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Eating Identities

Reading Food in Asian American Literature

Wenying Xu

The French epicure and gastronome Brillat-Savarin declared, "Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are." Wenying Xu infuses this notion with cultural-political energy by extending it to an ethnic group known for its cuisines: Asian Americans. She begins with the general argument that eating is a means of becoming—not simply in the sense of nourishment but more importantly of what we choose to eat, what we can afford to eat, what we secretly crave but are ashamed to eat in front of others, and how we eat. Food, as the most significant medium of traffic between the inside and outside of our bodies, organizes, signifies, and legitimates our sense of self and distinguishes us from others, who practice different foodways. Narrowing her scope, Xu reveals how cooking, eating, and food fashion Asian American identities in terms of race/ethnicity, gender, class, diaspora, and sexuality. She provides lucid and informed interpretations of seven Asian American writers (John Okada, Joy Kogawa, Frank Chin, Li-Young Lee, David Wong Louie, Mei Ng, and Monique Truong) and places these identity issues in the fascinating spaces of food, hunger, consumption, appetite, desire, and orality. Asian American literature abounds in culinary metaphors and references, but few scholars have made sense of them in a meaningful way. Most literary critics perceive alimentary references as narrative strategies or part of the background; Xu takes food as the central site of cultural and political struggles waged in the seemingly private domain of desire in the lives of Asian Americans. Eating Identities is the first book to link food to a wide range of Asian American concerns such as race and sexuality. Unlike most sociological studies, which center on empirical analyses of the relationship between food and society, it focuses on how food practices influence psychological and ontological formations and thus contributes significantly to the growing field of food studies. For students of literature, this tantalizing work offers an illuminating lesson on how to read the multivalent meanings of food and eating in literary texts.

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The Ethics and Poetics of Alterity in Asian American Poetry

Poetry by Asian American writers has had a significant impact on the landscape of contemporary American poetry, and a book-length critical treatment of Asian American poetry is long overdue. In this groundbreaking book, Xiaojing Zhou demonstrates how many Asian American poets transform the conventional “I” of lyric poetry---based on the traditional Western concept of the self and the Cartesian “I”---to enact a more ethical relationship between the “I” and its others.Drawing on Emmanuel Levinas's idea of the ethics of alterity---which argues that an ethical relation to the other is one that acknowledges the irreducibility of otherness---Zhou offers a reconceptualization of both self and other. Taking difference as a source of creativity and turning it into a form of resistance and a critical intervention, Asian American poets engage with broader issues than the merely poetic. They confront social injustice against the other and call critical attention to a concept of otherness which differs fundamentally from that underlying racism, sexism, and colonialism. By locating the ethical and political questions of otherness in language, discourse, aesthetics, and everyday encounters, Asian American poets help advance critical studies in race, gender, and popular culture as well as in poetry.The Ethics and Poetics of Alterity is not limited, however, to literary studies: it is an invaluable response to the questions raised by increasingly globalized encounters across many kinds of boundaries.The Poets: Marilyn Chin, Kimiko Hahn, Myung Mi Kim, Li Young Lee, Timothy Liu, David Mura, and John Yau

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An Ethics of Betrayal

The Politics of Otherness in Emergent U.S. Literatures and Culture

Crystal Parikh

In An Ethics of Betrayal, Crystal Parikh investigates the theme and tropes of betrayal and treason in Asian American and Chicano/Latino literary and cultural narratives. In considering betrayal from an ethical perspective, one grounded in the theories of Emmanuel Levinas and Jacques Derrida, Parikh argues that the minority subject is obligated in a primary, preontological, and irrecusable relation of responsibility to the Other. Episodes of betrayal and treason allegorize the position of this subject, beholden to the many others who embody the alterity of existence and whose demands upon the subject result in transgressions of intimacy and loyalty. In this first major comparative study of narratives by and about Asian Americans and Latinos, Parikh considers writings by Frank Chin, Gish Jen, Chang-rae Lee, Eric Liu, Amrico Parades, and Richard Rodriguez, as well as narratives about the persecution of Wen Ho Lee and the rescue and return of Elian Gonz\~lez. By addressing the conflicts at the heart of filiality, the public dimensions of language in the constitution of minority community,and the mercenary mobilizations of model minoritystatus, An Ethics of Betrayal seriously engages the challenges of conducting ethnic and critical race studies based on the uncompromising and unromantic ideas of justice, reciprocity, and ethical society.

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Far Afield

Scott Brown

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.

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How to Be South Asian in America: Narratives of Ambivalence and Belonging

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.

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Ingratitude

The Debt-Bound Daughter in Asian American Literature

erin Ninh, 0, 0

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Inhuman Citizenship

Traumatic Enjoyment and Asian American Literature

Juliana Chang

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.

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Literary Gestures: The Aesthetic in Asian American Writing

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.

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Maxine Hong Kingston's Broken Book of Life

An Intertextual Study of the Woman Warrior and China Men

Maureen Sabine

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.

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Modeling Citizenship: Jewish and Asian American Writing

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.

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