Tania Roy (PhD) is a Senior Lecturer and convenor of the MA in Literary Studies at the Department of English, Literature and Theatre Studies at the National University of Singapore. She is the author of The Architects of Late Style in India: Aesthetic Form after the Twentieth-century Novel (Routledge 2020), an examination of T. W. Adorno’s aesthetics of lateness, with reference to mid-late 20th century Indian modernism and its contemporary artistic legacies. She has related interests in contemporary visual art in post-liberalized India, especially with reference to civic violence and memory, and ecological aesthetics. E-mail: ellrt@nus.edu.sg


The Island of No Extinction: Singapore and the Aesthetics of Late Liberalism

Abstract: In her influential reformulation of sovereignty under conditions of “late liberalism,” Elizabeth Povinelli proposes the idea of “geontopower.” Sovereignty has been associated through the modern state with authority and the affordances to govern life and death. Under conditions of late liberalism, the exercise of sovereign power shifts to adjudications of the distinction between Life and Nonlife, the grounds upon which differences and markets are governed. As such, geontopower brings the articulation of difference and the limits of multicultural recognition into conversation with the regulation of markets, at a moment when the accumulation of wealth through deep-earth/ocean extraction coincides with the anthropogenic anxiety of extinction. This paper resituates the periodicities of Povinelli’s account of late liberalism and postcolonial imaginaries, which introject foundational national mythologies of sovereign emergence into the exercise of geontological power. To this end, the paper examines the work of contemporary visual artists from Singapore. Charles Lim’s multi-modal project SEA STATE is an unfolding, episodic chronicle of the Straits of Singapore and Johor. Through Lim’s engagements, the littoral waters around the city-state of Singapore emerge as a thoroughly legislated space, or, in effect, a “landed” extension of the city’s built environment over the island’s shoreline. The paper discusses Singapore’s governance of the difference between land and sea (Lim), which links the geophysical engineering of Singapore’s shoreline with histories of communal displacement and the production of an ethnicized national minority.
Keywords: late liberalism, geontology, Singapore, aesthetics, terraforming