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Tell This Silence

Asian American Women Writers and the Politics of Speech

Patti Duncan

Publication Year: 2004

Tell This Silence by Patti Duncan explores multiple meanings of speech and silence in Asian American women's writings in order to explore relationships among race, gender, sexuality, and national identity. Duncan argues that contemporary definitions of U.S. feminism must be expanded to recognize the ways in which Asian American women have resisted and continue to challenge the various forms of oppression in their lives. There has not yet been adequate discussion of the multiple meanings of silence and speech, especially in relation to activism and social-justice movements in the U.S. In particular, the very notion of silence continues to invoke assumptions of passivity, submissiveness, and avoidance, while speech is equated with action and empowerment.

However, as the writers discussed in Tell This Silence suggest, silence too has multiple meanings especially in contexts like the U.S., where speech has never been a guaranteed right for all citizens. Duncan argues that writers such as Maxine Hong Kingston, Mitsuye Yamada, Joy Kogawa, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Nora Okja Keller, and Anchee Min deploy silence as a means of resistance. Juxtaposing their “unofficial narratives” against other histories—official U.S. histories that have excluded them and American feminist narratives that have stereotyped them or distorted their participation—they argue for recognition of their cultural participation and offer analyses of the intersections among gender, race, nation, and sexuality.

Tell This Silence offers innovative ways to consider Asian American gender politics, feminism, and issues of immigration and language. This exciting new study will be of interest to literary theorists and scholars in women's, American, and Asian American studies.

Published by: University of Iowa Press

Front Matter

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Table of Contents

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-xii

The above quotation, excerpted from Timothy Pfaff’s interview with Maxine Hong Kingston about her book China Men, illustrates a tension within Asian American studies regarding the relationship between history and literature. I open with this quotation as a way to self-consciously note my...

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pp. xiii-xvi

This work was inspired by the writings and scholarship of many Asian American women, in particular Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Trinh T. Minh-ha, Mitsuye Yamada, King-Kok Cheung, and Elaine H. Kim. The title of this work comes from Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Chronology (1977), published...

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1: Introduction. The Uses of Silence and the Will to Unsay

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pp. 1-30

By calling this introductory chapter “The Uses of Silence,” I invoke Audre Lorde’s essay “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism,” in which she discusses anger as an appropriate, viable, and useful response...

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2: What Makes an American? Histories of Immigration and Exclusion of Asians in the United States in Maxine Hong Kingston’s China Men

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pp. 31-74

Le Thi Diem Thuy, in her poem “Shrapnel Shards on Blue Water,” recounts family memories, tracing her parents’ daily lives in both their native land of Vietnam and their current home, the United States. She writes...

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3: White Sound and Silences from Stone: Discursive Silences in the Internment Writings of Mitsuye Yamada and Joy Kogawa

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pp. 75-128

In Janice Mirikitani’s collection of poems entitled We, the Dangerous (1995), she takes as one of her central themes the involuntary internment of persons of Japanese descent in the United States during World War II.1 Along with exploring the feelings of helplessness and anger associated with the...

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4: Cartographies of Silence: Language and Nation in Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictée

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pp. 129-172

In this chapter, I focus on the theme of silence in relation to the work of Korean American woman writer, artist, and filmmaker Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. When I suggest a critical analysis of silence, in relation to Cha’s work, what I mean is a reading of “silence” from at least two theoretical...

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5: Silence and Public Discourse: Interventions into Dominant National and Sexual Narratives in Nora Okja Keller’s Comfort Woman and Anchee Min’s Red Azalea

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pp. 173-214

Women’s sexuality has been conceptualized as a site of and for both pleasure and danger. In recent years, feminist theorists have attempted to interrogate the multiple roles sexuality perform in women’s lives in relation to categories of identity as well as social, historical, political, and economic contexts...

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6: Conclusion. Tell This Silence: Asian American Women’s Narratives, Gender, Nation, and History

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pp. 215-226

During one of my first years of teaching, I had a team-teaching experience with the course Introduction to Women’s Studies. I was distressed to witness, from the beginning, the silence of certain students in the classroom. A small cluster of Asian American women students, in particular...


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pp. 227-254


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pp. 255-266


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pp. 267-274

E-ISBN-13: 9781587294433

Publication Year: 2004