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Racial Asymmetries

Racial Asymmetries: Asian American Fictional Worlds

Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 297
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  • Book Info
    Racial Asymmetries
    Book Description:

    Challenging the tidy links among authorial position, narrative perspective, and fictional content, Stephen Hong Sohn argues that Asian American authors have never been limited to writing about Asian American characters or contexts.Racial Asymmetriesspecifically examines the importance of first person narration in Asian American fiction published in the postrace era, focusing on those cultural productions in which the author's ethnoracial makeup does not directly overlap with that of the storytelling perspective.Through rigorous analysis of novels and short fiction, such as Sesshu Foster'sAtomik Aztex, Sabina Murray'sA Carnivore's Inquiryand Sigrid Nunez'sThe Last of Her Kind, Sohn reveals how the construction of narrative perspective allows the Asian American writer a flexible aesthetic canvas upon which to engage issues of oppression and inequity, power and subjectivity, and the complicated construction of racial identity. Speaking to concerns running through postcolonial studies and American literature at large,Racial Asymmetriesemploys an interdisciplinary approach to reveal the unbounded nature of fictional worlds.Stephen Hong Sohnis Assistant Professor of English at Stanford University. He is the co-editor ofTransnational Asian American Literature: Sites and Transits.

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-0055-1
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction: The Many Storytellers of Asian American Fiction
    (pp. 1-24)

    Asian American literature is traditionally understood as a body of texts written in English that depicts a specific social history in which individuals of various ethnicities have faced discrimination due to perceptions and laws that designated them as aliens.¹ Common narratives involve the troubling acculturation process of the Asian immigrant, the intergenerational ruptures between Asian immigrant parents and their more Americanized children, and the challenges of defining identity when an Asian American travels back to a land of ethnic origin.

    Critics tend to further delineate Asian American literature through “maximal ideological inclusiveness” (Lye, “Introduction” 4). This “inclusiveness” appears in the...

  5. 1 White Flight, White Narration: Suburban Deviancies in Chang-rae Lee’s Aloft
    (pp. 25-62)

    Racial Asymmetriesbegins with one obvious starting point for Asian American studies: the experience of racial exclusion under the guise of white hegemony. The large-scale racial rubric constituting the Asian American as an outsider has been in place at least since 1917, when the US Congress passed some of the first major federal laws restricting immigration.¹ The exclusion period officially ended in 1965 when Asian immigrants were allowed to enter the United States under the quota system. Under the “model minority” designation that emerges in 1966, Asian Americans occasionally assume a different racial status, something that Mia Tuan provocatively terms...

  6. 2 When the Minor Becomes Major: Asian American Literary California, Chicano Narration, and Sesshu Foster’s Atomik Aztex
    (pp. 63-100)

    This chapter shifts from the white-Asian paradigm discussed in the first chapter to an investigation of how and why Asian American writers include other racial minority groups in their fictional worlds. Chapter 1 called attention to a racial paradigm that substantively undergirds Asian American studies: white consciousness in relation to immigrant exclusion. As scholars such as Lisa Lowe, Ronald Takaki, Sucheng Chan, and numerous others have revealed, whiteness signified the ultimate racial criterion of American citizenship and was defined in part through its opposition to the Asian, the forever foreign subject. Despite the early barriers that Asian immigrants and their...

  7. 3 The Incomplete Biography in the Post–Civil Rights Era: Narrating Imagined Lives in Sigrid Nunez’s Fictions
    (pp. 101-135)

    In this chapter, I take a slightly different direction from those that appeared earlier by focusing on one writer, Sigrid Nunez, and her deployment of biographical representation. Nunez undermines any expectations that might arise, for example, due to marketplace pressures or from the increased recognition of the ethnoracial bildungsroman, in relation to the narrative perspectives she employs in her novels. In this case, her storytellers do not always match up with her own multiracial ancestral background. Even as such aesthetic choices suggest that a writer is free from the bonds of rehearsing a kind of ethnoracial authenticity, her fictional worlds...

  8. 4 Comparative Colonial Narration: Conquest and Consumption in Sabina Murray’s Fictions
    (pp. 136-170)

    Racial Asymmetriespushes critics to reconsider the relationships among the Asian American writer, the narrator and narrative perspective, and the fictional world. On the one hand, each chapter explores a different facet of narrational refraction that troubles the link between the storytelling perspective and the Asian American writer. Unraveling the bind between narration and authorial background is of paramount concern in an era in which writerly authenticity can be commodified and certain narrative forms run the risk of being elevated over others. On the other hand, these Asian American fictions cannot be said to deploy a postracial aesthetic in which...

  9. 5 Impossible Narration: Racial Analogies and Asian American Speculative Fictions
    (pp. 171-208)

    This chapter presents perhaps the most difficult epistemological questions for cultural criticism because it engages the political import and aesthetic qualities of Asian American speculative fictions. Such chimerical representations result in what the literary critic Darko Suvin calls “cognitive estrangement” (Metamorphoses4), precisely because we seem unable to map our own reality onto the fictional world. Chapter 2 explored one such speculative text, Sesshu Foster’sAtomik Aztex, which describes an alternate reality in which the sixteenth-century “Aztex” defeat the Spanish conquistadors. This narrative offers Foster the chance to reconsider the nature of conquest and colonialism and to rescript an entire...

  10. Coda: Fiction Unbound
    (pp. 209-212)

    Asian American fiction boasts a long and rich lineage, at least over a century long; its body of texts contains a multitude of unforgettable characters and compelling themes. Within this impressive archive, writers often produce narratives imbued with autobiographical and autoethnographic valences. And yet the parallels among author, narrative perspective, and fictional world can still result in certain presumptions about the kinds of stories Asian American writers can tell: a well-known writer such as Amy Tan might be presumed to create narrative perspectives centered only on Chinese or Chinese American characters, which in turn illuminate only Asian American social contexts....

  11. Notes
    (pp. 213-234)
  12. Works Cited
    (pp. 235-274)
  13. Index
    (pp. 275-288)
  14. About the Author
    (pp. 289-289)