Keiko Ohnuma

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Cultural research

... some published and unpublished writing from my graduate school years, mostly in the field of critical theory -- a hobby of sorts ...

"Aloha Spirit" and the Cultural Politics of Sentiment
as National Belonging

(The Contemporary Pacific Vol. 20, 2008)

From the “Live Aloha” bumper stickers seen throughout Hawai‘i to the state constitution advising lawmakers to “give consideration to the Aloha Spirit,” the panacea of aloha is trotted out to answer every source of conflict on the islands, from personal to political to spiritual. The trope has been synonymous with Hawai‘i for so long that few people bother anymore with its resistance to definition, its tendency to evoke closure where one would expect to see debate and dissent. I propose that this is not only because aloha points toward the things closest to people’s hearts – family, church, and nation – but more importantly because it succeeds in obscuring a history of traumatic meanings, all carrying political investments that remain couched beneath the seemingly transparent universality of such private sentiments as love and kindness. As a synecdoche for The Aloha State, “aloha spirit” serves as both social lubricant and glue, binding a cultural and political entity whose membership is contested. Unresolved historical contests persist beneath the surface, however, driving an economy of lack that serves to keep aloha in motion. It is in the interest of divesting the figure of its traumatic power that this genealogy attempts to unpack some of the hidden histories in this empty signifier.

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Perils of Pygmalion: Spanish processional sculpture
as art history's "abject"

(Dec 2004)

Why have some of the most virtuoso works of Spanish figure sculpture remained unassimilable into the art historical canon, even today, when seemingly no subject is too debased to hold merit? This paper explores the “perilous” nature of the processional religious sculpture of southern Spain, with its vividly rendered wounds and actual clothing and hair, and suggests that the clues to its exclusion may lie in its evocation of primary psychic processes of individuation &mdash not least through its use of dolls. Applying Julie Kristeva’s notion of “the abject,” Georges Bataille’s theoretization of the prohibition on violence at the heart of the taboo, and Freud’s formulation of “the uncanny,” I propose that Andalusian processional sculpture’s evocation of the erotic and morbid -- primary masochism and sadism -- represent precisely what art history had to reject as “abject” in its own coming into being as an Enlightenment Age discipline.

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"Local" haole -- a contradiction in terms?
The dilemma of being white, born and raised in Hawaii

(Cultural Values, July 2002)

While much has been written about the uniquely Hawaiian take on the category “local” – usually in terms of resistance to colonization, the alternative or counterhegemonic – little has been written about haole (white), the trope that served to silhouette the “local” and has evolved in dialectical opposition to it. A term that emerged during the plantation era to represent working-class immigrant workers mostly from Asia, “local” is constructed by exclusion. It has evolved to represent solidarity against all “external forces” controlling Hawaii from without, such as land development, tourism and the military – all readily equated with haole, the visible sign of whiteness. The prevalence of the prescription “local vs. haole” in contemporary Hawaii begs an inquiry into other interpretations that are being suppressed. This paper explores some suppressed histories, imaginings and subconscious aspects of identity in Hawaii through the figure of the white person whose parents – and possible great-great-great-grandparents – were born and raised in Hawaii.

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Wanted Woman: A Search for the Missing Subject
in News Coverage of the Connie Lindburg Case

(Office of Women's Research Student Working Papers Series, University of Hawaii, 1997)

On Valentine's Day this year, a woman was lost to us. The newspaper photograph could have placed her in a Victorian novel, in a gilded frame as someone's mother or aunt. "Missing ... tourist ... kin ... woman ... vanishes." Anxiety turns to excitement as I discover that a woman lurks among us in the hot summer crowds of Honolulu, a secret in her pounding breast. One of these happy tourists is not what she seems. Connie Lindburg is missing. Even before I learn that she hails from Elmhurst, Illinois – two train stops away from the monotony of my suburban childhood – I am seized with the desire to find her. The days pass. She is located. A couple of weeks later she is interviewed. But something about the story won’t leave me, uunsatisfied by the easy resolution of the “weird,” “mysterious,” “strange,” and “bizarre.” For me, Connie Lindburg is still missing.

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Curry Rice: Gaijin Gold
(How the British Version of an Indian Dish Turned Japanese)

(Petits Propos Culinaires, May 1996)

A steaming, pungent, mud-yellow sludge poured over rice on a plate: What could seem more out of place than Japan’s favorite lunch fare, “curry rice”? Chunks of carrot, potato and stew meat tumble indistinguishably from the communal vat, streaking diners’ plates an appalling ochre. Strange as the sloppy concoction may appear to an observer schooled in “the first principle [of Japanese food] … that the ingredients should retain their natural appearance and taste as much as possible,” curry rice fulfills like few other foods the age-old Japanese tradition of cheap, sustaining fare to fuel the hard-working masses on quantities of rice and beer.

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