Spectral History: Unsettling Nation Time in "The Last Communist"

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Fiona Lee

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"The Last Communist" ("Lelaki Komunis Terakhir") traces the biographical narrative of Chin Peng, the exiled Secretary-General of the Communist Party of Malaya who led the armed uprising against the British during the Malayan Emergency. Going against the grain of official history, the film presents the communist-led uprising as contributing to the anti-colonial nationalist struggle. This essay argues that the film's significance lies not merely in its retrieval of a marginalized perspective of national history. Subverting the conventions of the documentary genre, the film eschews interviews or archival footage of its eponymous subject, withholding him from sight to articulate the figure of the spectral communist. Moreover, the film stages scenes of everyday life as a site for conjuring the past in the present, a method of historical knowledge production that constitutes a translation of time. The figuring of a spectral historical subject, as signaled by a visual absence and the summoning of the past in the present, unsettles the linear, chronological time of national history. In doing so, the film not only presents a critique of the national narrative's ideological project of modernity, but conceives of history as a political act of redefining the historical present.