Archive for July, 2010

Annotation: Wendy Hui Kyong Chun’s “Orienting Orientalism, or How to Map Cyberspace” (2003)

Peer-Review: 0

This annotation was written in reference on my paper: “The Haunting Realities of Cyberspace in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash.” See my prospectus here.

Chun, Wendy Hui Kyong. “Orienting Orientalism, or How to Map Cyberspace.” AsianAmerica.Net: Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Cyberspace. Eds. Rachel C. Lee and Sau-Ling Cynthia Wong. New York: Routledge, 2003. 3-36. Print.

In this essay Chun discusses how cyberspace narratives perpetuate Orientalist fantasies. She emphasizes that authors employ Orientalism to make “electronic spaces comprehensive, visualizable and pleasurable” and how conceptions of cyberspace have become deeply intertwined and even inextricable from those Orientalist ideas (4). To explicate her argument she analyzes William’s Gibson’s Neuromancer and Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell.

Chun offers a helpful discussion of how cyberspace functions as a new frontier to be explored and colonized. She asserts, “Like all explorations, charting cyberspace entails uncovering what was always already there and declaring it ‘new.’ It obscures already existing geographies and structures so that space is vacuous yet chartable, unknown yet populated and populatable” (7). Chun suggests that while cyberspace and its real world counterpart, the Internet, appear as a new and untouched terrain to be claimed, this stems from the imperialist fantasy of initial contact. Chun ultimately calls for a more nuanced analysis of cyberspace as not just a “new frontier” but rather technology that is programmed and structured in specific ways. She parallels efforts to spread Internet technology to Third World countries as an extension of imperialist missionary movements, where “spreading the light” in terms of both religious faith and knowledge is disturbingly intertwined with capitalistic endeavors to make profit. Chun’s description of cyberspace as an apparently “new frontier” steeped with “old” imperialistic legacies is characteristic of most cyberpunk narratives, which present futuristic technologies and settings that are hauntingly familiar.

In her essay, Chun discusses how the future portrayed in these fictional works looks Japanese. Yet the images of Japan are highly selective and do not suggest a modernized, hi-tech society but are rather anachronistic, featuring ninjas and samurais “drawn from Japan’s Edo period” before the country’s contact with the West (12). Chun cites Johannes Fabian’s theory of “denial of coeval” as one explanation, where “the native other,” is treated not existing or evolving at the same time and is therefore more primitive and inferior.

In her analysis of Neuromancer, Chun asserts the American hacker “cowboy,” Case, emerges as the imperialistic figure who jacks into cyberspace—the new “Orient.” Chun discusses several scenes where cyberspace is described in exoticized ways that parallels it with an Oriental beauty to be once again penetrated by a white imperialist. She suggests further that the Japanese in the novel are depicted as “mechanical mimics (imitators of technology)” to further reinforce American technological superiority and repress anxieties about Japan as an economic threat.

Chun asserts that Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell employs a similar form of Orientalism, but from Japan to China and where America is associated with bad technology. She suggests that in the film Hong Kong is orientalized “into a flood of information,” just as Japan was in Gibson’s novel, presented a mass of data for the hacker to penetrate. Chun also importantly notes how Hong Kong posed an economic threat to Japan in the same way the country appeared as a dangerous rival to the US. Cyberpunk fiction therefore emerges as a means relieve economic anxieties by depicting the “other” as inferior mimics or “‘soulless’ informatics” (26). Chun additionally cautions the American interest and fascination with anime. She suggests that viewers may take voyeuristic delight in gaining insight into Japanese culture and appropriate it as an American product. But I argue that the Orientalism that Japan perpetuates with respect to Ghost in the Shell demands for a more nuanced examination of the power relations between the East and the West and the recognition that they are not simply unidirectional.

Chun concludes her essay with a discussion of the popularity of Asian porn, which has revealed a flexibility in the definition and category of “oriental.” She notes that on these sites, some Russian and mutilated, disfigured women are represented alongside those females conventionally conceived as “Oriental.” Chun suggests that the interest in this selection of women suggests an association of “Oriental” with “submissive and lacking” (29). She states further that the Communications Decency Act to censor certain violent and disturbing materials from being featured on the Web was passed because of a specific concern about how the Internet encouraged people to cultivate and indulge in “‘excessive’ sexuality” (30). She suggests that the Internet has been often promoted as a vacation or recreational space where individuals feel that they are no longer subject to normal laws or restrictions and can assume secret identities. Chun ultimately leaves readers to contemplate the implications of policing or not policing sexuality on the Internet.

Chun’s essay offers me a helpful understanding of how the Metaverse in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash is not simply a “new frontier” but also embodies old imperialist and Orientalist legacies.

Annotation: Cathy Davidson’s “Preface” and “Introduction” to Revolution and the Word (1986)

Peer-review: 0

Davidson, Cathy N. “Preface” and “Introduction: Toward a History of Texts.” Revolution and the Word: The Rise of the Novel in America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986. vii-xi, 3-14. Print.

In the “Preface” to Revolution and the Word Davidson outlines four revolutions she explores in her book. Aside from the obvious, America’s Revolutionary War, she also draws our attention to three “quiet revolutions,” namely; the “Industrial Revolution,” which led to the growth of cities and changed the social fabric of the new nation, a “reading revolution” facilitated by print technology and the genre of the novel, and a revolution occurring in universities today, one that challenges disciplinary boundaries and canonicity (vii). In discussing these various revolutions, Davidson makes a compelling case for the study of early American fiction and the novel in particular. While long neglected by scholars and academics, she claims that this field can shed light on our understanding of America’s early nationhood during a time when people were still struggling to define themselves as American. In her perspective, the novel was an “inchoate form appropriate for and correlative to a country first attempting to formulate itself” (14). Davidson discusses the various roles of the novel during the turbulent years of the early republic, for instance, as a tool for the education of women. But her most provocative argument asserts that the novel figured as a point of entry for marginalized peoples, allowing them to gain “access to social and political events from which many… would have been otherwise largely excluded” (10). In essence, the novel can be seen as a place where those barred from formal political participation, especially women, could be empowered, a fertile ground where authors and readers alike could imagine the enormous potential of the new nation. Yet, these works also represent the disjunction between reality and fiction, and thus expose “versions of emerging definitions of America—version that were, from the first, tinged with ambivalence and duplicity” (10). Consequently, Davidson’s analysis of the early American novel does not simply discuss the ways in which historical circumstance gave rise to these texts, but also provides a nuanced analysis of how these texts shaped and influenced their times.

Annotation: Jeffrey A. Ow’s “The Revenge of the Yellowfaced Cyborg Terminator” (2003)

Peer-Review: 0

This annotation was written in reference on my paper: “The Haunting Realities of Cyberspace in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash.” See my prospectus here.

Ow, Jeffrey A. “The Revenge of the Yellowfaced Cyborg Terminator: The Rape of Digital Geishas and the Colonization of Cyber-Coolies in 3D Realms’ Shadow Warrior.” Asian America.Net: Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Cyberspace. Eds. Rachel C. Lee and Sau-Ling Cynthia Wong. New York: Routledge, 2003. 249-266. Print.

Ow begins his essay with a reference to Dona Haraway’s seminal essay, “Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s,” where she describes the “female” cyborg as a revolutionary figure that challenges oppressive patriarchal structures and heteronormative codes of behavior. Ow asserts that the “male” cyborg is, in contrast, represented in various cultural productions as a destructive “terminator” that perpetuates racist and imperialistic projects (251).

In his essay, Ow describes the “Yellowfaced Cyborg Terminator” as capitalizing on its hybrid human-machine state to “assert common narratives of racial domination, sexual abuse, and capitalist consumption” (251). Ow specifically examines the video game, Shadow Warrior, produced by 3D Realms, which has been largely criticized for furthering racist stereotypes about Asian culture and people. While company programmers insist that they are only producing a funny parody that should not be taken so seriously, Ow asserts that the game encourages users to take delight in assuming the role of “a tourist/colonizer/rapist Terminator cyborg…in yellowface of course” (254). He suggests that because users play the game from a first-person perspective they do not see any graphical representation of their body on screen and come to assume “yellowface,” as the character of Lo Wang. I argue that this notion of “yellowface” is highly problematic because it perpetuates a disavowal of historical acts of white imperialism in Asia as an Asian character is responsible for the raping, pillaging and colonizing in the game.

Ow discusses how video games like Shadow Warrior allows white middle-class suburbanites to enter “exotic Asian worlds” as a kind of imperialist-tourist (255). Lisa Nakamura touches on similar issues in her book Digitizing Race, which she describes as “identity tourism.” Ow emphasizes that this link between imperialism and tourism is extremely troubling because through video games individuals are essentially encouraged to view the subjugation and destruction of other peoples and culture as entertainment. He also discusses the disturbing military origins of video game technology and the implications of these games as they are currently being used for simulation training of US troops.

Ow concludes his essay, however, with an analysis of the Shadow Warrior’s performance on the market. He asserts that the game’s failure to sell, demonstrates how companies must reevaluate the cost of creating products that perpetuate offensive, racist stereotypes, especially with regards to Japan, which continues to dominate the video game industry. Ow emphasizes that in this new globalized world, we must not assume that cultural imperialism only happens from West to East and begin to analyze the ways in which this historical trend may be reversing or splintering.

Annotation: Rosemarie Zagarri’s “Introduction” to Revolutionary Backlash (2007)

Peer-Review: 0

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

Zagarri, Rosemarie. “Introduction.” Revolutionary Backlash: Women and Politics in the Early American Republic. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007. 1-10. Print.

In her “Introduction” to Revolutionary Backlash Zagarri discusses how the American Revolution transformed popular opinion about the role of women in politics and “initiated a widespread, ongoing debate over the meaning of women’s rights” (2). While females were unable to participate legally by “voting and holding public office,” she reveals that they nevertheless helped shaped the character of the young nation through informal channels, whether by organizing themselves or influencing their husbands and sons (2). Ultimately, the contributions females made during the Revolution appeared to herald a similar revolution for women in terms of political status and rights, a development often neglected by historians and scholars. Zagarri demonstrates how the formulation of “republican wife” or “republican mother” creates a space for women in the political life of the young republic, albeit one that remains consistent with the “gender status quo” (5). Those women who attempted to step beyond the confines of domesticity to actively pursue politics were denounced as “female politicians” and seen as a threat to the moral and social order of the new nation (5). Therefore, while the American Revolution did open up new possibilities for women and even brought debates about women’s rights into the public arena, the backlash was quick to come. New discourses emerged encouraging women to return to hearth and home, and serving the nation from within the domestic realm was once again seen as their most productive and practical use. Zagarri’s Revolutionary Backlash attempts to shed light on this period in history, to examine the “rapid shift in perceptions, and self perceptions, of women’s political role” (9). In my discussion of Martha Meredith Read’s Margaretta I hope to examine how the epistolary novel, though published in 1807, continues to explore the themes of women’s rights and reinforces the prominent role women played in shaping American national identity.