical perspective of abstract sublimation is indebted to the Lacanian concept of “the phallus,” the Master-Signifier of the sublime that “the lowest, most vulgar function of urination passes into the most sublime function of procreation” (Sublime 223). The geisha’s stabbed body turns metaphysical and immortal as a result of the radical unity of the monstrous body with the spiritual “honor.” The horrible body with an abject (lowest and most vulgar) identity refers to an ideological leftover as horrible, obscene, and thus not properly symbolized in the law of colonial performativity.

    More importantly, the immediate conjunction of seemingly incompatible dimensions, as witnessed in the process of creating Butterfly from the geisha’s penetrated body, is an ideological process of “covering up” the pure negativity and emptiness of the negated in the guise of the positive corporeality of the sublime. Butterfly is what effectively conceals the traumatic dimension of its coloniality, repressing the disturbing protuberance of the Real in the Symbolic of colonial performativity.

    The ideological sublimation of colonial performativity, however, cannot be done without a symptom that can disrupt its own universal foundation as a “species subverting its own genus” (Sublime 21). Magnifying this disruptive symptom in a critical perspective is a leitmotif that David Hwang’s M. Butterfly deals with. While Puccini’s opera carries out the aesthetical creation of “Butterfly the sublime,” Hwang’s deconstructionist drama shows that the sublimation paradoxically gets to lay bare an ideological inconsistency that disconcerts the symbolic Law of colonial performativity.

    15Puccini’s Madame Butterfly has constantly been popular in Asia as well. For example, the latest staging of the opera was done in 2009 in Korea. “Poetry of Time, Space in ‘Madame Butterfly’” Korea Times. July 17 2009 .

    Perverted Butterfly vs. Hysterical Butterfly

    Puccini’s Madame Butterfly registers the Western imaginary of Oriental sexuality through the tragic yet sublime performance of Cio-Cio San’s self-killing. Hwang’s Madame Butterfly satirizes the clichéd relationship between East and West. This play is set in totalitarian China where the communist regime rules spurring Sino-nationalism against Western influence and reclaiming national masculinity to fight back its colonial legacy. In response to American culture looking at Asians as “exoticized, feminized, and made invisible” (Cheng 107),16 Hwang stirs up an anti-colonial sentiment in opposition to cultural imperialism and Orientalism throughout the play.

    The plot revolves around a French diplomat, Gallimard, who falls in love with a transvestite Chinese diva, Song, who masquerades as Butterfly. The Western “foreign devil” falsely recognizes him as woman and keeps his de-facto homosexual relationship with the Chinese spy in Oriental drag surprisingly for twenty years. When indicted for espionage activities in France, Gallimard denies in court Song’s true identity as a male transvestite. In the wake of seeing Song’s naked body, however, Gallimard “plunges the knife into his body” in a Butterfly kimono in prison. While, in the original, Pinkerton repeats “Butterfly” making a resonating, as well as unforgettable, finale, Song in M. Butterfly shouts it, yet in a questioning tone: “Butterfly? Butterfly?”

    Song’s reiteration of question-marked “Butterfly?” can be seen as a discursive challenge to the cultural stereotype of Butterfly as an authoritative cliché of race, gender, and sexuality. It sounds more like questioning than calling, an innuendo that the slave mocks the master’s colonial authority. That is, the colonial discourse to recognize Butterfly in both racial and gender terms is reversely articulated to the white devil, Gallimard. This turns Butterfly into a failed signifier of absurdity, so much so that the white man commits suicide in a Butterfly kimono. Since he falls in love, as Hwang puts it, “not with a person, but with a fantasy stereotype” (Author’s Notes 85), Gallimard perversely degenerates into a fetishistic object of his own fantasy in the wake of sexual and racial obsession with Butterfly.

    David Eng states that M. Butterfly comments on the symbolic order of Western ideology that prohibits homosexuality and downplays ethnic identities of people of color in favor of white heterosexuality: “Unable to occupy the position of the domineering European imperialist following Song’s morphological unveiling, Gallimard is so invested in heterosexuality and whiteness that he ultimately elects to occupy the position of the ‘other’” (RC 142-43). The perverse inversion of Gallimard’s gender and racial identity into that of the colonial Other shows that not only by perverting non-white homosexuality does the ideological discourse of white heterosexuality keep its discursive authority; but it also turns to its own perversity of getting obsessed with the opposite in a disavowing and, simultaneously, fetishistic manner.

    It is true that Gallimard’s suicide is concerned with his colonial, as well as sexual, “impotence,” insofar as he has not lived up to his racial and gender authority upheld by white heterosexual supremacy. It is noteworthy as well that Song functions as a vanishing mediator in the play. He induces Gallimard to get increasingly obsessed with his colonial fantasy. At the same time, he leads Gallimard to fail to articulate what he really wants in terms of sexual orientation.

    As seen above, Hwang’s play contradicts the presumed colonial dynamics in the sense that the West’s obscene sexuality turns hysterical and the supposed hysterical one of the East becomes perverted.17 The pervert is an “inherent transgressor” who blurs the gap between one’s secret desire and prescriptive law, ignoring the division between the pleasure principle and the reality principle. Žižek suggests that the pervert “brings to light, stages, practices the secret fantasies that sustain the predominant public discourse” (Ticklish 248). In fulfilling his masculine desire, the pervert pretends to regain an imago-status of his ideal ego and thus precludes the eruption of the unconscious and its resulting “responsible- guilty” sense. In addition, he knows well what the normative public discourse wants from him, since he becomes its secret pleasure carrying out what it proscribes.

    The hysterical, on the contrary, is a skeptic in permanent doubt on “whether those secret perverse fantasies are really it” (Ticklish 248), that is, whether the secret desires really contain what they promise. He constantly remains in doubt of his ontological gap with the public and thus puts himself in eternal self-questioning: “What does the Other want from me? What am I for the Other?” This obsessive questioning implies an inherent impossibility of the subject’s, in Judith Butler’s terms, “passionate attachment (Psychic 6) to the Other. She argues that dependency or subordination to the dominant essentially conditions the subject’s emergence and autonomy.

    As a result, the hysterical’s ontological gap with the Other renders himself ambivalent toward the disciplinary Law of the Symbolic, for it serves as the cause of hysterical pleasure in the form of self-censorship. Thanks to his self-governing censorship without the effect of autonomy, the hysterical permanently remains an ontological split per se within the dominant power as exemplified in the Foucauldian binary of power and resistance. That is to say, he comes to enjoy the obscene pleasure of resistance in repudiation of the power.

    In M. Butterfly, Song’s queer performance endows him with a perverted identity which does not fit into any specific ethnic and gender category set up by both Western imperialism and Sino-communist nationalism. He even takes on a commanding position that gazes at Gallimard, as he mentions, “You. White man. I’m looking straight at you.” Song’s queer performance disrupts their stereotypical racial and gender hierarchy to the extent that Song demands Gallimard to remain a foreign devil for “the Perfect Woman” he performs. Song’s performance that once sustained Gallimard’s “pure imagination” now mocks the fantasy with the obscene pleasure of returning his perverse gaze, which renders the white devil hysterical at its most radical.

    Gallimard, on the other hand, turns hysterical for his anxiety about losing his privileged racial and sexual authority over Song. “You[Song] have to do what I say! I’m conjuring you up in my mind!” shouts he, yet his authoritarian command sounds helpless and hollow: Song never obeys him. Song’s transvestic male body in Oriental drag no longer remains the same after his identity turns out queer, which Gallimard denies acknowledging. This leads Gallimard’s colonial fantasy to act upon himself exposing a fatal symptom of his anxiety for loving a male Butterfly, as witnessed in his desperate refusal of seeing Song’s naked body.

    Gallimard hysterically refuses to see Song’s naked body in denial of the fact that his perverted pleasure is only temporary, for it means to him “no more enjoyment,” no more Butterfly. His love is grounded upon a self-deception making bearable the wait for the truth. His hysterical anxiety, thus, bears witness to his failure of keeping the ontological distance between his symbolic identity and the imaginary object of colonial desire. In other words, his recognition of Song as a homosexual transvestite prompts what has been repressed to return. It is his ontological gap as homosexual and trans-racial, a fatal truth that undermines the colonial discourse of white heterosexual supremacy and disrupts the symbolic coordinates of his positive self as white man. The eruption of the gap results in the collapse of Gallimard s symbolic identity, leading to his death. Thus, he asks Song a painful question at the end, “What exactly are you?”

    Gallimard’s question is actually unanswerable for the transvestic male Butterfly, namely, Song as his negative double. Thus, it eventually turns back on Gallimard, a lover of male Butterfly, returning to him as a selfquestioning, who am I? As unable to answer either, Gallimard can no longer remain a normative member of Western society which renders him only perverted, not hysterical. Song’s queer performance eventually works as an obscene spectral underside of Gallimard, a white queer who has loved the object of colonial as well as homosexual fantasy. If Song’s queer identity is a vulgar displacement of Gallimard’s sexual and racial desire, the male Butterfly becomes for him an obscene substitution of the phallus, that is, the spectral signifier of symbolic castration. Unable to answer his own question, Gallimard renounces his symbolic place at which colonial ideology intervenes and inscribes itself onto his body, “a place at which the big Other acts through” (Interrogating 238-9).

    What eventually brings Gallimard to a tragic death is his “unanswer-able” identity as homosexual, transgender, and trans-racial, losing its ontological consistency in the Symbolic. Gallimard’s queer identity becomes a symptomatic locus that the dominant discourse of the Symbolic should diagnose and cure. In comparison to symptom, fantasy is an inert construction that cannot be analyzed and even resists interpretation, for the subject fundamentally desires to resist the Symbolic’s remedial, that is, intrusive and disciplining, interpretation of it being a symptomatic, that is, abnormal, locus. This is how it can secure an ontological distance and thus independence, in the name of subjectivity, from the Symbolic, while making efforts to repress its own ontological gap (Žižek, Sublime 74).

    Therefore, fantasy functions as the subject’s ontological paradox which obscures the ontological binary of subjective and objective. It emerges as the projection of secret desire in the dominant discourse onto the subject, through which the desire staged in fantasy becomes not only the subject’s own but also others’ as well. In this regard, desire is concerned less with “what I want” but more with “what others want from me” or “what I am for the others.” Gallimard fails to satisfy what the big Other wants from him, rather than what he wants per se, which is a primary cause of his suicidal death.

    16In “Looking for My Penis,” film critic Richard Fung claims that modern Asian American manhood is undeniably “exoticized, feminized, and made invisible.” Quoted in Anne Cheng’s The Melancholy of Race: Psychoanalysis, Assimilation, and Hidden Grief (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2001): 107.  17Žižek contrasts a hysterical symptom with an obsessive one. According to him, an obsessed neurotic articulates and stages a repressed desire, while a hysterical one cannot bear waiting. The hysterical procures “too little enjoyment” from his object of desire, and his journey to find the right object never ends despite his hectic movement in pursuit of pleasure. On the contrary, the obsessional neurotic stages a punishment for realizing his desire too much. He builds up a whole system enabling him to postpone the encounter of the desired object ad infìnitum because he does not need one immediately. It is because the object offers him “too much enjoyment” and even unbearable due to its excessive fullness (Sublime 192). Their symptom is considered perverted, since their particular object of desire is fully identified with the object of the big Other. The socalled “rape mentality” in M. Butterfly reflects such an obsessive, as well as pathological dimension of Western colonial fantasy over the East: “Song: Her[the Oriental] mouth says no, but her eyes say yes. The West believes the East, deep down, wants to be dominated—because a woman can’t think for herself” (83). In the Orientalist scheme of colonial fantasy, the East is looked at as “too much enjoyment” provoking a sexual drive for the West.

    M(ale) Butterfly as an Ontological Gap

    The idea that one’s desire is projected onto, and transferred to, others in the form of fantasy is critical to an understanding of Gallimard’s identity crisis. It is because Song the slave who inversely projects his fantasies onto Gallimard the master, and this displaces their colonial relationship. Colonial discourse, which produces and empowers Orientalist stereotypes of race, gender, and sexuality, cannot take effect, unless the ontological distance between the subject and the Other, an imaginary object of fantasy, is secured. Gallimard’s tragic ending, as a result, seems taken for granted, as long as he fails to take more seriously his wife Helga’s warning: “East is east, west is west.” This failure can also explain why he becomes impotent when looking at naked women, as symptomatic of his ontological anxiety.

    Gallimard unconsciously confesses to his boss, M. Toulon, this failure of distancing his symbolic self from the fantastic object that he desires to identify with: “Tell them there’s a natural affinity between the West and the Orient.” What he calls a “natural affinity” obviously indicates his homosexual attachment to Song. In light of colonial hybridity, Homi Bhabha argues that the relationship between colonizer and colonized is compared to a narcissistic, as well as interdependent, love-relation, through which they become hybridized, multiplied, and diversified. As a result, a claim to national purity or cultural authenticity ends up untenable especially in what he calls a “third space.” This is a contact zone where the mutually excluding and fixed positions of polarized entities are mobilized to the point of undermining any stable system of cultural diversity based on binarism and exoticism (37).

    This “natural affinity” that engenders, in the third space, the subject’s sexual, as well as cultural, attachment to the Other fails Gallimard in securing his ontological distance to safely project his colonial fantasy onto Song. Instead, he comes to identify himself with the object-cause of his own fantasy and becomes a white homosexual Butterfly.

    In Madame Butterfly, we saw that the sublime object of colonial fantasy comes into being out of Cio-Cio San’s stabbed body. In M. Butterfly, however, Gallimard’s queer body in kimono remains rather unfathomable in the reality that privileges and takes for granted heterosexual normativity and white supremacy. The white male Butterfly, that is, homosexual, trans-racial, and trans-gender, is looked at as monstrous. His ontological being becomes in itself a disruptive symptom that impairs colonial authority to expedite the West’s cultural imperialism in Asia. No wonder he goes “impotent” losing his heterosexual, as well as colonial, masculinity.

    Disidentifying Queer Butterfly

    Gallimard’s trans-racial homosexuality works as a repressed point of reference that exemplifies the Janus-faced dimension of the sublime. Its traumatic, as well as queer, revelation radically transforms the fascinating love object of Butterfly into something repulsive, unfathomable, and monstrous. His reluctant but inevitable coming-out, which is analogous to the traumatic return of the Real, opens up excessive otherness that has been repressed in the ontological kernel of his Western male heterosexual subjectivity. That is to say, he becomes an unidentifiable void in the ideological reality that taboos his sexual, gender, and racial orientations.

    Queerness essentially has its ontological implication as opposed to hegemonic discourse of dominant ideology. As José E. Muñoz defines, the queer reverses the subjectivising process of ideological identification in terms of what he calls “de-identification.” It refers to an anti-hegemonic process that creates new discursive possibilities to produce multiple subjectivities, which particularly helps empower minority identity. As a result, queer performance is prone to crack, in Muñoz’s words, the “code of majority” which substantiates hegemonic norms, laws, and rules of dominant ideology, and turns the code into a “raw material for representing a disempowered politics or positionality that has been rendered unthinkable by the dominant culture” (30-31). In other words, performing queerness enables the anti-Symbolic pursuit of the Real to generate alternative meanings which have not been properly lined up before in the symbolic reality of Western heterosexual normativity.

    On the one hand, it is true that, as to the cause of his death, Gallimard is held responsible for his excessive enjoyment of queer performance, deprived of his racial and gender authority given. His trans-racial homosexuality, on the other hand, opens up his ontological gap, a disruptive locus of abnormal subjectivity, which should remain either repressed or un-symbolized in the Symbolic. Gallimard’s queer performance “de-subjectifies” his racial and gender identity within the (neo-)colonial order of Western modernity. The most radical realization of such a dis-identification for a subject would be its turning into a sheer entity of meaningless nothing.

    As witnessed in Song’s response in perplexity, “Rene, how can you ask—,” Gallimard’s question, “what exactly are you?,” shows his ontological dilemma as to “Who on earth am I?” He, accordingly, answers to his own question in a way that cannot but be either nonsensical or schizophrenic: “I am pure imagination. . . My name is Rene Gallimard—also known as Madame Butterfly.” Gallimard commits suicide in the same way as Cio-Cio San does, yet not entirely. Her altruistic death is of selfsacrifice to uphold colonial ideology, which results in the transcendental creation of Butterfly.

    Gallimard’s self-destruction, however, is to materialize the traumatic union between his ideological “substance as subject” (the Symbolic self as white male that fantasizes about Butterfly) and his anti-ideological “absolute subject” (the Real-self that identifies with the queer Asian male in a Butterfly costume).18 This perverted copulation closes up the ontological gap of his divided—or castrated in Freudian terms—subjectivity. As a result, Gallimard’s queer presence ends up eliminated as locked up in jail, that is, a repressed and concealed space under the punitive Law of the Symbolic.

    Unlike his white lover, Song survives. It is primary because he manages to distance fantasy (desire) from reality (interdiction) by successfully remaining skeptical of, rather than faithful to, his metamorphic identity. As Asian, homosexual, and male Butterfly, Song never entirely convinces himself as any of those changeable entities of identity, and his final remark on dying Gallimard in prison bears witness to it: “Butterfly? Butterfly?” Song’s cynicism helps him fully conceal his interdicted “absolute subjectivity” and keep it from his queer identity, namely, his “substance as subject” to perform his multiple identity including Butterfly. His transformative identity, consequently, is an ornamental substance constituted in and by the ideological reality.

    Gallimard’s queer performance, in effect, obscures the deep-rooted ideological binaries of East/West, male/female, subject/other, etc. Above all, his suicide in a Butterfly costume makes for the restoration of systemic consistency in the ideological reality of coloniality, implying that queerness leads to self-killing. Hwang’s re-fashioning of Butterfly as queer is so effective that it de-familiarizes Butterfly’s colonial materiality to be obscene, perverted, and oppositional in light of dis-identification.

    18Žižek tells “absolute subject” from “substance as subject” in light of the dialectical constitution of subjectivity. The former is the subject’s impossible state of being that is absolutely free from any form of ideological substance. He describes it as an “actual universal subject [that] emerges only at the end of the [dialectical] process, and is no longer opposed to substance but truly encompasses it.” This impossible state of being is structurally the same as that of “substance as subject,” for either state refers to the same condition at its purest level: subject as substance or vice versa without being dialectically opposed to each other. See The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Centre of Political Ontology on p. 76.

    Queer Performance as a Politicla Alternative

    In The Melancholy of Race, Anne Cheng concludes her chapter on M. Butterfly in an intriguing way: “The difficult lesson of [the play] is. . .not that fantasy exists. . .but the more politically distressing idea that fantasy may be the very way in which we come to know and love someone—to come to know and love ourselves” (127). Her point is that one’s sexual and racial identification necessitates, without fail, the process of fantasizing others through which recognition of “who I am” also becomes possible in return. In other words, one’s self-realization necessary accompanies the narcissistic reflection and projection of his or her imaginary self upon the imagined Other.

    Given that, acknowledging the Other is equivalent to recognizing something in me more than myself, so to speak. It refers to a fantastic thing believed to belong not to me but to the Other. In short, subject formation carries out both fetishizing and fantasizing the Other, toward which the subject comes to have ambivalent, or inconsistent emotions of both love and jealousy. This also informs that self-identification essentially has recourse to misrecognition and self-deception; moreover, individuals’ subjectivities develop through the internalization of ontological foreignness that takes place through both narcissistic projection and fetishistic introjection between Self and Other.

    The subject, by nature, contains an ontological gap in itself. Due to the ontological intervention of the Other in me, I must paradoxically be able to tell subject from object. Otherwise, I would go melancholic with my subjectivity either disoriented or schizophrenic as witnessed in the case of Gallimard. As Cheng points out in the same vein, his queer performance is so melancholic as to cause him an identity crisis that the ontological division of subject and object becomes impossible (123). Such a narcissistic formation of subjectivity as always indebted to the reflection of the Other in the subject is associated with ethical issues. The commensurable, or equal and unprejudiced, process of both self-identification and recognition of the Other can come true, only when one acknowledges that, as Butler puts it, “part of what I am [is] the enigmatic traces of others,” and it always leaves inside of me unknowingness that makes me responsible for the other (Psychic Life 46).

    As to the ethical question of subject formation, however, Cheng does not seem to appreciate M. Butterfly as sincerely postcolonial. She mentions that Gallimard appears to be so developed a character that his desire is articulated, despite his suicidal death, through his queer performance. In contrast to him, Song remains “either the object of Gallimard’s desire or as the critic of that desire” (125). She claims that Song serves as an accessorial figure that helps his western lover to become an ethical subject taking the responsibility for his being queer. Her point is that Song’s queerness is so “selflessly” performative as to conform to the colonialist narrative, in which characters of people of color become marginalized, Political Dis-identification of Colonial Performativity 469 underdeveloped, and underrepresented. Granted, Gallimard’s suicide can be considered a heroic, and ethical, action fulfilling his responsibility for sexual deviation and identity crisis, and Song, as a critic of colonial desire’ becomes a shameless, irresponsible, and unethical figure who ultimately leads his lover to a tragic death.

    It is true that Cio-Cio San’s alien subjectivity in the original is sacrificed for the sake of the West’s ideological consistency of anti-miscegenation, and the geisha’s “unethical” presence works as a vanishing mediator that confirms ideological legitimacy of colonial desire and then disappears. Colonial performativity renders her both responsible and guilty for her being of exclusion. She is denied a right to make a political gesture to become otherwise, namely, to live with her baby, if not with Pinkerton. Then, can it be also true that her suicide can be thought of as her being held responsible for her unsavory actions, such as alluring the white devil and having their love child? Moreover, does it not look so unfair and unjust if her self-killing is seen as self-sacrifice for Pinkerton and Kate to live happily ever after?

    This ethical paradox is used as an ideological apparatus of conservative populism, in which the queer get punished for their being “dis-identified.” They are supposed to get punished, and its resulting death ironically embodies what it means to be ethical. That is, Cio-Cio San’s self-sacrifice has a narrative effect to take her suicidal death for granted as the ethical death of the unethical.

    Unlike Cio-Cio San in the original, Song in Hwang’s play is given a chance to make a political choice by exposing his naked body, that is, by giving up on performing Butterfly. Different from Gallimard whose queerness eats up his normative subjectivity from inside, Song successfully represses his ontological gap and thus allows his queer performance to remain performative as fully detached from his “China-man” self. His queer performance crosses both racial and gender boundaries, only to politically return to his normative self, whether this returning is performative or not.

    For sure, however, is that Song’s multiple subjectivities lead him to make his politically oriented choice to resist complete subordination to the (big) Other, as he shouts: “Rene! I’ll never put on those robes again! You’ll be sorry.” Given that, he is a not only desiring but also skeptical subject who can refuse what the Western Other wants from him through his queer performance. As Muñoz points out, queering is an efficient counter-public strategy to seek freedom, which is “called on by minori-tarian subjects throughout their everyday life” (179). Consequently, Song is a “disidentifying” figure who politically, if not ethically, chooses to be queer and thus survives the ideological reality of the Symbolic which engages racism, sexism, and colonialism.

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