Archive for the ‘ Family/ Kinship ’ Category

Annotation: Joseph Fichtelberg’s “Heart-felt Verities” (2010)

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

Fichtelberg, Joseph. “Heart-felt Verities: The Feminism of Martha Meredith Read.” Legacy 15:2 (1998): n. pag. Web. 4 April 2010.

In this article Fichtelberg analyzes the “feminist implications” of Martha Meredith Read’s Margaretta. His argument relies heavily on a comparison between Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and Read’s response to this text, “A Second Vindication,” as works that propose two distinct forms of feminism. While Fichtelberg identifies a number of disparities between each writer’s philosophy, he claims that “the largest difference… involves Read’s approach to reason.” Whereas Wollstonecraft views reason as a “clarion call to equality,” one that “renders all forms of slavery scandalous,” Read remains skeptical of the power of intellect to overcome “the fluctuations of fancy… the flights of imagination.” Instead, she views the “parental bond” as “irreducible truth,” a concept that Fichtelberg identifies as entirely adverse to Wollstonecraft’s brand of feminism. But rather than making a value judgment on either author’s viewpoints, he conducts a more nuanced reading of the political and cultural implications of these differences. His analysis of Read’s “Second Vindication” highlights the contradiction between “nature” and “custom” that lies at the center of her critique. Whereas custom refers to “unreflective [everyday] behavior” that “distorts the family,” nature represents the “‘qualities of the heart,’ those intrinsic values unaffected by ‘corroding’ social practices.” This examination of the fundamental oppositions that shape Read’s feminism will ultimately help me unpack her concluding passages to Margaretta.

Annotation: Elizabeth Barnes’ “Politics of Sympathy” (1997)

Peer-Review: 0

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

Barnes, Elizabeth. “Politics of Sympathy.” States of Sympathy: Seduction and Democracy in the American Novel. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997. 1-18. Print.

In the “Preface” to States of Sympathy Barnes claims that her goal in this book is to explore “not Europe’s dreams about America but America’s dreams about itself” (ix). By examining the intersections between “sociopolitical discourses” and “popular literary themes” of the early republic, she asserts that what concerned writers of the period was the very process of “imagination” (ix). For her, “[s]ympathetic identification—the act of imagining oneself in another’s position” became the means for individuals to recognize the “interdependence between their own and others’ identities” necessary for establishing a coherent national identity (ix). She elaborates on this notion of sympathetic identification in her chapter on the “Politics of Sympathy.” In order for sympathetic discourse to be effective, Barnes argues that there must be a connection, a sense of “familiarity” evoked through texts and felt by the reader (2). As a result, many political and literary discourses of the time were built around the concept of “family,” converging private domestic issues with public concerns (2). Ultimately, it is this appeal to sympathy through familial bonds that, Barnes suggests, provides the foundation for democracy. One of the most provocative claims she presents in this chapter involves her explanation for the prevalence of themes of incest and seduction in early American novels. Unlike, scholars such as Anne Dalke, who treat these themes as evidence of social unrest and public anxieties about dissolving class boundaries, Barnes argues that “incest and seduction represent the logical outcome of American culture’s most cherished ideals” (3). In a nation where sympathetic bonds are stressed and boundaries between “familial and social ties” are collapsed, “incest and seduction become the unspoken champions of a sentimental politics designed to make familial feeling the precondition for inclusion in the public community” (3). This account for the overwhelming interest in incest and seduction in early American novels will compel me to reexamine my own analysis of how these themes function in Margaretta. Barnes’ conception of the central role of women in the formation of a “national sensibility” will also help me develop my argument on Read’s eponymous heroine and her effort to construct a coherent American national identity (13).

Annotation: Eve Sedgwick’s “How to Bring Your Kids up Gay” (1991)

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Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. “How to Bring Your Kids up Gay.” Social Text.  29 (1991): 18-27. Print.

Opening her article with statistics of adolescent suicide rates that are disproportionately higher among gays, Sedgwick attacks the inefficiency of current psychoanalysis and psychiatry in addressing the needs for guiding gay development among children and adolescents.  Instead, the field, though it removed sexual object-choice as pathology, equates gender as natural to the given biological sex as the sole form of proper subjectivity and condemns deviance from this gender as a pathological disorder.  She critiques the works of psychoanalysts—mainly Friedman and Green—that align gender assignment as essential to a healthy self.  She argues that while many people now allegedly adopt a more tolerant attitude towards existent gays, they object to the development of homosexuality among kids and adolescents, which impedes the wish for a world in which gays do not exist.  On the contrary, institutions more frequently take efforts to turn these kids away from homosexuality, rather than facilitating their development.  In a broader sense, Sedgwick shows that the privileging of essentialist explanations of sexuality among scholars is futile in the hope for the dignified treatment, rather than the interference with homosexual bodies, and that there is ultimately no theoretical safe haven for queers without the affirmation of desires and the need for gay people in the world.

Annotation: Anne Dalke’s “Original Vice” (1988)

Peer-Review: 0

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

Dalke, Anne. “Original Vice: The Political Implications of Incest in the Early American Novel.” Early American Literature 23.2 (1988): 188-202. Print.

In this article Dalke argues that the prevalence of themes of incest in early American novels reflect public anxieties about the “absence of a well defined social system” (188). Rather than an actual fear of “widespread incest,” she claims that authors were concerned with what the potential for incest signifies, namely, the inherent dangers posed by increased socio-economic mobility (188). Dissolving class boundaries and the fluid structure of society in the young nation fueled people’s desires for a return to organized, hierarchal arrangements, symbolized in these tales through the characters’ search for their “fathers,” or more broadly, for the protection of a charitable “upper class” (189). While Dalke examines numerous incest narratives, her discussion of Read’s Margaretta is especially relevant to my research. She exposes the conservative strains within the novel, claiming that, “opportunity is open… only to those already well-to-do. No man rises here by his own efforts” (199). The specter of incest that appears in the story therefore serves only to emphasize the importance of parentage and inheritance. Margaretta remains at the whims of her father, relying on his political and material currency to improve her socio-economic status and ultimately marry outside of her class. But while Dalke’s argument enables us to understand how the novel copes with anxieties about the “ease of social movement” and re-imagines an ordered community where distinctions in rank remain clear, I contest her representation of Margaretta, which divests the heroine entirely of agency and ignores the critical role she plays in re-constructing a coherent American national identity (188). Dalke also disregards the complexity of Read’s text when she discusses the characters’ inability to acquire material wealth outside of inheritance. Although this may be true, Read intentionally presents a reversal at the end of her novel that contrasts Margaretta’s newfound riches with De Burling’s impoverished state. The fact that she empowers her heroine with the ability to restore William’s fortune and, essentially, his violated manhood, has greater political and economic implications that I want to explore in my paper.

Annotation: Eithne Luibhéid’s “Sexuality, Migration, and the Shifting Line between Legal and Illegal Status” (2008)

Peer-Review: 0

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.

Luibhéid, Eithne. “Sexuality, Migration, and the Shifting Line between Legal and Illegal Status.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 14.2-3 (2008): 289-315. Print.

In her article Luibheid argues that the classification of immigrants as “legal” or “illegal” is not an actual measurement of criminality of character but rather status designations that are inflicted upon migrant populations because of specific historical processes and shifting power dynamics regarding race, gender, sexuality, and class. She particularly explores how US immigration law privileges individuals with specific family ties to US residents. In this system legal status can be achieved through heterosexual marriage, but queer individuals are held at a distinct disadvantage because their love relationships are not politically recognized and they must struggle to obtain legality through other means. This article is important for my own consideration of Binh’s character in The Book of Salt. As an illegal immigrant, he occupies an unsanctioned place within the global political economy, an illegality that seems to be reflected through the illicit nature of his love affairs.

Abstract: Gish Jen’s The Love Wife (2005)

This is the abstract for a paper I recently presented at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research in Missoula, Montana.

Reemerging Histories: Destabilizing Normative Models of Kinship, Identity and Nationality in Gish Jen’s The Love Wife

Family and identity are consistently linked to a conception of nationality—one that emphasizes the importance of cultural and biological ties as rooted in particular locales. However, as globalization facilitates the blurring of bodies and boundaries, the resulting changes suggest a need to re-conceptualize figurations of kinship and the self. This paper examines how Jen’s The Love Wife (2005) destabilizes normative constructions of family, identity and nationality, ushering in new modes for negotiating operant transnational dimensions. Her portrayal of Blondie and Carnegie’s family exemplifies American diversity through the interracial marriage of a Caucasian female and Chinese-American male, a union further complicated by the couple’s adopted and biological children. But rather than painting an idealized portrait of the “new” American family, Jen presents readers with a model of multiculturalism in crisis, illustrating how repressed histories contest current kinship practices. I argue that these reemerging histories create a rupture in the family that transforms it from a private to transnational space, opening a discourse between cultures that allows for a reexamination of kinship and identity across national boundaries. Therefore, as Jen exposes the flaws in this “multicultural” family, rending it apart and reconstructing it in a globalized context, she not only alters our understanding of kinship and identity, but also re-imagines America. By perceiving family and nation from a transnational framework, where complex histories intersect and overlap, where racial and ethnic differences are acknowledged rather than repressed, it becomes possible to create new models for self and national identification. Ultimately, through my analysis of The Love Wife, I will demonstrate how Jen transforms our understanding of “ethnic” narratives as merely localized texts, compelling them to be recognized as part of an American literature that is, at its heart, fundamentally global.

Works Consulted:

Chen, Shu-ching. “Disjuncture at Home: Mapping the Domestic Cartographies of Transnationalism in Gish Jen’s The Love Wife.” Tamkang Review. 37.2 (Winter 2006): 1-32. Print.

Chuh, Kandice. “Introduction: On Asian American Culture.” Imagine Otherwise: On Asian American Critique. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003. 1-29. Print.

_____. “Nikkei Internment: Determined Identities/ Undecidable Meanings.” Imagine Otherwise: On Asian American Critique. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003. 58-84. Print.

Geyh, Paula E. “Assembling Postmodernism: Experience, Meaning and the Space In-Between.” College Literature. 30.2 (2003): 1-29. Print.

Grice, Helena. “Transracial Adoption Narratives: Prospects and Perspectives.” Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism. 5.2 (2005): 124-148. Print. (Annotation)

Jameson, Fredric. “Foreward.” The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984. vii-xxi. Print.

Lowe, Lisa. “Decolonization, Displacement, Disidentification: Writing and the Question of History.” Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics. Durham: Duke University Press, 1996. 97-127. Print.

_____. “Heterogeneity, Hybridity, Multiplicity: Asian American Differences.” Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1996. 60-83. Print. (Annotation)

_____. “Imagining Los Angeles in the Production of Multiculturalism.” Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics. Durham: Duke University Press, 1996. 84-96. Print.

_____. “Immigration, Citizenship, Racialization: Asian American Critique.” Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics. Durham: Duke University Press, 1996. 1-36. Print.

Lyotard, Jean-Francois. “Answering the Question: What is Postmodernism?” The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Trans. Regis Durand. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984. 71-82. Print.

O’Brien, Susie and Imre Szeman. “Introduction: The Globalization of Fiction/ the Fiction of Globalization.” The South Atlantic Quarterly. 100.3 (Summer 2001): 2002. Print.

Palumbo-Liu, David. “Multiculturalism Now: Civilization, National Identity and Difference Before and After September 11th.” Boundary 2. 29.2 (Summer 2002): 109-127. Print.

Partridge, Jeffrey F. L. “Adoption, Interracial Marriage, and Mixed-Race Babies: The New America in Recent Asian American Fiction.” MELUS. 30.2 (Summer 2005): 242-251. Print.

Perez-Torres, Rafael. “Knitting and Knotting the Narrative Thread—Beloved as Postmodern Novel.” Modern Fiction Studies. 39.3-4 (Fall/ Winter 1993): 689-707. Print.

_____. “Nomads and Migrants: Negotiating a Multicultural Postmodernism.” Cultural Critique. 26 (Winter 1993-1994): 161-189. Print.

Schiller, Nina Glick Eds. Towards a Transnational Perspective on Migration: Race Class, Ethnicity, and Nationalism Reconsidered. New York: New York Academy of Sciences, 1992. Print.

Annotation: Helena Grice’s “Transracial Adoption Narratives” (2005)

Peer-Review: 0

This annotation was written in reference to my CUNY Pipeline Thesis, titled: “Reemerging Histories: Destabilizing Normative Models of Kinship, Identity and Nationality in Gish Jen’s The Love Wife.” See my prospectus here.

Grice, Helena. “Transracial Adoption Narratives: Prospects and Perspectives.” Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism. 5.2 (2005): 124-148. Print.

In this article, Grice describes the challenges of transracial adoption for both parents and children, paying particular attention to cases from China. By analyzing these narratives, she reveals the complex issues that surround transracial adoption. For instance, the difficulty of “birth heritage,” both from the perspective of parents trying to expose adopted children to their cultural heritage and the children’s own efforts to negotiate these ancestral and American customs (136). Grice also explains the importance of naming in the adoption procedure, the complexity that arises between keeping a child’s Chinese name or anglicizing it to provide a new identity (138). However, the most relevant issue Grice discusses in terms of my own project is the significant role race plays in the adoption process, since it is the “most obvious marker of difference between a transracially adopted child and her parents” (141). In Jen’s novel we witness the racial divides in terms of Blondie’s relationship with her adopted Asian daughters, Lizzy and Wendy. Lan’s appearance in their family seems to heighten these racial tensions by forcing Blondie to acknowledge her own physical differences and the barriers these differences create. She instead learns to look at her family through the eyes of an outsider, which forces her to recognize the persisting racial tensions that she has thus far tried to ignore.