Annotation: Rachel C. Lee’s “An Asian American Cultural Production in Asian-Pacific Perspective” (1999)

Peer-Review: 0

Lee, Rachel C. “Asian American Cultural Production in Asian-Pacific Perspective.” Boundary 2. 26.2. (1999): 231-254. Print.

Lee begins her essay discussing how Asian American scholars must grapple with the pressures of globalization to reconcile the field’s foundational US-centric national focus with transnational forces and concerns. She notes how Asia-Pacific Rim scholars also assert the need to explore “the meanings of Asian American cultural production to the formation of alternative imagined communities ‘created by travel and trade, and…mobilized in dispersion’ rather than primarily through settlement within individual nation-states” (232). In her essay Lee specifically explores Karen Tei Yamashita’s novel Through the Arc of the Rain Forest, which she argues speaks directly to these field contentions.

She begins by offering helpful background on how the concept of “Pacific Rim” was initially derived as foil to NAFTA. Lee notes that while Pacific Rim evokes a definite geographic locale, it is “defined by an economic logic specifically designed to transgress national borders,” thereby “undermin[ing] the persuasiveness of territorial nationalism (235). Lee goes on to cite a passage from What Is in a Rim? Critical Perspectives on the Pacific Region Idea where Arif Dirlik argues that in the Pacific region, “[e]mphasis on human activity shifts attention from physical area to the construction of geography through human interactions” (236). For the purposes of my own paper, I argue that this is particularly true with respect to Yamashita’s other novel Tropic of Orange, where “human interactions” shaped by political and economic forces such as NAFTA precipitate the literal morphing of the geographic topography of the Americas.

In her discussion of Through the Arc of the Rainforest Yamashita asserts that the novel is a “respons[e] to the unsettling effects of globalization or time-space compression” (238). Lee relies on Doreen Massey’s definition of “time-space compression” which she describes as the “movement and communication across space, to the geographic stretching-out of social relations, and our experience of all this” (238). Lee notes how Yamashita sets her novel in Metacão, a fictional territory that calls attention to the fiction of geographic borders in general, especially in a globalized world where transnational flows and exchanges repeatedly transgress those boundaries. Lee suggests that borders are then merely political national constructions used to regulate the flows of capital, people, goods, culture, etc. She calls attention to how “heterogeneous national, racial and cultural components” converge at Metacão, which is represented through a highly diverse cast of characters. Lee emphasizes how Yamashita takes pains to depict “globalization as a multiform” rather than exchanges between the East and West.

Elaborating on the novel’s relation to Asian American studies, Lee asserts that the Japanese immigrant character, Kazumasa Ishimaru emerges as “a subtle parody of a familiar archetype, the Chinese American railroad worker” (242). Lee discusses how Asian American scholars have traditionally deployed this history of Chinese immigrant involvement in the construction of the transcontinental railroad as an argument for Asian American enfranchisement and belonging in the US. She claims that by reworking this archetype, from Chinese to Japanese immigrant and manual track laborer to more advanced position of railroad technician and inspector, Yamashita articulates the need and means for shifting the field of Asian American studies from a narrow national perspective to trans- and even post-national considerations. Lee writes:

[I]n a time when national utitilies are fragmenting into competing capitalist units, when building the infrastructure is less important than downsizing to maximize profits, when railways signify less as patriotic achievements and more as a ‘lucrative travel business,’ crafting a national hero is to create a deliberate anachronism, a figure who, despite having saved ‘hundreds, perhaps thousands, of lives’ (TAR, 10), is outplaced.” (245)

Lee emphasizes that Yamashita does not entirely abandon the history of the railroad but rather demonstrates how its construction and the act of laboring on the railroad is infused with new meaning and implications within a contemporary globalized context.

She asserts that this Japanese immigrant character’s presence alongside a multicultural, multinational, and hybrid cast, Through the Arc of the Rain Forest differs from other conventional works of Asian American fiction, suggesting that the forces of globalization compel narrative expansion beyond a solely Asian or Asian American focus. Lee claims that Yamashita is more concerned with the emergence of “alternative communities…composed of nationally and racially heterogeneous social actors who are globally interrelated by virtue of worldwide media links, touristic travel across borders, international finance networks, transnational trade, and a shared ecology” (247).

Lee finally concludes her essay by suggesting that resistance against the convergence of Asian American Studies and Asia-Pacific Rim Studies stems from overlooked “class cleavages” rather than territorial disputes (250). She suggests that while Asia-Pacific Rim scholars celebrate the cosmopolitan, “transnational Asian capitalist” that form comprise of an elite entrepreneurial class, Asian American scholars will not embrace the field unless more attention is given to “marginalized, even disenfranchised, subjects in the basin” (251, 250). Lee asserts however, that the realities of our globalization demonstrate that Asian American scholars can no longer cling to their “foundational subaltern identity politics” and must come to acknowledge the economic privilege of some Asian/American groups in spite of their racial marginalization, which Yamashita powerfully depicts in her character, Kazumasu. Lee finally leaves us with the observation that Through the Arc of the Rain Forest “advocates a forgetfulness of traumatic monoracial politics in order to enable the imagining of hybrid—and even pleasurable—spatial, racial, and cross-class convergences” (254).

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Annotation: Rachel C. Lee’s “Transversing Nationalism, Gender, and Sexuality in Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters” (1999)

Peer-Review: 0

Lee, Rachel C. “Transversing Nationalism, Gender, and Sexuality in Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters.” The Americas of Asian American Literature. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1999. 73-105. Print.

In her essay Lee asserts that the representation of popular American in Hagedorn’s Dogeaters calls attention to US neocolonialism in the Philippines. She suggests that Hagedorn depicts a world where “Manila residents take pleasure in and identify with icons of U.S. popular culture” which inform their desires (75). But while Lee recognizes American film as means of cultural imperialism, she argues that it also serves as potential grounds from which a collective Filipino identity can be fashioned. Lee notes that Hagedorn presents characters with different colonial mentalities, some hopelessly seduced by Hollywood dreams and others who eventually achieved a “political ‘awakening’” (74). She accentuates that this “awakening” takes many different forms that extend beyond the patriarchal nationalist paradigm as Hagedorn narrates important “feminist and gay awakenings” (74). Lee calls attention to how the novel is not told “from the perspective of elected officials and their military henchmen, but from the perspective of these leaders’ mistresses, sisters, daughters, and wives” (74).

Lee begins her essay by responding to the prevailing critiques of Hagedorn’s putatively “postmodern” literary style. Critics have denounced the novel for its loose treatment of history and lack of realism. Lee, however, places Hagedorn’s novel in the tradition of “decolonizing writing,” which Lisa Lowe describes as possibly “includ[ing] features associated with postmodernism (such as nonlinear, antirepresentational aesthetics), emerges not from a terrain of philosophical or poetic otherness within the West but out of the contradictions of what Bipan Chandra has called the ‘colonial mode of production’”(81). Lee emphasizes that Hagedorn’s shift between multiple perspectives is productive because it compels the readers to recognize how a particular incident is seen, experienced, and represented differently with respect to the narrator’s social relations and status. She offers Pucha’s first hand letter to Rio at the end of the novel as one example. There Pucha speaks extensively for the first time, challenging her cousin’s representation of her, which in turn causes the reader to question the information we have been presented thus far and even more importantly, our ideological assumptions. Lee further notes how Hagedorn’s novel offers different visions of reality that significantly conflict with official narratives by “intellectual such as the nineteenth century French traveler Jean Mallat and the Aemrican president William McKinly” (79).

Lee spends the later half of her essay discussing Hagedorn’s deliberate attention to the “perpetual nonsubjects of history,” particularly the experiences of “feminine postcoloniality” (82, 74). She demonstrates how women in the novel have severely limited societal roles and are deeply constrained within them. Lee notes how the “bomba star,” Lolita Luna, is an incredibly famous actress with an enormous fan but her agency is still deeply circumscribed by masculine power (82). Lolita yearns to escape to America and start a new life there, but to do so she must appeal to “her sexual patron, General Ledesma,” who ultimately refuses, or submit to being the object of an experimental film that intends to feature invasive camera close-ups of her vagina (82). Lee asserts that “Hagedorn’s novel continually stresses how politics—the legacies of colonial power relations, machismo, and patriarchal sentiment—impinge upon the intimate venues of sex, seduction, and family” (85).

But while American movies emerge as a form of US cultural imperialism in the Philippines, Lee argues that Hagedorn does not imply that the people are merely passive recipients of these American images and ideals, “us[ing] the penetrating force of cinematic gaze to reverse the usual power relations between spectator and spectacle” (87). Lee suggests that the gaze Hagedorn attempts to subvert is simultaneously masculine and imperialistic and she does so by focusing on the often overlooked women of the Philippines. Lee asserts that nationalism has historically had an antagonistic relationship with feminism as a predominantly patriarchal movement forwarded through the policing of native women. She notes, however, that Hagedorn’s character, Daisy Avila reconciles nationalism and feminism in the novel. Lee emphasizes that Daisy’s subsequent retreat from the public after winning the beauty contest, stirs “a national crisis because it defies the traditional role of the Filipina to serve her country through self-exhibition” (91). While Daisy must eventually appear on television and turn herself into a spectacle, she mobilizes the media to denounce the beauty contest as perpetuating a harmful pattern of female objectification, something her father, Senator Avila failed to notice or address.

Lee concludes her essay by focusing on “Rio’s transnationalism,” a female character who does manage to successfully escape to the United States (99). She asserts that Hagedorn presents the US as “the site for women’s escape from…[the] male authoritative gaze” (99). Lee emphasizes that Rio wants to go to America, not to become an actress but rather make films. In this manner Hagedorn opens the possibility “where women’s desires might exceed the terms set up by male producers and where women can both produce themselves and inappropriately choose their lovers” (100). Lee offers numerous textual examples alluding to Rio’s lesbian/queer sexual identity and importantly notes that she never gets married, suggesting that such a single independent life is possible in the United States. Yet, Lee also calls attention to the failures of “Rio’s transnationalism,” emphasizing that her escape to America is essentially viewed as an act of betrayal within the nationalistic paradigm because she supposedly allows “foreign men’s appropriation of native men’s possessions” (99).

Lee ultimately emphasizes that Hagedorn does not present Daisy or Rio as perfect models of resistance to imperialistic, sexist forces. Rio refuses to forsake her “deviant” sexual desires “to fight the nationalistic cause, since the prospects of her benefiting from the success of that revolution is question” and as Daisy mobilizes a political resistance movement, her feminist concerns are relegated to a subservient level of importance (102). Joey, the other prominent narrator in the novel, who possesses a queer sexual identity does join Daisy’s political project but at that point his queer-ness is also notably submerged. Lee ultimately accentuates that Hagedorn does not theorize queer subjectivity as “a positive counterhegemonic representational strategy,” offering instead, “space for alternative, as-yet-unrealized identifications to emerge” (103). Hagedorn’s novel reveals that in light of multiple oppressions, multiple strategies are necessary to overcome them.

Annotation: Rachel C. Lee’s “Introduction” (1999)

Peer-Review: 0

Lee, Rachel C. “Introduction.” The Americas of Asian American Literature. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1999. 3-16. Print.

In the “Introduction” of her book, Lee asserts that the critical tendency to merely focus on how “America” is conceived and represented in Asian American fiction obscures other significant themes these authors address, namely, gender and sexuality. Lee locates this problematic trend as stemming from the historical tension between “feminism and ethnopolitical critique.” She argues that the project spearheaded by Frank Chin and Jeffrey Paul Chan to “recuperate Asian American manhood” against white racist, imperialist emasculation has essentially closed off discourse about Asian American women or at least ascribed them as subservient topics for critical analysis. Lee emphasizes that the expense of reclaiming Asian male masculinity is often the oppression and exploitation of women (not only by the dominant white society but also through acts of intra-racism and -sexism), whose plight has been largely rendered invisible and needs to be urgently examined.

Lee adopts a “New Americanist” critical framework that explores “America” beyond the rigid boundaries of the U.S. nation-state, “in a broader context, in hemispheric, regional, and global terms” (4, 5). But while she expresses excitement over the trasnationalization of American studies, as more and more scholars are beginning to explore the effects of globalization, diaspora, and postcolonialism, Lee is also deeply concerned about how this new trend may “undermine the vitality of Asian American feminist critique” (10). Because of the deep historical relation between “cultural nationalism” and feminism, as the nation is challenged as a framework of analysis in our ever increasingly globalized world, feminism may once again be relegated as subservient to discourses of transnationalism (11). Lee concludes that one of the primary aims of her book is to establish a framework that reconciles “Asian American gender critique with its new sources in theories of subaltern womanhood and the gendering of international labor” (11). She ultimately strives to examine how these female lives are shaped by imaginings of “America” and the broader flows of global capital.