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The Exquisite Corpse of Asian America

The Exquisite Corpse of Asian America: Biopolitics, Biosociality, and Posthuman Ecologies

Rachel C. Lee
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    The Exquisite Corpse of Asian America
    Book Description:

    The Exquisite Corpse of Asian Americaaddresses this central question: if race has been settled as a legal or social construction and not as biological fact, why do Asian American artists, authors, and performers continue to scrutinize their body parts? Engaging novels, poetry, theater, and new media from both the U.S. and internationally-such as Kazuo Ishiguro's science fiction novelNever Let Me Goor Ruth Ozeki'sMy Year of Meatsand exhibits like that of Body Worlds in which many of the bodies on display originated from Chinese prisons-Rachel C. Lee teases out the preoccupation with human fragments and posthuman ecologies in the context of Asian American cultural production and theory. She unpacks how the designation of "Asian American" itself is a mental construct that is paradoxically linked to the biological body.

    Through chapters that each use a body part as springboard for reading Asian American texts, Lee inaugurates a new avenue of research on biosociality and biopolitics within Asian American criticism, focused on the literary and cultural understandings of pastoral governmentality, the divergent scales of embodiment, and the queer (cross)species being of racial subjects. She establishes an intellectual alliance and methodological synergy between Asian American studies and Science and Technology Studies (STS), biocultures, medical humanities, and femiqueer approaches to family formation, carework, affect, and ethics. In pursuing an Asian Americanist critique concerned with speculative and real changes to human biologies, she both produces innovation within the field and demonstrates the urgency of that critique to other disciplines.

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-1374-2
    Subjects: Religion, Performing Arts, Sociology, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction: Parts/Parturition
    (pp. 1-38)

    Lois Ann Yamanaka’s poem series, “Parts,” included inSaturday Night at the Pahala Theater, launches a bitter complaint against women’s work of cleaning, cooking, and raising children. Written in the blazon tradition—but one thatdeclinesto sanctify a female subject through praising a single body part¹—interior poems of the series titled “The Brain,” “The Face,” “The Nostril,” and “The Foot” highlight its speaker’s own corporeal burdens—her “splitting headache”—and the bodily harm she will visit upon others if they delay their domestic chores: “Want me / to punch / your face in? / … Now get /...

  4. 1 How a Critical Biopolitical Studies Lens Alters the Questions We Ask vis-à-vis Race
    (pp. 39-65)

    Jane Takagi-Little, the heroine of Ruth Ozeki’s novelMy Year of Meats(1998), produces documentary infomercials that sell “the American way of life”—that is, the daily intake of beef, chicken, or pork—to Japanese housewives. Working for a U.S. livestock conglomerate called Beef-Ex, Jane includes minority races, lesbians, immigrants, the disabled, and untraditional families in these televisual features of representative Americans who lovingly cook with meat, thereby undermining the Japanese equation of Americans with robust Anglo-Saxons and white ethnics. Yet when she finds herself interviewing a family living on a cattle ranch and injecting their livestock with hormones in...

  5. 2 The Asiatic, Acrobatic, and Aleatory Biologies of Cheng-Chieh Yu’s Dance Theater
    (pp. 66-96)

    As the lights come up, an absurd creature stands before you: half folding chair from the waist up and half human from the waist down. With arms outstretched, this creature blindly toes its way forward. On the back wall looms a diagram that this creature cannot see: double rows in a semicircular arch—a dental chart—that resembles as well an amphitheater’s seating chart, something to help you, the theatergoer, find your moorings. With this opening tableau, Taiwanese American dancer Cheng-Chieh Yu inducts her audience into the theater, in this case also the mouth—an archway for contesting ideologies about...

  6. 3 Pussy Ballistics and Peristaltic Feminism
    (pp. 97-125)

    The protection of the right to elective abortion and to birth control methods beyond abstinence became synonymous in the United States with acause célèbreof the liberal faction of the second-wave feminist movement. However, it also occasioned reflection on how for indigenous women, U.S. women of color, and women of the global South, reproductive justice did not equate with protecting women’s choice to elective abortion but reoriented around a history of racist eugenics. As Dorothy Roberts put it in 1998, “white reproduction [is thought] to be a beneficial activity [bringing] personal joy and allow[ing] the nation to flourish. Black...

  7. 4 Everybody’s Novel Protist: Chimeracological Entanglements in Amitav Ghosh’s Fiction
    (pp. 126-160)

    Amitav Ghosh’s award-winning science fiction novelThe Calcutta Chromosome(1995) speculates on the somatic transformations to biological life in an era where the world’s waterways have become imperiled. Lauded for its “hypertextual” interweaving of speculative fiction, Bengali literature, and the history of medicine through which it challenges the West’s monopoly on “scientific” knowledge (Chambers 2003; B. Ghosh; Schulze-Engler), this third in Ghosh’s corpus of highly regarded novels articulates a vision of biological hosting and cross-species enmeshment that is central to critical discussions of the ethical and political stakes of race, postcolonial, and femiqueer studies. And yet, with their commitments to...

  8. An insert of color images
    (pp. None)
  9. 5 A Sideways Approach to Mental Disabilities: Incarceration, Kinesthetics, Affect, and Ethics
    (pp. 161-209)

    With head close-shaven, unafraid of speaking on sexually frank themes, Denise Uyehara emerged as a fresh talent in Asian American theater and the Los Angeles performance art scene of the 1990s. This artist launched her career at precisely the moment when “body art”¹ and queer performance were not only building critical audiences but also coming under increased scrutiny from the U.S. Congress (Hughes and Roman).² From 1993 to 1997, Uyehara performed with the multiracial feminist troupe, the Sacred Naked Nature Girls (SNNG), their nude performances a means of stripping away social masks.³ At the same time, through residencies and commissions...

  10. 6 Allotropic Conclusions: Propositions on Race and the Exquisite Corpse
    (pp. 210-244)

    Throughout this book, I have been stressing that literary studies of race would benefit from a more robust engagement with the altered scales of differentiating biologies that have come into dominance by way of biotechnical innovations. When we speak of races—for example, Blumenbach’s influential quintuple chromatic schema—we refer to the differentiation of humans (homo sapiens) into subdivided populations distinguished, for the most part, phenotypically. At the turn of the twenty-first century, an epidermal notion of race rubs against and in tension with other modes of aggregating populations, for instance, according to (1) often microscopically coded (genomic) markers of...

  11. Tail Piece
    (pp. 245-258)

    What does it mean to be “totally naked” at the turn of the twenty-first century? What is total nakedness in an era in which synthetic body parts (cultured tissues) grow in glass “cages,” anatomically revealed at the point of “birth” and in perpetuity without ever having to be deskinned? Is clothing and skin a kind of protection, so that the unclothed—the naked Venus Hottentot of Suzan-Lori Parks’s play (based on the historical figure of the San woman Saartjie Bartmann displayed for ethnological amusement in nineteenth-century London)—is akin tozoeand the clothed akin tobios? What happens when...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 259-294)
    (pp. 295-312)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 313-324)
    (pp. 325-325)