Annotation: Nayan Shah’s “Staging Dogeaters”

Peer-Review: 0

Okay so I am shifting gears a little bit and am now working on another project where I analyze the publication/textual history of Jessica Hagedorn’s 1990 novel Dogeaters, which she later adapts into a play. I am interested in examining the specific revisions she makes as she re-fashions her original text into a dramatic form. The production history of the play also reveals interesting changes in Hagedorn’s stage text from its premier performance in San Diego, then New York and finally Manila. So basically expect a lot more annotations about Dogeaters-the novel and play ^^

Shah, Nayan. “Staging Dogeaters.” Rev. of Dogeaters, dir. Michael Greif. Journal of Asian American Studies 2.2 (1999): 218-220. Print.

Shah reviews Michael Greif’s 1998 theatrical production of Dogeaters, Jessica Hagedorn’s stage adaptation of her 1990 novel by the same name. Shah notes that the performance at San Diego’s La Jolla Playhouse features the perspective of two major characters, Rio Gonzaga and Joey Sands: “The plot shuffles between 1959 as thirteen-year-old Rio experiences her parents tumultuous separation and 1982 the year when Joey becomes an unwitting witness to the assassination of opposition leader Senator Domingo Avila” (218). While the original novel displays a nonlinear structure, Shah asserts that in her stage adaptation, Hagedorn fully utilizes the advantages of the dramatic art form to further accentuate the overlapping of time and space. Shah specifically calls attention to how the play’s “montages of multiple scenes on stage with the actors speaking almost simultaneously…produces the effect of contradictory, coupled and de-coupled worlds,” reinforcing Hagedorn’s vision of history as not a simple chain of cause-and-effect (219).

Shah also describes how the performance highlights the intersections between “Catholic ritual and film fantasy” as characters fashion their identities through an exploration of their souls and their bodies, where spiritual and sexual experimentation “combine to produce a raw and emotionally intense collage of human expression” (220). Shah further notes the important function of gossip as a mode of communication and information transmission in the play. He asserts that gossip emerges as an informal, counter-discourse to the official discourse of the state. While “[g]ay men and women respond to gossip playfully, and creatively interpret its contents…elites respond to gossip as accusations to be denied and disposed of” (220).

Shah concludes his review by emphasizing how “Hagedorn refuses to turn the contradictory, chaotic, and funky beauty of the Philippines into digestible entertainment,” how she deliberately makes it difficult for her audiences to consume so that it will not be easily commodified (220). Yet reviews such as “Ordinary Living in a Mardi Gras of Corruption” by Bruce Weber, while written in response to a later production of Dogeaters in New York, suggests that Hagedorn’s play is not only commodified but also exoticized in a disturbingly Orientalist way. Weber asserts that for the audience, Dogeaters “is as titillating as a great vacation that leads you willingly into danger,” accentuating throughout the article, the strange “exotic, strange” features of 1982 Manila. In my essay I am interested in exploring the digestibility of Hagedorn’s play, the politics of deliberately writing a play that is difficult to consume—many reviewers have noted how the play is too complex, convoluted, etc—and what happens when it becomes subject to Orientalist consumption.

Advertisements

Annotation: Sianne Ngai’s “Animatedness” (2005)

Peer-Review: 0

Ngai, Sianne. “Animatedness.” Ugly Feelings. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2005. 89-125. Print.

In this essay Ngai asserts that stop-motion animation technology captures the ambiguous nature of human agency in the Fordist era, which she describes as “animatedness.” She particularly explores how animatedness, as a “seemingly neutral state of ‘being moved’” has been ‘twisted into the image of the overemotional racialized subject, abetting his or her construction as unusually receptive to external control” (91). Ngai argues, “to be ‘animated’ in American culture is to be racialized in some way” (95). She notes how African Americans have been popularly represented in literature and various forms of media as overly, excessively emotional. Ngai particularly calls attention to how “animatedness” as an emotional or physical response becomes racialized, corporeally attached to the visual stereotype of the African American body. She asserts that while Asian Americans seem to fall at the opposite end of the spectrum, popularly depicted as unfeeling and excessively unemotional, they are still clearly racialized for their lack of animation.

Ngai discusses the productivity of “animatedness” as a theoretical frame because the term recalls the “definitions of ‘animate’ and ‘animated’” ranging from “biological existence (‘endowed with life or the qualities of life: ALIVE”), to socially positive emotional qualities (‘lively,’ ‘full of vigor and spirit,’ ‘zest’), and finally to the historically specific mode of screen representation (‘made in the form of an animated cartoon’)” (94-95). Ngai therefore demonstrates how “animatedness” links organic life to emotional states and machine technologies.

She suggests that these connections are made even more explicit through the concept of automaziation Rey Chow presents in her essay “Postmodern Automatons.” Chow describes automatization as a condition where “one’s body and voice [is] controlled by an invisible other,” particularly reveals itself “the moment the body is made into the object of a gaze; being animated thus entails ‘becoming a spectacle whose ‘aesthetic’ power increases with one’s increasing awkwardness and helplessness’” (99). In her own essay Ngai attempts to answer Chow’s “question of how to turn automatization into autonomy and independence” (99). She asserts that while “animatedness” connotes the emotional and physical constrictions of mechanical, automatic assembly line labor, it also alludes to the potential for spontaneous, unrestricted and unexpected affective and bodily movement.

In her essay Ngai goes on to analyze a scene from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man where the “narrator suddenly finds himself part of a larger audience watching a black doll puppeteered by Tod Clifton, a Harlem community leader and activist he has admired” (111). Ngai asserts that in this scene Clifton’s ventriloquism and manipulation of the doll forces his body and voice to perform unnatural actions, thereby highlighting his own automatization. Even as he animates the black doll, he is also animated by invisible, external forces. Ngai therefore suggests that one ambiguous means through which automatized human beings can exert their agency in the Fordist era is to call attention to and essentially make a spectacle of their own automatization.

She finally concludes her essay with a discussion of The PJs, “the first prime-time program in American television history to feature a completely non-white, non-middle-class, and non-live-action cast, as well as the first to depict its characters in foamation, a three-dimensional, stop-motion animation technique” (102-103). Ngai asserts that The PJs foamation dolls are automatized by technicians who physically manipulate them into appropriate positions for camera shots and by the human actors who ventriloquize their voices. Despite their illusion of wholeness on the television screen, the dolls are dissected and pieced together. Yet Ngai notes that as different mouths are continually put on and taken off of the dolls, the mouth sometimes “slides a bit from its initial position,” which the directors refer to as “‘slippery mouth’ syndrome” (116). Ngai reads this effect as uncanny movements, where the mouths “assum[e] a liveliness that is distinct from the ‘life’ given to them by the animators and that exceeds their design and control” (117). She asserts that this “unaccounted-for autonomy” is representative of the ways in which agency operates in the Fordist era and should not be overlooked or trivialized.

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.

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: Rachel C. Lee’s “An Asian American Cultural Production in Asian-Pacific Perspective” (1999)

Peer-Review: 0

Lee, Rachel C. “Asian American Cultural Production in Asian-Pacific Perspective.” Boundary 2. 26.2. (1999): 231-254. Print.

Lee begins her essay discussing how Asian American scholars must grapple with the pressures of globalization to reconcile the field’s foundational US-centric national focus with transnational forces and concerns. She notes how Asia-Pacific Rim scholars also assert the need to explore “the meanings of Asian American cultural production to the formation of alternative imagined communities ‘created by travel and trade, and…mobilized in dispersion’ rather than primarily through settlement within individual nation-states” (232). In her essay Lee specifically explores Karen Tei Yamashita’s novel Through the Arc of the Rain Forest, which she argues speaks directly to these field contentions.

She begins by offering helpful background on how the concept of “Pacific Rim” was initially derived as foil to NAFTA. Lee notes that while Pacific Rim evokes a definite geographic locale, it is “defined by an economic logic specifically designed to transgress national borders,” thereby “undermin[ing] the persuasiveness of territorial nationalism (235). Lee goes on to cite a passage from What Is in a Rim? Critical Perspectives on the Pacific Region Idea where Arif Dirlik argues that in the Pacific region, “[e]mphasis on human activity shifts attention from physical area to the construction of geography through human interactions” (236). For the purposes of my own paper, I argue that this is particularly true with respect to Yamashita’s other novel Tropic of Orange, where “human interactions” shaped by political and economic forces such as NAFTA precipitate the literal morphing of the geographic topography of the Americas.

In her discussion of Through the Arc of the Rainforest Yamashita asserts that the novel is a “respons[e] to the unsettling effects of globalization or time-space compression” (238). Lee relies on Doreen Massey’s definition of “time-space compression” which she describes as the “movement and communication across space, to the geographic stretching-out of social relations, and our experience of all this” (238). Lee notes how Yamashita sets her novel in Metacão, a fictional territory that calls attention to the fiction of geographic borders in general, especially in a globalized world where transnational flows and exchanges repeatedly transgress those boundaries. Lee suggests that borders are then merely political national constructions used to regulate the flows of capital, people, goods, culture, etc. She calls attention to how “heterogeneous national, racial and cultural components” converge at Metacão, which is represented through a highly diverse cast of characters. Lee emphasizes how Yamashita takes pains to depict “globalization as a multiform” rather than exchanges between the East and West.

Elaborating on the novel’s relation to Asian American studies, Lee asserts that the Japanese immigrant character, Kazumasa Ishimaru emerges as “a subtle parody of a familiar archetype, the Chinese American railroad worker” (242). Lee discusses how Asian American scholars have traditionally deployed this history of Chinese immigrant involvement in the construction of the transcontinental railroad as an argument for Asian American enfranchisement and belonging in the US. She claims that by reworking this archetype, from Chinese to Japanese immigrant and manual track laborer to more advanced position of railroad technician and inspector, Yamashita articulates the need and means for shifting the field of Asian American studies from a narrow national perspective to trans- and even post-national considerations. Lee writes:

[I]n a time when national utitilies are fragmenting into competing capitalist units, when building the infrastructure is less important than downsizing to maximize profits, when railways signify less as patriotic achievements and more as a ‘lucrative travel business,’ crafting a national hero is to create a deliberate anachronism, a figure who, despite having saved ‘hundreds, perhaps thousands, of lives’ (TAR, 10), is outplaced.” (245)

Lee emphasizes that Yamashita does not entirely abandon the history of the railroad but rather demonstrates how its construction and the act of laboring on the railroad is infused with new meaning and implications within a contemporary globalized context.

She asserts that this Japanese immigrant character’s presence alongside a multicultural, multinational, and hybrid cast, Through the Arc of the Rain Forest differs from other conventional works of Asian American fiction, suggesting that the forces of globalization compel narrative expansion beyond a solely Asian or Asian American focus. Lee claims that Yamashita is more concerned with the emergence of “alternative communities…composed of nationally and racially heterogeneous social actors who are globally interrelated by virtue of worldwide media links, touristic travel across borders, international finance networks, transnational trade, and a shared ecology” (247).

Lee finally concludes her essay by suggesting that resistance against the convergence of Asian American Studies and Asia-Pacific Rim Studies stems from overlooked “class cleavages” rather than territorial disputes (250). She suggests that while Asia-Pacific Rim scholars celebrate the cosmopolitan, “transnational Asian capitalist” that form comprise of an elite entrepreneurial class, Asian American scholars will not embrace the field unless more attention is given to “marginalized, even disenfranchised, subjects in the basin” (251, 250). Lee asserts however, that the realities of our globalization demonstrate that Asian American scholars can no longer cling to their “foundational subaltern identity politics” and must come to acknowledge the economic privilege of some Asian/American groups in spite of their racial marginalization, which Yamashita powerfully depicts in her character, Kazumasu. Lee finally leaves us with the observation that Through the Arc of the Rain Forest “advocates a forgetfulness of traumatic monoracial politics in order to enable the imagining of hybrid—and even pleasurable—spatial, racial, and cross-class convergences” (254).

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.