Archive for April, 2010

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.

Annotation: Stephen Hong Sohn’s “Alien/Asian” (2008)

Peer-Review: 0

This annotation was written in reference to my paper on Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, as yet, still untitled. See my prospectus here.

Sohn, Stephen Hong. “Alien/Asian: Imagining the Racialized Future.” Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States 33.4 (2008): 5-22. Print.

In this article Sohn discusses the historical conception of Asian Americans as “aliens” in the United States and the literary replication and perpetuation of these views where Asian Americans are presented as actual “aliens” (cyborgs, replicants, robots, etc) in many works of science fiction and other related genres. Sohn draws the phrase “Alien/Asian” from David Palumbo-Liu’s earlier formation of “Asian/American” which invokes the and/or construction that captures the troubling, unstable relationship between the two terms. Sohn similarly calls attention to disturbing cultural representations of the “Alien and Asian” as well as the “Alien or Asian,” which is just as problematic as the former because it singles out Asians and directly interrogates their extraterrestriality. The term “Alien” also usefully invokes notions of “Alienation” and “Alien-nation” (6). Sohn further provides a useful discussion of Saidian Orientalism and the techno-Orientalism David Morley and Kevin Robins later devised (7). Sohn notes that traditionally Japan was orientalized as a primitive and backward culture far interior to the West but as the country excelled technologically and economically it became necessary to re-orient Orientalism to maintain a sense of Euro-American supremacy. The Japanese and eventually other Asians began to be stereotyped and “cybertyped” (Lisa Nakamura) as the “yellow peril,” a threatening menace to the West and particularly the United State’s status as the preeminent world power. Reproduced in literature, Asians were presented as sneaky, devious and despite their technological prowess, devoid of humanity—a kind of robot, replicant or cyborg. “Orientals” were therefore recast as embodying a “retrograde humanism” that makes them far inferior to Westerners (8). Sohn essentially suggests that science fictional novels present cyberspace as a kind of “virtual frontier” where the West can re-create and re-colonize the “Orient.” His article offers important historical background about the development of techno-orientalism which will deeply inform my reading of the techno-orientalism presented in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. I, however, intend to examine not only problematically racist depictions of Asian Americans in the novel but also how stereotypical delineations of cyberspace as a predominantly and even exclusively “white” and “yellow” space perpetuates the troubling erasure of other races and complex hybrid racial identities.

Abstract: Gish Jen’s The Love Wife (2005)

This is the abstract for a paper I recently presented at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research in Missoula, Montana.

Reemerging Histories: Destabilizing Normative Models of Kinship, Identity and Nationality in Gish Jen’s The Love Wife

Family and identity are consistently linked to a conception of nationality—one that emphasizes the importance of cultural and biological ties as rooted in particular locales. However, as globalization facilitates the blurring of bodies and boundaries, the resulting changes suggest a need to re-conceptualize figurations of kinship and the self. This paper examines how Jen’s The Love Wife (2005) destabilizes normative constructions of family, identity and nationality, ushering in new modes for negotiating operant transnational dimensions. Her portrayal of Blondie and Carnegie’s family exemplifies American diversity through the interracial marriage of a Caucasian female and Chinese-American male, a union further complicated by the couple’s adopted and biological children. But rather than painting an idealized portrait of the “new” American family, Jen presents readers with a model of multiculturalism in crisis, illustrating how repressed histories contest current kinship practices. I argue that these reemerging histories create a rupture in the family that transforms it from a private to transnational space, opening a discourse between cultures that allows for a reexamination of kinship and identity across national boundaries. Therefore, as Jen exposes the flaws in this “multicultural” family, rending it apart and reconstructing it in a globalized context, she not only alters our understanding of kinship and identity, but also re-imagines America. By perceiving family and nation from a transnational framework, where complex histories intersect and overlap, where racial and ethnic differences are acknowledged rather than repressed, it becomes possible to create new models for self and national identification. Ultimately, through my analysis of The Love Wife, I will demonstrate how Jen transforms our understanding of “ethnic” narratives as merely localized texts, compelling them to be recognized as part of an American literature that is, at its heart, fundamentally global.

Works Consulted:

Chen, Shu-ching. “Disjuncture at Home: Mapping the Domestic Cartographies of Transnationalism in Gish Jen’s The Love Wife.” Tamkang Review. 37.2 (Winter 2006): 1-32. Print.

Chuh, Kandice. “Introduction: On Asian American Culture.” Imagine Otherwise: On Asian American Critique. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003. 1-29. Print.

_____. “Nikkei Internment: Determined Identities/ Undecidable Meanings.” Imagine Otherwise: On Asian American Critique. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003. 58-84. Print.

Geyh, Paula E. “Assembling Postmodernism: Experience, Meaning and the Space In-Between.” College Literature. 30.2 (2003): 1-29. Print.

Grice, Helena. “Transracial Adoption Narratives: Prospects and Perspectives.” Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism. 5.2 (2005): 124-148. Print. (Annotation)

Jameson, Fredric. “Foreward.” The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984. vii-xxi. Print.

Lowe, Lisa. “Decolonization, Displacement, Disidentification: Writing and the Question of History.” Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics. Durham: Duke University Press, 1996. 97-127. Print.

_____. “Heterogeneity, Hybridity, Multiplicity: Asian American Differences.” Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1996. 60-83. Print. (Annotation)

_____. “Imagining Los Angeles in the Production of Multiculturalism.” Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics. Durham: Duke University Press, 1996. 84-96. Print.

_____. “Immigration, Citizenship, Racialization: Asian American Critique.” Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics. Durham: Duke University Press, 1996. 1-36. Print.

Lyotard, Jean-Francois. “Answering the Question: What is Postmodernism?” The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Trans. Regis Durand. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984. 71-82. Print.

O’Brien, Susie and Imre Szeman. “Introduction: The Globalization of Fiction/ the Fiction of Globalization.” The South Atlantic Quarterly. 100.3 (Summer 2001): 2002. Print.

Palumbo-Liu, David. “Multiculturalism Now: Civilization, National Identity and Difference Before and After September 11th.” Boundary 2. 29.2 (Summer 2002): 109-127. Print.

Partridge, Jeffrey F. L. “Adoption, Interracial Marriage, and Mixed-Race Babies: The New America in Recent Asian American Fiction.” MELUS. 30.2 (Summer 2005): 242-251. Print.

Perez-Torres, Rafael. “Knitting and Knotting the Narrative Thread—Beloved as Postmodern Novel.” Modern Fiction Studies. 39.3-4 (Fall/ Winter 1993): 689-707. Print.

_____. “Nomads and Migrants: Negotiating a Multicultural Postmodernism.” Cultural Critique. 26 (Winter 1993-1994): 161-189. Print.

Schiller, Nina Glick Eds. Towards a Transnational Perspective on Migration: Race Class, Ethnicity, and Nationalism Reconsidered. New York: New York Academy of Sciences, 1992. Print.