China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
My paper investigates non-nostalgic invocations of left-wing melancholia in post-Cold War cinema of Southeast Asia. I argue that this non-nostalgic aspect of contemporary Southeast Asian visual cultures is rooted in the specificities of the region’s Cold War history. The fact that Southeast Asia is the Cold War’s “heated” battleground––a locus of both epistemic and political violence––complicates the way we think about melancholic attachments to the spectral trace of revolutionary ruin and the temporal structure of such historical affect. I excavate and dissect the melancholic residues of the Cold War in Southeast Asian films, photographic records, and curatorial practices produced between the 1990s and 2010s. Bearing witness to pervasive atrocities that mark the specificities of the region’s Cold War history, these aesthetic mediations of wartime affective residues constitute a unique archive of historical injury that remains unexamined in scholarly writing on Cold War geopolitics, ideology, and cultural politics. In each of these visual materials, turbulent episodes of the Cold War such as the anticommunist repression in Thailand, the Cambodian genocide, and the legacy of the U.S. bombing Laos and Cambodian, resurface as belated testimonies to unaccounted and unmourned losses of Cold War atrocities. My analyses of film, video art, and installation by directors such as Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Rithy Panh, Vandy Rattana, Allan Sekula, Xaisongkham Induangchanthy, Vong Phaophanit, and Tada Hengsapkul map the vicissitudes of post–Cold War melancholia in relation to these experiences of temporal disjuncture and geographical dislocation.