- Compositional Subjects: Enfiguring Asian/American Women
This book utilizes a broad, interdisciplinary framework to explore the many ways that Asian/American women have been represented and depicted throughout a variety of disciplines. Drawing from fields as diverse as literature, cinema studies, history and social and political science, Kang deftly illustrates the multiple and problematic ways in which the very depictions of Asian/American women mediate knowledge and awareness of these women. The author describes the volume as attempting to incite "a careful and critical examination of how 'Asian women' and 'Asian American women' might be positioned within and across American studies, Asian studies, and Asian American studies [and] could productively extend the study of tensions and collisions of identity, disciplinarity, and interdisciplinarity" (270).
The book is comprised of five chapters that traverse a range of disciplines; indeed one of its strengths is the interdisciplinary nature of the text itself. Kang posits that only by critical examination of Asian/American women and awareness of how they are often (mis)represented in a variety of contexts can we allow ourselves to question and reformulate existent boundaries of social identities, representation, construction, and cultural knowledge. In particular, she situates and tracks how "Asian American women" have been accorded a distinct social identity for the past three decades; yet meanings imparted to "Asian," "American," and "women" have themselves changed with time. Kang argues persuasively that Asian/American women are often viewed at disparate ends of a variety of continua: they are both forcibly excluded [End Page 194] aliens yet highly sought after American citizens; and they are bodies to be desired yet desiring bodies. She critiques some of the very stories that supposedly depict Asian/American women, inviting a more nuanced viewing and thoughtful observation as to the historic and sociopolitical context that undergirds these narratives.
The first chapter focuses on The Woman Warrior and how this familiar text by Maxine Hong Kingston is so often viewed as an autobiographical document, despite Kingston's clear claims to the contrary. Kingston is often viewed as a spokesperson for not only her Chinese American ethnic community, but for Asian American women as well. Kang details how the traditional categorization of this novel as an autobiography is representative of the controversy within Asian American literature. Critics of Kingston have stated that books such as hers have been written for consumption and approval by White audiences and as such, distorted the truth about the Asian American experience. Kingston supporters, however, point out the "thoroughly gendered, heterosexual, and often sexist assumptions that undergird these charges" (54). Kang attempts to reframe the debate and discussion over The Woman Warrior as "symptomatic of the problem of delineating what counts as 'Asian American literature, how 'Asian American literature' always fails to stand for 'Asian Americans'" (67). She then describes an account of that novel within a transnational frame.
The second chapter details how the bodies of Asian women are visualized and cinematically represented. She discusses how perhaps the most common rendering of Asian women lies not within any particular linguistic, geographical, or personality characteristic; rather, it is their positioning within an interracial relationship with a white man that is the overriding similarity. Kang goes on to examine a variety of films that depict this dyadic interaction, including Come See the Paradise, Thousand Pieces of Gold, and The Year of the Dragon. Kang insightfully points out that although each of these films appear to center themselves around the story of Asian/American women, all really are stories about the White male protagonist. Kang states, "Consequently, I have had to rethink my own earlier reading of these three films as not about the prominently figured Asian/American woman but rather as symptomatic of an anxiety around white American masculinity in the 1980s and 1990s" (93). She delineates a persuasive argument that shows how all three White men achieve their "American" manhood within interracial romantic contexts. The chapter concludes with Kang calling for the need of "interdisciplinary attentiveness to history, international politics, economic globalization, technological innovations...