Annotation: David Palumbo-Liu’s “The Occupation of Form” (2008)

As promised an original annotation at last. ^^

Peer-Review: 0

Palumbo-Liu, David. “The Occupation of Form: (Re)theorizing Literary History.” American Literary History. 20.4 (2008): 814-835. Print.

In this article Palumbo-Liu examines two academic journals, New Literary History and American Literary History that grapple with debates about the productivity of formalism in contemporary literary studies. Both journals reject formalism’s ahistorical emphasis on close reading and posit theory as the mechanism that will help “(re)connect the study of literature to the world outside” (816). Palumbo-Liu, however, calls for a reexamination of formalism and ultimately a productive recuperation of formalist concerns for critical literary analyses.

He notes how the emerging school of “New Formalism” articulates “a basic desire to return to close, formalist readings of texts” in addition to a “common feeling that these readings should be attached to the larger socio-historical formations in which these texts were produced” (820). While Palumbo-Liu supports this movement, he attempts to further conceptualize the advantages and insights New Formalism will provide as a critical apparatus in light of the increasing “transnationaliz[ation] of American literary studies” (820). He asserts that “Form” should be viewed as “common place” where readers can articulate their own literary interpretations in conjunction with those of others (822). Palumbo-Liu emphasizes that within a transnational frame, Formalism an analysis of “transsubjectivity,” or “slices” of simultaneous and nonsimultaneous histories” in terms of both temporal and spatial incongruities (828).

In the latter half of his essay he goes on to discuss how Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange offers a productive terrain to employ the apparatus of New Formalism in a transnational context. He notes how the form of Yamashita’s novel reflects the way in which forces of globalization and neocolonialism force people into proximity and dependency, without necessarily a commensurate degree of control and self-determination” (828). He then goes on to analyze the consciousness of Manzanar, who conducts an orchestra from his post atop a Los Angeles freeway, sees the familiar urban sprawl below him steadily morph and change wit “markers of new intimacies and encumbrances” (830). Palumbo-Liu suggests that Manzanar perceives the form of the hidden form of the city beyond its material structural edifices and economic flows, to conduct beautiful urban music from seemingly cacophonous sounds and disparate events.

He also references the preface to The Portrait of a Lady in which Henry James describes “the house of fiction” as containing numerous disconnected windows through which readers can view the work of art. In contrast to James’ configuration, however, Palumbo-Liu suggests that Yamashita’s novel presents overlapping transhistorical and transnational spaces, which is ultimately closer to his own conception of form.

To him, “literary form is…both a material and real ‘thing,’ but one variously inhabited and animated by various occupants” (832). Palumbo-Lui emphasizes that the simultaneous multiplicity of time and space as heterogeneous and overlapping is emblematic of “the contemporary, late capitalist world” (832). Form he asserts finally, serves as “a necessary container and common ground that is precisely not reified but dynamic, a contingent meeting space for otherwise divergent histories, literary and public at once” (833). He therefore encourages the manipulation of form to serve the multivalent interests and concerns of the reading public.

Annotation: Stephen Hong Sohn’s “Alien/Asian” (2008)

Peer-Review: 0

This annotation was written in reference to my paper on Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, as yet, still untitled. See my prospectus here.

Sohn, Stephen Hong. “Alien/Asian: Imagining the Racialized Future.” Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States 33.4 (2008): 5-22. Print.

In this article Sohn discusses the historical conception of Asian Americans as “aliens” in the United States and the literary replication and perpetuation of these views where Asian Americans are presented as actual “aliens” (cyborgs, replicants, robots, etc) in many works of science fiction and other related genres. Sohn draws the phrase “Alien/Asian” from David Palumbo-Liu’s earlier formation of “Asian/American” which invokes the and/or construction that captures the troubling, unstable relationship between the two terms. Sohn similarly calls attention to disturbing cultural representations of the “Alien and Asian” as well as the “Alien or Asian,” which is just as problematic as the former because it singles out Asians and directly interrogates their extraterrestriality. The term “Alien” also usefully invokes notions of “Alienation” and “Alien-nation” (6). Sohn further provides a useful discussion of Saidian Orientalism and the techno-Orientalism David Morley and Kevin Robins later devised (7). Sohn notes that traditionally Japan was orientalized as a primitive and backward culture far interior to the West but as the country excelled technologically and economically it became necessary to re-orient Orientalism to maintain a sense of Euro-American supremacy. The Japanese and eventually other Asians began to be stereotyped and “cybertyped” (Lisa Nakamura) as the “yellow peril,” a threatening menace to the West and particularly the United State’s status as the preeminent world power. Reproduced in literature, Asians were presented as sneaky, devious and despite their technological prowess, devoid of humanity—a kind of robot, replicant or cyborg. “Orientals” were therefore recast as embodying a “retrograde humanism” that makes them far inferior to Westerners (8). Sohn essentially suggests that science fictional novels present cyberspace as a kind of “virtual frontier” where the West can re-create and re-colonize the “Orient.” His article offers important historical background about the development of techno-orientalism which will deeply inform my reading of the techno-orientalism presented in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. I, however, intend to examine not only problematically racist depictions of Asian Americans in the novel but also how stereotypical delineations of cyberspace as a predominantly and even exclusively “white” and “yellow” space perpetuates the troubling erasure of other races and complex hybrid racial identities.