Traumatic Enjoyment and Asian American Literature
Publication Year: 2012
In Inhuman Citizenship, Juliana Chang claims that literary representations of Asian American domesticity may be understood as symptoms of America’s relationship to its national fantasies and to the “jouissance”—a Lacanian term signifying a violent yet euphoric shattering of the self—that both overhangs and underlies those fantasies. In the national imaginary, according to Chang, racial subjects are often perceived as the source of jouissance, which they supposedly embody through their excesses of violence, sexuality, anger, and ecstasy—excesses that threaten to overwhelm the social order.
To examine her argument that racism ascribes too much, rather than a lack of, humanity, Chang analyzes domestic accounts by Asian American writers, including Fae Myenne Ng’s Bone, Brian Ascalon Roley’s American Son, Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker, and Suki Kim’s The Interpreter. Employing careful reading and Lacanian psychoanalysis, Chang finds sites of excess and shock: they are not just narratives of trauma; they produce trauma as well. They render Asian Americans as not only the objects but also the vehicles and agents of inhuman suffering. And, claims Chang, these novels disturb yet strangely exhilarate the reader through characters who are objects of racism and yet inhumanly enjoy their suffering and the suffering of others.
Through a detailed investigation of “family business” in works of Asian American life, Chang shows that by identifying with the nation’s psychic disturbance, Asian American characters ethically assume responsibility for a national unconscious that is all too often disclaimed.
Published by: University of Minnesota Press
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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
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Introduction: Inhuman Citizenship
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Why is the alien villain Ming the Merciless so captivating and arousing to the speaker in Jessica Hagedorn’s 1981 poem? Why do we love to hate, and hate to love, such grotesque and outlaw figures? I begin Inhuman Citizenship with this poem because it so provocatively evokes the three major themes of this study: ...
1. Melancholic Citizenship: The Living Dead and Fae Myenne Ng’s Bone
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“What makes their ugliness so alive, so thick and impossible to let go of?” (35). Leila, the narrator of Fae Myenne Ng’s novel Bone, describes the marital strife of her mother and stepfather as a live, unseemly profusion to which both parties are painfully attached. ...
2. Shameful Citizenship: Animal Jouissance and Brian Ascalon Roley’s American Son
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A sudden and disturbing flash of heat spreading through one’s body; a racing pulse; the urgent need to avert one’s eyes. These and other involuntary, physical manifestations of shame occur with such conspicuous frequency in Brian Ascalon Roley’s novel American Son that they categorically demand our readerly attention, ...
3. Romantic Citizenship: Immigrant-Nation Romance, the Antifetish, and Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker
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The opening of Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker immediately introduces us to a domestic rupture: the Korean American narrator, Henry Park, tells us about the day that his wife left him. For Lelia, who is white, marriage to Henry had become unbearably alienating. ...
4. Perverse Citizenship: The Death Drive and Suki Kim’s The Interpreter
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Throughout Inhuman Citizenship, I have discussed Asian American narratives of family and home, inquiring into what they reveal about the psychic lives of gendered racial citizenship and the U.S. nation-state. While these texts do not strictly conform to conventions of the “domestic novel” as a literary genre, ...
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Each chapter of Inhuman Citizenship ends with an allusion to a heart or a secret kernel. In chapter 1, I call for an embedding of Ona’s heart in our own, so that we may participate in Bone’s project of animating what is other wise left behind. ...
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I have always enjoyed the acknowledgments section of books, which takes us behind the scenes and reveals how the apparent solitude of writing is actually part of a network of circulating ideas and affect. It gives me the greatest pleasure here to convey my appreciation to those who have imprinted the shaping and reshaping of this book. ...
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About the Author
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Juliana Chang is associate professor of English at Santa Clara University. She is the editor of Quiet Fire: A Historical Anthology of Asian American Poetry, 1892–1970.
Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2012