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: Jean and John Comaroff’s “Alien-Nation” (2002)

Peer-Review: 0

This annotation was written in reference to my paper: “Re-imagining Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker through the National Politics of Global Capitalism.” See my abstract here.

Comaroff, Jean and John Comaroff. “Alien-Nation: Zombies, Immigrants, and Millenial Capitalism.” The South Atlantic Quarterly 104.4 (2002): 779-805. Print.

In this article Jean and John Comaroff discuss how the prominent role of speculation in the current global capitalist economy, where capital seems to achieve an almost spectral “capacity to make its own vitality and increase seem independent of all human labor, to seem like the natural yield of exchange and consumption” (782). They suggest that the valuation of capital itself has led to the severe devaluation of human labor to the extent our modern condition gives rise to zombies. The Comaroffs present an anthropological study of post-Apartheid South Africa, drawing a connection between zombies and immigrants caught in the flows of global capitalism, where both are speech impaired (incapable of articulating their oppression) and forced to perform a kind of “ghost labor,” reduced to a mere instrument of production, the most lowly and unacknowledged occupation in an increasingly service and capital driven economy. They claim that the term zombies appropriately reflects the seemingly supernatural manner in which the rich are able to continuously consume and get richer without engaging in the conventional means of production themselves. While I am uncomfortable with the Camoroffs’ association of immigrants as zombies, which seems to deprive these individuals of any means of agency I would like to consider their discussion with respect to the spies in Native Speaker, particularly whether these “spooks” can also be conceived as zombies victimized by global capitalism.

Annotation: Susan Buck-Morss’ “Hegel and Haiti” (2009)

Peer-Review: 0

This annotation was written in reference to my paper on Leonora Sansay’s Secret History. See my prospectus here.

Buck-Morss, Susan. “Part One: Hegel and Haiti.” Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009. 3-75. Print.

In this excerpt of her book, Buck-Morss emphasizes the need to further examine how Haiti and the Haitian Revolution influenced Hegel’s philosophy. She discusses that as the first philosopher to describe “the deterritorialized, world of the European colonial system,” Hegel argued that rather than freely entering a contractual agreement, human beings were always already caught in a complex network of “commodity exchange” (8, 10). Buck-Morss asserts that antislavery revolution “provides the theoretical hinge that takes Hegel’s analysis out of the limitlessly expanding colonial economy and onto the plane of world history which he defines as the realization of freedom” (12). Therefore, rather than the traditionally Marxist-centric analyses of Hegel’s work, Buck-Morss accentuates the importance of considering how the slaves’ struggle for freedom in Saint Domingue, which directly occurred during Hegel’s lifetime, influenced and shaped his philosophical thought.

Hegel’s explication of the master-slave relationship begins with the slave in the position of total dependence on the master to provide him sustenance through colonial economic surplus, where the state of “slave consciousness” is that of “thinghood” (54). Yet the reversal comes when the slaves realize the master’s dependence on them, allowing them to view themselves as “not things, not object, but subjects who transform material nature” (54). While Buck-Morss asserts that Hegel becomes “silent” about what follows this moment of realization, she contends that the slaves ultimately achieve their humanity and agency in determining to fight a revolution to secure their freedom. Buck-Morss’ elaboration of Hegel’s master-slave dialectic, how self-realization inspires a revolution for freedom will provide a helpful framework from which to analyze the events in Sansay’s <em>Secret History</em>. If she parallels the struggle for slave and female emancipation it would be interesting to consider Clara’s moment of self-realization and her own revolutionary path to freedom.

Abstract: Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker (1995)

This abstract is for my paper titled, “Re-imagining Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker through the National Politics of Global Capitalism.”

In Native Speaker, Chang-rae Lee offers a nuanced vision of how globalization affects the relationship between minorities and the nation-state. The novel’s protagonist, Henry Park, is a Korean American spy. Challenging the conventional portrayal of spies as patriotic figures, Lee presents Henry as an employee of the transnational corporation, Glimmer and Company. The firm provides “native informants” for hire and operates purely in the service of global capital. Lee seems to present Glimmer and Company as a potentially subversive space where minorities can retaliate against state-sanctioned forms of racial oppression by severing national ties and forming fiscal relations with a transnational economy. Through this capitalist system minorities can also market their racialized physiognomy and cultural knowledge for money. But Lee questions whether this self-exploitation for profit can constitute as true progress. In Native Speaker Henry must commodify his race and culture because his espionage work requires him to infiltrate ethnic communities and conduct a “minority watch,” observing and compiling information about specified targets. Lee reveals how this self-commodification perpetuates oppressive stereotypes. He also critiques the apparent fluidity of global capitalism by demonstrating how money still flows down predictable channels. Henry and other spies are generally hired by wealthy, white individuals to obstruct minority agitators who are struggling to overturn the oppressive status quo. Lee finally reveals that globalization does not offer minorities complete emancipation from a single nation-state because capital must moves through political systems. In the novel the US government is a client of Glimmer and Company, relying on the corporation to police its national identity and manage populations. Lee therefore accentuates that minorities must continue striving for political protection of rights rather than complacently participating in a global economy where race has merely achieved superficial currency.

Works Consulted

Buell, Frederick. “Nationalist Postnationalism: Globalist Discourse in Contemporary American Culture.” American Quarterly 50.3 (1998): 548-591. Print. (Annotation)

Butler, Judith. “Violence, Mourning, Politics.” Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence. New York: Verso, 2004. 19-49. Print.

Comaroff, Jean and John Comaroff. “Alien-Nation: Zombies, Immigrants, and Millenial Capitalism.” The South Atlantic Quarterly 104.4 (2002): 779-805. Print. (Annotation)

Chen, Tina Y. “Recasting the Spy, Rewriting the Story: The Politics of Genre in Native Speaker by Chang-rae Lee.” Form and Transformation in Asian American Literature. (2005): 249-267. Print.

Corley, Liam. “‘Just Another Ethnic Pol’: Literary Citizenship in Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker.” Studies in the Literary Imagination 37.1 (2004): 61-81. Print.

Gilroy, Paul. Against Race: Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Color Line. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2000. Print.

Huang, Betsy. “Citizen Kwang: Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker and the Politics of Consent.” Journal of Asian American Studies 9.3 (2006): 243-269. Print.

Kim, Jodi. “From Mee-gook to Gook: The Cold War and Racialized Undocumented Capital in Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker.” MELUS 34.1 (2009): 117-137. Print. (Annotation)

Lee, Chang-rae. Native Speaker. New York: Penguin Group, 1995. Print.

Lee, James Kyung-Jin. “Where the Talented Tenth Meets the Model Minority: The Price of Privilege in Wideman’s Philadelphia Fire and Lee’s Native Speaker.” Novel: A Forum on Fiction. 35.2 (2002): 231-257. Print.

Lowe, Lisa. Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics. Durham: Duke University Press, 1996. Print.

Ludwig, Sami. “Ethnicity as Cognitive Identity: Private and Public Negotiations in Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker.” Journal of Asian American Studies. 10.3 (2007): 221-242. Print.

Narkunas, J. Paul. “Surfing the Long Waves of Global Capital With Chang Rae-Lee’s Native Speaker: Ethnic Branding and the Humanizing of Capital.” MFS Modern Fiction Studies. 54.2 (2008): 327-352. Print.

Nguyen, Viet Thanh. “Introduction: A Crisis of Representation.” Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America. New York: Oxford UP, 2002. 3-31. Print.

Ong, Aihwa. “Introduction.” Flexible Citizenship: The Cultural Logics of Transnationality. Durham: Duke UP, 1999. 1-26. Print. (Annotation)

Song, Min Hyoung. “A Diasporic Future? Native Speaker and Historical Trauma.” LIT: Literature Interpretation Theory 12 (2001): 79-98. Print.

Wang, Ban. “Reimagining Political Community: Diaspora, Nation-State, and the Struggle for Recognition.” Modern Drama 48.2 (2005): 249-271. Print. (Annotation)

Weinbaum, Alys Eve. “Racial Aura: Walter Benjamin and the Work of Art in a Biotechnological Age.” Literature and Medicine. 26.1 (2008): 207-239. Print. (Annotation)

Annotation: Mollay Wallace’s “Tropics of Globalization” (2001)

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.

Wallace, Molly. “Tropics of Globalization: Reading the New North America.” Symploke 9.1 (2001): 145-160. Print.

In this article Wallace demonstrates how “the tracking of metaphor” in Tropic of Orange can be used as a tool for “political intervention in discourses on globalization produced in the United States” (146). Rather than simply showing how the novel critiques NAFTA and global capitalism, her analysis of metaphor attempts to drive at and decode the politics of contemporary discussions surrounding these issues. While Wallace cites a number of scholars and their arguments on globalization, her paper is mainly in dialogue with the theory Arjun Appadurai proposes in his seminal work, Modernity at Large: The Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. She asserts that even though he offers a “new model of cultural globality,” Appadurai’s emphasis on “imagined worlds” as the means by which people can “think… beyond the nation” and thus resist socio-politico hegemony, simultaneously ignores the pressing material inequalities globalization fosters (149). His model therefore allows metaphor to subvert socio-economic realities. In contrast, Wallace demonstrates how “the metaphorical drags the material with it” in Tropic of Orange, through aesthetic moves such as the materialization of imaginary borders and the personification of NAFTA as the character SUPERNAFTA (153). She suggests that these literalizations of metaphor ultimately allow for a more nuanced analysis of globalization’s impact on migration, labor, and the international political economy. But while Wallace presents a compelling analysis of Yamashita’s novel, I want to extend her argument beyond its connections to metaphor, to examine how Tropic of Orange occupies a space where metaphor diverges from its figurative connotations and assumes an actual, material presence that confronts us with the very real transformations occurring within our natural world, our communities, and in our interactions with each other and our own bodies.