Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

Brown Boys and Rice Queens: Spellbinding Performance in the Asias

Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

Brown Boys and Rice Queens: Spellbinding Performance in the Asias

Article excerpt

Eng-Beng Lim, Brown Boys and Rice Queens: Spellbinding Performance in the Asias. New York: New York University Press, 2014. 256 pp.

Eng-Beng Lim's Brown Boys and Rice Queens: Spellbinding Performance in the Asias does something fresh with anthropology's usual suspects. Culture and ritual are shaken and undone in a kinesthetic history of the-classically known kecak dance in Bali. Power relationships are finessed in a critical analysis of the racial and sexual implications of homoerotic desire between the rice queen and Asian boy coupling, or what Lim terms the "queer colonial dyad." This dyad is both literally the stereotype of the white man/Asian boy couple in a homosexual partnership, as well as the discursive trope of white colonialism and feminized Asia in a homoeroticized context.

Lim sets precedence for his study when he explains that, "the critical focus on the native boy is crucial since he, unlike the brown woman, is often cast as a superfluous character, a neglected critical trope, or [is] simply missing from the archives" (9). He grounds this focus by exploring the effects of globalization on performance in relation to nations' anxious embrace of queer capital. Lim takes us on sweeping stage-tours, starring the "Asian male as native boy in love with the white man around the world" (138). Smartly chosen, the sites of transnational exposure in the book include Bali (the epicenter of what would become an illustrious tropical paradise for American anthropologists and bohemian expatriates in the 1930s and 1940s), Singapore (considered a model of gloablizing democracy and capital in Asia), and New York City (where artists still perform some of the most significant works in Asian and Asian-diasporic performance). "My main interest," says Lim, "in foregrounding this well-known and yet unspeakable love story is the way that it serves as an allegory for the white man/native dyad that organizes the production and reception of Asian performance writ large" (4). Succinct but dense, Lim's monograph is an indispensible contribution to literature in queer post-colonialism and Asian and Asian-diasporic racial formation.

Lim's most entrancing chapter is his first. "A Colonial Dyad in Balinese Performance" tracks the social life of post-colonialism through one individual's homo-orientalist masterminding of national discourse through performance. Pulling the curtain aside to reveal Indonesia's transformation from "feudal" colony to "unspoiled tropical paradise" in the 1930s (42), this chapter features the homoerotic obsession with the native boy and ethno-biodrama of Walter Spies, a German artist and Baliophile. Spies hosted a café salon of US household names such as Margaret Mead, Cole Porter, and Charlie Chaplin, who would shape the global discourse of what later became a legendary destination in the far-east tropics. The performance at the heart of his artistic homo-orientalism is kecak, a pulsating "monkey dance" (42) of "100 naked men" (60) moving in concentric circles in the shadows of a ritualistic oil lamp. To this day, the dance is performed only to tourists in Bali. Under Spies's direction, kecak included significant changes to cak chorus and trance-dance derived from the exorcistic ritual Sanghyang Dedari. Lim positions his analysis of kecak in response to dominant academic thought that has, for decades, obfuscated the relevance of Spies's homosexual relations with Balinese males in relation to the dance (60-65). Citing a corpus of literature that makes no mention of Spies's homosexuality, reactionary listserv exchanges, and public lectures where he received backlash, Lim sharply critiques the erasure of Walter Spies's homo-orientalist fantasies about Bali, Spies's personal and ethical choices in engaging with Balinese men and boys, and Spies's colonialist fantasy of Bali as conjured through his invention of kecak.

To achieve this racial and queer critique in Chapter 1, Lim offers an archival analysis of Spies's kecak. …

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