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Article

What is Asian American popular music? How do we identify it, define it, and listen to it? What work is being done by naming a genre as such, and need it even be named? Asian Americanist scholars and music critics have grappled with these questions, articulating the political desires for Asian American representation, recognition, and inclusion, while at the same time remaining wary of how such desires reiterate liberal multiculturalist discourses of assimilation and inclusion. A growing body of interdisciplinary work in American studies, performance studies, critical race and ethnic studies, queer studies, and sound and popular music studies has addressed the historical emergence, visibility, and representation of Asian Americans in popular music. This work has become less concerned with finding out what “Asian American popular music” is and more interested in how Asian Americanist critique can be rooted in minoritarian listening practices so that one might consider the myriad ways Asian Americans—as professional and amateur performers, musicians, virtuosic singers, karaoke goers, YouTube users, listeners, critics, and fans—actively shape and negotiate the soundscapes of US popular music with its visual, sonic, and other sensorial markers of Asian racialization.

Article

Comedy  

Yi-hsin Hsu

So strong is the cultural desire for an independent and original theory of comedy that Aristotle is imagined to have penned, aside from his glancing treatments of comedy in the Poetics, a critical assessment of the genre, now lost. The symbolic absence of this presumed Aristotelian treatise speaks volumes for the near unattainability of such a critical endeavor. Comedy is at times conceptualized as a generative “umbrella” genre that subsumes other adjoining modes of literary figuration—satire, parody, romance, irony, joke, word play, farce, and stand-up—all while being routinely subject to cultural and theoretical conflation with humor, laughter, amusement, wit, and other physiological as well as intellectual triggers or responses to the comic. The generic contours of comedy are ever-expanding and helplessly slippery. Comedy embodies divergences and dualities. Its anthropological association with fertility rituals at its generic inception suggests privilege and respectability, but Plato’s prejudice against comedy as fit for slaves and outcasts, together with Aristotle’s identification of comedy with lowliness and ugliness, conditions the perception of the genre as relatively vulgar, inferior, and base when examined alongside its nobler counterpart, tragedy. Comedy’s capacity to channel expressions for behavioral deviation in the Feasts of Fools qualifies the genre as a social subversive, but that comedy is conducive to societal stability as a safety valve for discontentedness and insurgence proves that the genre wields the potential of a social fixative. Comedy is said to be grounded on malice and superiority, but playwrights throughout the ages have used it to advance virtue. It is in and between these seemingly irreconcilable contradictions that theoretical abstractions of this elusive genre may be attempted.

Article

John Lavagnino

Digital textuality has its roots in the most familiar digital system, the alphabet. In defining rules for what aspects of an inscription contain information, the alphabet makes exact copying of writing possible; such exact copying is the fundamental digital characteristic, without which digital machinery could not work. But copyability can have practical limitations, when more complex forms are built up out of basic digital elements: documents, in particular, often assume particular concepts and systems. Digital document systems can be based on many different theories of documents, and typically combine incompatible theories in one document; they also hide considerable amounts of information from users. Very different digital approaches to texts are found in databases, which atomize texts and render all relationships explicit; this degree of formalization is not common in the humanities, but it enables the creation of widely used research tools (such as library catalogues). The principal innovation in digital documents so far is the hypertextual link, which in connecting texts more closely together created new possibilities for expression and exploration. The creation of vast amounts of digital text led to the unexpected importance of searching, which was made more usable by exploitation of the information provided by links. Searching has overturned ancient hierarchies of importance and attention, by making forgotten texts as accessible as canonical ones.

Article

Sarita Echavez See

The visual display of Filipinos in the United States temporally and ideologically coincides with the American military conquest of the Philippines at the end of the 19th century, a brutal and brutally forgotten war that some scholars have described as genocidal according to even the most conservative definitions of genocide. This intimacy between empire and vision in the Philippine case has shaped and sharpened the stakes of studying Filipino American visual culture and its history, aesthetics, and politics. As with other minoritized communities in the United States, Filipino American visual culture is a means and site of lively and often contentious debates about representation, which typically revolve around how to document absence and how to establish presence in America. However, because Filipino Americans historically have a doubled status as minoritized and colonized—Filipinos in the United States were legally categorized as “nationals” during the colonial period even as the Philippines was deemed “foreign in a domestic sense” by the US Supreme Court—the matter of legal and visual representation is particularly complex, distinct from that of other Asian Americans and comparable with that of Native Pacific Islanders and Native Americans. So, while the politics of Asian American representation generally can get mired in debates about the absence or presence of “voice” in literature and the stereotypical or authentic depiction of the “body” in visual culture, Filipino American studies scholars of visual culture have provided valuable, clarifying insights about the relationship between imperial spectacle and history. To wit, the hypervisible representation of the Filipino in American popular cultural forms in the early decades of the 20th century—from the newspaper cartoon to the photograph to the World’s Fair exhibition—ironically enabled the erasure of the extraordinarily violent historical circumstances surrounding the emergence of the Filipino’s visibility. This relationship between spectacle and history or, rather, between visual representation and historical erasure, continues to redound upon a wide range of Filipino American visual cultural forms in the 21st century, from the interior design of turo turo restaurants to multimedia art installations to community-based murals.

Article

Astrid Ensslin

In a generic, medium-nonspecific sense, hypertext refers to a compositional format characterized by nodes, links, and networks that allow readers multiple choices and different pathways through textual and/or multimodal components. The largest informational hypertext network is the World Wide Web. Within literary studies, hypertext theory relates to literary in the sense of primarily narrative and poetic uses of hypertext as a composition technique and metatextual principle aided by specific technologies such as hypertext editing software and HTML (Hypertext Mark-Up Language). In its contemporary, medium-specific meaning, hypertext refers to interactive networks of digital documents and media connected by hyperlinks that give rise to multilinear readerly pathways through texts and, thus, highly versatile and personalized narrative and poetic experiences. Literary hypertext theorists have traced the beginnings of hypertext in the nonlinear proto-hypertexts of medieval scripture and early scientific texts displaying numerous glosses and footnotes, thus affording multilinear reading trajectories. While hypertext theory first emerged against the backdrop of late poststructuralist thought and early, pre-web, standalone hypertexts produced by the so-called Storyspace School from the late 1980s onward, more recent, early-21st-century waves of electronic literature and digital fiction scholarship have established the field of hypertext criticism and related areas of digital fiction and poetry research through a large corpus of systematic close analyses, as well as empirical reader-response studies, applied socio-psychological research, and educational uses. Aided by the growth in popular hypertext and game design platforms such as Twine in the second decade of the 21st century, hypertextual writing has become a mainstream form of literary game production and interaction, which has moved hypertext and its theorization from a scholarly-elitist niche to a mainstream form of creative and critical engagement.

Article

Despite Latinxs being the largest growing demographic in the United States, their experiences and identities continue to be underrepresented and misrepresented in the mainstream pop cultural imaginary. However, for all the negative stereotypes and restrictive ways that the mainstream boxes in Latinxs, Latinx musicians, writers, artists, comic book creators, and performers actively metabolize all cultural phenomena to clear positive spaces of empowerment and to make new perception, thought, and feeling about Latinx identities and experiences. It is important to understand, though, that Latinxs today consume all variety of cultural phenomena. For corporate America, therefore, the Latinx demographic represents a huge buying demographic. Viewed through cynical and skeptical eyes, increased representation of Latinxs in mainstream comic books and film results from this push to capture the Latinx consumer market. Within mainstream comic books and films, Latinx subjects are rarely the protagonists. However, Latinx comic book and film creators are actively creating Latinx protagonists within richly rendered Latinx story worlds. Latinx comic book and film creators work in all the storytelling genres and modes (realism, sci-fi, romance, memoir, biography, among many others) to clear new spaces for the expression of Latinx subjectivities and experiences.

Article

The continued growth of the Asian American population in the US South has redefined the region in terms of its economy, culture, and identity. While the literature associated with the region predominantly focuses on whites and African Americans, several narratives explore the experiences of Asian Americans. These texts span a variety of genres, including memoirs, young adult fiction, and historical analyses. From Chinese immigrant laborers who migrated to the Mississippi Delta during Reconstruction to second-generation Korean Americans growing up in the suburbs of northern Virginia, Asian Americans in the South engender more nuanced interpretations of concepts like race, region, and place-based identities. Writers of Asian descent like Monique Truong and Cynthia Kadohata as well as non-Asian writers like Cynthia Shearer and Robert Olen Butler illustrate the ways in which Asian immigration complicates long-standing notions of Southern culture and identity. Some of their works address the ambiguities of segregation-era racial politics as those defined as neither white nor African American struggle to navigate their place along the color line. These texts feature local-born southerners who perceive Asians as outsiders and in turn, establish both overt and subtler forms of exclusion and surveillance to maintain control. However, the growing visibility of Asians in the region also hints at the possibility of new multiracial and multiethnic coalitions and new communal identities centered on the shared struggle against economic, political, and social inequalities. Several narratives set in the post-Jim Crow South underscore the global networks that connect the South to the rest of the world. Writers have used and continue to employ the Asian American figure as a means to destabilize the white–black racial binary that has long characterized the Southern literary tradition and position the South in a broader, more global context. The emergence of Asian Americans in addition to Latinos and indigenous populations on the Southern literary landscape highlights the diverse cultures and histories that mark the South not as a monolith but rather as a region experiencing constant transformation.

Article

Medium  

David Trotter

The term “medium” has a long and complicated history. In its most general sense, it originally meant an intermediate agency, instrument, or substance. During the 19th century, it acquired two further common meanings, first as the raw material or mode of expression distinguishing a particular artistic practice, and then, in the sense now prevalent, as a channel of mass communication. For much of its history, literature’s primary medium (or “channel”) has been the printed book, which remains an object of theoretical as well as historical enquiry, often in a comparative context. Since around 1850, the proliferation of technical media—from telegraph and telephone through film, radio, and television to the internet and the mobile phone—has piled comparative context upon comparative context for the study of literature to take into account. From its origins in the 1920s, media theory has tended to reverse engineer an understanding of what a “medium” is and does from its description and analysis of specific material technologies in operation. Its original focus, with film, radio, and television in mind, was on the medium as technical and ideological instrument. However, as material technologies have become ever widespread, sophisticated, and diverse, so their function has begun to resemble that of an intervening agency or substance, rather than that of an instrument.

Article

Monique Rooney

Melodrama is a mixed or transmedial artform that, having migrated from stage to film, television and digital screens, typically combines plastic arts (tableau, mise en scène, filmic close-up, sculptural poses) with performative arts (stage and screen acting, declamation, singing, orchestral or other music). It emerged first in the 18th century when Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote and composed his “scène lyrique” Pygmalion, a formally innovative and experimental adaptation of the story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In the context of the speculative and neoAristotelian ideas that Rousseau contributed to public debate about the significance of imitation or mimesis in the development of language, Rousseau’s foundational melodrama represented the coming-to-life of Pygmalion’s beloved statue, Galatea, as a mimetic scene in which metamorphosis takes place through the statue’s responsiveness to the artist and vice versa. More than simply a theme, imitation is intrinsic to the musical-dramatic and, thus, transmedial structure of the ur-melodrama, through which the alternation of spoken lyric with musical phrasing was intended to draw attention to the mimetic role of vocal accent within the arrangement. This aesthetic structure opened the possibility of representing a diversity of voices on the metropolitan stage and beyond. Since its Enlightenment-era beginnings, the mixed form of melodrama has persisted even as it has been transformed in its itinerary from the 18th century to the early 21st century, transmedially adapting to new modalities and formats as it has moved from stage to print formats and then to film, television, and digital platforms. The transmedial form and reach of melodrama is discernible in latter-day performance and film, in which the mixed form—particularly vocal accent, melody, and gesture—continue to disrupt normative identities and hegemonic systems.

Article

Patrick Jagoda

Networks influence practically every subfield of literary studies. Unlike hierarchies and centralized structures, networks connote decentralization and distribution. The abstraction of this form makes it applicable to a wide variety of phenomena. For example, the metaphor and form of the network informs the way we think about communication systems in early American writing, social networks in Victorian novels, transnational circulation in postcolonial literature, and computer networks in late 20th-century cyberpunk fiction. Beyond traditional literary genres, network form is also accessible through comparative media analysis. Films, television serials, video games, and transmedia narratives may represent or evoke network structures through medium-specific techniques. The juxtaposition of different literary and artistic forms, across media, helps to defamiliarize network forms and make these complex structures available to thought. Across subfields of literary studies, critics may be drawn to networks because of their resonance with histories of the present and contemporary technoscience. Scholars may also recognize the sense of complexity and interconnection inherent in networks, which resonates with experiences of intertextuality and close reading itself. In addition to studying representations of networks, literary critics employ a variety of network-related methods. These approaches include historicist scholarship that uses network structures to think about social organization and communication in different eras, quantitative digital humanities tools that map networks of literary circulation, qualitative sociology of literature and reader-response theory that analyze networks of readers and publishers, and formalist work that compares network and aesthetic forms.

Article

Susan McHugh

In countless ways, plants have been in literature from the start. They literally provide surfaces and tools of inscription, as well as figuratively inspire a diverse body of writing that ranges from documenting changing social and ecological conditions to probing the limits of the human imagination. The dependence of human along with all other life on vegetal bodies assures their omnipresence in literatures across all periods and cultures, positioning them as ready reference points for metaphors, similes, and other creative devices. As comestibles, landscape features, home décor, and of course paper, plants appear in the pages of virtually every literary text. But depictions of botanical life in action often prove portentous, particularly when they remind readers that plants move in mysterious ways. At the frontiers of ancient and medieval European settlements, the plant communities of forests served as vital sources of material and imaginative sustenance. Consequently, early modern literature registers widespread deforestation of these alluring and dangerous borderlands as threats to economic and social along with ecological flourishing, a pattern repeated through the literatures of settler colonialism. Although appearing in the earliest of literatures, appreciation for the ways in which plants inscribe stories of their own lives remains a minor theme, although with accelerating climate change an increasingly urgent one. Myths and legends of hybrid plant-men, trees of life, and man-eating plants are among the many sources informing key challenges to representing plants in modern and contemporary literature, most obviously in popular genre fictions like mystery, horror, and science fiction (sf). Further enlightening these developments are studies that reveal how botanical writing emerges as a site of struggle from the early modern period, deeply entrenched in attempts to systematize and regulate species in tandem with other differences. The scientific triumph of the Linnaean “sexual system” bears a mixed legacy in feminist plant writing, complicated further by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) writers’ creative engagements with the unevenly felt consequences of professionalized plant science. Empowered by critical plant studies, an interdisciplinary formation that rises to the ethical challenges of emergent scientific affirmations of vegetal sentience, literature and literary criticism are reexamining these histories and modeling alternatives. In the early 21st century with less than a fraction of 1 percent of the remaining old growth under conservation protection worldwide, plants appear as never before in fragile and contested communal terrains, overshadowed by people and other animals, all of whose existence depends on ongoing botanical adaptation.