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A literary comedy of manners set in a fictitious island nation in the South Pacific, somewhere between the Japan and Indonesia. It tells the story of a vacationing Asian-American journalist, Benjamin Inoue, who gets swept up into a cascading chain of events and who becomes the campaign manager of a buffoonish and megalomaniac island scion who is running against his younger brother for presidency of the small and forgotten island. Along the way, he becomes ensnared in a progression of dubious and absurdist events orchestrated by dubious and unreliable characters, all of which have their own hidden and conflicting agenda that they force Ben into serving.
Providing a useful analysis of and framework for understanding immigration and assimilation narratives, anupama jain's How to Be South Asian in America considers the myth of the American Dream in fiction (Meena Alexander's Manhattan Music), film (American Desi, American Chai), and personal testimonies. By interrogating familiar American stories in the context of more supposedly exotic narratives, jain illuminates complexities of belonging that also reveal South Asians' anxieties about belonging, (trans)nationalism, and processes of cultural interpenetration.
jain argues that these stories transform as well as reflect cultural processes, and she shows just how aspects of identity—gender, sexual, class, ethnic, national—are shaped by South Asians' accommodation of and resistance to mainstream American culture.
Traumatic Enjoyment and Asian American Literature
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.
An Intertextual Study of the Woman Warrior and China Men
The numerous studies of Maxine Hong Kingston's touchstone work The Woman Warrior fail to take into account the stories in China Men, which were largely written together with those in The Woman Warrior but later published separately. Although Hong Kingston's decision to separate the male and female narratives enabled readers to see the strength of the resulting feminist point of view in The Woman Warrior, the author has steadily maintained that to understand the book fully it was necessary to read its male companion text. Maureen Sabine's ambitious study of The Woman Warrior and China Men aims to bring these divided texts back together with a close reading that looks for the textual traces of the father in The Woman Warrior and shows how the daughter narrator tracks down his history in China Men. She considers theories of intertextuality that open up the possibility of a dynamic interplay between the two books and suggests that the Hong family women and men may be struggling for dialogue with each other even when they appear textually silent or apart.
Navigating deftly among historical and literary readings, Cathy Schlund-Vials examines the analogous yet divergent experiences of Asian Americans and Jewish Americans in Modeling Citizenship. She investigates how these model minority groups are shaped by the shifting terrain of naturalization law and immigration policy, using the lens of naturalization, not assimilation, to underscore questions of nation-state affiliation and sense of belonging.
Modeling Citizenship examines fiction, memoir, and drama to reflect on how the logic of naturalization has operated at discrete moments in the twentieth century. Each chapter focuses on two exemplary literary works. For example, Schlund-Vials shows how Mary Antin's Jewish-themed play The Promised Land is reworked into a more contemporary Chinese American context in Gish Jen's Mona in the Promised Land.
In her compelling analysis, Schlund-Vials amplifies the structural, cultural, and historical significance of these works and the themes they address.
Mulan, the warrior maiden who performed heroic deeds in battle while dressed as a male soldier, has had many incarnations from her first appearance as a heroine in an ancient Chinese folk ballad. Mulan’s story was retold for centuries, extolling the filial virtue of the young woman who placed her father's honor and well-being above her own. With the publication of Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior in the late 1970s, Mulan first became familiar to American audiences who were fascinated with the extraordinary Asian American character. Mulan’s story was recast yet again in the popular 1998 animated Disney film and its sequel.
In Mulan’s Legend and Legacy in China and the United States, Lan Dong traces the development of this popular icon and asks, "Who is the real Mulan?" and "What does authenticity mean for the critic looking at this story?" Dong charts this character’s literary voyage across historical and geographical borders, discussing the narratives and images of Mulan over a long time span—from premodern China to the contemporary United States to Mulan’s counter-migration back to her homeland.
As Dong shows, Mulan has been reinvented repeatedly in both China and the United States so that her character represents different agendas in each retelling—especially after she reached the western hemisphere. The dutiful and loyal daughter, the fierce, pregnant warrior, and the feisty teenaged heroine—each is Mulan representing an idea about female virtue at a particular time and place.
An Asian Americanist Critique of U.S. and Chinese Multiculturalisms
Pluralist Universalism: An Asian Americanist Critique of U.S. and Chinese Multiculturalisms by Wen Jin is an extended comparison of U.S. and Chinese multiculturalisms during the post–Cold War era. Her book situates itself at the intersection of Asian American literary critique and the growing field of comparative multiculturalism. Through readings of fictional narratives that address the issue of racial and ethnic difference in both national contexts simultaneously, the author models a “double critique” framework for U.S.–Chinese comparative literary studies.The book approaches U.S. liberal multiculturalism and China’s ethnic policy as two competing multiculturalisms, one grounded primarily in a history of racial desegregation and the other in the legacies of a socialist revolution. Since the end of the Cold War, the two multiculturalisms have increasingly been brought into contact through translation and other forms of mediation. Pluralist Universalism demonstrates that a number of fictional narratives, including those commonly classified as Chinese, American, and Chinese American, have illuminated incongruities and connections between the ethno-racial politics of the two nations. The “double critique” framework builds upon critical perspectives developed in Asian American studies and adjacent fields. The book brings to life an innovative vision of Asian American literary critique, even as it offers a unique intervention in ideas of ethnicity and race prevailing in both China and the United States in the post–Cold War era.
From Necessity to Extravagance
A recent explosion of publishing activity by a wide range of talented writers has placed Asian American literature in the limelight. As the field of Asian American literary studies gains increasing recognition, however, questions of misreading and appropriation inevitably arise. How is the growing body of Asian American works to be read? What holds them together to constitute a tradition? What distinguishes this tradition from the "mainstream" canon and other "minority" literatures? In the first comprehensive book on Asian American literature since Elaine Kim's ground-breaking 1982 volume, Sau-ling Wong addresses these issues and explores their implications for the multiculturalist agenda.
Wong does so by establishing the "intertextuality" of Asian American literature through the study of four motifs--food and eating, the Doppelg,nger figure, mobility, and play--in their multiple sociohistorical contexts. Occurring across ethnic subgroup, gender, class, generational, and historical boundaries, these motifs resonate with each other in distinctly Asian American patterns that universalistic theories cannot uncover. Two rhetorical figures from Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior, "Necessity" and "Extravagance," further unify this original, wide-ranging investigation. Authors studied include Carlos Bulosan, Frank Chin, Ashley Sheun Dunn, David Henry Hwang, Lonny Kaneko, Maxine Hong Kingston, Joy Kogawa, David Wong Louie, Darrell Lum, Wing Tek Lum, Toshio Mori, Bharati Mukherjee, Fae Myenne Ng, Bienvenido Santos, Monica Sone, Amy Tan, Yoshiko Uchida, Shawn Wong, Hisaye Yamamoto, and Wakako Yamauchi.