- Ends of Empire: Asian American Critique and the Cold War
The inaugural Critical Ethnic Studies Conference, of which Jodi Kim was a core organizer, was held in 2011 at the University of California, Riverside. However, the field of critical ethnic studies perhaps first made itself known by turning conference formalities into organizing opportunities in room 212A of the American Studies Association’s 2010 meeting in San Antonio. Featuring sessions moderated by scholars, including Kim, who later founded the Critical Ethnic Studies Association, this room became a space of engaged discussion that recognized the neoliberal university as part of the racist state and the depoliticization of ethnic studies as one of its technologies. We can see Kim’s commitment to the field in Ends of Empire: Asian American Critique and the Cold War, in which the biopolitics of race are nothing short of the systemic devaluation of life. Theorizing the intimate links between American Orientalism and U.S. racial hierarchies, Kim connects the American triangulation of the Cold War in Asia to the gendered nature of Asian American racialization.
Ends of Empire makes three key interventions. First, Ends of Empire examines the Cold War as a crisis in global capitalism that transferred dominance from Europe to the United States while changing its processes from territorial colonialism to neoimperialism; the Cold War made possible U.S. global hegemony. Second, Kim traces the origins of the Manichaean logics of “good” and “evil” that justify without explaining warfare to the Cold War. These two interventions guide Chapter 1, in which she analyzes the narrative poetics of key Cold War documents from George F. Keenan and the National Security Council. Kim uses literary methods to engage the gendered, racialized, and sexualized discursive tropes and emotive valences of American exceptionalism as it was deployed in these documents against the projected threat of a communist Asia.
Ends of Empire’s third intervention constructs the “Asian American” subject “as postimperial exile or ‘refugee’ who simultaneously is a product of, bears witness to, and critiques imperialist and gendered racial violence” (6). As such, Ends of Empire reframes Asian American subjectivity by connecting racialization and national citizenship to global imperialism. Kim refuses the “push” and “pull” metaphors of migration theory to locate Asian America’s emergence in the “expulsion (out of Asia)” (20, emphasis original) caused by the state violence of the Cold War. Asian American cultural productions do not document “realness” for Kim. Instead, these texts both participate in and unravel dominant discourses in what she names an “unsettling hermeneutic.” Reading is thus central to Asian American critique. [End Page 357]
Kim’s methodology elegantly moves through these three driving interventions, as first demonstrated in her reading of David Henry Hwang’s play M. Butterfly (1988) in Chapter 2. Kim reads The Manchurian Candidate (1962) alongside the interconnected works of the “Butterfly genre”—the iconic tragedy of the white man/Asian woman romance—to address U.S. imperialism in China. This backdrop sets up Kim’s reading of the racial fantasies and sexual desires of M. Butterfly beyond liberal humanist stereotype critique; she instead approaches them as expressions of U.S. preoccupations with Asian political power and markets in the wake of Mao’s 1949 communist victory.
The three remaining chapters proceed from World War II, connecting the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to Japanese American internment and the U.S. occupation of Japan; to the Korean War, relating the “forgetting” of the war to Korean migration, war brides, and transnational adoption; to the Vietnam War, linking tropes of womanhood to U.S. discourses of “defeat,” “healing,” and “rescue” and the act of representation itself. In each chapter, Kim reconstructs episodes of U.S. Cold War imperialism to unsettle their logics by reading three Asian American cultural productions that thematize and critique Cold War violence. Her Asian American texts span an impressive range, including documentaries like Steven Okazaki’s Survivors (1982); literary fictions like Susan Choi’s novel The Foreign Student (1999...