Annotation: Rachel Adams’ “The Ends of America, the Ends of Postmodernism” (2007)

Peer-Review: 0

Adams, Rachel. “The Ends of America, the Ends of Postmodernism.” Twentieth Century Literature: A Scholarly and Critical Journal. 53.3 (2007): n. pag. Web. 12 Sept. 2010.

In this essay Adams asserts that postmodernism is giving away to a new phase of American literature, where authors pointedly explore the effects of globalization in a multicultural, transnational context beyond the borders of the US nation-state. She explicitly compares Pynchon’s canonical postmodern work, The Crying of Lot 49, with Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange, which she asserts is reflective of this new American literary globalism. She notes that unlike traditional postmodernist works, this emerging group of contemporary American writers are often immigrants themselves or come from an immigrant background and while they may rely on some familiar postmodernist forms they distinguish themselves through their acute concern about “the vast inequities, economic interconnections, and movement of people and goods associated with globalization” (print 2). Adams explains that Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 and Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange are apt for comparison because both novels take place in California and posit Mexico as a significant player in shaping US socioeconomic politics and identity.

She asserts that Pynchon presents California as:

a place that values superficiality over depth…where neighborhoods and downtowns have been eradicated in favor of vast, sprawling networks of freeway, and where faceless new information industries have made workers ever more alienated from the products of their labor (print 5)

Adams describes how the novel is characterized by an overwhelming sense of Cold War paranoia, political exhaustion and disillusionment towards potential for progress. Mexico just signifies another dead end, “adding to the clutter of signs whose meaning may amount to no more than endless deferral and information overload” (print 7).

Adams argues that Yamashita deliberately diverges from this representation of California as an entirely superficial, materialistic, alienating and dead city. Tropic of Orange conversely presents California as “a nodal point where globalization threatens to erupt into environmental and human catastrophe, but also where people find themselves creating unlikely coalitions that might work to remedy these problems” (print 3). While Adams admits that the Hypercontext Grid that prefaces the actual narrative offers readers a misleading sense of order, she emphasizes that characters such as Gabriel come to accept that chaos by “recognizing its likeness to the ubiquitous technology of the internet” (print 9). She notes that Emi is the character most deeply connected with the Internet and communications technology in the novel. Bitter and sarcastic, with little regard for the past or cultural diversity as a model for the future, Emi, Adams asserts, is representative of the traditional postmodern antihero. She further argues that Emi’s “unsentimental elimination” in Tropic of Orange suggests that the future has no place for such a character and “belongs instead to characters like Gabriel or the community organizer Buzzworm, who are both more respectful of the past and willing to harbor utopian visions of the future” (print 9).

Adams also notes how Yamashita diverges from the consideration of Cold War geopolitics of many postmodernist works, aligning the geographic and topographical shifts in her novel to “the massive demographic and perspectival shifts introduced by contemporary globalization and linked to the long history of conquest and colonization in the Americas” (print 10). She further emphasizes that Yamashita presents a vision where “America’s future is tied to Latin America and Asia” (print 10). Contrary to Pynchon’s representation of Mexico, Adams describes how Yamashita’s configuration of US-Mexico relations directly alludes to economic policies such as NAFTA and CAFTA (print 11).

She additionally discusses how this hemispheric focus is reflected in the very form of Yamashita’s novel, which employs a “creative fusion of Latin American-inspired magical realism with allusions to such Anglo-American sources as hard-boiled detective fiction and Hollywood film” (print 11). In addition to the movement of Southern people to the North and geographic border shifts, Tropic of Orange dramatizes the “melding of Northern and Southern cultural forms…evident in the novel’s structure, which vacillates between the linear, goal-oriented model of plot development of the Anglo-American detective novel and cyclical understandings of time indebted to Amerindian sources such as the Mayan codices” (print 11).

Adam emphasizes that Yamashita deliberately presents the voices and perspectives of racially marked characters that have been traditionally marginalized, silenced, or omitted from the historical archive. She notes that while globalization has “resulted in the dispersal and intensification of economic disparities,” it also opens up new possibilities for resistance and protest. Adams particularly points to the bands of homeless people who take over the abandoned cars on the LA freeway that have been entirely gridlocked by a major traffic accident. These individuals essentially create a functional society with its own system of order. She emphasizes that “the dreaded gridlock does not bring urban life to an end. Instead, the crisis forces people to see and feel the city differently, as they experience it by foot” (print 13). Adams accentuates that this a significant difference between Yamashita and Pynchon because the characters in Tropic of Orange do not become completely immobilized or wallow over their total lack of agency. She admits that the ending is rather ambiguous as Gran Mojado dies in his final match with SUPERNAFTA but notes that this defeat is matched “with the reunion of a truly global family—the Singaporean Bobby, Mexican Rafaela, and their son Sol,” which offers readers some sense of hope for the future (print 13).

Adams finally concludes her essay by expressing her enthusiasm over this new global shift in American literature, characterized by “the recent realignment of the field’s geographic parameters to reflect multiple Americas that are more mobile and expansive than the borders of the US nation-state” (print 14).

Oh sorry meant to point out the the (print #) citations are for my own personal reference because I pasted the essay into a word document. I just wanted an easier way to locate quotes and such. ^^

Annotation: Mark Chiang’s “Capitalizing Form” (2008)

Peer-Review: 0

Chiang, Mark. “Capitalizing Form: The Globalization of the Literary Field: A Response to David Palumbo-Liu.” American Literary History. 20.4 (2008); 836-844. Print.

In this article Chiang responds to David Palumbo-Liu’s attempt to recuperate form as means of forwarding historical analysis in a broader transnational context, while also accentuating the significance of “local contexts of reception” (836). Although intrigued by this re-conceptualization and deployment of form, Chiang calls attention to some troubling ambiguities in Palumbo-Liu’s theoretical framework. He asserts that Palumbo-Liu fails to offer a clear definition of form, suggesting that it can be both seen and not seen depending on various readership publics. Chiang emphasizes that those who cannot see form occupy a precarious situation as they are unable to enter formalist literary debates. Referencing Pierre Bourdieu, Chiang asserts, “the capacity to read literature, muss less to perceive form, must be understood as embodied forms of linguistic and cultural capital. Being unable to see form, then, signals a lack of such capital” (837). He therefore accentuates the need to examine the institutional structures that shape various reading publics (especially transnational ones for the purposes of Palumbo-Liu’s expansive theoretical framework) and influence what forms they see or fail to see. Chiang also emphasizes the need to clarify the difference between form and genre and to interrogate whether an analysis of the latter would accomplish the same formalist goals.

Chiang goes on to discusses Rincón’s thesis on Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude (1867) and the telenovela but for the purposes of my own research I will focus on annotating his analysis of Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange. He argues that while Manzanar Murakami conducts an urban orchestra atop a Los Angeles freeway, he “does not control anything. Rather, his task is sheer comprehension, and his conducting is an effort to grasp the conceptual order underlying the seeminingly chaotic processes of the global system” (841-842). Chiang suggests that in this respect Murakami more closely resembles a “misunderstood literary genius than…[a] conductor who is the leader and public figurehead of a classical orchestra” (842). Drawing a parallel between Murakami’s orchestra and the great wrestling match between Arcangel and SUPERNAFTA as the two major climatic moments in the novel, Chiang asserts that Yamashita distinguishes between respectively high and low art forms as well as the particular “readerships” for each. He emphasizes that “[t]he difference between Murakami’s sonic cartography and the Ultimate Wrestling Championship lies in the contrast between the solipsistic introspection of conducting versus an engaged popular art, one that might be capable of speaking to, and moving the masses” (843).

I would argue however that Murakami’s conducting does not aspire to be introspective as the music is the beautiful melodies of public urban life and does eventually move and affect the masses. Yamashita also does not seem to distinguish Murakami as the leader of a high art orchestra as he is simply a homeless man who quit being a surgeon and was mysteriously compelled to become a conductor without any formal professional training. But while Chiang’s analysis of Murakami remains less than convincing, he does effectively articulate the need to interrogate the politics of reception, the institutions that socialize people to read a certain way and those who are excluded from such formal training. He leaves readers with the following observation: “While we can certainly imagine audiences discussing both high art and low art…it is a somewhat different matter to imagine a conversation in which audiences are discussing the same text in disparate, if not completely, antithetical, ways” (843).

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.

Site Update: Peer-Review

I just finished peer-reviewing Sue-Im Lee’s article “‘We are not the World’: Global Village, Universalism, and Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange” (2007) and included some of my personal observations in the comments section. See the updated post here.

I am planning to write a thesis on Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange so expect more peer-reviews of Frances’ annotations on the novel soon! ^^

Annotation: Bruce Sterling’s “Slipstream”

Peer-Review: 0

This annotation is for a paper I am currently writing for my ENGL 391W course at Queens College on Science Fiction. I will be conducting an analysis of the science fictional and magical realist elements in Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange and the novel’s implications on contemporary discourses about globalization. See my prospectus here.

Sterling, Bruce. “Slipstream.”, n.d. Web. 4 April 2010.

In this article Sterling discusses the supposed “death” of science fiction in contemporary society, claiming that while SF used to offer “some kind of coherent social vision” and resonated with what was “actually ‘happening,’… in the popular imagination,” today it is essentially devoid of meaning. He denounces what SF has become, “a self-perpetuating commercial power-structure” that capitalizes on “category marking” and the confidence of having its own prescribed “bookstore rackspace.” Although Sterling’s tone is perhaps too glib and undermines the work of contemporary SF authors, he does point to a significant shift in public attitudes away from traditional science fiction texts to those that occupy a strange in-between space, “writing which simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the late twentieth century makes you feel.” Sterling labels these works as “slipstream,” a body of literature with its own unique characteristics that, he claims, are “essentially alien to… SF’s intrinsic virtues.” Throughout the article Sterling attempts to identify what the specific qualities of slipstream may be, but the closest he comes to a definition is the assertion: “It seems to me that the heart of slipstream is an attitude of peculiar aggression against ‘reality.’ These are fantasies of a kind, but not fantasies which are ‘futuristic’ or ‘beyond the fields we know. These books tend to sarcastically tear at the structure of ‘everyday life.’” By demonstrating how slipstream involves a different kind of fantasy making, one that is inextricably intertwined with mundane, “everyday life,” Sterling proposes an interesting lens for me to examine Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange. In addition to analyzing the text as a representative of slipstream fiction, I want to demonstrate how its structural and stylistic intertwining of the bizarre and the mundane also serves as a commentary on the blurring of bodies and boundaries in globalization.