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  • Piling Up, or Floating Away
  • Vivian L. Huang (bio)
The Feeling of Kinship: Queer Liberalism and the Racialization of Intimacy by David L. Eng. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010. Pp. 198. $84.95 cloth, $23.95 paper.

David L. Eng's latest book project urges readers to ask what it means to be accounted for. In the company of Eng's previous publications, including Racial Castration: Managing Masculinity in Asian America (2001) and the anthology Loss: The Politics of Mourning (2003), the latter co-edited with David Kazanjian, The Feeling of Kinship curates a space in which the shared and perhaps disavowed investments of disciplines such as Asian American studies, psychoanalysis, diaspora studies, and queer theory meet in provocative tension. For Eng, psychic, historical, and political arrangements condition the affective terms of belonging. And so it is that The Feeling of Kinship lingers on the effects of a repressed national psyche with renewed concern for affective responsibility.

Eng's book critiques the costly legacies of historical amnesia operative in the United States. The Feeling of Kinship engages with the remaining uses of the nation by reinvesting in the transnational foundations and buttresses of the United States as we know it. Moreover, what Eng argues so astutely is that how we know history informs notions of self and nation. Eng reads queer migrant labor, transnational adoption, Japanese and Japanese American internment, and sexual regulation to demonstrate how reiterated acts of forgetting cannot fully negate or account for psyches resplendent with intensities of [End Page 317] feeling. Eng argues that membership too often requires forgetting and disavowal, resulting in the affective and psychic haunting of the nation. Throughout The Feeling of Kinship, Eng demonstrates how holding on to one's losses is critical to an ethical historiography. In these terms, Eng's is an investigation into which and whose histories count, and which are neglected, lost by being made lost. Eng's prose, both sharp and patient, grounds his analysis in the political salience of everyday life. An early anecdote of students "coming out" to Eng as adoptees, for example, grounds Eng's pedagogical need to account for transnational adoption.

Eng theorizes the national haunting of race and racism as endemic to the racialization of intimacy, a phrase he uses to describe the purchase of bourgeois intimacy and privacy under the rubric of multiculturalism and color blindness. In the spirit of scholars like José Esteban Muñoz and Jasbir K. Puar, Eng casts suspicion on the "disappearing act of race" alongside the assimilation of gays and lesbians (11). Eng remarks upon the desirable enfolding of lesbian and gay individuals into a dominant United States and terms this phenomenon queer liberalism. Queer liberalism reinforces the neoliberal mythos that queer politics is the next leg of the freedom relay race, with sexual minorities picking up where racial minorities leave off. For Eng, to subscribe to such a telos is to risk denying the continued currency of race and racism in the American political arena, not to mention the historical entanglements between race and sexuality in the United States throughout time. Eng argues that, under queer liberalism, race and racism appear only as always already disappearing. This "spectrality of race" in public discourse renders race and racism as obsolete concerns uncomplicatedly retired to the "dustbin of history" (11, 40). Instead, race and racism are everywhere felt but no longer publicly grappled with. Eng proposes queer diaspora as a critical methodology and reading practice that challenges queer liberalism and the racialization of intimacy by shifting the frames of "race" (14). As Eng writes, the doing of queer diaspora allows an exploration of "contemporary Asian movements and migrations in the global system not through a conventional focus on racial descent, filiation, and biological traceability, but through the lens of queerness, affiliation, and social contingency" (13).

And so it is that Eng calls for a post-structuralist account of kinship, one that indexes affinities coagulated by racialized feelings that problematize an Oedipal model. The racialization of intimacy, and the question of accountability, are edified by the book's epigraph from William Wordsworth's poem "We Are Seven," in which the speaker [End Page 318] persistently asks for...


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pp. 317-322
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