Abstract: Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker (1995)

This abstract is for my paper titled, “Re-imagining Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker through the National Politics of Global Capitalism.”

In Native Speaker, Chang-rae Lee offers a nuanced vision of how globalization affects the relationship between minorities and the nation-state. The novel’s protagonist, Henry Park, is a Korean American spy. Challenging the conventional portrayal of spies as patriotic figures, Lee presents Henry as an employee of the transnational corporation, Glimmer and Company. The firm provides “native informants” for hire and operates purely in the service of global capital. Lee seems to present Glimmer and Company as a potentially subversive space where minorities can retaliate against state-sanctioned forms of racial oppression by severing national ties and forming fiscal relations with a transnational economy. Through this capitalist system minorities can also market their racialized physiognomy and cultural knowledge for money. But Lee questions whether this self-exploitation for profit can constitute as true progress. In Native Speaker Henry must commodify his race and culture because his espionage work requires him to infiltrate ethnic communities and conduct a “minority watch,” observing and compiling information about specified targets. Lee reveals how this self-commodification perpetuates oppressive stereotypes. He also critiques the apparent fluidity of global capitalism by demonstrating how money still flows down predictable channels. Henry and other spies are generally hired by wealthy, white individuals to obstruct minority agitators who are struggling to overturn the oppressive status quo. Lee finally reveals that globalization does not offer minorities complete emancipation from a single nation-state because capital must moves through political systems. In the novel the US government is a client of Glimmer and Company, relying on the corporation to police its national identity and manage populations. Lee therefore accentuates that minorities must continue striving for political protection of rights rather than complacently participating in a global economy where race has merely achieved superficial currency.

Works Consulted

Buell, Frederick. “Nationalist Postnationalism: Globalist Discourse in Contemporary American Culture.” American Quarterly 50.3 (1998): 548-591. Print. (Annotation)

Butler, Judith. “Violence, Mourning, Politics.” Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence. New York: Verso, 2004. 19-49. Print.

Comaroff, Jean and John Comaroff. “Alien-Nation: Zombies, Immigrants, and Millenial Capitalism.” The South Atlantic Quarterly 104.4 (2002): 779-805. Print. (Annotation)

Chen, Tina Y. “Recasting the Spy, Rewriting the Story: The Politics of Genre in Native Speaker by Chang-rae Lee.” Form and Transformation in Asian American Literature. (2005): 249-267. Print.

Corley, Liam. “‘Just Another Ethnic Pol’: Literary Citizenship in Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker.” Studies in the Literary Imagination 37.1 (2004): 61-81. Print.

Gilroy, Paul. Against Race: Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Color Line. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2000. Print.

Huang, Betsy. “Citizen Kwang: Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker and the Politics of Consent.” Journal of Asian American Studies 9.3 (2006): 243-269. Print.

Kim, Jodi. “From Mee-gook to Gook: The Cold War and Racialized Undocumented Capital in Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker.” MELUS 34.1 (2009): 117-137. Print. (Annotation)

Lee, Chang-rae. Native Speaker. New York: Penguin Group, 1995. Print.

Lee, James Kyung-Jin. “Where the Talented Tenth Meets the Model Minority: The Price of Privilege in Wideman’s Philadelphia Fire and Lee’s Native Speaker.” Novel: A Forum on Fiction. 35.2 (2002): 231-257. Print.

Lowe, Lisa. Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics. Durham: Duke University Press, 1996. Print.

Ludwig, Sami. “Ethnicity as Cognitive Identity: Private and Public Negotiations in Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker.” Journal of Asian American Studies. 10.3 (2007): 221-242. Print.

Narkunas, J. Paul. “Surfing the Long Waves of Global Capital With Chang Rae-Lee’s Native Speaker: Ethnic Branding and the Humanizing of Capital.” MFS Modern Fiction Studies. 54.2 (2008): 327-352. Print.

Nguyen, Viet Thanh. “Introduction: A Crisis of Representation.” Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America. New York: Oxford UP, 2002. 3-31. Print.

Ong, Aihwa. “Introduction.” Flexible Citizenship: The Cultural Logics of Transnationality. Durham: Duke UP, 1999. 1-26. Print. (Annotation)

Song, Min Hyoung. “A Diasporic Future? Native Speaker and Historical Trauma.” LIT: Literature Interpretation Theory 12 (2001): 79-98. Print.

Wang, Ban. “Reimagining Political Community: Diaspora, Nation-State, and the Struggle for Recognition.” Modern Drama 48.2 (2005): 249-271. Print. (Annotation)

Weinbaum, Alys Eve. “Racial Aura: Walter Benjamin and the Work of Art in a Biotechnological Age.” Literature and Medicine. 26.1 (2008): 207-239. Print. (Annotation)

Annotation: Mollay Wallace’s “Tropics of Globalization” (2001)

Peer-Review: 1

This annotation is for a paper I am currently writing for my ENGL 391W course at Queens College on Science Fiction. I will be conducting an analysis of the science fictional and magical realist elements in Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange and the novel’s implications on contemporary discourses about globalization. See my prospectus here.

Wallace, Molly. “Tropics of Globalization: Reading the New North America.” Symploke 9.1 (2001): 145-160. Print.

In this article Wallace demonstrates how “the tracking of metaphor” in Tropic of Orange can be used as a tool for “political intervention in discourses on globalization produced in the United States” (146). Rather than simply showing how the novel critiques NAFTA and global capitalism, her analysis of metaphor attempts to drive at and decode the politics of contemporary discussions surrounding these issues. While Wallace cites a number of scholars and their arguments on globalization, her paper is mainly in dialogue with the theory Arjun Appadurai proposes in his seminal work, Modernity at Large: The Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. She asserts that even though he offers a “new model of cultural globality,” Appadurai’s emphasis on “imagined worlds” as the means by which people can “think… beyond the nation” and thus resist socio-politico hegemony, simultaneously ignores the pressing material inequalities globalization fosters (149). His model therefore allows metaphor to subvert socio-economic realities. In contrast, Wallace demonstrates how “the metaphorical drags the material with it” in Tropic of Orange, through aesthetic moves such as the materialization of imaginary borders and the personification of NAFTA as the character SUPERNAFTA (153). She suggests that these literalizations of metaphor ultimately allow for a more nuanced analysis of globalization’s impact on migration, labor, and the international political economy. But while Wallace presents a compelling analysis of Yamashita’s novel, I want to extend her argument beyond its connections to metaphor, to examine how Tropic of Orange occupies a space where metaphor diverges from its figurative connotations and assumes an actual, material presence that confronts us with the very real transformations occurring within our natural world, our communities, and in our interactions with each other and our own bodies.

Annotation: Joseph Fichtelberg’s “Lovers and Citizens” (2003)

Peer-Review: 0

This is an annotation for a paper I am currently writing on Martha Meredith Read’s Margaretta. See my prospectus here.

Joseph, Fichtelberg. “Lovers and Citizens.” Critical Fictions: Sentiment and the American Market 1780-1870 AthensUniversity of Georgia Press, 2003: 72-116. Print.

In this essay Fichtelberg analyzes how the “language of sentiment” used to “imagine a virtuous [republican] polity” in America came under pressure when forced to account for the severe economic crises of the early nineteenth century (73). To clarify his conception of sentimental discourse, he builds on the distinction Adam Smith draws between humanity, “primitive” or “naked sentiment,” and sympathy, the capacity to “moderate feeling” in a way that would “secure social concord” (74). Relying on these definitions, Fichtelberg argues that while the language of sympathy dominated official attempts to establish unity in the new nation, “humanity” and its recourse to pure feeling continually resurface in conversations about America’s role in the chaotic and unpredictable global market. For instance, he shows how merchants faced with failed ventures abroad increasingly figured themselves as “sentimental victim[s] of seduction… caught up in an erratic and feminizing system of international trade” (79). But in contrast to these representations of victimized, effeminate men, Fichtelberg asserts that the popular fictions of the time propose an alternative vision for coping with economic anxieties. These narratives portray “resolute and circulating women who rose above seduction to conquer market problems” (76). In this context, his analysis of Margaretta is especially relevant to my paper. He claims that the eponymous heroine’s struggle to protect her virtue from predatory men can be paralleled to the threat of “international predation” on “republican virtue” (90). But in addition to presenting Margaretta as a victim and commodity within the market, Fichtelberg also stresses her power to react and rebel against her oppressors through speech. By demonstrating how she effectively defends her chastity and liberty, he argues that Margaretta’s narrative provides a model for reclaiming republican virtue against the vicissitudes of the colonial economy. Fichtelberg therefore presents a provocative argument, one that ties together the novel’s themes of seduction with the pressing material and economic concerns of the new nation. Yet, what I find problematic is the way he couches Margaretta’s ending in failure, suggesting that the heroine’s removal into a “restricted sphere, shielded from both passion and interest,” figures as an escape from international market tensions (92). Although this may be true, Fichtelberg underestimates Margaretta’s role in not only defending republican values, but also consciously re-constructing America as a closed national space.

Annotation: Eithne Luibhéid’s “Sexuality, Migration, and the Shifting Line between Legal and Illegal Status” (2008)

Peer-Review: 0

This annotation was written in reference to my paper “Monique Truong’s The Book of Salt: Unsanctioned (Hi)stories of Love Caught in the Circuits of Global Capitalism.” See my abstract here.

Luibhéid, Eithne. “Sexuality, Migration, and the Shifting Line between Legal and Illegal Status.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 14.2-3 (2008): 289-315. Print.

In her article Luibheid argues that the classification of immigrants as “legal” or “illegal” is not an actual measurement of criminality of character but rather status designations that are inflicted upon migrant populations because of specific historical processes and shifting power dynamics regarding race, gender, sexuality, and class. She particularly explores how US immigration law privileges individuals with specific family ties to US residents. In this system legal status can be achieved through heterosexual marriage, but queer individuals are held at a distinct disadvantage because their love relationships are not politically recognized and they must struggle to obtain legality through other means. This article is important for my own consideration of Binh’s character in The Book of Salt. As an illegal immigrant, he occupies an unsanctioned place within the global political economy, an illegality that seems to be reflected through the illicit nature of his love affairs.

Annotation: Kandice Chuh’s “Of Hemispheres and Other Spheres” (2006)

Peer-Review: 1

This annotation is for a paper I am currently writing for my ENGL 391W course at Queens College on Science Fiction. I will be conducting an analysis of the science fictional and magical realist elements in Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange and the novel’s implications on contemporary discourses about globalization. See my prospectus here.

Chuh, Kandice. “Of Hemispheres and Other Spheres: Navigating Karen Tei Yamashita’s Literary World.” American Literary History 18.3 (2006): 618-637. Print.

Chuh’s article responds to the compulsion in Asian American literary studies to examine “occluded east-west connections” at the expense of neglecting ties between north and south (618). In order to address this significant gap in critical scholarship, she demonstrates the importance of engaging in hemispheric studies as a means to “look within and among but also beyond the Americas… to challenge the discursive centrality of the US” (619). By exploring this north-south dynamic, in relation to discourses about east and west, it becomes possible for us to reexamine and reconfigure our conception of America as a closed national space and instead examine the “Americas” from a broader, more nuanced perspective of its relationship to other communities and peoples. Chuh claims that Yamashita’s fiction provides the ideal model for considering the “impact of hemispheric approaches on Asian American literary discourse and the impact of Asian American literatures on hemispheric studies” because it does not conform to neat spatial or ideological categories (621). For instance, the “centrality of Brazil” to most of Yamashita’s work rejects normative conceptions of the national spaces often associated with Asian American fiction (620). In the article, Chuh analyzes in particular Yamashita’s Brazil-Maru and Circle K Cycles, which involve significantly different characters, histories, and geographies, from those that I will explore in Tropic of Orange, but many of the arguments she makes about the formation of global communities and identities remain relevant to my project. For instance, drawing upon Alex Woloch’s study, her identification of Yamashita’s characters as “character-spaces,” in which “individual importance and motivation” are relegated to the background “in favor of assessing how their dynamic interrelations… constitute the narrative,” provides an interesting means to interpret the “Hypercontexts” grid that opens Tropic of Orange as well as the novel’s complex interweaving of narrative voices (626). Finally, I would also like to extend Chuh’s consideration of the intersection between Asian American literature and hemispheric studies towards a more comprehensive analysis of how Tropic of Orange’s particular hemispheric and global perspective collapses boundaries between distinct genres and in doing so, intervenes in current discourses on globalization.