- Tricksters and Cosmopolitans: Cross-Cultural Collaborations in Asian American Literary Production by Rei Magosaki
That Asian American literature forms a vital part of the American literary scene is no longer a question. Asian American literature is found on various bestseller lists, winning prestigious literary awards such as the PEN and Pulitzer, and is included in college course offerings and among book club choices and recommendations. However, this recognition was not won overnight, as Rei Magosaki’s nuanced and well-researched monograph reminds us. Tricksters [End Page 159] and Cosmopolitans studies cross-cultural collaborations between Asian American writers and non-Asian American editors and publishers from the early to contemporary period of Asian American writing. It captures the complexity involved in negotiating various viewpoints, agendas, and traditions between writers, editors, and publishers, demonstrating how Asian American literature was brought to life not through a singular vision but rather by collective efforts.
Magosaki uses cross-cultural collaboration as a framework to analyze the diverse and eclectic factors that contributed to the production of Asian American literature. She threads cultural movements and social conditions that are not commonly considered together. For example, she illuminates the impact of multinational conglomerates on a small independent publishing house’s aesthetic commitment, as well as on the innovation of a popular genre like chick-lit. Moments of allegiances across racial lines also reveal that the editors promoted certain texts for multiple reasons, ranging from their political commitment and the text’s aesthetic innovation to commercial calculations. Nonetheless, they invariably necessitated new ways of understanding and engaging given boundaries––“a process of creative collaboration” (2).
While this book scrupulously explores the sociocultural, political, and economic backgrounds of literary production, it does not lose sight of the texts themselves. The central concern of Tricksters and Cosmopolitans is tracing the Asian cosmopolitan subject that emerges in and through Asian American narrative fiction, for this figure provides a “new critical standpoint from a transnational perspective” (1). To this end, each chapter is further divided into two parts. The first part assembles the conditions undergirding the process of publication. Magosaki examines the material conditions that shaped a particular imagination of the Asian cosmopolitan subject to emerge in literature. This section shines with meticulous research involving less-visited materials including a publishing company’s mission statement, letters with editorial suggestions, writers’ revisions with responses, and interviews with the writers and editors. The second part builds on this context to produce situated and incisive textual readings. Magosaki analyzes various types of Asian cosmopolitan subjects and the writers’ literary tactics in portraying those subjects, which also offers a lens into how the Asian American literary scene shifts under pervasive capitalism. The particular strength of this book lies in its concrete grasp of the dynamic “relationship between aesthetics, social critique, and historical condition” (13), garnered by studying both the texts and their broader context.
The key terms “tricksters” and “cosmopolitans” illustrate Magosaki’s attention to the nexus of aesthetics and social conditions. The term “trickster,” adapted from Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s Signifying Monkey, positions writers as users and producers of culture who challenge norms through their aesthetic engagement. The term “cosmopolitan” captures various cosmopolitan figures [End Page 160] imagined in Asian American literature as well as writers, editors, and publishers whose interactions reveal transformations in America’s national imaginary and cultural landscape.
Tricksters and Cosmopolitans focuses on three crucial moments in the history of Asian American literature with one chapter devoted to each. The first chapter locates the emerging moment of “a particular form of cosmopolitanism” that brought “a major shift in the national imaginary” (17) by exploring Charles Chesnutt and Sui Sin Far who are commonly considered the first writers of African American literature and Asian American literature, respectively. Magosaki establishes both writers’ tricksterism in their presentation of identity and narrative strategy, which allowed them to collaborate with editors and have their voice reach the largely white American reader in the historical context of Jim Crow and the Chinese...