- Asian Canadian Writing beyond Autoethnography
Eleanor Ty and Christl Verduyn's very powerful and suggestive volume of essays, Asian Canadian Writing beyond Autoethnography, explores, as they say in their introduction, the 'ways in which Asian Canadian authors have gone beyond what Françoise Lionnet calls autoethnography' and demonstrates just how much 'the representations of race and ethnicity, particularly in works by Asian Canadians, have changed in Canada in the last decade.' The essays in the book generously, [End Page 520] intelligently, and passionately engage with issues of globalization, textual and generic experimentation, interrogations of sexuality and gender, the claiming of identities not necessarily linked to ethnicity, and the potential of hybrid identifications.
The editors' very useful introduction outlines the history of the emergence of the term Asian Canadian writing out of notions of multicultural, ethnic, and most problematically, 'minority' writing in Canada, which, in Smaro Kamboureli's words, 'is not minority writing for it does not raise issues that are of minor interest to Canadians' and is not 'of lesser quality than the established literary tradition.' Their focus on Asian Canadian writing 'beyond autoethnography' is also a focus on texts that 'refuse to be contained simply by their ethnic markers.'
Consisting mainly of essays by new and emerging scholars, the book opens with a significant new piece by the eminent critic of Canadian literature and theory Smaro Kamboureli, entitled 'The Politics of the Beyond: 43 Theses on Autoethnography and Complicity.' What makes these essays so compelling is their consistent attention to both the politics and the aesthetics of their respective artists' and writers' work. Topics range from the theory of writing autoethnography 'otherwise,' by Paul Lai, 'Reconfiguring the Autoethnographic Paradigm in Shani Mootoo's He Drown She in the Sea' by Kristina Kyser, and 'Fred Wah's "Creative-Critical Writing"' by Joanne Saul, to carefully argued and close readings of work by writers and artists Shani Mootoo (by Mariam Pirbhai), Hiromi Goto and Larissa Lai (by Pilar Cuder-Domínguez), Suniti Namjoshi (by Eva Karpinski), Paul Wong and Ken Lum (by Ming Tiampo), Ying Chen (by Christine Lorre), and the poet/writer/ artist/filmmaker Laiwan (by Tara Lee).
Among the four parts focusing on 'Theoretical Challenges and Praxis,' 'Generic Transformations,' 'Artistic/Textual/Bodily Politics,' and 'Global Affiliations,' part 2 includes an essay on 'Strategizing the Body of History: Anxious Writing, Absent Subjects, and Marketing the Nation' by Larissa Lai, one of the writers whose novels When Fox Is a Thousand (1995) and Salt Fish Girl (2002) are discussed elsewhere in the book in essays on 'The Politics of Gender and Genre in Asian Canadian Women's Speculative Fiction' by Cuder-Domínguez and on 'Representations of Social Differences' by Christine Kim.
The book's considerable strength lies both in its focus on very contemporary writing from Canada that deliberately situates itself within a global context, and in its insistence, through the sustained attention to writing by women throughout, that questions of sexuality and gender must be heard to complicate assumptions 'about the ethnic subject and its representation.' There is no doubt that the collection succeeds in its desire to redefine the term 'Asian as a space of mobility and becoming,' [End Page 521] a space to which these essays make this reader want to return again soon.
Susan Rudy, Department of English, University of Calgary