Plenary Session: Transpacific Affect & Intimate Geographies

Nadine Attewell

Associate Professor, Department of English and Cultural Studies
McMaster University


Intimate Geographies, Transpacific Worldings, and the Pulse of the Archive

In this talk, I reflect on transoceanic histories of interracial intimacy as their traces surface in state and other archives. From a starting point in the early-twentieth-century archives of a selective Hong Kong high school, I follow the movement of bodies, propelled by desire, family affection, and the limits of citizenship, between Hong Kong, China, Britain, and coastal North America; and attend to the transoceanic circulation of institutional forms like the school photograph. How, I ask, do differently racialized subjects come together together in the shadow of imperial projects of institutionalization? How do such transoceanic intimacies (re)map the world? On the one hand, intimacies between Chinese, South Asian, and African diasporic subjects in Hong Kong or Liverpool testify to the interarticulation of Atlantic with Indo-Pacific worlds and systems; the trans in transpacific here functions as an incitement to go beyond. On the other hand, the partiality of their capture by the archive underscores their irreducible particularity: the archival traces of interracial intimacy may gesture towards “‘bigger’ structures and underlying causes” (Stewart), but they invite a reckoning with more everyday geographies as well. Turning to the archive as a source of transpacific history, I enquire into the kinds of reading practices it inaugurates, as a site where “‘bigger’ structures,” including the transpacific itself, at once materialize and elude us.