Annotation: Ruth Y. Hsu’s “The Cartography of Justice and Truthful Refractions in Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange” (2006)

Peer-Review: 0

Hsu, Ruth Y. “The Cartography of Justice and Truthful Refractions in Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange.” Transnational Asian American Literature: Sites and Transits. Eds. Shirley Geok-lin Lim, John Blair Gamber, Stephen Hong Sohn, and Gina Valentino. Philadelphia, PA: Temple UP, 2006. 75-99. Print.

Hsu begins her essay with the observation that Karen Tei Yamashita’s work in general “evoke[s] those familiar tropes or landmarks that have been staged in Asian American literature and scholarship,” while de-familiarizing them in new often global, transnational contexts (76). She asserts that the de-familiarization at work in Yamashita’s novels helps to productively distinguish Asian American immigrant experiences from those of the “quintessential American immigrant,” counteracting the reductive homogenization of notions such as the “melting pot.”

In this essay Hsu particularly focuses on the representation of Los Angeles in Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange, emphasizing that the narratives presented are told from the perspective of historically marginalized, racialized characters and directly challenge the dominant white supremacist perspective of many Euro-American narratives about LA. She also explores how Yamashita “appropriat[es] and redeploy[s] hegemonic tropes of cartography and geography in ways that maps Western colonialism” (77). Hsu claims that Tropic of Orange is structured according to the “physics…of quantum theory” (78). She asserts that characters’ motivations and actions “are ultimately mapped along the key principles of chaos…and fractal theories,” where the linearity of cause and effect is broken and severed (78). Hsu suggests that it is difficult to predict or fully know the consequences of an individual character’s decisions as they “affect the world in ever-widening ripples of power and influence” (79). In this respect, she asserts that Yamashita deliberately “challenges readers’ typical understanding and…experiences of time, space, and an orderly universe” (80).

Hsu goes on to describe how colonizers have deployed cartography to impose “their own grids of reality, in both material and symbolic ways” on indigenous land and lifestyle (81). She argues that Western maps place emphasis on the superficial topographical features of a given environment, while many “non-Western thought systems” acknowledge the multiple layers beneath the surface and understand that there are different, various modes of existence not entirely bound to rationality (85). Hsu connects Western cartography to Enlightenment beliefs that the world is fundamentally knowable, which contributes to the colonizing mentality that the land can and should be quantified, controlled, mastered.

She asserts that Tropic of Orange offers a history to counteract the history of Western colonialism, calling attention to how “people of color have predated white settlers and the ways that indigenous peoples continue to play crucial roles on that continent” (87). Hsu points to one scene where Buzzworm studies a map, recognizing its colonialist legacy as an instrument of politicians, urban planners, etc to organize the city along racial and class lines, segregating the rich and the poor and effectively containing potential riots in certain areas. She asserts that beyond the concrete freeways, characters such as Buzzworm and Manzanar recognize that people are and can be connected in other ways (89). Hsu describes how Manzanar, for example, is able to see the city in layers of multiple maps that depict different temporal and spatial realities simultaneously. He sees the past and present, familiar and unfamiliar spaces converging in highly dynamic ways.

Hsu then goes on to describe the two tables of contents Yamashita offers her reader. The first is a more conventional, linear depiction of the plot that suggests the easy, traceable flow of cause and effect. The second, however, is a Hypercontext Grid which “calls up the idea, in chaos and complexity theories, of open systems, or systems not in equilibrium” (92). She accentuates how this table calls attention to the characters within the novel are “propelled by random events,” their lives converging in completely unexpected, uncontrollable ways (93).

Hsu concludes by asserting that Yamashita offers a new “model of human connectivity” based on quantum physics chaos theory (94):

Not only are we connected or related to people we do not ‘know,’ we have, in a sense always known them. Not only are we connected to so-called strangers in an ever-widening matrix of complexity that defies logical, deterministic mapping, one’s actions change perhaps the texture, or the organization, or the meaning of that matrix, at specific locations, which in turn ripple out to change the totality of this nonlinear structure. (94)

Hsu pointedly distinguishes chaos from anarchy, insisting that the characters’ lives are guided by systems of order but that the trajectory of their paths are not always easily predictable. While she never mentions globalization in her essay, I would argue that the material effects of geopolitical relations and the transnational flows of goods and peoples very much precipitate the chaos in Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange.

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Annotation: Rachel Adams’ “The Ends of America, the Ends of Postmodernism” (2007)

Peer-Review: 0

Adams, Rachel. “The Ends of America, the Ends of Postmodernism.” Twentieth Century Literature: A Scholarly and Critical Journal. 53.3 (2007): n. pag. Web. 12 Sept. 2010.

In this essay Adams asserts that postmodernism is giving away to a new phase of American literature, where authors pointedly explore the effects of globalization in a multicultural, transnational context beyond the borders of the US nation-state. She explicitly compares Pynchon’s canonical postmodern work, The Crying of Lot 49, with Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange, which she asserts is reflective of this new American literary globalism. She notes that unlike traditional postmodernist works, this emerging group of contemporary American writers are often immigrants themselves or come from an immigrant background and while they may rely on some familiar postmodernist forms they distinguish themselves through their acute concern about “the vast inequities, economic interconnections, and movement of people and goods associated with globalization” (print 2). Adams explains that Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 and Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange are apt for comparison because both novels take place in California and posit Mexico as a significant player in shaping US socioeconomic politics and identity.

She asserts that Pynchon presents California as:

a place that values superficiality over depth…where neighborhoods and downtowns have been eradicated in favor of vast, sprawling networks of freeway, and where faceless new information industries have made workers ever more alienated from the products of their labor (print 5)

Adams describes how the novel is characterized by an overwhelming sense of Cold War paranoia, political exhaustion and disillusionment towards potential for progress. Mexico just signifies another dead end, “adding to the clutter of signs whose meaning may amount to no more than endless deferral and information overload” (print 7).

Adams argues that Yamashita deliberately diverges from this representation of California as an entirely superficial, materialistic, alienating and dead city. Tropic of Orange conversely presents California as “a nodal point where globalization threatens to erupt into environmental and human catastrophe, but also where people find themselves creating unlikely coalitions that might work to remedy these problems” (print 3). While Adams admits that the Hypercontext Grid that prefaces the actual narrative offers readers a misleading sense of order, she emphasizes that characters such as Gabriel come to accept that chaos by “recognizing its likeness to the ubiquitous technology of the internet” (print 9). She notes that Emi is the character most deeply connected with the Internet and communications technology in the novel. Bitter and sarcastic, with little regard for the past or cultural diversity as a model for the future, Emi, Adams asserts, is representative of the traditional postmodern antihero. She further argues that Emi’s “unsentimental elimination” in Tropic of Orange suggests that the future has no place for such a character and “belongs instead to characters like Gabriel or the community organizer Buzzworm, who are both more respectful of the past and willing to harbor utopian visions of the future” (print 9).

Adams also notes how Yamashita diverges from the consideration of Cold War geopolitics of many postmodernist works, aligning the geographic and topographical shifts in her novel to “the massive demographic and perspectival shifts introduced by contemporary globalization and linked to the long history of conquest and colonization in the Americas” (print 10). She further emphasizes that Yamashita presents a vision where “America’s future is tied to Latin America and Asia” (print 10). Contrary to Pynchon’s representation of Mexico, Adams describes how Yamashita’s configuration of US-Mexico relations directly alludes to economic policies such as NAFTA and CAFTA (print 11).

She additionally discusses how this hemispheric focus is reflected in the very form of Yamashita’s novel, which employs a “creative fusion of Latin American-inspired magical realism with allusions to such Anglo-American sources as hard-boiled detective fiction and Hollywood film” (print 11). In addition to the movement of Southern people to the North and geographic border shifts, Tropic of Orange dramatizes the “melding of Northern and Southern cultural forms…evident in the novel’s structure, which vacillates between the linear, goal-oriented model of plot development of the Anglo-American detective novel and cyclical understandings of time indebted to Amerindian sources such as the Mayan codices” (print 11).

Adam emphasizes that Yamashita deliberately presents the voices and perspectives of racially marked characters that have been traditionally marginalized, silenced, or omitted from the historical archive. She notes that while globalization has “resulted in the dispersal and intensification of economic disparities,” it also opens up new possibilities for resistance and protest. Adams particularly points to the bands of homeless people who take over the abandoned cars on the LA freeway that have been entirely gridlocked by a major traffic accident. These individuals essentially create a functional society with its own system of order. She emphasizes that “the dreaded gridlock does not bring urban life to an end. Instead, the crisis forces people to see and feel the city differently, as they experience it by foot” (print 13). Adams accentuates that this a significant difference between Yamashita and Pynchon because the characters in Tropic of Orange do not become completely immobilized or wallow over their total lack of agency. She admits that the ending is rather ambiguous as Gran Mojado dies in his final match with SUPERNAFTA but notes that this defeat is matched “with the reunion of a truly global family—the Singaporean Bobby, Mexican Rafaela, and their son Sol,” which offers readers some sense of hope for the future (print 13).

Adams finally concludes her essay by expressing her enthusiasm over this new global shift in American literature, characterized by “the recent realignment of the field’s geographic parameters to reflect multiple Americas that are more mobile and expansive than the borders of the US nation-state” (print 14).

Oh sorry meant to point out the the (print #) citations are for my own personal reference because I pasted the essay into a word document. I just wanted an easier way to locate quotes and such. ^^

Annotation: Johannes Hauser’s “Structuring the Apokalypse” (2006)

Peer-Review: 0

Hauser, Johannes. “Structuring the Apokalypse: Chaos and Order in Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange. Philologie im Netz. 37 (2006): 1-32. Print.

In this essay Hauser asserts that Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange exhibits apocalyptic features as a narrative “of a world on the brink of border-defying chaos” (3). He calls attention to the literal topographical shifts in the novel that destroy national boundaries, re-erecting them in new locales. But in spite of this seeming chaos, Hauser argues that Yamashita presents a very structured novel. “Chaos and order” are therefore “not only opposing poles; they are parts of the representation of a reality” where readers must grapple with an aesthetic of instability, constant movement, and transformation, which are characteristic of the contemporary globalized world (4).

For the purposes of my own research Hauser’s discussion of “Technological identities” is particularly relevant (6). Hauser asserts that Emi adopts an anti-identity politics where she anxiously attempts to present herself someone as far from a stereotypical Asian American female as possible. Yet Hauser notes that her extreme anti-identitarian stance only reinforces her “veritable fear of ‘falling’ into any category” (6). He suggests that Emi turns to “modern computer and communication technologies” in her attempt to fashion a non-ethnic identity (7). But Hauser emphasizes that she merely emerges as an “ethnic cyborg,” where “her behavior is simultaneously deeply invested in paradigms of ethnic ascription and of technological progress” (7). He goes on to describe how Tropic of Orange presents a world run by “[i]nformation technology,” where the media scrambles to report exciting news and people rabidly consume that information as they are continuously bombarded with more updates (8). Hauser accentuates that despite Emi’s efforts to fashion a “non-identitarian identity” by relying on information technologies, that media “is not free of ideological content, its potential to distribute contents on a mass scale allows it to spread engendered and racializing categories globally” (7, 8). He asserts that because of her hatred for the corporate multiculturalism that ethnically brands her, Emi is compelled to establish an almost organic, biological relationship with media technologies which places her in an even more precarious situation as she becomes “defenseless against their contents, be it a multinational marketing campaign, the accentuation of consumerism, or abusive ethnic and racial stereotypes” (10).

In contrast to Emi, Hauser notes how Gabriel exhibits a kind of “ethnic nostalgia” (11). He notes how Gabriel attempts to construct a vacation home in Mexico, which he imagines to be an exotic space that simultaneously connects him to his ethnic roots. But Hauser emphasizes that Gabriel actually establishes a kind of colony in Mexico, introducing foreign trees to an environment that will not support their growth. He ultimately suggests that “Gabriel’s nostalgia creates spaces which are as unreal – and as compromising – as Emi’s technophilian cyberspace’ (12). Hauser significantly notes how Gabriel eventually gets drawn into virtual reality all together by the end of the novel.

Hauser goes onto describe the magical realist elements of Yamashita’s narrative, suggesting that “Magical realism defines a highly complex spatial representation in the novel… It breaks up causal linearity which sets this narrative mode into analogy with the moving tropic and the transition in geography” (14). He also makes a provocative observation about the magical realist moment where “Rafaela meets Bobby in her dream” in which the “vision, the situation and the scenery bear a resemblance to cyberspace in their barren emptiness and the cyber-sexual implications” (14).

In his essay Hauser not only describes how Yamashita blurs the borders between transnational and local spaces but also the distinction between the biological and technological. He notes how human beings are presented as machine-like workers, while the organ trade treats human organs as spare mechanical parts. Hauser asserts that this “blurring of the boundary between organic life and man-made technology” is both a reflection of the effects of globalization as well as popular works of science fiction and cyberpunk. He calls attention to some potentially problematic discourses and representations, suggesting that “[i]f machines are like organic beings, human beings can also be treated like mechanical objects” (17). Hauser then goes on to describe Manzanar’s vision of LA as an organic, “cyborg city, partly human, partly machine” (25).

He finally concludes his essay with a pointed discussion of how the structure of Yamashita’s novel, which deliberately encourages “reflective activity on the part of the reader” (28). Hauser asserts that Hypercontext Grid at the beginning of the narrative is a kind of map Yamashita gives her readers “with which to ‘drive’ in the book” (28).

Annotation: Y-Dang Troeung’s “‘A Gift or a Theft Depends on Who is Holding the Pen'” (2010)

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.

Peer-Review: 0

Troeung, Y-Dang. “‘A Gift or a Theft Depends on Who is Holding the Pen’: Postcolonial Collaborative Autobiography and Monique Truong’s The Book of Salt.” MFS Modern Fiction Studies. 56.1 (2010): 113-135. Print.

In her essay, Troeung argues that Monique Truong’s The Book of Salt challenges the conventional parameters of Asian American studies, pushing theoretical discussions beyond the strict geographic borders of the US nation-state and compelling postcolonial interpretations in a broader global(ized) context. She asserts that Truong evokes in her novel, the controversial debates surrounding the authorship of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas as grounds to discuss the even more vexed and problematic practice of writing “postcolonial collaborative autobiographies” (117). Troeung cites Lorraine York’s study of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, a work that was certainly produced through the “implicit collaboration” of both lesbian women, but where the power differentials in their relationship has led Stein to be popularly regarded as the principal, if not sole, author (115). In this respect, Troeung suggests that The Book of Salt powerfully recuperates Toklas’ forgotten labors, her genius as a cook and the tedious hours she spent typing up Stein’s manuscripts as important activities that enabled such a work to come to fruition.

Troeung notes that “Toklas’s labor is told to us by Bhin,” drawing a significant parallel between the two of them, emphasizing that such a history can only be revealed by a similarly marginalized domestic (laborer). She goes on to argue that these power differentials in collaborative authorship projects are characteristic of postcolonial collaborative autobiographies where “the white western co-writer is normally accredited as being the real writer/aesthetic genius while the racialized co-writer is either not credited as an author at all or is perceived as a secondary author who simply supplies the raw, authentic material for the autobiography” (117). But despite the similarities she recognizes between Toklas and Binh, Troeung admits that the latter’s status as a poor Vietnamese “illegal” migrant laborer relegates him to an even more vulnerable position.

Another noteworthy argument Troeung makes in her essay is how Stein and Tolkas’ salon in Paris functions as an allegory for the US nation-state. The couple’s commodification and objectification of exotic “others” through writing, recipes and labor can be understood as a stringent critique of US fetishism and consumption of diversity. In keeping with this allegory, if Binh’s entrance into their household is symbolic of his entrance into America, then Truong reveals the hollowness of American ideals of democracy, equality, and liberty. Troeung further notes how Stein and Toklas’ Parisian home also functions as a metaphor for US imperialism abroad. Troeung’s essay has been illuminating on many levels as it inspires me to consider more deftly The Book of Salt’s commentary on the United States and Asian American identity within a more global, postcolonial context.

Annotation: Paul Baepler’s “Introduction” to White Slaves, African Masters (1999)

Peer-Review: 0

Baepler, Paul. “Introduction.” White Slaves, African Masters: An Anthology of American Barbary Captivity Narratives. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1999. Print.

In his introduction to White Slaves, African Masters Baepler directs our attention to the largely neglected genre of Barbary captivity narratives. While many today may be familiar with Mary Rowlandson’s tale of captivity among the “savage” Indians or Frederick Douglass’ famous slave narrative, stories about the seizure of American sailors, merchants, and women along the Barbary Coast have somehow been forgotten, relegated to distant memory. Baepler contends, however, that Barbary captivity played a significant role in shaping the early political policies of the new republic. For instance, it “forced the government to pay humiliating tributes in cash and military arms to African rulers, stimulated the drive to create the U.S. navy, and brought about the first postrevolutionary war” (2). These narratives also deeply influenced public imagination, providing many Americans with their first glimpses of the distant land of Africa, its culture and its people. Consequently, Baepler argues that by examining these once familiar stories, recognizing where they overlap and borrow from the tradition of Indian captivity and slave narratives, allows us to develop a more nuanced understanding of how racial categorization and perceptions of “otherness” developed in America. Perhaps one of the most fascinating qualities of these Barbary captivity narratives is their incredible diversity. The authors present a wide range of oftentimes-contradictory attitudes and perspectives, for example, using their experiences to critique as well as justify chattel slavery in America. But what I found most interesting and perhaps most relevant to my own interests, is the absence of any verifiable female accounts of barbary captivity. Baepler reveals that the two stories in the anthology purportedly written by women are most likely false. Yet, he asserts that the “existence of these ersatz accounts suggests that the demand for ‘true’ African captivity tales, particularly accounts of women in peril, outstripped their availability” (11). I would like to further explore the public fascination with “women in peril,” and particularly the differences between male and female accounts of barbary captivity. Whereas men often pictured themselves as laboring in a “communal space,” the few accounts we receive from females emphasize isolation and confinement (16). How do these disparities provide insight into attitudes towards women’s rights in early America and how are slavery and womanhood intertwined?

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: Jeremy D. Popkin’s “Facing Racial Revolution” (2003)

Peer-Review: 0

This annotation was written in reference to my paper: “Looking Behind the Bedroom Door: Productive Sensationalism and Domestic Violence in Leonora Sansay’s Secret History.” See my prospectus here.

Popkin, Jeremy D. “Facing Racial Revolution: Captivity Narratives and Identity in the Saint-Domingue Insurrection.” Eighteenth-Century Studies 36:4 (2003): 511-33. Print.

In his article Popkin discusses how the success of the Haitian Revolution deeply challenged Euro-American conceptions of race and the racial hierarchy itself. Whereas blacks were previously considered inferior, irrational beings, the insurrection showed that they could successfully organize to overthrow a white colonizing power and in effect seize one of Europe’s most lucrative colonial possessions at the time. Popkin specifically analyzes how first-person testimonies about the revolution reveal a crisis in identity as these authors struggle to reconcile their understanding of the Western “self” against the new black “other.” Because it was before inconceivable that blacks could even stage a revolution there was no formula for how to discuss or even think about it when it actually happened so writers needed to create conditions where it “became thinkable” (515). In his first-hand captivity narrative, Historick Recital, M. Gros suggested that “the real instigators of the insurrection were either the educated mulattoes or counter-revolutionary whites” (521). He asserted that the officials sent to St. Domingue deliberately acted passive because they wanted to spark chaos in the colony to demonstrate the inefficiency of the revolutionary party in France and precipitate the restoration of the monarchy. Popkin emphasizes, however, that Gros’ account also revealed that blacks could be just as skillful political and military leaders as whites, particularly with respect to Toussaint L’Overture. Popkin further notes that in Gros’ attempt to reach the highest ranks of administration and influence policy, he achieved “a position that required him to identify, at least to some extent, with the goals of a black-led movement,” as well as the black leaders themselves, who he recognized as generous, intelligent, and rational (518). Popkin also discusses how Michel Etienee Descourtilz’ first-person captivity narrative demonstrates a similar crisis in identity, where he encountered blacks who deeply challenged his preconceived racial stereotypes. While Descourtilz took comfort in his medical knowledge as evidence of the superiority of European science, like Gros, he was also deeply implicated in the black revolutionary movement as he helped the army resist French forces. Popkin ultimately contends that the most unsettling aspect of Gros’ and Descourtilz’s accounts is that they not only revealed how people of color could successfully repel a white colonizing power but also how they could manipulate whites into employing their knowledge about law and medicine to further their own revolutionary movement.

While Popkin focuses on how first person narratives “represent not only the construction but also the deconstruction of the autonomous white male personality” with particular regards to race, I am interested in examining how Sansay’s Secret History differs as a female account of the revolution, one written from the perspective of an American woman who writes about captivity from a detached position (527). I believe her novel offers a means of analyzing the fraught gender relations between men and women in St. Domingue as well as white women and women of color, which Popkin largely overlooks in his own article.