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 arousingto 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 Citi-zenship with this poem because it so provocatively evokes the three majorthemes of this study: traumatic enjoyment, the racial inhuman, and the...
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 themarital strife of her mother and stepfather as a live, unseemly profusionto which both parties are painfully attached. The chronic heartache offamily life, and its most obvious manifestation in the suicide of Leila’s sis-...
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 rac-ing pulse; the urgent need to avert one’s eyes. These and other involuntary,physical manifestations of shame occur with such conspicuous frequencyin Brian Ascalon Roley’s novel American Son that they categorically de -mand our readerly attention, even as we might be uncomfortable at wit-...
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 introducesus to a domestic rupture: the Korean American narrator, Henry Park, tellsus about the day that his wife left him. For Lelia, who is white, marriage toHenry had become unbearably alienating. Lelia’s growing frustration overthe years with what she perceived as her husband’s emotional inscrutabil-...
4 Perverse Citizenship: The Death Drive and Suki Kim’s The Interpreter
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I really wanted to write an American book. And to me, what AmericaThroughout Inhuman Citizenship, I have discussed Asian American narra-tives of family and home, inquiring into what they reveal about the psychiclives of gendered racial citizenship and the U.S. nation-state. While thesetexts do not strictly conform to conventions of the “domestic novel” as a...
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Each chapter of Inhuman Citizenship ends with an allusion to a heart or asecret kernel. In chapter 1, I call for an embedding of Ona’s heart in ourown, so that we may participate in Bone’s project of animating what isother wise left behind. Chapter 2 considers how imperial jouissance be -queaths to the Filipino family the secret and alien heart of the nation. To...
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I have always enjoyed the acknowledgments section of books, which takesus behind the scenes and reveals how the apparent solitude of writing isactually part of a network of circulating ideas and affect. It gives me thegreatest pleasure here to convey my appreciation to those who have im -printed the shaping and reshaping of this book. For providing me with...
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About the Author
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University. She is the editor of Quiet Fire: A Historical Anthology of Asian...
Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2012