The Americas of Asian American Literature

The Americas of Asian American Literature: Gendered Fictions of Nation and Transnation

Rachel C. Lee
Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    The Americas of Asian American Literature
    Book Description:

    Drawing on a wide array of literary, historical, and theoretical sources, Rachel Lee addresses current debates on the relationship among Asian American ethnic identity, national belonging, globalization, and gender. Lee argues that scholars have traditionally placed undue emphasis on ethnic-based political commitments--whether these are construed as national or global--in their readings of Asian American texts. This has constrained the intelligibility of stories that are focused less on ethnicity than on kinship, family dynamics, eroticism, and gender roles. In response, Lee makes a case for a reconceptualized Asian American criticism that centrally features gender and sexuality.

    Through a critical analysis of select literary texts--novels by Carlos Bulosan, Gish Jen, Jessica Hagedorn, and Karen Yamashita--Lee probes the specific ways in which some Asian American authors have steered around ethnic themes with alternative tales circulating around gender and sexual identity. Lee makes it clear that what has been missing from current debates has been an analysis of the complex ways in which gender mediates questions of both national belonging and international migration. From anti-miscegenation legislation in the early twentieth century to poststructuralist theories of language to Third World feminist theory to critical studies of global cultural and economic flows,The Americas of Asian American Literaturetakes up pressing cultural and literary questions and points to a new direction in literary criticism.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2320-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-2)
    R. C. L.
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-16)

    The proposition of this book is that gender and sexuality remain instrumental to the ways in which Asian American writers conceive of and write about “America.” The Americas over which these writers ruminate vary widely, appearing as a utopian space of possibility, a violent exclusionary society, a series of assimilationist narratives, a fantasy of wealth and privilege projected onto movie screens, and a center of financial speculation and faddish consumption. It would be misguided to reduce these writers’ complex, contradictory, and often ambivalent attitudes toward America to a single unified response. What is consistent across these several narratives is the...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Fraternal Devotions: Carlos Bulosan and the Sexual Politics of America
    (pp. 17-43)

    Within the first four pages of Carlos Bulosan’sAmerica Is in the Heart, three climactic events unfold: the return of the narrator’s older brother Leon, the mob attack on Leon and his bride (as depicted in the epigraph), and the newlywed couple’s exile from the barrio. This series sets up a recurrent motif in the novel: a disruption of brotherly unity by the presence of a sexualized woman. Yet the centrality of this dynamic throughout the text is oddly deemphasized by the novel’s ostensible and eponymous focus on the American nation. Consequently, this narrative structure remains underexplored in Bulosan scholarship,...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Gish Jen and the Gendered Codes of Americanness
    (pp. 44-72)

    Gish Jen’sTypical Americanchronicles the adventures of a Chinese American immigrant, Ralph Chang, and his family in the United States. With its opening line, “It’s an American story,” the novel both characterizes the Chang family as part of U.S. history and alludes to the ways in which national narratives are to inscribe the Changs (3). On the one hand, Jen emphasizes the timelessness of national myths that represent Americanness to these immigrants. Drawing upon a hodgepodge of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literary references, Ralph Chang emulates Benjamin Franklin, believes in Emersonian Romantic individualism, encounters a Melvillian confidence man, and lives...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Transversing Nationalism, Gender, and Sexuality in Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters
    (pp. 73-105)

    Dogeatersbegins in the air-conditioned darkness of Manila’s Avenue Theater where the American release “All That Heaven Allows” plays in Technicolor and Cinemascope. Like the narrator, Rio, and her cousin Pucha, Hagedorn’s readers sit enthralled to the movie’s “perfect picturebook American tableau, plaid hunting jackets, roaring cellophane fires, [and] smoking chimneys” (3). Not until the second paragraph is the reader momentarily interrupted by the sound of noisy lovers stealing kisses in the theater’s darkness; yet quickly the focus returns to “Jane Wyman’s soft putty face, Rock Hudson’s singular, pitying expression … [and] the virginal, pastel-pink cashmere cardigan draped over Gloria...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Global-Local Discourse and Gendered Screen Fictions in Karen Tei Yamashita’s Through the Arc of the Rain Forest
    (pp. 106-138)

    Karen Tei Yamashita’sThrough the Arc of the Rain Forest(hereafter referred to asThrough the Arc) is a quasi-magical realist narrative, set in thenextturn of the century though written and published a decade prior to the millennium. While the United States functions as a major player in this novel (looming large especially in its role as primary agent of “past” ecological disasters), the central setting and focus of the text is theMatacão, an imaginary site in Brazil’s Amazon Basin. This territory functions similarly to the American western “frontier” of the nineteenth century, with one significant difference:...

  9. CONCLUSION Asian American Feminist Literary Criticism on Multiple Terrains
    (pp. 139-146)

    As Nancy Armstrong suggested over a decade ago, political power does not reside solely within “official institutions of state”; rather, one must recognize the “political history of the whole domain over which our culture grants women authority: the use of leisure time, the ordinary care of the body, courtship practices, the operations of desire, the forms of pleasure, gender differences, and family relations” (Amstrong, 26–27). Armstrong’s crisp assessment of the gendered and sexual domain as also political, while clearly affirmed by much of Asian American literary criticism thus far (Cheung 1990; Kim 1990; Lim 1993), has yet to filter...

  10. APPENDIX ONE Number of Plots in Dogeaters
    (pp. 147-147)
  11. APPENDIX TWO Epigraphs and Other Quoted Material in Dogeaters
    (pp. 148-150)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 151-184)
  13. Works Cited
    (pp. 185-198)
  14. Index
    (pp. 199-205)