Archive for the ‘ Modernism ’ Category

Annotation: David L. Eng’s “The End(s) of Race” (2008)

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.

Eng, David L. “The End(s) of Race.” PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 123 (2008): 1479-93. Print.

In this article David L. Eng asserts that Monique Truong’s The Book of Salt draws “insistent attention to who and what must be forgotten so that the high modernism exemplified by Stein and Toklas might come to be affirmed” (1481). He notes that in order for this iconic lesbian couple to be inscribed in history as “Modernist” and to uphold the historical coherence of this putatively progressive era, the histories of exploitation and oppression of other queer migrants must be systematically disavowed and “forgotten.” As a result, Binh’s love—the intolerance he faces and the ultimate failure of his queer romances—needs to be relegated to an unsanctioned time and space as a history that can only be told as fiction.

I argue, however, this should not be viewed as entirely negative because Truong’s novel reveals the power of fiction to recover unrecorded, repressed (hi)stories of love to fill in the gaps of official narratives. While Eng explores how The Book of Salt offers a critique of Euro-American archival accounts of history, I want to extend his argument by considering how the historical erasure and ultimate failure of Binh’s queer romances can be attributed to the mechanics of global capitalism.

Abstract: Monique Truong’s The Book of Salt (2004)

Monique Truong’s The Book of Salt (2004): Unsanctioned (Hi)stories of Love Caught in the Circuits of Global Capitalism

In The Book of Salt (2004), Monique Truong challenges the conventional portrayal of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas’ lesbian love relationship as an indication of progress and greater tolerance towards aberrant sexual identities. By re-imagining their romance from the perspective of Binh, their live-in Vietnamese cook, Truong accentuates how Stein and Toklas’ relationship becomes a new normative model of love that renders Binh’s queer romances illegitimate because they cross racial, cultural, and class lines. In “The End(s) of Race,” David Eng emphasizes that Stein and Toklas are able to emerge as “the iconic lesbian couple of historical modernism” through the “forgetting of both Asia and Africa,” of queer relationships like Binh and Lattimore’s, a Vietnamese exile and American mulatto. While Stein and Toklas’ romance has been inscribed in history, Eng reveals how Binh’s love becomes a history that must be told as fiction. I further this discussion by considering how colonization and global capitalism perpetuate this historical erasure. Truong demonstrates how Binh’s status as an exiled, migrant laborer renders his love vulnerable to commodification. She presents the job hunt as a compulsory “courtship” Binh must engage in due to desperate financial straits and that as a chef he performs labor akin to prostitution.

As someone whose success in work and love hinges on ever-fluctuating market flows, Binh’s life is deprived of historical coherence—localized time and space. Unlike Stein and Toklas whose relationship has been historically integrated as part of the “Modernist” movement, Truong suggests that the romance of queer migrant laborers often remains omitted. I argue, however, that Truong reveals the power of fiction to recover marginalized, repressed (hi)stories of love. The novel allows Binh to re-appropriate the voice that has been caught and silenced in the circuits of global capitalism, providing him the agency to narrate his own tale.

Works Consulted

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Ciuraru, Carmela. “Gertrude Stein’s Cook.” Lambda Book Report 11.7 (2003): 24-5. Print.

Clausen, Jan. “Review: The Cook’s Tale; the Book of Salt Read.” The Women’s Review of Books 20.10/11 (2003): 23. Print.

Cohler, Deborah: “Teaching Transnationally: Queer Studies and Imperialist Legacies in Monique Truong’s The Book of Salt.” Radical Teacher. 82 (2008): 25-31. Print.

Eng, David L. “The End(s) of Race.” PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 123 (2008): 1479-93. Print. (Annotation)

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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. (Annotation)

Truong, Monique. The Book of Salt. New York: First Mariner Books, 2004. Print.

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

Xu, Wenying. “Sexuality, Colonialism, and Ethnicity in Monique Truong’s The Book of Salt and Mei Ng’s Eating Chinese Food Naked.” Eating Identities. Manoa: University of Hawaii UP, 2007. Print.

Žindžiuvienė, Ingrida’s. “Transtextual Bridge Between the Postmodern and the Modern: The Theme of ‘Otherness’ in Monique Truong’s novel The Book of Salt (2003) and Gertrude Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1932).” Literatūra 45.5 (2007): 147-155. Print.