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.