So I just finished reading Gish Jen’s Mona in the Promised Land, which was an incredibly funny and all-around great book. Jen touches on really interesting themes such as the constructed nature of identity and what it means to be “American” but one (odd) point that stuck with me was her commentary on love. Not to give away too many spoilers, Mona and her friend Barbara end up falling for a boy named Seth who (initially) adheres to a code of “free love.” He does not believe in boyfriend girlfriend labels or that relationships should be exclusive. In the novel both Mona and Barbara express considerable discomfort and anxiety about this hippie-esque philosophy and yearn for the ability to call Seth their boyfriend. So this really led me to ponder about the implications of love. If we want an exclusive relationship isn’t that similar to claiming our significant other as private property and demanding sole possession of at least sexual, romantic relations to that person? I am definitely not belittling or condemning this form of love (because I would certainly want an exclusive relationship) but doesn’t this make love capitalistic? Also, what would be the alternative? Is free love then a form of “communism”? This was just a random epiphany so I’m really interested in hearing what other people have to say about love? Does reexamining love in the context of capitalism make anyone feel a little uncomfortable?- I know I was a little weirded out by that revelation…
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.