This essay explores how visibility and sight, but also invisibility and blindness, inform the production of knowledge about subjectivity and subjection in critical refugee studies. I consider Ekleipsis, by the Vietnamese American filmmaker Tran T. Kim-Trang from the Blindness Series, an eight-film series inspired by an exhibit curated by Jacques Derrida at the Louvre and by his accompanying exhibition guide, both titled Memoirs of the Blind. Detailing the experiences of relocated Cambodian women rendered psychosomatically sightless, Ekleipsis attends to questions of sight and nonsight in the context of war in Southeast Asia, illuminating the contradictions of representing Cambodian history and “seeing,” or apprehending, trauma and memory through cinema. I trace the connected, if not commensurate, powers that seek to make sense of their senselessness, their blindness. First, I address knowledge production, authorship, witnessing, and representation. The film manipulates the trope of blindness as a means to see what cannot be seen, to picture unrepresentable horrors found at the point of memory's failure. Second, I argue that this film uses blindness both to narrate histories of subjection through blindness—by governmental, military, and medical regimes—and to suggest that blindness can be mobilized to recover subjectivity. I trace how both “cultural” and medical diagnoses of ability and disability constitute the grounds for a troubling reiteration of power and knowledge and create an accompanying vocabulary for demarcating the limits of citizenship, subjectivity, and humanity. Finally, I argue that while subjectivity can be created through narrative tropes, we still need to question the desire for subjectivity and citizenship in violent state regimes.
Fiona I. B. Ngô; Sense and Subjectivity. Camera Obscura 1 May 2011; 26 (1 (76)): 95–129. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/02705346-2010-016
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