Annotation: David L. Eng’s “The End(s) of Race” (2008)

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.

Eng, David L. “The End(s) of Race.” PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 123 (2008): 1479-93. Print.

In this article David L. Eng asserts that Monique Truong’s The Book of Salt draws “insistent attention to who and what must be forgotten so that the high modernism exemplified by Stein and Toklas might come to be affirmed” (1481). He notes that in order for this iconic lesbian couple to be inscribed in history as “Modernist” and to uphold the historical coherence of this putatively progressive era, the histories of exploitation and oppression of other queer migrants must be systematically disavowed and “forgotten.” As a result, Binh’s love—the intolerance he faces and the ultimate failure of his queer romances—needs to be relegated to an unsanctioned time and space as a history that can only be told as fiction.

I argue, however, this should not be viewed as entirely negative because Truong’s novel reveals the power of fiction to recover unrecorded, repressed (hi)stories of love to fill in the gaps of official narratives. While Eng explores how The Book of Salt offers a critique of Euro-American archival accounts of history, I want to extend his argument by considering how the historical erasure and ultimate failure of Binh’s queer romances can be attributed to the mechanics of global capitalism.

Annotation: Sibylle Fischer’s Modernity Disavowed (2004)

This annotation was written in reference to my paper on Sansay’s Secret History, as yet, still untitled. See my prospectus here.

Fischer, Sibylle. “Introduction.” Modernity Disavowed: Haiti and the Cultures of Slavery in the Age of Revolution. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004. 1-38. Print.

In the “Introduction” to her book, Fischer interrogates the “silence” surrounding the Haitian Revolution as it was widely censored from official discourses, even from the presses of Cuba just a short distance away from Saint Domingue. She emphasizes the need to analyze these gaps within the historical archive, which requires an interdisciplinary approach and a transatlantic framework that “mirror[s] the hemispheric scope of the slave trade” because crucial information is lost through the fragmentation of academic specialization and attempts to force that information into nationalistic paradigms (2). Fischer accentuates that such an approach reveals that these silences were not absolute and news of Haiti did travel through merchants and traders in informal port systems (4). She also critiques how “Caribbean plantation and the political upheavals in the colonies rarely make it into the canonical histories of modernity and revolution” (7). Fisher emphasizes that above all sugar production in the Caribbean functioned as an emblematic machine of modern capitalist economy, where industrial agriculture was predicated on the exploitation of human labor through the transatlantic slave trade (12). She ultimately characterizes the Caribbean slave economy as a “modernity disavowed.” Fischer takes care to distinguish the concept of “disavowal” from popular discourses about trauma, which merely locates events in the realm of the unthinkable and unspeakable because “disavowal” “forces us to identify what is being disavowed, by whom, and for what reason” (38).

Fischer’s framework of “disavowal” will greatly inform my own reading of Secret History as I examine how Sansay offers a revision of the history of the Haitian Revolution, calling attention to the “disavowal” of female oppression. Fischer also notes the important role women played in abolitionism and how “the language of antislavery was taken up literally by the suffrage movement” (17). This historical connection between the fight for black and female rights is especially helpful in understanding Sansay’s text and how the juxtaposition of the domestic narrative with the political race narrative is not entirely jarring or unfounded. As Fischer suggests, racial and sexual oppression was deeply, almost inextricably intertwined within the institution of slavery, as masters maintained complete “personal domination” over their slaves (17).

Annotation: Tamaka K. Nopper’s “The 1992 Los Angeles Riots and the Asian American Abandonment Narrative as Political Fiction” (2007)

This annotation was written in reference to my paper: “The Productive, Political Power of Love in Nina Revoyr’s Southland.”

Nopper, Tamara K. “The 1992 Los Angeles Riots and the Asian American Abandonment Narrative as Political Fiction.” CR: The New Centennial Review 6.2 (2007): 73-110. Print.

In this essay Nopper asserts that the popular abandonment narrative, which presents Korean Americans as victims of state neglect during the 1992 LA riots is a political fiction manufactured to accentuate the particularity of this minority group’s experience. She emphasizes that this narrative is more emotionally charged rather than supported by historical fact and has been often employed by activists as evidence of how Asian Americans were abandoned because of their racialization as outsiders in the US nation-state, “unwittingly caught in the cross hairs of black-white antagonism” of which they bear no direct relation or responsibility (73). Nopper suggests that the abandonment narrative can potentially perpetuate a harmful evasion of how Asian Americans do in fact possess complex relations with whiteness and blackness. She further asserts that the popularity of a narrative focused on Korean American trauma and victimization as simply a continuation of the historical legacy of anti-Asian racism in the United States ignores important historical divergences, where the government response to the 1992 LA riots was much speedier and more efficient compared to the earlier 1965 Watts riots. Nopper further discusses how the abandonment narrative problematically obscures the state’s actual fixation with containing blacks and the violence and destruction they are often accused of and associated with. She essentially calls for a shift from the conventional Asian-centric perspective of the 1992 LA riots to one that focuses on the treatment of blacks. Nopper ultimately argues that Asian Americans and their personal property were collateral damage to vigorous state efforts to “control and contain black people” (93). While I appreciate Nopper’s attempt to recover and expose the “forgotten” history of anti-black racism during the 1992 LA riots, as she deconstructs one “grand narrative” she runs the risk of re-instituting another in its place.

She essentially suggests that rather than a misguided privileging of the Asian American experience we should privilege the treatment and experience of blacks. Rather than asserting which minority group bears greater historical relevance to the 1992 LA riots, I believe that it is more productive to examine how the histories of these two groups intersect and overlap as they are subjected to and struggle to resist oppression. Nina Revoyr’s 2002 novel Southland is particularly successful in this respect as if offers a nuanced, palimpsest account of history through three generations of the Ishida family as these people live through the Japanese internment during WWII, the 1965 Watts riots, the 1992 LA riots straight into the contemporary 21st century America. Revoyr depicts the story of Jackie Ishida, a Japanese American law student, who is initially disinterested in and disconnected from her family history, but eventually uncovers the complex origins of her roots and how she is deeply tied to members of the black LA community.

Annotation: Karen Weyler’s “A Speculating Spirit” (1996)

Peer-Review: 0

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

Weyler, Karen A. “‘A Speculating Spirit’: Trade, Speculation and Gambling in Early American Fiction.” Early American Literature 31.3 (1996): 207-242. Print.

In this article Weyler argues that popular American novels of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries play an important role in shaping “public economic discourse” (208). These works not only attempt to reconcile competing desires for material improvement with republican values, but also contribute to the “gendering of the American economic system” by figuring trade as a uniquely “masculine prerogative” (208). Weyler therefore draws a distinction between male and female responsibilities in the new nation. She asserts that while women are charged with remaining “sexually and emotionally chaste,” men have to confront the challenge of being “economically virtuous—meaning that they must balance self-interest and public interest” (208). Ultimately, it is this conception that men need to acquire capital through “virtuous trade” that pervades the politco-economic philosophy of early American novels. Weyler asserts that in response to the inherent problems within trade, namely, the selfish individualistic “ethics” it proposes as well as the material “importation of luxury goods,” novelists of the period strove to distinguish virtuous trade from “gambling, speculation, or inheritance” (210, 208). These authors emphasized the importance of “industry” for achieving successful business ventures and represented the “productive fruits of trade” as not only individualized gains, but patriotic symbols of “America’s trading freedom” (223). These qualities, among others Weyler describes, allowed novelists to set virtuous trade apart from the quick, often self-destructive profits gained through gambling, speculation or inheritance. Her article therefore provides unique insight into the way early American novels represent the nation’s role within the international market, but my research on Margaretta; or, The Intricacies of the Heart offers an opportunity to intervene in Weyler’s argument. Whereas she concerns herself with texts in which males dominate the global economy and trade is largely successful for industrious characters, Read’s novel diverges from these conventional narratives. In Margaretta we are introduced to a chaotic and unpredictable international market, in which males, regardless of their diligence or honorable intentions, emerge as victims of trade. Ultimately, it is this masculine colonial economy that our heroine successfully infiltrates to rescue her lover from the whims of the market, thereby implying a vital role for women in the circum-Atlantic world.

Annotation: Rosalind Morris’ “M. Butterfly: Transvestism and Cultural Cross-Dressing in the Critique of Empire” (1994)

Peer-Review: 0

This annotation is written in reference to my paper, titled: “David Hwang’s Metamorphosis of Madama Butterfly: Critiquing Orientalist Fancy and Building Bridges Towards Cultural Understanding.”

Morris, Rosalind. “M. Butterfly: Transvestism and Cultural Cross-Dressing in the Critique of Empire.” Gender and Culture in Literature and Film East and West: Issues of Perception and Interpretation. Ed. Nitaya Masavisut, et al. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1994. 40-59. Print.

In this article Morris discusses how M. Butterfly merely reestablishes the hierarchal “gender system” inherent in Orientalist philosophy. She claims that while the figure of the “transvestite” seems to offer a means of overturning gender stereotypes through its fundamental ambiguity and fluidity, it is nevertheless “contained by heterosexual opposition between male and female” (49). The transvestite (man-as-woman) becomes a representation of the “emasculated rather than liberated male” (49). Therefore, at the end of the play when Song undresses he reasserts his masculinity, whereas Gallimard in donning Butterfly’s kimono is emasculated. This reversal rather than collapsing gender hierarchies in M. Butterfly speaks to the play’s failure as a deconstruction of Puccini’s opera.