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

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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.

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Annotation: Michel Foucault’s “Part Five: Right of Death and Power over Life” (1990)

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Foucault, Michel. “Part Five: Right of Death and Power over Life” The History of Sexuality Volume 1: An Introduction. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Vintage Books, 1990. 135-159. Print.

In this essay Foucault discusses the historical changes in sovereign power as the absolute “right to decide life and death” eventually came to be conditioned by exceptional circumstances where the sovereign’s life was threatened (135). In these instances, he would be able to “legitimately wage war, and require his subjects to take part in the defense of the state; without ‘directly proposing their death’” (135). Foucault asserts that in modern times sovereign power “as the ‘power of life and death’ was in reality the right to take life or let live” (136). The sovereign exercises his power over life through the deaths that he can command and exercises his power over death by the lives he can spare. Foucault accentuates that in this framework power is exerted according to the model of “deduction, a subtraction mechanism,” that “culminate[s] in the privilege to seize hold of life in order to suppress it” (136). He notes, however, that since then power in the West has undergone a radical transformation.

No longer a deductive force that attempts to “suppress” life with the threat of death, now “power…exerts a positive influence on life, that endeavors to administer, optimize, and multiply it, subjecting it to precise controls and comprehensive regulations” (137). Foucault calls attention to how wars have ceased to be waged in the name of an individual sovereign but rather for the defense and survival of whole populations. He emphasizes that modern states exercise power in this manner, stressing life even as they expose their subjects to death. Foucault asserts “that the ancient right to take life or let live was replaced by a power to foster life or disallow it to the point of death (138). He notes that because power can only exerts its influence over life, “death is power’s limit” (138). Foucault explains that suicide, as an individual, private act, subverts power, and classifying it as a crime is power’s grasping attempt to manage life.

He goes on to describe how “power over life evolved in two basic forms” since the 17th century (139). Foucault describes how the first form is “centered on the body as a machine: its disciplining, the optimization of its capabilities…the parallel increases of its usefulness and its docility, [and] its integration into systems of efficient and economic control” (139). He groups all of these mechanisms of power under the heading of “disciplines: an anatomo-politics of the human body” (139). Foucault asserts that the second form is “focused on the species body, the body imbued with the mechanics of life and serving as the basis of the biological processes: propagation, births and mortality…life expectancy and longevity” (139). These mechanism he groups under the heading of “regulatory controls: a biopolitics of the population” (139). Foucault emphasizes that power mobilizes to discipline the human body and regulate populations, giving rise to a “great bipolar technology—anatomic and biological” that works towards “invest[ing] life through and through” (139).

He further notes how this “bio-power” has been instrumental to the rise and expansion of capitalism. Foucault insists that the success of this economic system “would not have been possible without the controlled insertion of bodies into the machinery of production and the adjustment of the phenomena of population to economic processes” (141). Capitalism, which demands growth—the creation of new markets, the production of more goods and capital, etc—ultimately relies on a power capable of fostering, optimizing, and regulating life rather than death (141).

Foucault argues that modernity is marked by mankind’s development of political measures to specifically maintain and perpetuate its own existence. But he suggests that one important consequence of “bio-power” is the normalization of power beyond the formal legal system. He asserts that “law operates more and more as a norm, and that the juridical institution is increasingly incorporated into a continuum of apparatuses (medical, administrative, and so on) whose functions are for the most part regulatory” (144). Foucault further notes how the right to life has become the underlining demand of most political struggles.

He finally concludes his essay with a discussion of how sex has gained so much political significance within this schema of power because it is tied to both “the disciplines of the body” and “the regulation of population,” a “means of access both to the life of the body and the life of the species (145, 146). Foucault goes on to offer a fascinating argument about the management of sexuality and deployment of sex, which I have chosen not to go into detail about here.

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

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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.

Protected: Annotation: D. C. Greetham’s “Textual Forensics” (1996)

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

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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. ^^