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South Asian American Visual Culture and Representation  

Bakirathi Mani

South Asian American visual culture is a diverse field of visual art, created by artists who are first-, second- and third-generation immigrants from Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh, among other diasporic locations (e.g., Kenya). South Asian American artists work in a range of media forms, including photography, sculpture, installation, video, painting, and drawing. Collectively, these artworks are frequently exhibited in museums and galleries as depictions of contemporary South Asian immigrant life. However, a close reading of individual works produces a more dynamic picture. Instead of viewing South Asian American visual culture solely in terms of artists’ own immigrant biographies, scholarship and museum practices have begun to focus on how its aesthetic and political contributions have been central to the representation of racialized, gendered, and sexualized immigrant bodies in the United States since the turn of the millennium. Drawing across archival collections, aesthetic histories, and digital media forms, artists create works that link the colonial documentation of “native” bodies on the subcontinent with the surveillance and documentation of immigrant bodies by the US state. Alongside artists, academics and activists also work to produce curatorial interventions through exhibitions that generate feminist and queer critiques of the relation between nation-state and diaspora. Emphasizing the transnational ties of capital and labor that bind together the subcontinent with the United States, South Asian American visual culture creates new frameworks for the relationship between race, visuality, and representation.

Article

Sri Lankan American Literature and Culture  

Dinidu Karunanayake

Despite the prominent work produced by Sri Lankan American writers Michael Ondaatje and Rienzi Crusz since the 1970s, Sri Lankan American literature and culture has maintained a doubly marginalized position in Asian America due to the historical disregard of South Asian America and the dominance of Indian America. Literary and cultural work by writers and artists of the first and second generations reveal how Sri Lankan America is, to use Rajiv Shankar’s phrase, “a part, yet apart” of the South Asian American milieu as well as postcolonial Sri Lankan studies. First-generation writers initially reflect on the common diasporic theme of nostalgia for the land of origin, but their larger body of work is not directly related to “Sri Lankan” topics. For instance, Ondaatje, who gained prominence as a “Canadian postmodernist,” kept Sri Lanka largely peripheral in his early poetry until his 1982 memoir Running in the Family. However, after the outbreak of the Sri Lankan civil war between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), presaged by the state-sanctioned pogrom of Tamils known as the Black July riots of 1983 that occasioned a second wave of immigration to North America, the volatile political background at home and the national “betrayal” by the Sinhalese Buddhist government became a major thematic motif for Sri Lankan American writing. Indran Amirthanayagam’s 1993 poetry collection The Elephants of Reckoning reveals a new responsibility embraced by the diasporic writer—to recognize that “the dead have tongues” and to pose the question: “What are they saying?” Shyam Selvadurai’s Funny Boy (1994) reiterates Amirthanayagam’s position, becoming a blueprint for a new generation of Sri Lankan American writers and popular cultural artists invested in social justice vis-à-vis not only race, ethnicity, and citizenship but also politics of gender and sexuality. Second-generation Sri Lankan American writing such as V. V. Ganeshananthan’s novel Love Marriage (2008) experiments with new archival forms by mediating traumatic “inherited memories” of the civil war, pointing to the future directions of the Sri Lankan American literary and cultural terrain.

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Transcolonial Studies  

Olivia C. Harrison

Since the beginning of the 21st century, scholars of race and empire have been invested in exploring the horizontal vectors that stretch across and between imperial formations, displacing the vertical axis of North-South relations taken to be characteristic of early postcolonial theory. An analytical framework that seeks to capture the relationality of empire and the transversal modes of resistance against it, transcolonial studies offers a methodology for apprehending the coloniality of the present. The term transcolonial was coined in the 1990s, but the horizontal relationalities it describes are as old as empire itself. Europe’s colonial ventures were relational from the start, driven by competition for hegemony over seas and land and modeled on the likeness of empires past and present. Likewise, resistance to colonial conquest and governance took shape in relation to liberation struggles elsewhere and drew inspiration from previous and ongoing revolts in Haiti, Algeria, Vietnam, and Palestine. The movements for racial justice and decolonization that have followed in the wake of empire are similarly rooted in practices of solidarity that span subject positions without conflating them, from Standing Rock to Gaza and Black Lives Matter. Such unexpected solidarities among heterogeneously racialized and colonized subjects and their majoritarian allies work to undo the reified identities produced in colonial and racial discourse, undermining the competitive identitarian model inaugurated by the divide-and-conquer methods of high colonialism. To describe these alliances as transcolonial is also to acknowledge that Euro-colonial modernity continues to shape the purportedly postcolonial present. The prefix trans is temporal as much as it is geographic and political.

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Transpacific Femininities  

Denise Cruz

Although it may not be a truth universally acknowledged, the pages of Asian American literature are nevertheless filled with complex representations of transpacific women. These constructions of Asian femininity counter the more recognizable versions of Asian women that have circulated from the late 19th century to the present: archetypes of the Asian mother as symbolic of a lost homeland, the exotic and submissive Asian butterfly, or the vilified and dangerous dragon lady. These persistent characterizations of Asian femininity are in one sense no surprise, especially given the longstanding Orientalist binary (Edward Said) that imagined the East as the West’s submissive and feminized other and the frequent connection between women and the land in nationalist fiction. As a critical framework and archival methodology, transpacific femininities reconfigures the centrality of gender, sexuality, and transpacific experience to Asian American literature. Transpacific femininities was originally conceived as a mode of analysis for a specific historical context and literary form: the Philippines in the early to mid-20th century and representations of women in prose. But it is ultimately a more capacious model that (a) recovers a long history of the importance of women to transpacific literature, (b) carefully considers how multiple empires and nations influenced the Pacific, and (c) counters the feminization of Asia by revealing how writers were actively involved in redefining the terms of national identities, communities, and transpacific relations. The plural “femininities” underscores instability and contradictions in texts and authorial strategies, for while transpacific femininities is above all a feminist way of reading, the term also recognizes that these authors and texts do not all advocate feminist practices.

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Transpacific Spaces and (East and Southeast) Asian Canadian Literature  

Joanne Leow

(East and Southeast) Asian Canadian literature has consistently been preoccupied with the transpacific: from its lived spaces, its imagined ones, and its hybrid literary constructions. This body of literature includes narratives of arrival, autobiographical texts, historiographic novels, magical realist fiction, and experimental poetry. While these texts have usually been read through historical frameworks, thinking through them spatially enables us to understand and trace the alternate geographies of mobility, belonging, and cultural change beyond the project of the Canadian nation. These texts are predicated on transnational spaces of commerce and labor, trauma and resistance, refuge and liminality, and mobility and materiality. They reflect and produce the complex and overlapping trajectories of communities and individuals from East and Southeast Asia. From fictions of Chinatown to testimonies of racist dispersal and exclusion, refugee narratives to speculative decolonial futures, Asian Canadian literature has shaped both rural and urban Canadian spaces and their transnational and local textures. Thinking through the transpacific spaces in the literature points to the ways in which racist and exclusionary policies have shaped the landscapes and social spaces of the nation whether through immigration laws or forcible dispossession and internment. Yet, it also gives rise to the possibilities of new collectivities and communities within and beyond the nation-state. In the face of unequal globalization and movements of labor and capital, this mode of analysis points to possible indigenous and diasporic solidarities and place-making. Contemporary texts from Asian Canadian writers also evince a consciousness of Canadian bioregions and the confrontation of extraction economics that allows for a discussion of intersectionality in the context of environmental humanities and ecocriticism.

Article

The Transpacific Subject in Asian American Culture  

Erin Suzuki and Aimee Bahng

The use of the term transpacific in Asian American studies should be reevaluated vis-à-vis Pacific studies, Indigenous studies, and Oceanic studies. In particular, following Lisa Yoneyama’s model for examining “decolonial genealogies of transpacific studies,” such a reevaluation emphasizes interdisciplinarity, intersectionality, and, above all, a reckoning with settler taxonomies of intellectual production as vital to the continued use of the term. Beginning with a review of key scholarly interventions into the “settler colonial grammar of AA/PI,” this article relates the US histories and logics that first produced the categories “Asian American” and “Pacific Islander” and brought them into categorical relation with one another. These historical entanglements between diasporic and Indigenous movements across and through the Pacific, can be understood through cultural analysis of literary works that reconfigure transpacific studies around Oceanic passages and Pacific currents highlighting an Indigenous-centered regional formation. Rather than allowing transpacific discourses to dismiss the Pacific Islands as distant or remote “islands in a far sea,” such an approach recasts the region along the lines of what Tongan scholar Epeli Hau‘ofa formulates as an interconnected “sea of islands.” It concludes by considering the ongoing harm produced by settler epistemologies of possessive liberal humanism and by inviting a decolonial approach to Asian American cultural politics.

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(The) Transpacific Turns  

Tina Chen

The concept of the “transpacific” has inherent asymmetries that must be explored in order to generate a more nuanced interpretive logic of transpacific possibility. Such epistemic asymmetry should be considered not simply as a description of the massive inequalities undergirding the geopolitical arrangements of the transpacific world, but also as a catalyst through which transpacific knowledge and critical orientations of the transpacific are produced. Scholarship evidences three key turns—through militarization, the ecological, and indigeneity—that collectively work to map the uneven terrain of the transpacific. The poet Lawson Inada’s wry observation about the epistemic, economic, and aesthetic challenges posed by the transpacific—that “the problem . . . is water”—provides a starting point from which to trace a fluid genealogy of transpacific literary and cultural production. This fluid genealogy traces alternative versions of the transpacific as “imaginable ageographies” to counterbalance the existing architectural ideas about security, economics, and militarization that have delimited this arena. Analysis of a wide range of texts demonstrates that transpacific asymmetry and transpacific interconnection can both be usefully leveraged to disrupt hierarchies of knowledge and practice.

Article

Twenty-First-Century West Indian Fiction  

Sheri-Marie Harrison

West Indian fiction in the 21st century continues a tradition begun in the late 1990s as the fourth generation of Anglophone Caribbean writing. Though West Indian writing dates back to the early 19th century, West Indian literature began coalescing into a discrete field of study in the 1930s, motivated in large part by the political imperatives of anti-colonialism, political independence, and decolonization. Much of the fiction published in the late 90s to the present continues to adhere to the realist mode of representing Caribbean life—both in the region and in diaspora—as well as thematic engagements with decolonization, cultural nationalism, migration, diaspora, race, class, gender, and sexuality. Historical novels, modernist narratives, coming-of-age stories, and neoslave narratives remain significant features of West Indian fiction, in ways that are geared toward negotiating sovereign realties for individuals and communities that share a history of colonial domination, slavery, indentureship, and more recently, depleted cultural nationalisms. In the last decade, scholars in the field have begun the work of theorizing the recent fictional output as constituting its own discrete moment in literary development. What is distinct about contemporary writing is the way in which some authors have begun to ironically rework now-familiar forms, themes, and politics of West Indian writing. Some recent West Indian fiction produces atypical, often incomprehensible, and ultimately dissonant conclusions designed to complicate the political priorities of previous generations. This ironic approach typifies 21st-century West Indian fiction’s skepticism about the nation building and identity politics developed in previous waves—in particular, the conflation of identity with sovereignty. At the same time, this fiction doesn’t simply reject earlier modes: one of its defining aesthetic features is a re-inhabitation of the central forms and politics of preceding waves, in order to complicate them. The central feature of the fourth generation of West Indian fiction, then, is a continued engagement with the region’s history of colonization, slavery, and decolonization that is also marked by critical and self-reflexive engagements with the Caribbean literary tradition.

Article

US–Japan Literary Interactions in the Transpacific Cultural History  

Takayuki Tatsumi

In 1853 Commodore Matthew Perry opened not only the doors of a “double-bolted land” as Herman Melville called Japan in Moby-Dick (1851) but also the possibilities of modern literature. While it is a half-Chinook, half-Scot American called Ranald McDonald who smuggled himself into Japan in 1848 and became the first teacher of English in the country, Gerald Vizenor, a distinguished Native American novelist, completed a postmodern novel Hiroshima Bugi: Atomu 57 (2003), remixing Moby-Dick with Matsuo Basho’s haiku travelogue Narrow Road to the Far North, Lafcadio Hearn a.k.a. Koizumi Yakumo’s Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan, and Ranald MacDonald’s Japan: Story of Adventure. After the opening of Japan, Fukuzawa Yukichi (1834–1901), one of the founding fathers of modern Japan, visited Europe and the United States of America, and decided to Westernize his own country. Being the first translator of Thomas Jefferson’s composed “The Declaration of Independence,” Fukuzawa published a million-selling An Encouragement of Learning (a series of seventeen pamphlets published from 1872 to 1876), in which the author emphasized the significance of sciences and the spirit of independence in the way comparable to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” (1837) and “The American Scholar” (1841). While Professor Thomas Sergeant Perry, a great nephew of Commodore Perry, started teaching American literature in 1898 at Keio University, which Fukuzawa established, Yone Noguchi (Noguchi Yonejiro, 1875–1947), a great admirer of Edgar Allan Poe and Matsuo Basho, became famous as a cosmopolitan poet in the United States, receiving good reviews for the first collection of poems all written in English, Seen and Unseen (1896). It is highly plausible that his correspondence with Ezra Pound provided the latter with a key to promoting the poetics of imagism. Following the example of Noguchi, Nishiwaki Junzaburo (1894–1982), another cosmopolitan poet famous for the translation of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, studied English literature and philology at Oxford University and published in 1925 the first volume of poetry Spectrum in London. Thus, Ezra Pound, who once admired Yone Noguchi in the 1910s, came to recommend Nishiwaki as the finalist for the Nobel Literary Prize in 1957. The year 1955 saw the first postwar climax of transpacific literary history. William Faulkner, a major American modernist and recent laureate of Nobel Prize in Literature, paid his first visit to Japan in the summer of 1955, giving a series of seminars in Nagano. Speculating on Japanese culture, he gave an insight into the literary affinity between Japan and the American South in an open letter entitled “To the Youth of Japan.” American as he is, Faulkner shares the memory of lost war with the postwar Japanese, for he came from Mississippi, part of the Deep South, the very defeated nation in the Civil War. Without this memory of lost war, Faulkner could not have developed his apocryphal imagination. Therefore, it is very natural that Faulkner’s visit to Japan invited quite a few major Japanese authors to develop their own apocryphal imagination, ending up with major works published in 1973, the year of Oil Shock, all inspired by Faulkner’s double novel The Wild Palms (1939): Endo Shusaku’s Catholic novel Upon the Dead Sea, Oe Kenzaburo’s nuclear novel The Flood Invades My Soul, and Komatsu Sakyo’s science fiction novel Japan Sinks. Noting that the year of 1973 also saw the publication of Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, we could well locate here the genesis of transpacific postmodern literature in the 21st century.

Article

Vietnamese Canadian Refugee Aesthetics  

Vinh Nguyen

Vietnamese Canadian refugee aesthetics are the diverse expressions of how hundreds of thousands of refugees and their descendants experienced the Vietnam War and its aftermath. They are shaped on the one hand by a history of war in, and forced migration from, Vietnam and on the other by resettlement in multicultural Canada. Significantly, Vietnamese Canadian refugee aesthetics are produced within a distinct context of Canadian “forgetting of complicity” in the Vietnam War. A major shaping force of this aesthetics is the idea that Canada was an innocent bystander or facilitator of peace during the war years, instead of a complicit participant providing arms and supporting a Western bloc victory. This allows, then, for a discourse of Canadian humanitarianism to emerge as Canada resettled refugees in the war’s wake. Vietnamese Canadian refugee aesthetics are produced and received in relation to the enduring narrative of Canadian benevolence. In this way, they celebrate the nation-state and its peoples through gratitude for the gift of refuge. More importantly, however, they illuminate life during and in the wake of war; the personal, political, and historical reasons for migration; the struggles and triumphs of resettlement; and the complexities of diasporic existence. Refugee aesthetics are driven by memory and the desire to commemorate, communicate, and make sense of difficult pasts and the embodied present. They often take the form of literary works such as memoirs, novels, and poetry, but they are also found in community politics and activism, such as commemoration events and protests, and other popular media like public service videos. Produced by refugees as well as the state, these aesthetic “texts” index themes and problematics such as the formation of voice; the interplay between memory, history, and identity; the role of autobiography; and the modes of representing war, violence, and refuge-seeking.

Article

The View from Another Shore: An Island-Specific Approach to Literary Criticism  

Seri Luangphinith

Scholarship surrounding literature from Hawai‘i has often been beset by battles over representation. In particular, controversies over how outsiders depict Hawaiian life and culture have been raised with texts such as James Michener’s 1959 bestseller Hawaii, and arguments about local and settler literary authority emerged as part of academic literary criticism back in the 1990s. Current scholarship on literature from Hawai‘i emphasizes ethnic and racial conflict, and in so doing tends to obscure other kinds of significant differences—between urban and rural, academic and non-academic, large- and small-scale production—that exist in literary practices in Hawai‘i. In contrast, there is a plentiful, heterogenous, and multifaceted body of writing that has been and continues to be produced on the Island of Hawai‘i (the Big Island). These literary practices include publishing houses that promote literature in multiple languages including English and Native Hawaiian, groups that actively seek to preserve Big Island culture and history (such as the memory of plantation life), and collaborative community and student efforts. Newer forms of expression such as bilingual manga, documentary film, musical theater, and Native Hawaiian and English rap music have added to long-standing traditions of storytelling, theater and performance, and life writing. Detailing these many voices and different kinds of writing and working directly with writers allows for a much more nuanced understanding of what “literature from Hawai‘i” encompasses and how it should be read. This interpretive model reconnects a large present-day and historical body of work to a specific place (as opposed to a vague notion of the islands) and to the Big Island communities who serve as the primary audiences and critical readers of this work.