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)

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Annotation: Aihwa Ong’s Flexible Citizenship (1999)

Peer-Review: 0

This annotation was written in reference to my paper “Re-imagining Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker through the National Politics of Global Capitalism.” See my abstract here.

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

In the “Introduction” of her book, Ong demonstrates a broad concern with the notion of transnationality, defining it as “the condition of cultural interconnectedness and mobility across space—which has been intensified under late capitalism” (4). She strongly questions the assertions of some contemporary scholars that globalization has precipitated the erasure of national borders and the consequent emergence of liberating cosmopolitan identities. Ong argues that states are effectively policing their national borders and identities by developing systems of governmentality to regulate transnational flows of culture, capital and peoples. She relies on Foucault’s definition of governmentality as referring to “techniques and codes for directing human behavior” (6). Ong ultimately presents a complex theoretical framework that attempts to analyze cultural productions within the context of global capitalism (Marx) and governmentality (Foucault).

She accentuates the necessity to examine how changing factors of our current global political economy has led to the creation of mobile and nonmobile subjects—those who are able to maneuver and profit from the system and those who become localized to a particular place because they lack the economic means to respond to the flows of global capital. There are also of course “mobile” subjects who are forced to engage in compulsory labor migrations. I assert that these “mobile” subjects can be compelled by other means as well, for example, the internalized need to fulfill certain social expectations and national narratives such as the function of the model minority stereotype in Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker. But Ong does ultimately express a hint of optimism towards the notion of flexibility. She asserts that while states have developed flexible means of regulating transnational flows, individuals have also developed a kind of “flexible citizenship” that can be liberating, finding markets and homes in multiple locales.