Patrick Colm Hogan
Most readers probably take it as self-evident that literature is inseparable from emotion. Poems memorialize love and grief; stories elaborate on the rage of battle, the shame of defeat, or the guilt of sin. Readers pass through versions of these feelings while perusing a book or watching a play. They also experience respect and awe, flip pages or inch forward in their seats due to suspense, or relax into a delighted experience of beauty at a phrase or scene.
After long neglect, in recent decades, emotion—or, more generally, affect—has become a major concern in literary study, as well as philosophy, psychology, and elsewhere. It is possible to organize such work into two broad orientations, commonly called “affect theory” (alternatively, “affective poststructuralism”) and “affective science.” Writers in affect theory draw on a range of psychological, social, linguistic, and other theories, most often in the service of political analysis. The psychological principles of affect theory have tended to derive from the tradition of psychoanalysis, often through its radical revision or critique by such theorists as Jacques Lacan and Gilles Deleuze. Affect theorists have also drawn extensively, sometimes more centrally, on a range of theorists outside of psychology, principally poststructuralists, such as Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida.
In contrast, affective science has its roots in cognitive science and to a lesser extent social psychology. It comprises a set of competing theories of emotion, including dimensional versus systemic and appraisal versus perceptual-associative accounts. Dimensional accounts see emotions as specified only by general variables (such as attraction versus aversion). Systemic accounts treat emotions as the result of distinct pre-dedicated, biological systems (e.g., for disgust or fear). Appraisal accounts treat emotion as the result of a person’s assessments of how events or circumstances impact his or her achievement of important goals. Perceptual-associative accounts construe emotion as a more mechanical process that is affected by assessments only indirectly. Whatever its explanatory architecture, an affective science account is likely to include a careful analysis of emotion episodes, breaking them down into eliciting conditions, action readiness, expressive or communicative outcomes, phenomenological tone, and other components.
Beyond treating different theories of emotion, an account of literary affect needs to consider the various possible locations of emotion in literature. These begin with the real people involved—authors and readers. But they extend to implied authors and implied readers as well as wholly fictional persons, such as narrators and characters. Emotion bears also on scenes and sequences—both the sequence of events as they actually occur in the story and the sequence of events as they are presented in the plot (which may, for example, reveal the outcome of events before revealing their causes). Sometimes, a given narrative level has its own characteristic emotions or affective concerns—such as suspense in the case of plot (suspense is in part a function of when story information is provided). At other times, a given level will merely affect the ways the emotions of other levels are modulated (as when some stylistic features, not funny in themselves, contribute to comic effect).
By the usual scientific criteria, affective science is more logically rigorous and empirically better supported. But affect theory has its own value—particularly in challenging the ideological assumptions that often underlie social scientific research, including some of that undertaken in affective science. In short, each group has something to learn from the other.
Carlos Ulises Decena
The term Afro Latina/os references people in Latin America and in the Latino United States who claim African ancestry. Although the use of the prefix Afrocan be traced back to the work of intellectuals in Cuba, Mexico, and Brazil at the beginning of the 20th century, usages were connected with anti-racist and African Diaspora struggles, organizing, and advocacy in the second half of the 20th century. More recently, the appellation Afro Latina/o has become mobilized in US Latina/o communities as a critique of the processes through which racial diversity and black populations in these communities have been rendered invisible. Because it conjures various meanings and foci, several authors engaged in the study of afrolatinidades suggest that hemispheric, transnational, and comparative approaches are necessary to appreciate the nuances of use, categorization, and experience as Afro Latina/os navigate complex histories and politics of race, ethnicity, and belonging in the United States and the Americas. The author argues that the term appellation does not resolve the complexities of racial subordination, racism, and self-making among Latin Americans and US Latina/os. He further suggests that sites of unintelligibility, confusion, and perplexity are valuable in thinking of “Afro-Latina/o” as a term that points to a cluster of urgent intellectual and political problems stemming from the irreducibility of individual experience to any term or concept. The increase in claims of Afro-Latina/o as a marker of identity must be calibrated by a consideration of how institutional sites and think tanks collaborate in the making and sedimentation of existing and emerging grids of legibility. At the same time, claiming Afro-Latina/o needs to be understood as a project related to yet distinct from one’s racial identification and relationship with blackness, and the experience of US Latina/os and other ethnic/racial minorities suggests that the work continues to be not only to understand how individuals and groups categorize themselves and others, but also to better grasp what it is that terms such as Afro-Latino/a do.
From classical antiquity onwards, writing about life after death has consistently served as a situation for questions of literary theory. The locations of the afterlife are hypotheticals and counterfactuals; they are the site of theory itself. Questions about authorship, for instance, have been articulated through the myth of Orpheus (in the forms recorded by Virgil and Ovid). The story of Orpheus tells of a poet who must go into the underworld to find the material for a tale of survivorship and loss, raising questions about the sources of creative inspiration, the art of trauma, and the suffering of the authentic artist. Dante’s imagined structures of an afterlife, in which punishments fit crimes with an apt poetic justice, have similarly been enlisted into one of the most important theoretical debates of the 20th century between formalists and historicists. The afterlife as a supplement to life’s time has also been used as a way of thinking about temporality and the implications for narrative as a literary mode that works with and through the philosophy of time. One of the most influential aspects of the literature of the afterlife to resonate in literary theory has been the ghost story. In its greatest manifestations, from Hamlet to The Turn of the Screw to Beloved, the ghost story forces its readers to acknowledge those elements of the past that refuse to be laid to rest, and it has therefore served as a vehicle for psychoanalytic questions about how processes of individual or collective memory are depicted in literary texts. In poststructuralist theory, the notion of the hauntological has also built its concepts in dialogue with earlier literary ghosts and become a way of thinking about language and its uncanny slippage between presence and absence. Subsequent critical work continued to develop hauntology into a way of understanding temporality and cultural history. Finally, the notion of prosopopoeia, or the voicing of the dead through writing, is perhaps the most far-reaching way of understanding the prevalence of dead voices as a literary trope, which reflects something of the processes of reading and writing themselves. The afterlife has therefore been a crucial source of generative metaphors for literary theory, as well as a topic and setting with an important literary history.
David Vichnar and Louis Armand
Etymologically and conceptually linked with sense perception (as opposed to, in the Platonic tradition, noēsis or intellection) in ancient, medieval, and early-modern thought, aisthēsis formed part of theorizing not only questions surrounding beauty and art, but also perception, epistemology, and even ontology (in, for instance, the work of Plato, Aristotle, and Thomas Aquinas). During the Enlightenment and its project of subdivision and categorization of the “humanities,” aisthēsis became subsumed, in the work of Alexander Baumgarten, by “aesthetics,” the study of beauty in the narrower sense. However, by the beginning of the 20th century and the Marxist/Freudian/Saussurean revolution in humanist inquiry and the “avant-garde” revolution in the arts, aisthēsis resumed its place and function as a central node in a vast network of concerns: for the Marxists, the history of aisthēsis follows the pattern of social development of progressive mastery over nature by humankind, described as a process of rationalization (the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory); in psychoanalysis and phenomenology, artistic activity is regarded as the “sublimated” expression of socially objectionable energies, taking place in a world conceived of as indefinite and open multiplicity (John Dewey, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, et al.); in poststructuralist theory, the image not simply “acquires” a politico-aesthetic function by way of an act of judgement, but rather accedes in its very technological condition to a political imaginary, to an aesthetics as such (Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida, et al.). In the second half of the 20th century, with the progressive technologization of society, aisthēsis formed the backbone of media studies, which examines how technological innovation overthrows a settled political and aesthetic order, with special attention paid to the effects of electronic media and the hypertext: non-linearity, repetitiveness, discontinuity, intuition (e.g., Marshall McLuhan and Jay David Bolter). At the dawn of the 21st century, in the aesthetico-mimetic doubling of the mediasphere, from teletext and satellite TV to the World Wide Web and GPS, a critical, ecological mode of thinking aisthēsis assumes the ideal function of an “avant-gardism” in affecting the structure of how things come to mean, how meaning is virtualized, and how the virtual is lived.
The diversity of scholarly contributions to the interdisciplinary fields of animal studies and posthumanism defies summation. As loosely assembled areas of inquiry, however, these fields contest the exceptionalist elevation of humans above animals on the basis of the latter’s alleged lack of language and reason, their exclusion from the political, their inability to experience pain or to understand death, and their absence of a moral sense of right and wrong. Posthumanism also stresses that species difference warrants an ethico-political attentiveness that eschews automatically reducing animals to figurative representations of gender, sexual, or racial difference. While theses hierarchies are no doubt sustained in part by exploiting the metaphorics of species difference, the urgency of dismantling the human/animal hierarchy has inclined animal studies and a number of cognate fields toward the literal, resulting in non-allegorical readings of texts by authors such as George Orwell, Henry David Thoreau, and Toni Morrison. This preference for literality is also shared by continental philosophers working in speculative realism and object-oriented ontology (OOO), as well as by literary critics who advance the enterprise of “surface reading,” which eschews the notion that texts contain “hidden meanings.” The nonhuman turn has emerged in conjunction with a preference for literality because posthumanism tends to stress immanence rather than transcendence. This ethos engenders a flattening effect that places humans, animals, plants, and things on same ontological level (OOO); resists interpreting literary animals in human terms (literary animal studies); and rejects the role of the critic as a hermeneutic decipherer of texts (surface reading). The “literal turn” thus poses a number of questions for literary theory. Literal meaning is definitionally uniform, but can univocal sense be maintained? In the 1960s, Jacques Derrida radicalized the Saussurian notion of the arbitrary nature of signs, arguing that the isolation of a literal or proper meaning presumes the arrival of signified that would escape the chain of signification. If proper meaning never fully is itself, however, then one can never determine what is properly literal or figurative. Metaphors are typically defined as figures of resemblance that transport the name of one thing to something else. But this definition remains fatally inadequate because “resemblance” itself is metaphoric. In addition to overlooking the equivocality of the terms “literal,” “metaphorical,” and “allegorical,” the literal turn also risks reducing interpretation to a volitional act: a practice of choosing among different available approaches over which the human governs. To what extent do readers who believe they are performing literal readings disavow textual agency: that is, the conditions that texts establish for their own reading? To apply to texts what are often too loosely called “methodologies” is always to find interpretative approaches foiled by textuality’s uncontrollable effects. Does the literal turn thus reinscribe the humanist subject insofar as it presumes the reader’s power to wrest control over the feral force of language? Does it ironically restore human mastery under the guise of surrendering it?
Animals have prowled literature from its beginnings in the ancient world through medieval bestiaries and out from the margins of the novel in the modern era. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, animals’ literary presence has generated increasing critical interest. Animal studies, a relatively new interdisciplinary field, calls attention to the accelerating exploitation of animals in the period of industrial modernity and questions what it is possible to know about animals’ own experiences. Foundational theoretical approaches to understanding the historical and philosophical condition of thinking about animals—John Berger’s “Why Look at Animals?” (1972), Thomas Nagel’s “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” (1974), and Jacques Derrida’s “The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow)” (2002)—propose a fundamental aporia or gap between human and animal experiences, and they caution against the projection of anthropocentric categories onto animal lives. Many novels from this recent period likewise treat animals as charismatic strangers. Yet other contemporary literature sometimes reimagines human-animal relationships to insist on affinity and continuity. In such novels, animals prompt diverse and often experimental stylistic choices that put pressure on the novel’s traditional association with everyday life, the individual self, the boundaries of the nation, and empirical observation more broadly. Still, many recent novels remain essentially committed to a realist tradition. Some of these—most notably by J. M. Coetzee—depict relations of care between humans and often vulnerable or dependent animals that prompt reflection on the meaning of ethical action. In novels that purport to narrate from animals’ own perspective, writers likewise meditate on the ethics of interspecies relations as they use language innovatively in an effort to realistically evoke the sensorium of another species. Pushing the boundaries of realism, other novels reinvent the animal fable, using varying degrees of fantasy to imagine wild or domesticated animals as tropes that reflect upon human embodiment, community, and politics. Whether realist or fabulist, the novels of contemporary postcolonial and world literature particularly explore the power and limits of mapping histories of human belonging and domination onto animal figures, even as they often highlight the limitations of these comparisons. Not all of these approaches are equally invested in creating a literature that could materially impact the lives of animals in an era of diminishing biodiversity. However, uniting this varied and ever-growing array of novels is a question of how literature can represent the lives of intimately entangled bodies in a globalizing world.
Anthologies, in the broadest sense of collections of independent texts, have always played an important role in preserving and spreading the written word, and collections of short forms, such as proverbs, wise sayings, and epigraphs, have a long history. The literary anthology, however, is of comparatively recent provenance, having come to prominence only during the long 18th century, when the modern concept of “literature” itself emerged. Since that time, it has been a fundamental part of literary culture: not only have literary texts been published in anthologies, but also the genre of the anthology has done much to shape their form and content, and to influence the ways in which they are read and taught, particularly as literary criticism has developed in tandem with the rise of the anthology. The anthology has also stimulated innovation in many periods and places by providing a model for writers of different genres of literature to emulate, and it has been argued that the form of the novel is much indebted to the anthology. This is connected to its close association with the figure of the reader. Furthermore, anthologies have helped to define what literature is, and been crucial to the canonization of texts, authors, and genres, and the consolidation of literary traditions. It is therefore not surprising that they were at the heart of the theoretical and pedagogical debates within literary studies known as the canon wars, which raged during the 1980s and 1990s. In this role, they contributed much to discussions concerning the theories and politics of identity, and to such approaches as feminism and race studies. The connection between the anthology and literary theory extends beyond this, however: theory itself has been subject to widespread anthologization, which has affected its practice and reception; the form of theoretical writing can in certain respects be understood as anthological; and the anthology is an important object of theoretical attention. For instance, given the potential which the digital age holds to transform how texts are disseminated and consumed, and the importance of finding ways to classify and navigate the digital archive, anthology studies is likely to figure largely in the Digital Humanities.
Born in the lower Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa (1942–2004) was a prolific writer, scholar, and activist. Her corpus of work includes essays, books, edited volumes, children’s literature, and fiction/autohistorias. Anzaldúa’s life and writing are at the forefront of critical theory as it interacts with feminism, Latinx literature, spirituality, spiritual activism, queer theory, and expansive ideas of queerness and articulations of alternative, non-Western epistemologies and ontologies. The geographical proximity to the US–Mexican border figures prominently throughout in her work, as does her theorization of metaphorical borderlands and liminal spaces. Her oft-cited text Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza is included in many university courses’ reading lists for its contributions to discourses of hybridity, linguistics, intersectionality, and women of color feminism, among others. Anzaldúa began work on her more well-known theories prior to the publication of Borderlands/La Frontera and continued to develop these theories in her post-Borderlands/La Frontera writing, both published and unpublished. After her sudden death due to complications of diabetes in 2004, Anzaldúa’s literary estate was housed in the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection at the University of Texas, Austin in 2005.
Harrod J. Suarez
What is the difference between studying an archipelago and studying archipelagically? As research in literary critical studies has shown, the difference is significant and what results from each profoundly distinct and possibly at odds with each other. If one approaches the archipelago as an empirical entity—that is, as a chain of islands—there has been the tendency to regard it as smaller and more isolated than other geographic formations, which then determines its marginalization even when working with the advent of transnational and postcolonial rubrics. On the other hand, if the archipelago, following Édouard Glissant and others, is conceptualized as a mode of analysis, then studying different landscapes, histories, narratives, and cultures becomes an altogether different endeavor. Using such approaches to animate the relationship between Oceania and Asian American and Pacific Islander literary studies has been the focus of numerous critics working at the intersections of these and other fields. A controversy that received national media attention framed certain of the stakes involved in the effort to address Oceania, a moment of representational crisis that produced rich responses and galvanized efforts to deal rigorously with the field’s heterogeneity, hybridity, and multiplicity. The resulting epistemological pursuits seem to emphasize the need to study archipelagically, opening up new frameworks and problematics crucial for reimagining the place of Oceania in diverse fields.
Archives and libraries operate within a complex web of social, political, and economic forces. The explosion of digital technologies, globalization, economic instability, consolidation within the publishing industry, increasing corporate control of the scholarly record, and the shifting copyright landscape are just some of the myriad forces shaping their evolution. Libraries and archives in turn have shaped the production of knowledge, participating in transformations in scholarship, publishing, and the nature of access to current and historical materials. Librarians and archivists increasingly recognize that they exist within institutional systems of power. Questioning long-held assumptions about library and archival neutrality and objectivity, they are working to expand access to previously marginalized materials, to educate users about the social and economic forces shaping their access to information, to raise awareness about bias in information tools and systems, and to empower disenfranchised communities.
New technologies are transforming the practices of librarians and archivists as they restructure bibliographic systems for collecting, storing, and accessing information. Digitization has vastly expanded the volume of material libraries and archives make available to their communities. It has enabled the creation of tools to read or decipher material thought to have been damaged beyond repair as well as tools to annotate, manipulate, map, and mine a wide variety of textual and visual resources. Digitization has enhanced scholarship by expanding opportunities for collaboration and by altering the scale of potential research. Scholars have the ability to perform computational analyses on immense numbers of images and texts. Nevertheless, new technologies have also presaged a greater commodification of information, a worsening of the crisis in scholarly communication, the creation of platforms rife with hidden bias, fake news, plagiarism, surveillance, harassment, and security breaches. Moreover, the digital record is less stable than the printed record, complicating the development of systems for organizing and preserving information. Archivists and librarians are addressing these issues by acquiring new technical competencies, by undertaking a range of social and materialist critiques, and by promoting new information literacies to enable users to think critically about the political and social contexts of information production.
In most 21st-century archives and libraries, traditional systems for stewarding analog materials coexist with newly developing methods for acquiring and preserving a range of digital formats and genres. Libraries provide access to printed books, journals, magazines, e-books, e-journals, databases, data sets, audiobooks, streaming audio and video files, as well as various other digital formats. Archives and special collections house rare and unique books and artifacts, paper and manuscript collections as well as their digital equivalents. Archives focus on permanently valuable records, including accounts, reports, letters, and photographs that may be of continuing value to the organizations that have created them or to other potential users.
Summer Kim Lee
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.
Asian American literary studies, and multi-ethnic literatures more broadly, have maintained a constant faith in the power of literature as a potential tool of anti-racist education. This faith in literature’s potential is not naïve, since it also recognizes how even the most diverse and ideal literary education can be co-opted by the workings of capitalism and neoliberalism. These fields are founded in an enduring and powerful belief that literature affects the social, cultural, and political esteem of a minority group in the United States. Within the field of Asian American studies, academics, activists, and cultural critics have sought to harness the power of various forms of cultural discourse and literature by mediating the stories told about (and at times by) Asian Americans. As Asian American literature has grown in popularity, there has been increasing attention to questions of who is represented within Asian American literature and who is deemed worthy to produce these representations. Such concerns have over time produced an abiding if somewhat tacit interest in questions of literary reception in the field. In fact, although many of the major literary controversies in Asian American studies have circulated around questions of representation and reception and ushered in paradigm shifts in how the field has conceptualized itself, it is an area that remains understudied. Asian American literary reception study and studies of readership are still emerging and crucial areas of analysis that could pose and posit answers to questions of literature’s possibilities and limitations as a tool of anti-racism in 21st-century America.
Douglas S. Ishii
Though Asian American literary studies bears its critical legacy, the Asian American Movement (1968–1977) is largely invisible within Asian American literary studies. This has led to a critical murkiness when it comes to discerning the extent of the Movement’s influence on Asian American literary criticism. The Movement is often remembered in literary scholarship as the activities of the Combined Asian Resources Project (CARP)—a collective of four writers who were only loosely associated with Asian American Movement organizations. As metacritical scholarship on “Asian American” as a literary category has suggested, CARP’s introductory essay to Aiiieeeee!: An Anthology of Asian-American Writers (1974) is simultaneously held as the epitome of cultural nationalism’s misogynist tendencies and as the prototypical theorization of Asian American literature. However, this essentializing of CARP as the Movement ignores how the collected writings of the Asian American Movement, Roots (1970) and Counterpoint (1976), identify literary production and criticism as sites of racial critique in distinction from CARP’s viewpoints.
Literary and cultural scholarship’s deconstruction of “Asian American” as a stable term has provided the tools to expand what constitutes the literature of the Movement. As Colleen Lye notes, the Asian American 1960s novel has emerged as a form that challenges the direct association of the era with the Movement. The historical arc of the Movement as centered on campuses highlights the university as an institution that enables Asian American student organizing, from the 1968 student strikes to contemporary interracial solidarity actions, as well as their narrativization into literary forms. Expanding what counts as literature, the decades of Asian American activism after the Movement proper have been documented in the autobiographies of organizers. In this way, the Asian American Movement is not a past-tense influence, but a continuing dialectic between narration and organizing, and literature and social life.
Each temporal sequence (specifically, in language) has its own structure and dynamics, but the beginning and the ending may be said to be universally important or significant points within such a sequence. They constitute the boundaries, or frame, of the literary text, separating it—and the world it projects—from the world around us, thus playing an important role in determining its basic shape.
Locating the textual point of beginning is often somewhat complex or problematic (typically more so than that of the ending), because, at least since the advent of the print era and the book format, the “main” text is accompanied—or surrounded—by other materials collectively known as paratexts (e.g., titles, epigraphs, various kinds of prefaces) that may be likened to a threshold through which the reader gradually passes from the “outside” to the “inside” of a text. Considered as a threshold, one of the beginning’s most important potential functions is to “draw us in,” or be seductive and help carry us over from the world we inhabit to the world the author has imagined. The beginning is also particularly important in creating a primacy effect, setting off our mind in a certain direction and thereby influencing our entire reception of the work. We may make a broad distinction between “orientational” and “abrupt” textual beginnings—the latter type confronting the reader with an ongoing action, without supplying preliminary information necessary for its understanding. Historically, such beginnings became widespread from the late 19th century, with the transition from realism to modernism. A phenomenon that is particularly intriguing in the context of narrative beginnings is that of the exposition, since by definition it always constitutes the beginning of the mimetic or actional sequence but is not necessarily located at the beginning of the textual sequence. Moreover, the point of transition between the exposition and the primary narrative action (or fictive present) may be considered as another kind of “beginning,” which plays an important role in how the narrative is perceived as a whole.
Delimiting the ending as a textual unit involves a fundamental issue of a different kind than those relevant to beginnings: since the ending follows everything else in the text, it is difficult to consider it without considering through it, so to speak, the text as a whole. The understanding and appreciation of endings depend to a large extent on what has preceded them. But at the same time they tend to play an important role in retrospectively shaping it and often have a lasting impact on its evaluation. The critical study of the ending has paid a good deal of attention to closure, so much so that there is a widespread tendency to conflate the two concepts; it is important, however, to differentiate between them. Whereas ending refers to the text’s termination point, closure refers to the sense of an ending: that is, not to the textual termination point itself but rather to a certain effect, or perceptual quality, produced by the text. The common distinction between “closed” and “open” endings is quite crude in its basic form and should be regarded as a finely gradated and multidimensional continuum rather than a simple dichotomy. Broadly speaking, endings that tend toward the open end of the continuum are typical of modern literature (and heavily valorized by modern criticism), and like “abrupt” beginnings they testify to a desire not to accentuate the boundaries of the work of art.
Biopolitics, unlike other conceptual rubrics such as psychoanalysis, Marxism, or the subaltern, does not contain a singular theoretical origin. While Michel Foucault is often cited as the progenitor of contemporary biopolitical thought, a number of other theorists and philosophers have also been credited with significantly shaping its critical lineage, from Hannah Arendt to Giorgio Agamben, Roberto Esposito, and Achille Mbembe. By extension, the relation between biopolitics and Asian America is an open-ended one, insofar as no one set of theoretical terms or axioms grounds this relation. Moreover, insofar as biopolitics in its widest sense encompasses the intersection of politics and life, including the inverse of life, its domain is potentially infinite. The conjunctions between biopolitics and Asian America, then, can be defined tactically through the following questions: what are some prominent motifs and concerns within Asian American history, culture, and scholarship that may be illuminatingly narrated within a biopolitical framework? Conversely, how have Asian American writers and scholars themselves analyzed these nexuses, and in what directions have they developed their inquiries? Finally, what does an Asian Americanist criticism bring to the study of biopolitics?
These questions can be usefully pursued via three thematics that have formed core concerns for Asian American studies: orientalist exoticism and exhibitions of the Asian body, associations of the Asian body with pollution and disease, and structures of US governmental power over Asian bodies and populations. Asian Americanist criticism has often centered on analyses of the body as a site for the production of racial difference, whether or not they explicitly adopt a biopolitical theoretical lexicon. What Asian Americanist engagements with biopolitics bring to biopolitical thought is a spotlighting of intersectional politics—the insight that the politics of life never simply operates in relation to abstract bodies but always occurs within power economies of race, gender, sexuality, class, nationality, and other forms of social difference and stratification. Conversely, biopolitical theories allow Asian Americanist criticism to develop in multiple new directions, from medical humanities and disability studies to science and technology studies, from animal studies to post-human feminisms, from diaspora studies to surveillance studies. Ultimately, an ethical impetus and an orientation toward justice continue to animate Asian Americanist critical practices, which hold out the promise of a positive biopolitics within prevailing paradigms of negative biopower.
Mary I. Unger
Black women readers have innovated various literacies—oral, textual, visual, and digital—as a way to validate their lived experiences, bond with one another, and lobby for their personal and collective agency. During the 18th century, black women made use of both vernacular and print cultures as strategies of survival and emancipation. Throughout the 19th century, they used reading for racial uplift in institutions such as the black press, the black women’s club movement, and literary societies. Moreover, they documented these acts of reading in cultural artifacts such as scrapbooks, which gave them the ability to manipulate print culture in deeply personal and political ways. Throughout these endeavors, black women readers deployed various literacies—reading both “aright” as well as “rogue”—to assert their agency in the era of print. In the 20th century, black women’s reading became even more professionalized in the role of editor, a position that facilitated the circulation and promotion of black women’s writing; this effort became even more urgent toward the end of the century when black feminists formed consciousness-raising groups and established new academic disciplines that depended on the recovery, anthologizing, and reading of black women’s writing. At the same time, from the postwar era through the end of the century, black women readers emerged as a significant reading demographic, courted by publishers who recognized them as a profitable consumer base. Into the 21st century, black women readers have turned to online and digital spaces in which to continue the tradition of reading for liberation and unity. In this way, the act of reading has also provided for black women a way to negotiate their relationships to American culture, each other, as well as themselves.
In the U.S.–Mexico context, the concepts of the border, borderlands, and la frontera represent their ongoing complex geopolitical, cultural, and historical relations. With the signing of the Guadalupe Hidalgo Treaty in 1848 and the Gadsden Purchase in 1853, the Mexican and U.S. governments established the southern border of the United States. The border is the international boundary line between the two countries, and the borderlands are the zones neighboring both sides of that boundary. It is a place where the First and Third Worlds collide daily, creating borderlands that amount to collective spaces of transcultural/transnational encounters. The concept of la frontera represents a counter-narrative of the term “frontier,” which became synonymous with American expansionism, or the westward expansion of the United States as proclaimed by Frederick Jackson Turner in 1883. The Spanish term “frontera,” as used in this framework, presupposes a knowledge production ranging from the implications of land annexation to the geopolitical and cultural processes of borderland sites. While the borders mark the place where adjacent jurisdictions, communities, and nation-states meet, it has also been a hotly contested subject—literally and figuratively speaking—inciting extreme emotional reactions that fuel negative stereotypes about immigrants, ethnic discrimination, and xenophobia. Immigration has become one of the most salient sociopolitical issues discussed on the national level. Unfortunately, it is debated mainly outside of the historical context because the histories embedded in its borderlands can contribute enormously to inform current political debates about immigration in the United States. Border crossers coming from south of the border are often portrayed by U.S. politicians as the most unwelcome and undesirable (yet necessary) immigrants. As the national discussion on immigration reform continues and the alleged ills of the U.S.–Mexico border dominate the political discourse and the media, expressive art and print culture must continue to form novel epistemologies of borders and counter unsubstantiated alternative facts propagated by anti-immigrant groups. To that end, it is important to consider the border's literature and imagine the borderlands as the fruitful heterogeneous site of an imagined and creative homeland: Aztlán.
Asian Canadian Literary Studies is a relatively new field of study which began in the mid to late 1990s. Even though literature written by Chinese, Japanese, and South Asian Canadians had been published in literary magazines and anthologies since the 1970s, the identification of a distinct body of works called “Asian Canadian literature,” as Donald Goellnicht has noted (in “A Long Labour”), began only when there was a sociopolitical movement focused on identity politics. The literature includes early experiences of Chinese in Gum San or “gold mountain”; Japanese Canadian internment during the Second World War; South Asian Canadians diasporic writing from former British colonies like India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Trinidad, Guyana, Tanzania, and Kenya; feminist experimental and genre writing; and writing from the post-1975 wave of first- and 1.5-generation immigrants and refugees. Early 21st-century works have moved from mainly autoethnographic stories to those that include larger sociocultural concerns, such as poverty, domestic violence, the environment, lesbian, queer, and transgender issues, and other intersectional systems of oppression that face Asian Canadians and other marginalized groups. Genres include memoirs, films, short stories, autobiographies, realist novels, science fiction, graphic novels, poetry, plays, and historical novels.
In the past, without naming the field “Asian Canadians,” many critics have engaged with Asian Canadian literary texts. For example, articles and chapters about Joy Kogawa’s Obasan can be found in journals and books on Canadian, postcolonial, ethnic, and Asian American literature. South Asian Canadian literature also has strong links with postcolonial studies and institutions, such as the book publisher TSAR Publications, which began as the literary journal, The Toronto South Asian Review. In Canadian English usage, Asian usually refers to people from East and Southeast Asian while the term South Asian Canadian is a subgroup of Asian Canadian, according to Statistics Canada. In literary studies, it has only been in the past ten or fifteen years that the term “Asian Canadian” is used as a pan-ethnic term for all peoples who are originally from or have roots in Asia.
The literary canon, theorists contend, is a selection of reputable works that abstracts their value for specific purposes: to safeguard them from neglect or censure, reproduce social and institutional values, maintain them as exemplary in the formation of personal or communal identities, or objectify and enshrine standards of judgment. The value of canonical works is not felt reducible to these uses or the interests that canon-making may serve, but canonization is nonetheless thought to be a recognition of their value, even confirmation that this value has been sufficiently established, by consensus or institutional edict, that it no longer requires demonstration. The discourse of canonicity thus relies on an economy of belief about the possibility and validity of agreement about literary value. Within this economy, the canon, in whichever composition, is both the evidence and the outcome of agreement, without which value would seemingly become entirely speculative. At the same time, canonicity is also a form of attention paid to valuable works, and it is not the only such form. Canonical works are treated differently than are other valuable works, and the value of the same work may be described in a different rhetoric of valuation depending on what kind of valuable work it is perceived to be. A work may be treated as a reference point, a familiar and influential text whose contribution to culture is measured relative to one context. It may be viewed as a classic, a singular and standard work whose value is perceived across a distance of time or culture. Or it may be esteemed as a canonical text, whose vital and indefinable contribution is not seen as relative to any particular time or place. The discourse of canonicity thus serves to generate belief in the possibility of suspending, however provisionally, speculation and contingency.
Peter Uwe Hohendahl
As early as 1916, Carl Schmitt underscored the centrality of myth and religion in his analysis of the expressionist Theodor Däubler. He celebrated Däubler as a Christian poet and radical critic of modernity. This critique of modernity was then articulated in more systematic terms his 1919 essay Political Romanticism, which opposed the Romantic approach to life and art as ironic escapism and relativism. During the 1920s and 1930s, a personal search for new ground led Schmitt to the Catholic author Konrad Weiss, and subsequently to Herman Melville’s story Benito Cereno as a private allegory of Carl Schmitt as persecuted intellectual. His late literary criticism focused on William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. His interpretation emphasizes the tragic nature of the play, explicitly taking issue with Walter Benjamin’s reading of Hamlet as a Christian Trauerspiel (mourning play). For Schmitt, the central issue is the presence of contemporary history as a force that deeply impacts the drama. This argument is directed against the notion of play and the idea of aesthetic autonomy. Instead, for Schmitt, the older concept of representation defines the place and relevance of art and the aesthetic within a broader cultural and religious configuration.