Archive for August, 2010

Annotation: Tobias Hübinette’s “Asian Bodies Out of Control” (2007)

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Hübinette, Tobias. “Asian Bodies Out of Control: Examining the Adopted Korean Existence.” Asian Diasporas: New Formations, New Conceptions. Eds. Rhacel S. Parreñas and Lok C. D. Siu. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2007. 177-200. Print.

In his essay Hübinette asserts that the experiences of Koreans adopted by Western countries after the Korean War has been largely overlooked by scholars in academia. He argues that these adoptees can be understood in terms of Gayatri Spivak’s conception of the “subaltern” because “up until recently they could not speak for themselves, represented as they were as mute physical bonds by supplying and receiving governments and as grateful rescue objects by adoption agencies and adoptive parents” (178). The international adoption industry framed Koreans as the “model minority” adoptee success story, declaring that above all other groups, they were the most well-adjusted to their Western lifestyles. It was only by the 1990s that the Korean adoptees began to speak for themselves and break out of their subaltern status. In his essay Hübinette specifically examines autobiographical narratives “taken from journals and magazines, books and anthologies, or from Internet homepages and sites as the adopted Korean movement is very much a virtual community” (178).

He emphasizes that for the most part these Korean adoptees grew up in entirely white families and communities, eventually learning to identify as white and perform whiteness. Hübinette ultimately challenges the popularly celebrated postmodern conceptions of hybridity and cosmopolitanism, suggesting that these Korean adoptees experienced great “psychic violence and physical alienation” as a result of their mixed-race and fragmented identities. Hübinette points to “the high preponderance of suicide rates, mental illnesses, and social problems among international adoptees “ as evidence of some detrimental effects of hybridity (179).

Hübinette begins his essay with some helpful historical background, explaining that international adoption was first configured as a “rescue mission” to “transfer mixed-raced children, who were fathered by American and other U.N. soldiers” during the Korean war “to adoptive homes in [the] United States and Western Europe” (170). He reveals, however, that it was also a highly politicized movement on the part of the Korean government, which was interested in “cleansing the country of mixed-race children,” counteracting the domestic problem of overpopulation and improving the country’s foreign relations with Western nations Korea hoped to be allies with. International adoption eventually grew into a profitable economic enterprise as well. North Korea, however, remained staunchly opposed to the initiative, denouncing the South for “selling Korean children to Westerners” (180).

Hübinette notes that most of these children have been adopted by “middle- and upper-class white couples or singles and have accordingly grown up in white suburban, countryside, or small-town communities and neighborhoods” (182). He emphasizes that “adoption ideology” has long encouraged adoptees to develop a “white subjectivity” because it promotes “racial harmony” and helps them succeed in a world that largely celebrates and rewards whiteness (185). Hübinette argues, however, that this is an extremely destructive ideology because adoptees are driven to disown their Asian heritage and essentially become “strangers to their own bodies” (186). He claims that the adopted Korean experience is particularly distinct because they are more or less entirely severed from Asian peoples and culture. Their exposure to Asian-ness is often Orientalist representations in American popular culture and they unwittingly internalize these stereotypes because that is the only way they can know their Asian heritage.

Hübinette notes that in the early 1990s some Korean adoptees began to publish personal narratives about their adoptive experiences, but “it was not until the mid-1990s with the breakthrough of the Internet that adopted Koreans started to be more visible and make themselves more audible in the public space” (182). He suggests further that this once invisible, highly marginalized group is beginning to organize nationally as well as globally. But beyond the optimism of this emerging politically active and supportive diasporic community, Hübinette reveals that the personal narratives by Korean adoptees are often fraught with pain and confusion. He suggests that the contradiction between their internally white sense of self and their external Korean body reflected in the mirror becomes a source of great psychic violence. Hübinette asserts that Korean adoptees often feel need to “perform whiteness even more intensely and often in combination with an over-exaggerated middle- or upper classness with the hope of being taken for an Asian adoptive child to a white elite family and not mistaken as a working-class Asian immigrant” (191). They also deliberately choose to not associate with other Koreans and more generally, other Asians and people of color out fear of tainting their already unstable white identity.

Unable to find a place where they can truly belong or cultivate a sense of comfort within their own bodies, Hübinette suggests that many Korean adoptees resort to suicide as a means of overcoming their fragmented identities and the painful disjunction between psychic white self-identification and their physical Asian-ness. He concludes his essay, ultimately “regard[ing] this acquiring of a white self-identification by adopted Koreans as a complete subordination to white hegemonic power and as a magnificent symbol of the final triumph of the colonial project” (196).

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Annotation: Rachel Salazar Parreñas and Loc C. D. Siu’s “Introduction: Asian Diasporas- New Conceptions, New Frameworks” (2007)

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Parreñas, Rachel Salazar and Loc C. D. Siu. “Introduction: Asian Diasporas—New Conceptions, New Frameworks.” Asian Diasporas: New Formations, New Conceptions. Eds. Rhacel S. Parreñas and Lok C. D. Siu. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2007. 1- 28. Print.

Parreñas and Siu begin their essay by offering a three-part definition of diaspora:

(1) displacement from the homeland under the nexus of an unequal global political and economic system; (2) the simultaneous experience of alienation and the maintenance of affiliation to both the country of residence and the homeland; and finally (3) the sense of collective consciousness and connectivity with other people displaced from the homeland across the diasporic terrain. (1-2)

They emphasize that this anthology attempts to shift away from theoretical discussions of diaspora to examine how individuals actually “experience, interpret, and give meaning to diaspora” (2). Parreñas and Siu particularly focus on those works that move beyond the borders of the US nation-state, insisting that these communities and spaces have been problematically overlooked by critics in Asian and Asian American studies. They emphasize that “Asian migration, after all, has always been global” and to simply focus on the United States or Asia in isolation of the rest of the world creates a critical aporia where the experiences of Vietnamese migrants who settle in France, for example, go unexamined. Parreñas and Siu emphasize the need to conduct comparative analyses that operate on two levels, “the place-specific/cross-ethnic” and “ethnic-specific/transnational” (3). They assert that the development of global communication technologies such as the Internet have made it increasingly possible to sustain diasporic communities making the study of diaspora all the more urgent.

At the same time, however, Parreñas and Siu recognize the potential dangers that may emerge as a result of this diasporic focus. They particularly site Sau-ling Wong’s concerns about the “‘denationalization’ of Asian American studies” (4). As a field that historically emerged from the civil rights movement, whose political project was to assert that Asian Americans belong in the US, the shift to diaspora essentially “challeng[s] the United States as the privileged site of analysis,” contradicting the fundamental goals of the movement and potentially endangering the fight for Asian American political rights in the nation-state (5). But Parreñas and Siu accentuate how the Asian American movement was always concerned with transnational politics, struggling to link the acts of racism and injustices within the United States to similar acts across the globe.

They also recognize the problematic label of “Asian” diasporas, which can be overly simplistic and reductive. Yet they assert the productivity of this nominal label because it “call[s] attention to the racializing-gendering process involved in diaspora making” as Asians, no matter where they move, are still classified as Asian (9). Parreñas and Siu further emphasize that Asian diasporas are distinct because Asian governments are actively invested in “producing and sustaining diasporic connections and identifications with their respective homelands,” making them a particularly important subject of study. Parreñas and Siu recognize that these multiple, heterogeneous diasporas operate on many different levels, making an explicit effort to “distinguis[h] those Asians who can move, especially to the West, from Asians who are left immobile by the forces of global capitalism and those who choose not to move because of their privileged access to global capitalism” (11).

In their “Introduction” they emphasize that to be “diasporic requires continual production of certain conditions and identifications” (12). They further note that the experience of diaspora can be incredibly liberating but also painful and marginalizing as diasporic subjects are characterized by their partial belonging in their state of residence and their homeland. Parreñas and Siu additionally assert the need to examine how Asians employ diaspora as a means of resistance to racism and xenophobia. They particularly isolate five major themes that connect the various essays in their anthology:

“the recognition of inter-Asian strife in past and present; the persistence of the nation state; the salience of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality; the forces of labor, colonialism and globalization that maintain relations of inequality within Asia as well as Asia in relation to the West; and the centrality of culture” (16).

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Site Update: Password Protected Posts (Cont.)

Hi all,

I am also starting to put up some password protected posts because they pertain to readings I have been assigned for my fall quarter courses at UCLA. I will eventually make them public but if anyone is dying to read them feel free to contact me for the password. ^^

Annotation: Anne Anlin Cheng’s “The Melancholy of Race’ (2001)

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Cheng, Anne Anlin. “The Melancholy of Race.” The Melancholy of Race: Psychoanalysis, Assimilation, and Hidden Grief. New York: Oxford UP, 2001. 3-29. Print.

In her essay Cheng emphasizes the need to explore the implications of racial grief. She asserts that historically there has been too much reliance on “material or quantifiable terms to articulate that injury,” problematically overlooking its more immaterial, psychic ramifications (6). Cheng suggests that in light of the dominant white ideal that pervades US society, those individuals who cannot fight within that paradigm must undergo a “painful negotiation…at some point if not continually, with the demands of that social ideality” (7). Cheng further articulates the need to explore how people are themselves deeply implicit and invested in maintaining certain racial categories.

Cheng also offers a helpful discussion of Freud’s essay, “Mourning and Melancholia.” She asserts that Freud defines “mourning” as “a healthy response to loss; it is finite in character and accepts substitution” whereas “melancholia” is “pathological; it is interminable in nature and refuses substitution (7, 8). But Cheng emphasizes that even as the melancholic subject is obsessed with what it has lost, it also consumes and obtains nourishment from that loss, which becomes subsumed as a part of its identity. She asserts that “melancholia does not simply denote a condition of grief but is rather, a legislation of grief” (8). Cheng, notes, however, that feeding on this loss is painful, inspiring within the melancholic subject, feelings of “resentment and degradation for the lost object with which he or she is identifying” (9). Cheng goes on to describe the complex psychic dynamics of the melancholic subject: “First, the melancholic must deny loss as loss in order to sustain the fiction of possession. Second, the melancholic would have to make sure that the ‘object’ never returns, for such a return would surely jeopardize the cannibalistic project” (9).

She accentuates that this configuration of melancholia is helpful in understanding “American racial dynamics.” Cheng suggests, for example, that the dominant white ideal of America excludes but simultaneously retains racialized “others” as “lost” to true “American” identity. These racialized others are also “uneasily digested by…American nationality” because they reveal perverse contradiction in the ideas of freedom and democracy the United States was founded on in the first place (10). Cheng ultimately asserts the productivity of melancholia as a theoretical tool because it “accounts for the guilt and denial of guilt, the blending of shame and omnipotence in the racist imaginary” (12). She also critiques reductive declarations of internalized racial, ethnic self-hatred, accentuating that the psychic dynamics of minority figures are much more complex and often fraught with conflicting, contradictory emotions. Cheng particularly turns to literature to conduct her study because as “cultural texts” they are especially helpful in “teas[ing] out the complex social etiology behind the phenomenon of racial grief” (15).

Cheng emphasizes that analysis of melancholia with respect to raced subjects must extend beyond the term’s vernacular association with sadness. She defines “racial melancholia” as “a sign of rejection and as a psychic strategy in response to that rejection” (20). For the purposes of her study, Cheng focuses on the racialization of African Americans in the United States as well as Asian Americans because they occupy an uncanny place in the history of American racial dynamics, falling outside the Manichean black-white politics of race. Cheng further notes that the socio-economic success that Asian Americans have achieved in the US has problematically precluded the study of them as raced subjects, fueling a potentially more insidious form of racism. She asserts that “the racialization of Asian Americans is some ways more apparently melancholic than that of African Americans in American history in the sense that the history of virulent racism directed against Asians and Asian Americans has been at once consistently upheld and denied” through configurations such as the “yellow peril” and “model minority” stereotype (23).

Cheng ultimately claims that viewing race through the framework of melancholia productively reveals its instability “indebtedness to the dis-identity it is also claiming” (24). She emphasizes that an examination of the psychical implications of racial injury will allow for a new politics of loss that moves beyond simple identity politics to also embrace dis-identity politics and eventually open up new pathways to assert individual agency. In this way, Cheng suggests that we can resolve the troubling acceptance of African American or Asian American as identity labels, which simultaneously recalls a history of racialization.

Finally Cheng concludes her essay by asserting the value of psychoanalysis as a theoretical framework of her study, insisting that “the politics of race has always spoken in the language of psychology” (28). She further emphasizes that “the psychoanalytic perspective teaches us to be attentive to the disjunctive and retroactive hauntedness of history,” which can be wielded for political action today” (28).

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