- Impossible Desires: Queer Diasporas and South Asian Public Cultures
In a study of popular culture in the diaspora, Gayatri Gopinath's Impossible Desires examines literary, moving image, and musical forms to identify the persistent ways queer South Asian women are undermined in discourses of nationalism and feminism. In the process, she demonstrates an illuminating queer and feminist reading practice that attends to the ways in which these women carve [End Page 106] home and belonging in the very spaces of violence that shape them. The queer South Asian characters Gopinath analyzes critique both the male nationalist and heteronormative feminist discourses that represent them. By directing our focus to the unintended, supplementary and supportive—sometimes absent—roles of women within major and independent (feminist, progressive) popular culture productions, Gopinath shows us how women and queer subjects enable the emergence of the subjectivities of others—nationalist masculinity, patriarchy, and even feminist women in the diaspora. One learns and unlearns a great deal from reading this book, as Gopinath recasts our very understanding of diaspora beyond nostalgia, queerness beyond sexuality, and feminism beyond heterosexual normativity. The book takes up the queer of color and feminist principle of centering the subjectivity of marginalized others, what Richard Fung calls "center the margins." Gopinath provides a method that enables a new way of reading that is essential to our understanding of new cultural formations and new representations in transnational and interdisciplinary Asian American Studies.1
Southeast Asian immigrants to the United States, refugees, parachute kids, transnational adoptees, queer subjects and queer diasporas: new subjectivities within our specific transnational moment comprise the most exciting work in Asian American Studies today.2 The emergence of these "new subjects" of Asian American Studies in the post-1965 era, as outlined by Sau Ling Wong and Susan Koshy, challenge us to imagine the proper subjects, literatures, and boundaries of Asian Americanist critique. Moreover, the literary, moving image, and performance expressions of these new experiences encompass complicated production and consumption processes that cross national boundaries. In Immigrant Acts, Lisa Lowe provides us with a vocabulary to frame these changes in contemporary Asian American cultures. Lowe dares us to imagine an analytics of the multiple forces of race, class, sex, and gender in our understanding of Asian American cultural life.3 With a focus on South Asian public cultures, Gayatri Gopinath's book Impossible Desires launches a major contribution to these debates.
The book begins by framing the centrality of male subjectivity in queer and diaspora studies and the assumption of heterosexuality in framing women's lives—a formulation that leads to what Gopinath calls an "elision and displacement" (5) of queer women in the diaspora. This position of marginality is evidenced by what she identifies as the "failure" of South Asian feminists and diaspora studies to use queer critique in their analyses, in addition to their persistently representing women within traditional realms of the home and nation. While many scholars recognize that sexuality is indeed "inextricable from prior and continuing histories of colonialism, nationalism, racism and migration" (3), as [End Page 107] in the work of Ann Laura Stoler, what may be hampering a truly queer critique of diaspora is the way in which it provides a different model for understanding the schisms of past and the present, the modern and the traditional, and third world subordination and western liberation.4 Queer critique recasts both the old (in the sense of the homeland) and new (in the sense of new homeplaces) as sites for heterosexism, racism, and gender subordination and in both sites embraces marginality, perversion, and displacement as part of "imagin(ing) diaspora differently" (6). Gopinath states: "the cartography of a queer diaspora tells a different story of how global capitalism impacts local sites by articulating other forms of subjectivity, culture, affect, kinship, and community that may not be visible or audible within standard mappings of nation diaspora or globalization" (12). She challenges us to imagine other possibilities through the development of an "alternative set of reading practices" that she names "scavenger methodology" (22). Through this...