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The Racial Mundane

The Racial Mundane: Asian American Performance and the Embodied Everyday

Ju Yon Kim
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    The Racial Mundane
    Book Description:

    Across the twentieth century, national controversies involving Asian Americans have drawn attention to such seemingly unremarkable activities as eating rice, greeting customers, and studying for exams. While public debates about Asian Americans have invoked quotidian practices to support inconsistent claims about racial difference, diverse aesthetic projects have tested these claims by experimenting with the relationships among habit, body, and identity.

    InThe Racial Mundane, Ju Yon Kim argues that the ambiguous relationship between behavioral tendencies and the body has sustained paradoxical characterizations of Asian Americans as ideal and impossible Americans. The body's uncertain attachment to its routine motions promises alternately to materialize racial distinctions and to dissolve them. Kim's study focuses on works of theater, fiction, and film that explore the interface between racialized bodies and everyday enactments to reveal new and latent affiliations. The various modes of performance developed in these works not only encourage audiences to see habitual behaviors differently, but also reveal the stakes of noticing such behaviors at all. Integrating studies of race, performance, and the everyday,The Racial Mundaneinvites readers to reflect on how and to what effect perfunctory behaviors become objects of public scrutiny.

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-3751-9
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction: Ambiguous Habits and the Paradox of Asian American Racial Formation
    (pp. 1-24)

    Wittman Ah Sing, the restless, inspired, and oft-raging protagonist of Maxine Hong Kingston’s novelTripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book(1990), is immersing himself in a typing frenzy when a familiar problem confronts him: “And [he] again whammed into the block question: Does he announce now that the author is—Chinese? Or, rather, Chinese-American? And be forced into autobiographical confession. Stop the music—I have to butt in and introduce myself and my race.”¹ Although explicitly stating his “race” seems unappealing to Wittman, he also resists the obvious alternative, to leave himself and his characters racially unidentified.² He muses, “‘Call me...

  5. 1 Trying on The Yellow Jacket at the Limits of Our Town: The Routines of Race and Nation
    (pp. 25-70)

    On the nearly bare stage of Thornton Wilder’sOur Town, the New England village of Grover’s Corners attains a tangibility, if not a visibility, through the bodies of the actors as they mime the daily activities of residents. Delivering milk, preparing meals, reading the newspaper, or doing homework, they carry out the routine tasks that give the unseen town its life, rhythm, and shape. Guided by these gestures, theatergoers are asked to fill the stage with their own vision of a particular place and time. Between the empty stage and the details supplied immediately by the Stage Manager (the town’s...

  6. 2 Everyday Rituals and the Performance of Community
    (pp. 71-122)

    Six months after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling inBrown v. Board of EducationoverturnedPlessy v. Fergusonand its doctrine of “separate but equal,” an article in the November 20, 1954, edition of theSaturday EveningPost announced the successful integration of Japanese “war brides” who had ostensibly vanished into American society after immigrating as wives of U.S. servicemen (Figure 2.1). The story’s title, which asks, “Where Are Those Japanese War Brides?” encapsulates its tone of curiosity and surprise. According to the writer, William L. Worden, many of the women had assimilated into neighborhoods scattered throughout the country and...

  7. 3 Making Change: Interracial Conflict, Cross-Racial Performance
    (pp. 123-172)

    Offering an image as startling as the meeting of an operating table, a sewing machine, and an umbrella made famous by the surrealists,¹ Allen Cooper, a former gang member and an activist for gang reconciliation, recounts seeing an unsettling juxtaposition of a pistol and a bubble gum machine:

    I was at one of these swap meets

    1and a bubble gum machine man pulled a gun out.

    Now what a bubble gum machine man doin’ with a pistol?

    Who wanna rob a bubble gum machine?

    Because we live here, the conditions are so

    enormous and so dangerous,

    that they have to...

  8. 4 Homework Becomes You: The Model Minority and Its Doubles
    (pp. 173-230)

    The controversial memoirBattle Hymn of the Tiger Motheropens with a list of activities forbidden to the author’s children: “attend a sleepover, have a playdate, be in a school play, complain about not being in a school play, watch TV or play computer games, choose their own extracurricular activities, get any grade less than an A, not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama, play any instrument other than the piano or violin, not play the piano or violin.”¹ These lines provocatively set the banal quality of the restricted activities against the exceptional behaviors...

  9. AFTERWORD: The Everyday Asian American Online
    (pp. 231-250)

    The short Internet videos that constitute “Rick’s Man Tutorials” promise their viewers advice on how to attract women, only to reveal the ineptitude of their teacher. In the video “Good Hygiene Gets Girls” (2010), Rick counsels his viewers to wash their face, take showers, and apply lotion, which he pronounces “lo-tee-on” and proclaims an exciting discovery.¹ Peppering his advice with homophobic and sexist remarks, Rick exhibits a befuddled machismo that recallsBetter Luck Tomorrow’s Virgil. Yet whereas Virgil’s hypermasculine displays become increasingly spectacular in Lin’s film, “Rick’s Man Tutorials” sit firmly in the everyday: in addition to advising good hygiene,...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 251-276)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 277-286)
  12. About the Author
    (pp. 287-287)