restricted access Chapter 14. Of Hemispheres and Other Spheres: Navigating Karen Tei Yamashita’s Literary World
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294 14 CCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCC Of Hemispheres and Other Spheres Navigating Karen Tei Yamashita’s Literary World K ANDICE CHUH Always a stranger, you move through these places, and you find the things that are recognizable from the places that you’ve already been. —Karen Tei Yamashita, Circle K Cycles (2001) Although Asian American literary studies has in recent decades taken the “transnational turn” that Shelley Fisher Fishkin has described of contemporary American studies generally,1 the particular rubric of “hemispheric studies” has not found as much traction in the field as, for example, “diasporic” or “Pacific Rim studies.” Aside from a smattering of works that attend to Canada in a substantial way, most transnationally inclined criticism in Asian American studies has been more involved in mining understudied or otherwise occluded east-west connections than in looking critically north or south. This turn toward the transnational has also been accompanied by a certain amount of anxiety over the consequences of losing focus on the historic and continuing power of the U.S. nation-state in racializing and regulating Asianness within its borders.2 Moreover, because of the distinctive ways in which Asianness has been racialized as immutably foreign despite nativity, citizenship, or acculturation within the U.S. frame, a critical wariness attaches to any semblance of a presumed commonality of experience or identity across specific sites. In the absence of racial essentialism, in other words, there exists no prima facie case for connecting the expressive cultures of Asian Americans with Asians elsewhere. I open this essay with this brief rehearsal of some of the conditions and concerns that attend debates about the spatial logics animating Asian American literary studies in order to provide a point of departure for understanding how they might participate in and perhaps advance hemispheric studies. Understood in its broadest sense, hemispheric studies prompts a collaborative OF HEMISPHERES AND OTHER SPHERES 295 and dynamic link among studies of the Americas writ large. While critically mindful of and geared toward negotiating substantial unevenness in political and economic power, hemispheric studies as proposed by such scholars as Claudia Sadowski-Smith and Claire Fox complements “other emergent national, regional, and global perspectives in American, Canadian, and Latin American studies.”3 Such a model attempts to decenter the U.S. nation and critical approaches based on or derived from U.S.-centered studies even as it acknowledges the influential material power of the United States. My broad aim in this essay is to explore that complementary space between Asian American studies, conceived as a “national perspective” that seeks to understand the link between the national and the global, and hemispheric studies, understood as paradigmatically concerned with the relationship of the Americas to the local or national. Asian American studies offers a national perspective insofar as its primary objectives have been geared toward illuminating U.S. culture and politics from the particular vantage of a domestic racial minority. It is, in other words, the specific site of the U.S. nation and the processes of racialization that have shaped the various practices and structures of the U.S. nation-state that have been the grounds upon which Asian Americanist critics have sought to interrogate the United States’ relation to the world. Because the histories of Asian racialization in the United States have been so closely tied to its relations with Asian nations, it makes sense that transnationalism in Asian American studies has focused attention on what Gary Okihiro has described as the “East-West filaments” of Asian American history.4 Hemispheric studies poses a different kind of challenge, a different set of critical questions for Asian Americanists: in what ways can hemispheric studies enhance the study of racialization in the United States? How might such a perspective advance Asian Americanist efforts to critique the U.S. nation’s reliance on and creation of racial difference? This exploration suggests that hemispheric studies articulated through Asian American literary studies underscores the need to look within and among but also beyond the Americas and specifically to Asia in critical efforts to challenge the discursive centrality of the United States. This essay, then, underscores the complexity that Sadowski-Smith and Fox identify as characterizing “attempts to rethink the field [of American studies] outside and beyond national boundaries.”5 For, it points to the ways that hemispheric approaches derived through the minority discourse/ethnic studies-based institutional history of Asian American studies might look quite different from...


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Subject Headings

  • Migrations of nations.
  • America -- Intellectual life.
  • American literature -- History and criticism.
  • Latin American literature -- History and criticism.
  • Ethnic groups in literature.
  • America -- Civilization.
  • America -- Study and teaching (Higher).
  • Western Hemisphere -- Study and teaching (Higher).
  • United States -- Study and teaching (Higher).
  • America -- Race relations.
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