Annotation: Soo-Young Chin’s “Asian American Cultural Production” (2000)

Peer-Review: 0

Chin, Soo-Young, Feng, Peter X, and Lee Josephine. “Asian American Cultural Production.” Journal of Asian American Studies 3.3 (2000): 298-282. Print.

Written as an introduction to the journal in 2000, the writers examine the proliferation of discourse around “Asian American cultural production” as a means of re-visioning understandings of ‘culture’ within Asian American Studies.  Temporally, this essay is positioned not only at the turn of the millennium, but also as a middle point between Lisa Lowe’s Immigrant Acts and Kandice Chuh’s Imagine Otherwise.  Consequently, this piece offers an astute analysis of the distinct linkage between “Asian American” and “cultural production” and affords the possibility of extending upon as well as highlighting the limits of both theoretical frameworks.

Framing ‘culture’ within the discourse of cultural nationalism in Asian American Studies, the writers highlight the three forms in which ‘culture’ now manifest: (1) intellectual, spiritual, and aesthetic development; (2) idea about a way of life; and, (3) intellectual and aesthetic activity (271).  Asian American culture, the writers argue, is “inherently activist” (271) given its emergence as resistance against dominant images perpetuated by the hegemonic culture, which possesses representational power.  Thus, discourses around Asian American culture must always address the relationship to this history of activism.  Cultural nationalism was useful in fostering “what [Chele] Sandoval terms an oppositional consciousness” (271; emphasis added) and building a collective political identity.  Furthermore, it beckoned an examination of the everyday in a site of creating Asian American culture and also a site in which problematic ideologies are exposed.

In the debate surrounding ‘culture,’ the writers point to continuing tensions between those with a more theoretical basis in striving for disciplinary legitimacy and academic recognition and those who stress the need to connect act with goals of social activism.  Asian American culture must then negotiate these multiple visions in order to establish the connection between the aesthetic and political that is necessary to effect social change.  The section “The Social Imaginary: Toward a Theory of Cultural Production and Consumption” is particularly apt in conceptualizing the multifaceted players and processes within “cultural production.”  The writers stress the need to examine not only the creation of art, but also its consumption.  Inherent in the examination of consumption are interrogations of who the intended consumers are and why.  The writers beckon us to understand “culture as simultaneously a material and a symbolic production” (273).  This notion echoes needs for critiquing disciplinary boundaries, as argued for in an Asian Americanist critique.  The writers apply Paul Ricoeur’s concept of “the social imaginary” to frame “Asian American” as a collective of history and practices that influence current textual production (experience).  The medium through which this imaginary materializes into experience is the fictive.  In what ways can we extend this framing of Asian American culture as “the fictive” in order to rethink Chuh’s urge to read literature as theory?

Annotation: E.L. McCallum’s “Mapping the Real in Cyberfiction” (2000)

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.

McCallum, E.L. “Mapping the Real in Cyberfiction.” Poetics Today 21.2 (2000): 349-77. Print.

In this essay McCallum asserts the importance of examining the function and role of “real” space in cyberpunk fiction. She argues that while works of the genre are traditionally noted for their innovative representations of virtual spaces through “distance transcending technology” such as the internet, characters still deeply rely on the real material world and it only through physically traversing this realm that certain narrative ends can be accomplished (350). McCallum emphasizes that by shifting the critical focus to “real” space, we can see how “old” colonialist systems and familiar oppressive power structures (race, gender, nationality, class, etc) continue to organize the apparently “futuristic” virtual space. She ultimately asserts that the contemporary cyberpunk genre has its roots in imperialistic adventure narratives such as Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and fail to transcend the geographic and ideological norms of our current society, making these texts rather conservative. But I argue that rather than lacking the creativity to imagine a more “transcendent” future, cyberpunk authors are interested in exposing familiar oppressions and exploitations in order to emphasize the urgency with which trends such as globalization and corporatization may be severely perpetuated into the future through more insidious means such as the Internet. While McCallum notes important parallels between virtual and real space, she does not explicate how organizational conventions of race, gender, nationality, class, etc are re-inscribed in the “Metaverse” of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, which I hope to further expand on in my own paper.

With respect to the novel, McCallum importantly demonstrates how the boundary between reality and cyberspace is destabilized. Hiro can move not only in between these two realms, but also through both at the same time, he “can remain hooked into the Metaverse while traversing the real” (366). Unlike McCallum who sees this as a reliance of the virtual on the real, I argue that this moment reveals the potential of this convergence to enhance human agency, where technology can be used to affect change. Therefore, while McCallum concludes her article with the assertion that cyberpunk protagonists do not offer any viable means of resisting or critiquing the corporate culture and that our best hope is to become adept at maneuvering through this reality, in my paper I hope to challenge her defeatist position.

As a slightly unrelated point, McCallum also discusses in her article, the difficulty of localizing transnational corporations in Snow Crash, which not only operate in multiple locales throughout the world but also virtual spaces in the “Metaverse.” This is a particularly interesting point from which to examine current implications of corporate globalization.

Annotation: Blythe Forcey’s “Charlotte Temple and the End of Epistolarity” (1991)

Peer-Review: 0

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

Forcey, Blythe. “Charlotte Temple and the End of Epistolarity.” American Literature 63.2 (June 1991): 225-241. Print.

In this article Forcey identifies the “epistolary novel” as an unsustainable aesthetic form, asserting that, “in the fast-changing, polyglot world of late eighteenth-century Anglo-America, it fell victim to the same forces of seduction and betrayal that its heroines were unable to avoid” (225). To justify her provocative argument, she relies on Susanna Rowson’s Charlotte Temple as an ideal model for analyzing the demise of this literary mode. Unlike conventional epistolary novels, Forcey emphasizes the important role that “Rowson’s narrative voice” plays in relating Charlotte’s tale as well as in moderating our responses to it (228). She claims that the motherly persona Rowson assumes in the story directs readers, telling them exactly how to interpret each character’s actions and feelings. Without this “narrative guidance,” Forcey argues, “the epistolary novel could not make the successful crossing to the New World” because it is an aesthetic form that relies on “not only correspondence between the writers within the novel but also a correspondence between the writer of the novel and its readers” (228, 229). Ultimately, it is this understanding between the novel’s author and his or her readers that becomes strained in the new nation. As individuals with diverse backgrounds and different social and moral codes begin to populate America, Forcey asserts that novelists can no longer assume that “they know their readers and that their readers know them” (229). Consequently, the popularity of a “‘narrator-less’ [epistolary] novel” becomes impossible to sustain in an environment where “miscommunication, seduction, and even revolution are possible” (240). Forcey even takes her argument a step further by claiming that the epistolary novel form is especially dangerous when used to relate narratives of seduction because it often “leaves the “female protagonist exposed, vulnerable, and even invisible” (230). She therefore suggests that Rowson’s narrative guidance in Charlotte Temple signifies the “end of epistolarity” and the “emergence of the American domestic novel, a form uniquely suited to address the needs of a young nation” (241). However, my research on Martha Meredith Read’s Margaretta challenges the assumptions Forcey presents in her article. Rather than an obsolete form, Read’s work testifies to the continuing vitality of the epistolary novel as a means to articulate the new nation’s struggle with its identity in the post-revolutionary period. While there are some markers of authorial guidance in the text, Read nevertheless presents her heroine as a strong female character who actively defends both her chastity and republican ideals. As a result, rather than analyzing how the epistolary form breaks down, I would like to explore in my paper how it changes in response to the pressures and anxieties individuals faced in America’s early national period.