Annotation: Sue-Im Lee’s “We are Not the World” (2007)

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.

Lee, Sue-Im. “‘We are Not the World’: Global Village, Universalism, and Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange.” MFS: Modern Fiction Studies 52.3 (Fall 2007): 501-527. Print.

In this article Lee demonstrates how Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange challenges the “collective, singular subject position that stands as the ‘we’ in the ‘We are the world” slogan (502). Rather than creating the equal, interconnected community promised through its associations with the “global village,” she argues that this universal “we” obscures the stratified nature of global politics. First World nations in fact use this “singular subject position” to impose their values and interests on to Third World countries, acting as the “few who presume to speak for all,” thus neglecting the persisting inequalities that exist in our age of globalization and transnational migrations (503). In addition to critiquing universalism, Lee reveals that Tropic of Orange simultaneously calls for the development of a new “collective subject positioning,” a re-imagining of the global village that emphasizes voluntary and reciprocal participation (502). Only by encouraging mutual involvement in the global community, she asserts, can we retrieve the critical potential of universalism and make progress in our demands for human rights and improved interethnic and intercontinental relations. Towards the end of her article, Lee explains how “the fantastic genre” contributes to this revitalized vision of the global village, but the brevity of her discussion fails to communicate the complexity of the novel’s narrative structure (521). Therefore, in my paper I hope to extend Lee’s arguments by exploring how Yamashita’s interweaving of science fictional and magical realist elements in the text influences our perception of this global community as well as its participants.

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One thought on “Annotation: Sue-Im Lee’s “We are Not the World” (2007)

  1. I think that your annotation is very succinct and successful in elucidating the main points of Lee’s article. To supplement your analysis, I offer a few more specific observations and examples below:

    In her discussion of how Yamashita’s novel offers a critique of First World discourses of universalism Lee describes a scene in the novel where a white woman presumes that Los Angeles is “global village” based on her ability to consume ethnic foods from all over the world. Lee emphasizes that this woman’s view stems from her own privileged position that unwittingly divorces the transnational flow goods and peoples from the socioeconomic implications of globalization. She asserts: “First world ‘villagers,’ oblivious to their own role in the relations of power, project the consensual participation of other fellow villages, those of different cultures” (507).

    Lee also notes how Yamashita’s novel depicts the massive export and imposition of American goods onto Third World countries. She describes, for example, one scene where a Mexican tavern is more popular for serving mass-produced American foods than traditional Mexican cuisine. Despite the demand for “hamburgers, Fritos, and captsup” Lee emphasizes the need to interrogate the notion of “consensual participation” in the new globalized world order as the South merely “become[s] another marketplace for the North’s goods” (510, 512).

    In her discussion of universalism, Lee reveals that whether employed by members of the First World or even by those who articulate “claims of specific marginalized groups, such as of Third World labor of the homeless,” all articulations of universalism “are incomplete inasmuch as they are claims of the particular” (517). But Lee argues that Yamashita offers a new model for global connectivity that overcomes that incompleteness, which she terms “romantic universalism” (505). She emphasizes that Manzanar, who conducts the great urban orchestra from his position atop a Los Angeles freeway, “postulates a ‘we’ that is absolutely inclusive because there is no criterion for inclusion” (517). He ultimately bypasses the particular to promote a productive universalism because “participation…is entirely voluntary and reciprocal” (517). Although Manzanar’s performance is overlooked at the beginning of the novel, he eventually opens other peoples’ ears to the beautiful urban music, inspiring them to conduct with him.

    In her final discussion of Buzzworm, Lee cites his confusion about whether “everyone gets plugged into a myth and builds a reality around it. Or was it the other way around?” (519). While Lee acknowledges the romantic and rather unrealistic nature of the universalism Yamashita posits in Tropic of Orange, she suggests that perhaps if people plug into this myth, a reality can eventually be formed around it. She notes how Yamashita employs fantastical images and events in her novel to accentuate the romantic and indeed fantastical nature of universalism, while also leaving readers to contemplate about the “political utility of a universalism that is all inclusive” (520).

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