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.

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

  1. I think your annotation effectively elucidates the central concerns and arguments of Kandice’s article. To supplement your discussion of Yamashita’s character constructions, I included some of my own personal observations below:

    Chuh notes how Yamashita structures Brazil-Maru into sections narrated by various characters, whose positionality shifts from main protagonist to side character. She asserts that this form demonstrates how Yamashita is not necessarily concerned with bildungsroman-esque character constructions but rather the relations between these people. Chuh writes: “The emphasis on relationality as leading to a sense of the incompleteness of narrative—there is always another story waiting to be told—refuses and refutes claims to definitive, discrete knowledge” (629). This analysis of Brazil-Maru is also especially applicable to Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange, which is similarly structured. I argue that Yamashita constructs narratives that deliberately thwart the reader’s ability to form a stable, fixed conception of any character, thereby subverting hegemonic Enlightenment beliefs that the world is essentially knowable and amenable to classification.

    Chuh ultimately concludes her essay noting how Yamashita “takes delight in finding commonalities, in associating familiarity to new places, but her work—in exemplary literary fashion—also relishes the estrangement of familiar grounds” (635). She emphasizes that Yamashita’s novels shatter reader’s preconceptions of the Americas, by calling attention to new and fantastical elements that emerge as one considers how these sites interact and relate with each other.

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