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Pluralist Universalism

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.

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Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture

Jennifer Ann Ho

The sheer diversity of the Asian American populace makes them an ambiguous racial category. Indeed, the 2010 U.S. Census lists twenty-four Asian-ethnic groups, lumping together under one heading people with dramatically different historical backgrounds and cultures. In Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture, Jennifer Ann Ho shines a light on the hybrid and indeterminate aspects of race, revealing ambiguity to be paramount to a more nuanced understanding both of race and of what it means to be Asian American. 
Exploring a variety of subjects and cultural artifacts, Ho reveals how Asian American subjects evince a deep racial ambiguity that unmoors the concept of race from any fixed or finite understanding. For example, the book examines the racial ambiguity of Japanese American nisei Yoshiko Nakamura deLeon, who during World War II underwent an abrupt transition from being an enemy alien to an assimilating American, via the Mixed Marriage Policy of 1942. It looks at the blogs of Korean, Taiwanese, and Vietnamese Americans who were adopted as children by white American families and have conflicted feelings about their “honorary white” status. And it discusses Tiger Woods, the most famous mixed-race Asian American, whose description of himself as “Cablinasian”—reflecting his background as Black, Asian, Caucasian, and Native American—perfectly captures the ambiguity of racial classifications.   
Race is an abstraction that we treat as concrete, a construct that reflects only our desires, fears, and anxieties. Jennifer Ho demonstrates in Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture that seeing race as ambiguous puts us one step closer to a potential antidote to racism. 

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Racial Feelings

Asian America in a Capitalist Culture of Emotion

In Racial Feelings, Jeffrey Santa Ana examines how Asian American narratives communicate and critique—to varying degrees—the emotions that power the perception of Asians as racially different.
Santa Ana explores various forms of Asian American cultural production, ranging from literature and graphic narratives to film and advertising, to illuminate the connections between global economic relations and the emotions that shape aspirations for the good life. He illustrates his argument with examples including the destitute Filipino immigrant William Paulinha, in Han Ong’s Fixer Chao, who targets his anger on the capitalist forces of objectification that racially exploit him, and Nan and Pingpin in Ha Jin’s A Free Life, who seek happiness and belonging in America. 
Racial Feelings addresses how Asian Americans both resist and rely on stereotypes in their writing and art work. In addition, Santa Ana investigates how capitalism shapes and structures an emotional discourse that represents Asians as both economic exemplars and threats.  

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Reading Asian American Literature

From Necessity to Extravagance

Sau-ling Cynthia Wong

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.

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Remaking Pacific Pasts

History, Memory, and Identity in Contemporary Theatre from Oceania

Diana Looser

Since the late 1960s, drama by Pacific Island playwrights has flourished throughout Oceania. Although many Pacific Island cultures have a broad range of highly developed indigenous performance forms—including oral narrative, clowning, ritual, dance, and song—scripted drama is a relatively recent phenomenon. Emerging during a period of region-wide decolonization and indigenous self-determination movements, most of these plays reassert Pacific cultural perspectives and performance techniques in ways that employ, adapt, and challenge the conventions and representations of Western theater. Drawing together discussions in theater and performance studies, historiography, Pacific studies, and postcolonial studies, Remaking Pacific Pasts offers the first full-length comparative study of this dynamic and expanding body of work. It introduces readers to the field with an overview of significant works produced throughout the region over the past fifty years, including plays in English and in French, as well as in local vernaculars and lingua francas. The discussion traces the circumstances that have given rise to a particular modern dramatic tradition in each site and also charts routes of theatrical circulation and shared artistic influences that have woven connections beyond national borders.

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Surveillance in Asian North American Literature

Monica Chiu

Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker, Kerri Sakamoto’s The Electrical Field, Don Lee’s Country of Origin, Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Susan Choi’s A Person of Interest. These and a host of other Asian North American detection and mystery titles were published between 1995 and 2010. Together they reference more than a decade of Asian North America monitoring that includes internment, campaign financing, espionage, and post-9/11 surveillance. However, these works are less concerned with solving crimes than with creating literary responses to the subtle but persistent surveillance of raced subjects. In Scrutinized! Monica Chiu reveals how Asian North American novels’ fascination with mystery, detection, spying, and surveillance is a literary response to anxieties over race. According to Chiu, this allegiance to a genre that takes interruptions to social norms as its foundation speaks to a state of unease at a time of racial scrutiny.

Scrutinized! is broadly about oversight and insight. The race policing of the past has been subsumed under post-racism—an oversight (in the popular nomenclature of race blindness) that is still, ironically, based on a persistent visual construction of race. Detective fiction’s focus on scrutiny presents itself as the most appropriate genre for revealing the failures of a so-called post-racialism in which we continue to deploy visually defined categories of race as social realities—a regulatory mechanism under which Asian North Americans live the paradox of being inscrutable. To be looked at and overlooked is the contradiction that drives the book’s thesis. Readers first revisit Oriental visions, or Asian stereotypes, and then encounter official documentation on major events, such as the Japanese American and Japanese Canadian internment. The former visions, which endure, and the latter documents, diplomatically forgotten, shape how Asian subjects were and are scrutinized and to what effect. They determine which surveillance images remain emblazoned in a nation’s collective memory and which face political burial. The book goes on to provide a compelling analysis of mystery and detective fiction by Lee, Nina Revoyr, Choi, Suki Kim, Sakamoto, and Hamid, whose work exploits the genre’s techniques to highlight pervasive vigilance among Asian North American subjects.

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Serial Fu Manchu

The Chinese Supervillain and the Spread of Yellow Peril Ideology

The evil mastermind—and master of disguise—Fu Manchu has long threatened to take over the world. In the past century, his dastardly plans have driven serialized novels, comic books, films, and TV. Yet this sinister Oriental character represents more than an invincible criminal in pop culture; Fu Manchu became the embodiment of the Yellow Peril.
Serial Fu Manchu provides a savvy cultural, historical, and media-based analysis that shows how Fu Manchu’s irrepressibility gives shape to—and reinforces—the persistent Yellow Peril myth. Ruth Mayer argues that seriality is not merely a commercial strategy but essential to the spread of European and American fears of Asian expansion. 
Tracing Fu Manchu through transnational serials in varied media from 1913 to the 1970s, Mayer shows how the icon evolved. She pays particular attention to the figure’s literary foundations, the impact of media changes on his dissemination, and his legacy.

In the series Asian American History and Culture, edited by Sucheng Chan, David Palumbo-Liu, Michael Omi, K. Scott Wong, and Linda Trinh Võ

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Shadowing the White Man’s Burden

U.S. Imperialism and the Problem of the Color Line

Gretchen Murphy, 0, 0

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Sitting in Darkness

Mark Twain, Asia, and Comparative Racialization

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Tell This Silence

Asian American Women Writers and the Politics of Speech

Patti Duncan

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.

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