- The Minor Intimacies of Race: Asian Publics in North America by Christine Kim
Christine Kim’s The Minor Intimacies of Race states that the public “is a crucial concept for this book because it provides a means of theorizing how collectives are defined, felt, and mobilized” and that “feeling is core to the construction of minor publics” (5). Explaining the stakes of considering “the feelings we have about multiculturalism as well as those about racialized conditions that are displaced by multiculturalism,” Kim writes that the public “can function as a critical tool capable of yielding sharp insights into how power, citizenship, and social dynamics operate” (5). Drawing on Michael Herzfeld’s concept of “cultural intimacy” in which “corporeal language promotes collective intimacy through public secrecy,” Kim argues that “the unwillingness of a dominant public to be involved in extended conversations about race … or to notice that they are being addressed is a refusal of social intimacy” (7). Capaciously researched, The Minor Intimacies of Race comprises four chapters and provides compelling readings of literature, digital and print texts, and artistic works.
While the study “focuses specifically on Asian Canadian publics as self-directed spaces of discussion,” it includes a novel by an Asian American writer and a YouTube video by a former ucla student in order to highlight the ways in which the “Asian Canadian social imaginary” as shaped simultaneously by what happens within Canada and as it imagines itself as part of a North American, and even global, public” (25). Chapter 1 “critiques the assumption that Asian Canadian publics demand recognition in multicultural terms” by examining Asian Canadian artist Cindy Mochizuki’s creative productions Bioboxes (2007) and Joy Kogawa’s novel The Rain Ascends (1995, revised 2003). Chapter 2 focuses on “the common feeling of Asianness as it circulates throughout transnational debates about ‘Asians in the Library’ and ‘Too Asian?’ to consider the kinds of Asian publics it creates” (98). Chapter 3 shines in particular in its in-depth, reflexive examination of art and literature that focus on the Korean diaspora as well as explore the legacy of the Korean War (1950 to 1953). Kim’s most compelling work comes through her poignant attention to Asian Canadian visual artist David Khang’s art installations, Mom’s Crutch (2004) and Wrong Places (2007 to 2014). This chapter also examines Asian American writer Susan Choi’s The Foreign Student (1998), which “explores the illegibility of Korean War within the American South” (92). These texts, Kim argues, “have striking implications for Asian diasporas as forms of public intimacy” (93). [End Page 113] Chapter 4 focuses on Toronto-based poet Souvankham Thammavogsa’s Small Arguments (2003) and Found (2007) in order “to understand the figure of the Asian refugee as a metaphor for the inhuman within human rights discourses” (29). As Laotian Canadian writing, Kim emphasizes, Thammavongsa’s poetry “brings attention to war, genocide, and Southeast Asian refugees” (127). This chapter is crucial to the book’s argument, as it makes the case that “the Asian refugee as a form of excluded life is necessary to the formation of Asian Canadian publics as intimate publics; the common experience of exclusion is frequently narrativized as part of a collective Asian Canadian experience” (131).
The Minor Intimacies of Race is exciting in its scope, considering diverse texts and offering astute analysis. However, one characteristic throughout the book is its heavy reliance on secondary sources and lengthy theoretical descriptions, as evident in its ample use of quotations and frequent acknowledgements. Take chapter 4, for example. A clear strength of Kim’s book is her theoretical and research sources; nevertheless, Kim’s enthusiasm in explicating these works at times leads her to devote some ten pages to presenting these materials (124–33) prior to the discussion of Thammavogsa’s poetry proper (134). While citations and explications of theory are necessary, the emphasis on descriptions over analysis detracts from the argument.
The breadth of research and theoretical materials under discussion means that some compelling textual analysis is curtailed. In chapter 2, Kim recounts the...