Annotation: Jean and John Comaroff’s “Alien-Nation” (2002)

Peer-Review: 0

This annotation was written in reference to my paper: “Re-imagining Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker through the National Politics of Global Capitalism.” See my abstract here.

Comaroff, Jean and John Comaroff. “Alien-Nation: Zombies, Immigrants, and Millenial Capitalism.” The South Atlantic Quarterly 104.4 (2002): 779-805. Print.

In this article Jean and John Comaroff discuss how the prominent role of speculation in the current global capitalist economy, where capital seems to achieve an almost spectral “capacity to make its own vitality and increase seem independent of all human labor, to seem like the natural yield of exchange and consumption” (782). They suggest that the valuation of capital itself has led to the severe devaluation of human labor to the extent our modern condition gives rise to zombies. The Comaroffs present an anthropological study of post-Apartheid South Africa, drawing a connection between zombies and immigrants caught in the flows of global capitalism, where both are speech impaired (incapable of articulating their oppression) and forced to perform a kind of “ghost labor,” reduced to a mere instrument of production, the most lowly and unacknowledged occupation in an increasingly service and capital driven economy. They claim that the term zombies appropriately reflects the seemingly supernatural manner in which the rich are able to continuously consume and get richer without engaging in the conventional means of production themselves. While I am uncomfortable with the Camoroffs’ association of immigrants as zombies, which seems to deprive these individuals of any means of agency I would like to consider their discussion with respect to the spies in Native Speaker, particularly whether these “spooks” can also be conceived as zombies victimized by global capitalism.

Annotation: Alys Eve Weinbaum’s “Racial Aura” (2008)

Peer-Review: 0

This annotation was written in reference to my paper: “Re-imagining Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker through the National Politics of Global Capitalism.” See my abstract here.

Weinbaum, Alys Eve. “Racial Aura: Walter Benjamin and the Work of Art in a Biotechnological Age.” Literature and Medicine. 26.1 (2008): 207-239.

In this article Weinbaum interrogates the widely held belief that racism can only come to an end once society moves beyond race. She reveals how recent scientific evidence has debunked the fiction of race as biologically inherited and the cause for significant genetic differences. In this respect, Weinbaum discusses how science is used to reinforce the color-blind movement and suggest that we currently inhabit a post-racial moment. Weinbaum, however, calls attention to the inherent paradox regarding scientific evidence that suggests that “race has no genetic basis” and the emergence of biotechnologies that are strongly dependent on the idea of race and participate in its commodification (208). She lists examples such as “recreational genealogy, race-based medicine, and…an arsenal of assisted reproductive technologies, or so-called ARTs” (208). Her discussion of the last category is particularly interesting as she explores how individuals dependent on ARTs selectively choose sperm to produce a desired racial effect in their offspring. In the latter half of her essay Weinbaum considers Benjamin’s discussion of “aura” in his article “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Benjamin suggests that reproduced works of art lack “aura” or authenticity. Weinbaum relies on this discussion to conceptualize the notion of “racial aura” in which she considers the position of race within our putatively post-race society. Although race is supposedly inauthentic it still haunts our consciousness and the way we perceive the world. This theoretical framework is particularly important to my own analysis of how Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker furthers a discussion of the implications of post-race rhetoric.

Abstract: Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker (1995)

This abstract is for my paper titled, “Re-imagining Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker through the National Politics of Global Capitalism.”

In Native Speaker, Chang-rae Lee offers a nuanced vision of how globalization affects the relationship between minorities and the nation-state. The novel’s protagonist, Henry Park, is a Korean American spy. Challenging the conventional portrayal of spies as patriotic figures, Lee presents Henry as an employee of the transnational corporation, Glimmer and Company. The firm provides “native informants” for hire and operates purely in the service of global capital. Lee seems to present Glimmer and Company as a potentially subversive space where minorities can retaliate against state-sanctioned forms of racial oppression by severing national ties and forming fiscal relations with a transnational economy. Through this capitalist system minorities can also market their racialized physiognomy and cultural knowledge for money. But Lee questions whether this self-exploitation for profit can constitute as true progress. In Native Speaker Henry must commodify his race and culture because his espionage work requires him to infiltrate ethnic communities and conduct a “minority watch,” observing and compiling information about specified targets. Lee reveals how this self-commodification perpetuates oppressive stereotypes. He also critiques the apparent fluidity of global capitalism by demonstrating how money still flows down predictable channels. Henry and other spies are generally hired by wealthy, white individuals to obstruct minority agitators who are struggling to overturn the oppressive status quo. Lee finally reveals that globalization does not offer minorities complete emancipation from a single nation-state because capital must moves through political systems. In the novel the US government is a client of Glimmer and Company, relying on the corporation to police its national identity and manage populations. Lee therefore accentuates that minorities must continue striving for political protection of rights rather than complacently participating in a global economy where race has merely achieved superficial currency.

Works Consulted

Buell, Frederick. “Nationalist Postnationalism: Globalist Discourse in Contemporary American Culture.” American Quarterly 50.3 (1998): 548-591. Print. (Annotation)

Butler, Judith. “Violence, Mourning, Politics.” Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence. New York: Verso, 2004. 19-49. Print.

Comaroff, Jean and John Comaroff. “Alien-Nation: Zombies, Immigrants, and Millenial Capitalism.” The South Atlantic Quarterly 104.4 (2002): 779-805. Print. (Annotation)

Chen, Tina Y. “Recasting the Spy, Rewriting the Story: The Politics of Genre in Native Speaker by Chang-rae Lee.” Form and Transformation in Asian American Literature. (2005): 249-267. Print.

Corley, Liam. “‘Just Another Ethnic Pol’: Literary Citizenship in Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker.” Studies in the Literary Imagination 37.1 (2004): 61-81. Print.

Gilroy, Paul. Against Race: Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Color Line. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2000. Print.

Huang, Betsy. “Citizen Kwang: Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker and the Politics of Consent.” Journal of Asian American Studies 9.3 (2006): 243-269. Print.

Kim, Jodi. “From Mee-gook to Gook: The Cold War and Racialized Undocumented Capital in Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker.” MELUS 34.1 (2009): 117-137. Print. (Annotation)

Lee, Chang-rae. Native Speaker. New York: Penguin Group, 1995. Print.

Lee, James Kyung-Jin. “Where the Talented Tenth Meets the Model Minority: The Price of Privilege in Wideman’s Philadelphia Fire and Lee’s Native Speaker.” Novel: A Forum on Fiction. 35.2 (2002): 231-257. Print.

Lowe, Lisa. Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics. Durham: Duke University Press, 1996. Print.

Ludwig, Sami. “Ethnicity as Cognitive Identity: Private and Public Negotiations in Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker.” Journal of Asian American Studies. 10.3 (2007): 221-242. Print.

Narkunas, J. Paul. “Surfing the Long Waves of Global Capital With Chang Rae-Lee’s Native Speaker: Ethnic Branding and the Humanizing of Capital.” MFS Modern Fiction Studies. 54.2 (2008): 327-352. Print.

Nguyen, Viet Thanh. “Introduction: A Crisis of Representation.” Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America. New York: Oxford UP, 2002. 3-31. Print.

Ong, Aihwa. “Introduction.” Flexible Citizenship: The Cultural Logics of Transnationality. Durham: Duke UP, 1999. 1-26. Print. (Annotation)

Song, Min Hyoung. “A Diasporic Future? Native Speaker and Historical Trauma.” LIT: Literature Interpretation Theory 12 (2001): 79-98. Print.

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

Weinbaum, Alys Eve. “Racial Aura: Walter Benjamin and the Work of Art in a Biotechnological Age.” Literature and Medicine. 26.1 (2008): 207-239. Print. (Annotation)

Annotation: Aihwa Ong’s Flexible Citizenship (1999)

Peer-Review: 0

This annotation was written in reference to my paper “Re-imagining Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker through the National Politics of Global Capitalism.” See my abstract here.

Ong, Aihwa. “Introduction.” Flexible Citizenship: The Cultural Logics of Transnationality. Durham: Duke UP, 1999. 1-26. Print.

In the “Introduction” of her book, Ong demonstrates a broad concern with the notion of transnationality, defining it as “the condition of cultural interconnectedness and mobility across space—which has been intensified under late capitalism” (4). She strongly questions the assertions of some contemporary scholars that globalization has precipitated the erasure of national borders and the consequent emergence of liberating cosmopolitan identities. Ong argues that states are effectively policing their national borders and identities by developing systems of governmentality to regulate transnational flows of culture, capital and peoples. She relies on Foucault’s definition of governmentality as referring to “techniques and codes for directing human behavior” (6). Ong ultimately presents a complex theoretical framework that attempts to analyze cultural productions within the context of global capitalism (Marx) and governmentality (Foucault).

She accentuates the necessity to examine how changing factors of our current global political economy has led to the creation of mobile and nonmobile subjects—those who are able to maneuver and profit from the system and those who become localized to a particular place because they lack the economic means to respond to the flows of global capital. There are also of course “mobile” subjects who are forced to engage in compulsory labor migrations. I assert that these “mobile” subjects can be compelled by other means as well, for example, the internalized need to fulfill certain social expectations and national narratives such as the function of the model minority stereotype in Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker. But Ong does ultimately express a hint of optimism towards the notion of flexibility. She asserts that while states have developed flexible means of regulating transnational flows, individuals have also developed a kind of “flexible citizenship” that can be liberating, finding markets and homes in multiple locales.

Annotation: Jodi Kim’s “From Mee-gook to Gook” (2009)

Peer-Review: 0

This annotation was written in reference to my paper “Re-imagining Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker through the National Politics of Global Capitalism.” See my abstract here.

Kim, Jodi. “From Mee-gook to Gook: The Cold War and Racialized Undocumented Capital in Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker.” MELUS 34.1 (2009): 117-137. Print.

In this essay Kim focuses on the haunting legacies of the Cold War in Native Speaker. She demonstrates how the Manichean logics of the time polarized the world into two opposing camps—“good” capitalism and democracy vs. “evil” communism and totalitarianism. Kim argues that this binary stratification obscures the fundamental antagonisms between capitalism and democracy (124). Whereas democracy (US liberalism) promises equal rights and freedoms, capitalism is necessarily hierarchical, thriving on the oppression and exploitation of certain groups of people. Kim suggests that the “model minority” stereotype is specifically imposed on Asian American subjects to uphold the fiction of US liberal democracy, to emphasize that immigrants and minority figures can all achieve economic success if they just work hard enough. This rhetoric is, however, only meant to divert attention from the deeper structural inequalities within the US political economy. Kim also discusses how the United States secretly thrives on the labor of undocumented workers, allowing these individuals to persist so long as their capital remains in the tightly confined sphere of “ethnic small business capital” (124). Once Kwang attempts to politicize that capital, he is suddenly charged with criminal offenses for handling “racialized undocumented capital” (127). While the capital of non-US citizens is permissible on a purely economic level, the attempt to give these human beings some degree of political influence with the capital they generated within the nation-state is not tolerated because it threatens to overturn the existing capitalist order.

Kim’s discussion of the ironic treatment of capital within the United States is particularly important to my own research. I plan to extend her argument and consider how Kwang’s ggeh is not only radical in enabling non-citizens to influence US politics but how it offers an alternative means of organization and identification outside state-controlled mechanisms such as citizenship and race. As a private, communal banking system, Kwang’s ggeh not only subverts government-policing agencies but also lacks the traditional state-sponsored monetary insurance guarantees. Members are therefore entirely reliant human “bonds” of trust. I also intend to explore the implications of the ggeh as the primary cause for Kwang’s political demise and how that reflects the problematic devaluation of human life in the novel. The fact that Kwang is scandalized for his financial dealings with an “illegal” money club rather than his involvement in the murder of Eduardo and Helda suggests an extreme fetishization of capital.

Annotation: Frederick Buell’s “Nationalist Postnationalism” (1998)

Peer-Review: 0

This annotation was written in reference to my paper “Re-imagining Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker through the National Politics of Global Capitalism.” See my abstract here.

Buell, Frederick. “Nationalist Postnatinalism: Globalist Discourse in Contemporary American Culture.” American Quarterly 50.3 (1998): 548-591. Print.

In this article Buell offers a general definition of globalization as “the ways in which nonlocal factors interact with local ones in producing sociocultural identities and forms” (549). He discusses how globalization was initially viewed as a threat to the internal culture of the United States as well as the country’s dominance externally with respect to other world nations. Buell claims that these anxieties have subsided and recent changes regarding culture, information technology and nature point to an emerging postnationalist American identity. He suggests that nations are not becoming obsolete but are rather re-conceptualizing their identities in a more global spectrum. Buell ultimately encourages a critical and speculative discourse around the phenomenon of globalization, which should not be viewed as “inherently transformative” or as producing no changes at all (580). I believe that Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker reflects globalization along these two conflicted veins. While the spies in the novel are not allied with a particular nation, they are still used to guard national identities and control immigration. Buell also cites Robert Reich’s The Work of Nations: Preparing Ourselves for Twenty-First Century Capitalism, who suggests that the “knowledge worker” can be viewed as the new quintessentially American figure. I would like to consider this notion particularly with respect to the spies in Native Speaker.