Annotation: Josephine Lee’s “Critical Strategies for Reading Asian American Drama” (1997)

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Lee, Josephine. “Critical Strategies for Reading Asian American Drama.” Performing Asian America: Race and Ethnicity on the Contemporary Stage. Philadelphia, Temple UP, 1997. 1-33. Print.

In her essay Lee acknowledges that her focused examination of Asian American theater may contribute to a form of “racial separatism” (4). She notes that this critique has been historically raised against multicultural studies because group specific angles can potentially “promote[e] insiderism and fragmentation” (5). Lee emphasizes, however, that the study of marginalized groups should not be treated as simply “add-ons to an existing canon” just to ensure superficial “political representation” (5). She suggests that this can also force minority subjects to assume the “awkward position of speaking for others” (5). Yet the usage of neutral aesthetics through a complete rejection of the political can no longer suffice in our increasingly diverse, multicultural, transnational world. Lee concedes that Asian America encompasses a very diverse group of peoples that is always changing in light of new waves of immigration and that to presuppose such a thing as “Asian American theatre” suggests a homogeneous coherent whole that can be very reductive of internal differences. Lee maintains, however, that Asian American theatre powerfully “reflect[s], if not an easily understood ‘us’ in terms of a homogenous community of ordinary Asian Americans, then at the very least an intensely imagined communality shared by a number of diverse individuals and social groups” (9-10). She further notes that Asian American theatre was deeply tied to the larger Asian American civil rights movement of the 1960s, which encouraged pan-Asian solidarity over intra-group differences.

Lee ultimately calls for a new discursive theoretical framework that examines race and ethnicity in theatre and dramatic art forms. In her essay she discusses how the Orientalist representation of Asian Americans in theatre have been accepted as true to life. She emtions, for example, the popular practice of “yellow face,” where white actors would consult makeup manuals that offered them step-by-step guidelines as to how to appear and perform as an “authentic Oriental” (12). Instead of viewing drama as an imitation or mirror of reality, Lee accentuates the need to examine how “race is constructed and contested by theatrical presentation” (6). She asserts that as a live art form, theatre wields the remarkable potential to provoke “an immediate visceral response to the physicality of race,” forcing audiences to recognize their own implication in the process of racialization (7).

Lee notes that while some Asian Americans did receive wide critical acclaim for their performances, this success was largely achieved by playing into stereotypes that were especially hard to challenge due to casting discrimination and sheer financial need. In resistance to the Orientalizing practices of mainstream theater companies, however, Asian Americans began to establish their own companies where they featured works of “Asian American playwrights…actors, directors, and designers” (15). Lee notes how these theatrical production worked to especially spread awareness about the “history of Asians in the United States, a history marked distinctively by naturalization policy, land laws, and immigration restrictions” (16). Lee asserts that these companies were deeply attuned to community issues and employed practices such as “Pan-Asian casting” to rework the stereotype of all Asians look the same by promoting a new pan-Asian identity in the spirit of the larger civil rights movement (16).

Lee emphasizes that while the plays she examines in her book differ on many levels, they are all heavily invested in exploring “questions raised about performing race and ethnicity” (20). She also recognizes the flaws of her own study, which mostly examines dramatic works by Chinese and Japanese Americans and are even more limited with her specific reliance on play texts. Lee asserts that the publication process reveals another exclusionary measure in contemporary American theatre. The works generally favored for literary reproduction are those written by authors with a strong command of the English language and rely on language rather than performance such as dance or music in their works. Those theatrical productions that have successfully “gained mainstream recognition” are also more likely to be published (25). Lee concludes her essay by emphasizing that her study attempts to shift critical consideration of what it means to “be” an Asian American to what it means to perform Asian American identity on stage, calling attention to the constructed nature of this label.

Annotation: David Porush’s “Hacking the Brainstem” (1994)

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

Porush, David. “Hacking the Brainstem: Postmodern Metaphysics and Stephenson’s Snow Crash.” Configurations 2.3 (1994): 537-71. Print.

In this article Porush discusses how cyberspace is often presented in literature as offering the possibility for transcendence of the physical body. Users traverse and operate in this new cyberspatial terrain through a “‘meta’ body in the brain” (538). Porush essentially asserts that postmodern cyberpunk novels deal explicitly with meta-physics and meta-physical modes of existence. He emphasizes that this link has been often overlooked by critics because postmodernists are uncomfortable with the spiritual connotations of metaphysics. Yet, Porush argues that postmodern fiction’s “critique of rationalism, and of the scientific/technological project of our culture in particular,” suggests an embracement of irrationality that is very much a part of metaphysical thought and even more importantly, the experience of cyberspace itself (539). Porush emphasizes that users have to delude themselves into believing that they can temporarily dissociate from their material bodies and exist in a meta-physical form of disembodied consciousness in order to fully inhabit cyberspace. In the latter part of his essay Porush examines how Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash presents transcendent views of cyberspace, which is interestingly called the “Metaverse” in the novel, but ultimately rejects those meta-physical visions because of an enduring attachment to rationalism. Porush discusses how the Snow Crash virus destabilizes the distinction between the real world and virtual reality by affecting both digitized avatars and the material human brain, suggesting a transcendence of space and human-machine dichotomies. He emphasizes the that virus also reveals a universal tongue embedded deeply within the internal structures of the human brain, which suggests another form linguistic transcendence. Porush notes, however, that by the end of the novel this universalism is denounced by rationalistic deductions that this transcendent commonality between humans can be dangerously exploited.

Porush’s analysis of the metaphysics of cyberspace will be helpful in formulating my own thesis as I extend his argument to consider how this meta-physicality affects race, which is often associated with phenotypical characteristics of the physical human body. As he asserts that cyberspace requires a delusion of sorts, I will interrogate what kinds of delusions users have about race. Particularly important to my own paper is Porush’s own “delusion” of Hiro’s racial, national identity as he asserts “Hiro is a Japanese American hacker living in L.A” (561). This statement suggests an egregious erasure of both his Korean and African American heritage, which can be a telling slippage of how cyberspace is racialized and those identities that are excluded.

Annotation: Helena Grice’s “Transracial Adoption Narratives” (2005)

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This annotation was written in reference to my CUNY Pipeline Thesis, titled: “Reemerging Histories: Destabilizing Normative Models of Kinship, Identity and Nationality in Gish Jen’s The Love Wife.” See my prospectus here.

Grice, Helena. “Transracial Adoption Narratives: Prospects and Perspectives.” Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism. 5.2 (2005): 124-148. Print.

In this article, Grice describes the challenges of transracial adoption for both parents and children, paying particular attention to cases from China. By analyzing these narratives, she reveals the complex issues that surround transracial adoption. For instance, the difficulty of “birth heritage,” both from the perspective of parents trying to expose adopted children to their cultural heritage and the children’s own efforts to negotiate these ancestral and American customs (136). Grice also explains the importance of naming in the adoption procedure, the complexity that arises between keeping a child’s Chinese name or anglicizing it to provide a new identity (138). However, the most relevant issue Grice discusses in terms of my own project is the significant role race plays in the adoption process, since it is the “most obvious marker of difference between a transracially adopted child and her parents” (141). In Jen’s novel we witness the racial divides in terms of Blondie’s relationship with her adopted Asian daughters, Lizzy and Wendy. Lan’s appearance in their family seems to heighten these racial tensions by forcing Blondie to acknowledge her own physical differences and the barriers these differences create. She instead learns to look at her family through the eyes of an outsider, which forces her to recognize the persisting racial tensions that she has thus far tried to ignore.

Abstract: Monique Truong’s The Book of Salt (2004)

Monique Truong’s The Book of Salt (2004): Unsanctioned (Hi)stories of Love Caught in the Circuits of Global Capitalism

In The Book of Salt (2004), Monique Truong challenges the conventional portrayal of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas’ lesbian love relationship as an indication of progress and greater tolerance towards aberrant sexual identities. By re-imagining their romance from the perspective of Binh, their live-in Vietnamese cook, Truong accentuates how Stein and Toklas’ relationship becomes a new normative model of love that renders Binh’s queer romances illegitimate because they cross racial, cultural, and class lines. In “The End(s) of Race,” David Eng emphasizes that Stein and Toklas are able to emerge as “the iconic lesbian couple of historical modernism” through the “forgetting of both Asia and Africa,” of queer relationships like Binh and Lattimore’s, a Vietnamese exile and American mulatto. While Stein and Toklas’ romance has been inscribed in history, Eng reveals how Binh’s love becomes a history that must be told as fiction. I further this discussion by considering how colonization and global capitalism perpetuate this historical erasure. Truong demonstrates how Binh’s status as an exiled, migrant laborer renders his love vulnerable to commodification. She presents the job hunt as a compulsory “courtship” Binh must engage in due to desperate financial straits and that as a chef he performs labor akin to prostitution.

As someone whose success in work and love hinges on ever-fluctuating market flows, Binh’s life is deprived of historical coherence—localized time and space. Unlike Stein and Toklas whose relationship has been historically integrated as part of the “Modernist” movement, Truong suggests that the romance of queer migrant laborers often remains omitted. I argue, however, that Truong reveals the power of fiction to recover marginalized, repressed (hi)stories of love. The novel allows Binh to re-appropriate the voice that has been caught and silenced in the circuits of global capitalism, providing him the agency to narrate his own tale.

Works Consulted

Babb, Florence E. “Queering Love and Globalization.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies. 13.1 (2007): 111-123. Print.

Bhabha, Homi K. “Introduction: Location of Culture” The Location of Culture. New york: Routledge, 1994. 1-18. Print.

Brocheux, Pierre. “Ho Chi Minh: A Biography.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 2008. 14 Mar. 2010. . Web.

Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble. New York: Routledge, 1999. Print.

Ciuraru, Carmela. “Gertrude Stein’s Cook.” Lambda Book Report 11.7 (2003): 24-5. Print.

Clausen, Jan. “Review: The Cook’s Tale; the Book of Salt Read.” The Women’s Review of Books 20.10/11 (2003): 23. Print.

Cohler, Deborah: “Teaching Transnationally: Queer Studies and Imperialist Legacies in Monique Truong’s The Book of Salt.” Radical Teacher. 82 (2008): 25-31. Print.

Eng, David L. “The End(s) of Race.” PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 123 (2008): 1479-93. Print. (Annotation)

Fanon, Frantz. “The Fact of Blackness.” Black Skin, White Masks. New York: Grove Press, 1967. 109-140. Print.

Hooks, bell. “Loving Blackness as Political Resistance.” Black Looks Race and Representation. New York: South End Press, 1999. 9-20. Print.

Jackson, Peter A. “Capitalism and Global Queering: National Markets, Parallels among Sexual Cultures and Multiple Queer Modernities.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies. 15:3 (2009): 357-387. Print.

Luibhéid, Eithne. “Queer/Migration: An Unruly Body of Scholarship.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 14.2-3 (2008): 169-190. Print.

—. “Sexuality, Migration, and the Shifting Line between Legal and Illegal Status.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 14.2-3 (2008): 289-315. Print. (Annotation)

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

Marx, Karl. “The Commodity.” Capital: Volume I. Trans. Ben Fowkes. New York: Penguin, 1992.125-177. Print.

Povinelli, Elizabeth. Empire of Love: Toward a Theory of Intimacy, Genealogy, and Carnality. Durham: Duke UP, 2006. Print.

Said, Edward W. Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books, 1979. Print.

Troeung, Y-Dang. “‘A Gift or a Theft Depends on Who is Holding the Pen’: Postcolonial Collaborative Autobiography and Monique Truong’s The Book of Salt.” MFS Modern Fiction Studies. 56.1 (2010): 113-135. Print. (Annotation)

Truong, Monique. The Book of Salt. New York: First Mariner Books, 2004. Print.

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

Xu, Wenying. “Sexuality, Colonialism, and Ethnicity in Monique Truong’s The Book of Salt and Mei Ng’s Eating Chinese Food Naked.” Eating Identities. Manoa: University of Hawaii UP, 2007. Print.

Žindžiuvienė, Ingrida’s. “Transtextual Bridge Between the Postmodern and the Modern: The Theme of ‘Otherness’ in Monique Truong’s novel The Book of Salt (2003) and Gertrude Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1932).” Literatūra 45.5 (2007): 147-155. Print.

Prospectus: Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (1992)

Below is my prospectus on Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (1992) and a working list of the references I have consulted so far. I recognize that one of the major challenges in my project so far is historicizing my discussion of the Internet. I also plan to look more deeply into discourses about “techno-orientalism” and the “posthuman” so any constructive criticism about my topic or suggested reading will be greatly appreciated. thanks ^^

Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel Snow Crash offers a means of understanding the complex relationship between human beings and cyberspace, which emerges as simultaneously a tool to further ends that will facilitate and improve one’s existence in the real world, as well as a distinct realm where another life can be lived and a new identity fashioned. Stephenson presents the Metaverse as a futuristic model of today’s Internet, combined with video game RPG (role-playing game) technology, where individuals can log on and interact with one another through personal, digitized avatars. In the novel the main character, Hiro Protagonist, spends a lot of time in this “computer-generated universe” working as a hacker who sells information to finance his living expenses in Reality (24). But the Metaverse does not simply provide Hiro with a job; it also offers him an entire “universe” through which he can lead an alternative life as a “warrior prince” (63).

The novel ultimately calls attention to some of the major tensions surrounding discourses about the Internet and its role in society today. For Hiro, cyberspace becomes a means of escaping the discomforts of the real world, such as his bland 20-by-30 U-Stor-It apartment to enjoy the comforts of his mansion in the Metaverse. Some critics assert the endless possibilities of this physical dissociation, positing the Internet as a fully democratic space, where all individuals can have equal access and will not be discriminated against on the basis of race, class, gender, or nationality because these elements do not have to be transmitted and therefore bear no import in virtual reality. Stephenson dramatizes this notion of cyberspace as a site where the free and multifarious experimentation of the self can happen: “Your avatar can look any way you want it to, up to the limitations of your equipment. If you’re ugly, you can make your avatar beautiful… You can look like a gorilla or a dragon or a giant talking penis in the Metaverse” (36). But while he accentuates how individuals can assume virtual identities entirely dissociated from their real physical appearance and human biology, in the same moment he deeply troubles the notion of free and equal access by asserting that the quality of one’s avatar is limited by one’s “equipment.” Unlike Hiro, who possesses the privileged means to design a high-tech, personal computerized representation of himself, other users are forced to rely on commercialized Brandy and Clint avatars that have a limited range of facial expressions and therefore appear less human, while those who can only manage to log into the Metaverse from “cheap public terminals” materialize in the form of “grainy black and white” avatars (41).

In this paper I am interested in examining how the Internet offers a false sense of liberation from real world oppression by problematically obscuring structural inequalities and the ways in which race, gender, class, and nationality continue to organize and assert their haunting presence in cyberspace. “The Black Sun,” for example, emerges as an exclusive virtual space, where “Everything is solid and opaque and realistic. And the clientele has a lot more class—no talking penises in here (55). Stephenson suggests that “The Black Sun” is realistic because of its high-definition graphics, but we realize that this realism also stems from familiar acts of exclusion. Despite the previous assertion that individuals can assume any desired computerized form, this space does not welcome “talking penises” or any avatar that lacks “class.” In her essay “Mapping the Real in Cyberfiction,” E. L. McCallum asserts that while works in this science fictional genre have been traditionally analyzed for their innovative representations of virtual spaces, characters still deeply rely on the real material world and it is only through physically traversing this realm that important narrative ends can be accomplished. McCallum emphasizes that by shifting the critical focus to “real” space, we can see how “old” colonialist systems and oppressive power structures continue to organize the apparently “futuristic” virtual realities presented. But while she concludes that contemporary cyberpunk fiction “map the same old world” and are ultimately conservative in presenting a future that relies “on the division between first and third worlds, demarcated by race and ethnicity,” I argue that rather than a failure of artistic innovation, works such as Snow Crash endeavor to expose familiar oppressions and heighten the urgency with which they may be severely perpetuated into the future through more insidious means such as the Internet (352).

I will particularly rely on the theoretical framework Lisa Nakamura presents in Cybertypes where she examines the Internet as a highly racialized space. Her discussion of avatars as a problematic means through which people of color can “pass” as white or are assumed to be white without certain pronounced racial indicators is especially relevant to my research. I argue that Stephenson captures this notion of “passing” through the character of Hiro who possesses a hybrid racial identity. His mother is “Korean by way of Nippon” and his father is “African by way of Texas by way of the Army” (20-21). Yet in the novel Hiro’s blackness and Korean-ness are disturbingly repressed while his Japanese-ness is highly accentuated as he is presented as a “black kimono wearing,” katana equipped, ninja-like figure (36). I intend to explore the problematic moments where this racial complexity surfaces, such as the incident in The Black Sun where a Japanese businessman interrogates Hiro’s mixed appearance and essentially his right to carry a katana. This is an especially urgent topic for analysis because of the troubling manner in which many critics have perpetuated the repression of Hiro’s complex racial identity by entirely glossing over his Korean and African roots. In his essay “Hacking the Brainstem: Postmodern Metaphysics and Stephenson’s Snow Crash,” David Porush, for example, entirely misrepresents Hiro as “a Japanese-American hacker living in L.A.” (561). While my paper will rely on theories of techno-Orientalism, I will also problematize how these discourses may perpetuate stereotypical representations of the web as a “white” and “yellow” space at the expense of more nuanced racial complexity

Works Consulted

Chun, Wendy Hui Kyong. “Orienting Orientalism, or How to Map Cyberspace.” AsianAmerica.Net: Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Cyberspace. Eds. Rachel C. Lee and Sau-Ling Cynthia Wong. New York: Routledge, 2003. 3-36. Print. (Annotation)

Hayles, N. Katherine. “The Posthuman Body: Inscription and Incorporation in Galatea 2.2 and Snow Crash.” Configurations 5.2 (1997): 241-66. Print. (Annotation)

Huang, Betsy. “Premodern Orientalist Science Fictions.” Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States 33.4 (2008): 23-43. Print.

McCallum, E.L. “Mapping the Real in Cyberfiction.” Poetics Today 21.2 (2000): 349-77. Print. (Annotation)

Nakamura, Lisa. Cybertypes: Race, Ethnicity, and Identity on the Internet. New York: Routledge, 2002. Print.

–. Digitizing Race: Visual Cultures of the Internet. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008. Print.

Niu, Greta Aiyu. “Techno-Orientalism, Nanotechnology, Posthumans, and Post-Posthumans in Neal Stephenson’s and Linda Nagata’s Science Fiction.”Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States 33.4 (2008): 73-96. Print.

Ow, Jeffrey A. “The Revenge of the Yellowfaced Cyborg Terminator: The Rape of Digital Geishas and the Colonization of Cyber-Coolies in 3D Realms’ Shadow Warrior.” Asian America.Net: Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Cyberspace. Eds. Rachel C. Lee and Sau-Ling Cynthia Wong. New York: Routledge, 2003. 249-266. Print. (Annotation)

Porush, David. “Hacking the Brainstem: Postmodern Metaphysics and Stephenson’s Snow Crash.”Configurations 2.3 (1994): 537-71. Print. (Annotation)

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

Wisecup, Kelly. “‘Let’s Get Semiotic’: Recoding the Self in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (1992).” The Journal of Popular Culture 41.5 (2008): 854-77. Print.