Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library

Scrutinized!: Surveillance in Asian North American Literature

Monica Chiu
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Chang-rae Lee's Native Speaker, Kerri Sakamoto'sThe Electrical Field, Don Lee'sCountry of Origin, Mohsin Hamid'sThe Reluctant Fundamentalist, Susan Choi'sA Person of Interest. These and a host of other Asian North American detection and mystery titles were published between 1995 and 2010. Together they reference more than a decade of Asian North America monitoring that includes internment, campaign financing, espionage, and post-9/11 surveillance. However, these works are less concerned with solving crimes than with creating literary responses to the subtle but persistent surveillance of raced subjects. InScrutinized!Monica Chiu reveals how Asian North American novels' fascination with mystery, detection, spying, and surveillance is a literary response to anxieties over race. According to Chiu, this allegiance to a genre that takes interruptions to social norms as its foundation speaks to a state of unease at a time of racial scrutiny.Scrutinized!is broadly about oversight and insight. The race policing of the past has been subsumed under post-racism-an oversight (in the popular nomenclature of race blindness) that is still, ironically, based on a persistent visual construction of race. Detective fiction's focus on scrutiny presents itself as the most appropriate genre for revealing the failures of a so-called post-racialism in which we continue to deploy visually defined categories of race as social realities-a regulatory mechanism under which Asian North Americans live the paradox of being inscrutable. To be looked at and overlooked is the contradiction that drives the book's thesis. Readers first revisit Oriental visions, or Asian stereotypes, and then encounter official documentation on major events, such as the Japanese American and Japanese Canadian internment. The former visions, which endure, and the latter documents, diplomatically forgotten, shape how Asian subjects were and are scrutinized and to what effect. They determine which surveillance images remain emblazoned in a nation's collective memory and which face political burial. The book goes on to provide a compelling analysis of mystery and detective fiction by Lee, Nina Revoyr, Choi, Suki Kim, Sakamoto, and Hamid, whose work exploits the genre's techniques to highlight pervasive vigilance among Asian North American subjects.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-3843-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Chapter 1 Introduction: Under Scrutiny
    (pp. 1-27)

    Over the past fifty years, the American government has been particularly interested in surveilling minority subjects. The now infamous Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) illegally and clandestinely pursued scores of activists and organizations associated with the black liberation movement and civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s, including the Black Panther Party, the Republic of New Afrika, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Martin Luther King, Jr., members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Nation of Islam, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and the Revolutionary Action Movement.¹ But even before institutional circumspection of so-called subversive organizations...

  5. Chapter 2 Racial Playgrounds: Illusion and Danger in Don Lee’s Country of Origin
    (pp. 28-47)

    Chinatowns, Koreatowns, and Little Tokyos have been entertainment hubs for Western tourists for more than a hundred years. Their Oriental architecture, unique food, and media promotions of their cultural attractions have encouraged white bourgeois forays into what I call Asian playgrounds, desirable for their intoxicating amalgamation of entertainment and danger. San Francisco’s Chinatown, for example, retains a paradoxical appeal to non-Asian visitors who are seduced by its exotic amusements despite public anxiety about its safety and morality in the past. Chinese immigrants established the enclave in the late nineteenth century as a haven from anti-Chinese discrimination. Its so-called quaint foreign...

  6. Chapter 3 The Conspicuous Subjects of Interracial Spaces in Nina Revoyrʹs Southland
    (pp. 48-67)

    Los Angeles long has served as a canvas for noir films and fiction, argues Liam Kennedy, a racial crucible in which Walter Mosley’s African American Easy Rawlins acquires “the double meaning of knowing one’s place,” Chester Himes’ African American Robert “Bob” Jones yearns for “invisibility and ordinariness,” and Raymond Chandler’s white Philip Marlowe regards “Watts [as] alien and exotic” (Race and Urban Space, 136, 139).¹ Revoyr’sSouthland(2003) contributes to this literary history of encounters among Los Angeles, crime, and race to illustrate how structures of inequality forge this persistent amalgamation. The racial playgrounds of the previous chapter remind us...

  7. Chapter 4 Persistent Vigilance and Racial Longing in Choiʹs Person of Interest and Kimʹs The Interpreter
    (pp. 68-95)

    This chapter investigates how authors Susan Choi and Suki Kim manipulate the conventions of the detective genre to make evident the often sobering experiences of surveillance shadowing nonwhite subjects. The genre is premised on the careful examination of clues, the laying bare of that which heretofore has been undisclosed. When the innocent Asian North American protagonists of Choi’sPerson of Interestand Kim’sThe Interpreterare subjected to unreasonable scrutiny, the act of disclosure limns acts of racial discrimination. Also relevant is the genre’s expected method of resolution: the criminal is revealed, innocent suspects are absolved of guilt, and the...

  8. Chapter 5 Intimate Details: Scrutiny and Evidentiary Photographs in Kerri Sakamoto’s The Electrical Field
    (pp. 96-111)

    When I teach Kerri Sakamoto’sThe Electrical Field, my students emerge from the novel confused and irritated. Understandably so, for Sakamoto cleverly omits necessary details of the Japanese Canadian internment that would assist a reader’s understanding of the novel’s psychologically bruised characters and the murders at its center. The narrative vacillates without warning between a small Canadian community in 1976 and a Japanese Canadian internment camp of the 1940s. Yet these flashbacks provide few informative details about protagonist Asako Saito’s internment. Her insuppressible past agitates her present at unexpected moments, interrupting any smooth narrative trajectory and impeding easy access to...

  9. Chapter 6 Double Surveillance in Mohsin Hamidʹs The Reluctant Fundamentalist
    (pp. 112-133)

    Hamid’sThe Reluctant Fundamentalistis a novel that disarms as it alarms. Pakistani-born protagonist Changez constantly assuages the fears of an unnamed American guest dining with him in Lahore. Yet these assurances only encourage the American’s, and subsequently the reader’s, anxiety over potential bodily harm directed at the guest. “Ah, I see I have alarmed you,” remarks Changez in the book’s dramatic monologue, one resonating with that of Albert Camus’The Fall.¹ “Do not be frightened by my beard: I am a lover of America” (1). Situated on the novel’s first page, this sentence announces Changez’ keen sense of what...

  10. Chapter 7 Conclusion
    (pp. 134-138)

    In the persistent policing found in contemporary Asian North American literature, detection (scrutiny, watchfulness, observation, vigilance, racial profiling) provides an insightful metaphor by which to frame a history of Asian North American surveillance. Characters under suspicion possess a heightened awareness of surveillance. Some succumb to it; others resist it or redirect it as a mechanism by which to return the gaze. But clearly other reactions exist in works within this body of literature, and I have reserved my abbreviated discussions of them for the conclusion, in a less prominent position, because they are well-known and often discussed, or they are...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 139-158)
  12. Works Cited
    (pp. 159-170)
  13. Index
    (pp. 171-178)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 179-183)