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Literary Gestures: The Aesthetic in Asian American Writing

Sue-Im Rocio G; Lee Davis

Publication Year: 2005

Literary Gestures: The Aesthetic in Asian American Writing contests the dominance of materialist and cultural critiques in Asian American literary discourse by re-centering critical attention around issues of aesthetics and literary form. Collapsing the perceived divisions between the "ethnic" and the "aesthetic" in Asian American literary criticism, the eleven original essays in this volume provide theoretically sophisticated and formally sensitive readings of works in prose, poetry, and drama. These contributions bring discussions of genre, canonicity, narrative, and literary value to the fore to show how aesthetic and formal concerns play an important part in the production and consumption of these works. By calling for a more balanced mode of criticism, this collection invites students and scholars to reinvest in the literary, not as a negation of the sociopolitical, but as a complementary strategy in reading and understanding Asian American literature.

Published by: Temple University Press


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pp. v-vi

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1. Introduction: The Aesthetic in Asian American Literary Discourse

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pp. 1-14

ASIAN AMERICAN LITERARY SCHOLARSHIP of the late twentieth century has struggled to negotiate a balance between the immanentist understanding of literature (as a symbolic embodiment that bears the historical and material forces of its production) and the countervailing attempt to argue that literature represents “something else’’—that a ...

Part I: Asian American Critical Discourse in Academia

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2. Autonomy and Representation: Aesthetics and the Crisis of Asian American Cultural Politics in the Controversy over Blu’s Hanging

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pp. 17-34

AT ITS ANNUAL CONVENTION IN 1998, held in Honolulu, Hawai’i, the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS) presented a Fiction Award to Lois-Ann Yamanaka for her novel, Blu’s Hanging. Immediately following the presentation, though, a resolution was introduced to rescind the award, based on the charge that Yamanaka’s work contains ...

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3. Interventing Innocence: Race, 'Resistance,' and the Asian North American Avant-Garde

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pp. 35-52

FOR SOME TIME it has been a critical commonplace to appeal to the various tropes of resistance in cultural texts. In a 1988 essay Meaghan Morris characterizes the discourse of resistance as the “banality’’ of cultural studies, calling into question the disarticulation of consumption from relations of production through the idealization of an all-knowing but ...

Part II: Aesthetics and Ethnicity

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4. The Asian American in a Turtleneck: Fusing the Aesthetic and the Didactic in Maxine Hong Kingston’s Tripmaster Monkey

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pp. 55-69

IPROPOSE TO READ THE DEVELOPMENT of the field of Asian American Studies from its beginnings to its present articulation through the tension between the aesthetic and the didactic. This tension, I suggest, can be mapped onto the fictional difference between Maxine Hong Kingston’s earlier novel The Woman Warrior and her subsequent narrative ...

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5. The Language of Ethnicity: John Yau’s Poetry and the Ethnic/Aesthetic Divide

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pp. 70-85

In its earlier stages, Yau’s poetry, Perloff’s statement suggests, doesn’t readily fit into any simplified conceptualization of ethnic poetry. Yet Timothy Yu has argued that “Perloff’s doubt about Yau’s Chinese Americanness can thus be seen as a crucial effect of Yau’s work: the nagging sense that we do not know what it means to be ‘Chinese’ anymore, even as we ...

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6. “A Flame against a Sleeping Lake of Petrol”: Form and the Sympathetic Witness in Selvadurai’s Funny Boy and Ondaatje’s Anil’s Ghost

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pp. 86-103

THIS ESSAY ASKS how the formal conventions of the classic realist novel relate to its thematic and ideological concerns in Shyam Selvadurai’s Funny Boy and Michael Ondaatje’s Anil’s Ghost, two novels written by Sri Lankan-Canadians, set in Sri Lanka in 1977–83 and 1992, respectively, and explicitly concerned with portraying violent political turmoil ...

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7. Poignant Pleasures: Feminist Ethics as Aesthetics in Jhumpa Lahiri and Anita Rao Badami

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pp. 104-120

IN THE LAST FEW YEARS, some South Asians writers in the United States have moved away from recounting thinly veiled, sociopolitical accounts of immigrant experiences to fashion aesthetically rich narratives that create a different kind frisson and reading pleasure. This difference, evident in select contemporary South Asian fiction in North America, is based ...

Part III: Intertexts: Asian American Writing and Literary Movements

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8. “A Loose Horse”: Asian American Poetry and the Aesthetics of the Ideogram

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pp. 123-136

ASIAN AMERICAN POETS have a singular plight: they write within the constraints of an American poetry indelibly marked by Orientalism. American poetry was reborn in a modernist revolution spearheaded by Ezra Pound’s Imagist movement. Pound took seriously what had been a fad—adding an Oriental flourish to poetry in the early ...

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9. “A New Rule for the Imagination”: Rewriting Modernism in Bone

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pp. 137-156

EVER SINCE MY FIRST reading of Fae Myenne Ng’s Bone when it was published in 1993, I was struck by its stylistic and compositional subtlety. Despite the deceptive simplicity of its prose, Bone—written over a ten-year span—is very far from documentary realism or autobiographical straightforwardness. Quite the reverse, the peculiarity of this novel seems to

Part IV: Rewriting Form, Reading for New Expression

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10. Performing Dialogic Subjectivities: The Aesthetic Project of Autobiographical Collaboration in Days and Nights in Calcutta

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pp. 159-172

SUBVERTING TRADITIONAL AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL structure to deploy originative formal and aesthetic concerns—a correlate to revised perceptions on subjectivity, identity, and ethnicity—is a prevalent strategy in contemporary Asian American life writing. The increasingly dialogic nature of life writing reflects a multi-voiced cultural situation that allows the subject to control the tensions between personal and communal dialogues ...

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11. Bicultural World Creation: Laurence Yep, Cynthia Kadohata, and Asian American Fantasy

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pp. 173-186

FANTASY IS PERHAPS entering a golden age within our culture. Thanks to J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series as well as the recent Tolkien films, fantasy books for both children and adults are proliferating at a seemingly magical rate. As society has grown more multicultural, fantasy as a genre has become increasingly pluralistic, and so the time is ripe ...

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12. Dismantling the Realist Character in Velina Hasu Houston’s Tea and David Henry Hwang’s FOB

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pp. 187-202

SCHOLARS INTERESTED IN STUDYING formal aesthetics in Asian American theater have been challenged by a canon dominated by realist dramaturgy. In fact as a representational model rooted in the close correspondence to observable, physical life, realism has become a signature feature of the past thirty years of Asian American playwriting. Audiences of ...


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pp. 210-233

Notes on Contributors

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pp. 203-226


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pp. 231-239

E-ISBN-13: 9781592133666

Publication Year: 2005