- Rethinking East and West:Asian American Literature and Cold War Culture
While earlier influential literary critical studies of how American culture took shape during the cold war have tended to focus on the U.S.-Soviet conflict, the past decade has seen the emergence of works that have looked toward a different version of the East-West conflict by bringing into focus how America's Asia came to be constructed in this period. Whereas studies like Donald Pease's Visionary Compacts and Alan Nadel's Containment Culture persuasively demonstrated how thoroughly the literature and film of the post-1945 period were structured by the cultural logic of containment, chapters of Robert G. Lee's Orientals and Colleen Lye's America's Asia, as well as Christina Klein's book-length study, Cold War Orientalism, have provided an important corrective to the near exclusive attention given by these earlier critics to the U.S.-Soviet conflict. Klein's work, moreover, offers a valuable supplement to the paradigm of containment by foregrounding how pervasively the culture and foreign policy of the cold war years was determined by the logic of integration. 1 To this group of influential studies, which constitute a kind of "must-read" [End Page 379] list for the period, one must now add Jodi Kim's Ends of Empire: Asian American Critique and the Cold War, which throws into relief how U.S.-Soviet conflict was "triangulated in Asia" (8) and discloses how contemporary Asian American cultural texts provide a critical perspective on the imperial dimensions of U.S. cold war policies.
Kim's study diverges most from those mentioned above in the particular attention it gives to what she terms "the protracted afterlife of the Cold War" (4). While Kim, like these other critics, treats the cold war as "a structure of feeling" and "a knowledge project," she is as interested in its "persisting recursiveness," its capacity to function as "an epistemology . . . [that] exceeds and outlives its historical eventness," as she is in its formation in the immediate decades following the end of the Second World War (3). In focusing on the long tail, as it were, of the cultural logic of the cold war, she forgoes analyses of Asian American works that emerged during the first two decades of the period and examines instead filmic and literary texts that were, by and large, produced in the last two decades. Many of the figures she discusses Chang-rae Lee, Susan Choi, Heinz Insu Fenkl, David Henry Hwang, and Deann Borshay Liem—are, technically speaking, post-cold war writers or artists. She reads their works, however, for the critical purchase they offer in discerning and disentangling the various imperial ends that are an indelible component of the American cold war project. Kim quite accurately describes her book as "ow[ing] a great intellectual debt to [Lisa] Lowe's important paradigm-shaping work Immigrant Acts" (20). Like Lowe, Kim amplifies the critical tendencies she sees in the Asian American texts she examines, specifically their capacity to disclose "the contradictions and ambivalent entanglements of American empire and gendered racial formation as the context out of which the post-World War II Asian American subject emerges and constitutes itself as such" (7) and to provide "a genealogy of American empire, one that reframes the Manichaean [End Page 380] U.S.-Soviet Cold War rivalry and shows how it was . . . triangulated in Asia" (8).
What Ends of Empire makes quite palpable is the extent to which the cold war period and the era of decolonization constitute overlapping and intertwined historical formations. Kim's study therefore extends the paradigm-shifting tradition of cold war studies developed by Thomas Borstelmann, Mary L. Dudziak, Nikhil Pal Singh, and Penny M. Von Eschen and, more significantly, redirects it so that it might arrive at a greater reckoning with the significant role that Asian Americans have played in the world historical transformations of the past sixty years or so. 2 Kim's book conjoins a synthetic, comprehensive, and...