- Transpacific Imaginations: History, Literature, Counterpoetics
In his new book, Transpacific Imaginations, Yungte Huang reconsiders the Pacific as a critical space crucial to American literary imagination and investigates such imaginations temporally and spatially as coming from different sides of the Pacific as well as situated in different locations and moments of the U.S. Empire. Reading diverse discourses that range from Mark Twain's Hawaiian letters to Laing Qichao's travel writing to North America, from Herman Melville's Moby Dick to Angel Island Chinese detainees' wall poems, from the Japanese Internment Camp writing to Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's Dictee, Huang examines how the U.S. imperial vision and venture in the Pacific has been represented, negotiated, and resisted by different Anglo-American, East-Asian, and Asian-Americans authors. [End Page 274]
Making a departure from the tradition of Rob Wilson and Arif Dirlik, which theorizes the Pacific as a geopolitical production of the U.S. Empire, and from the work of David Palumbo-Liu, which explores the cultural encounter between the United States and East Asia in racial terms, Huang's book focuses exclusively on cultural discourses and offers both close reading and critical scrutiny of these texts in their specific historical and cultural contexts. Beginning with Melville's Moby Dick that is set in the Pacific, Huang suggests that the novelist not only documents the American imperial vision in its commercial expansion in the Pacific, but also questions such capitalist ventures by pursuing non-capitalist interests that would lead to the theoretical issues of "linguistics" and "counterpoetics" (88).
What distinguishes this work from any other scholarly pursuits in Transpacific Studies such as Colleen Lye's America's Asia is that Huang introduces one of the most well-known Chinese intellectuals of the late nineteenth century, Liang Qichao, into his critical discussion and reconsiders Liang's "Journey to the New Continent" as part of the Transpacific Imaginations. Such a gesture is particularly significant in that nineteenth-century Chinese intellectuals had vigorously responded to the American technological thrust into the Pacific and the Rooseveltian rationalization of the American imperial expansion in East and South East Asia. Huang explores how the Chinese intellectuals' sense of nationalism had been aroused by American expansionism and why Liang would call for a "revolution" in Chinese epistemology and a revamping of Chinese poetry and historiography.
What is most significant about Huang's work lies in the fact that he develops the section of "counterpoetics," which interweaves the poems carved on the barrack walls of Angel Island by the Chinese detainees, the Internment writing composed by a Japanese American poet, as well as a postmodern Korean American literary text remapping the complex Korean colonial history from the Japanese occupation to the American intervention. From their specific historical moments and cultural locations, these Asian American texts articulate their discontents, contradictions, and resistances toward the U.S. Empire.
Like his previous work, Transpacific Displacement, Huang's new book raises important questions and defines new directions in which Transpacific Studies should develop.