Since the term autofiction was coined by Serge Doubrovsky in the 1970s, a key scholarly debate has been whether autofiction is a genre in its own right, a subvariant of autobiography, or whether it is better approached along lines other than generic. Although researchers have approached this question in different ways, many agree that autofiction is a form of writing that responds to the specific cultural conditions of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, including the relationship between celebrity and everyday life, a variety of scandals and controversies, and forms of public confession. Because writers of autofiction often frame their work either as a form of confessional writing or as writing produced in the aftermath of a traumatic experience, they have typically taken a serial approach to life writing. In some cases, this entails splitting aspects of their lives across separate published works, while others return several times to a single experience in various written texts as part of the process of repetition and working through that marks the aftermath of trauma. Among writers from postcolonial societies, the process of representing trauma is often imbued with a testimonial function, bearing witness to the conflicts and injustices of the colonial era. Autofictional techniques can be used to allow writers to appear as minor characters in narratives that are not ostensibly about them, to activate this testimonial function. In another variation, writers narrate historical incidents that occurred before they were born but which nevertheless concern their community, ancestry, or family. Since these cannot be entirely separated from the life story of the author, to tell the story of those ancestors is also, in a meaningful sense, to narrate an aspect of one’s own history: autofiction at one remove. Renée Larrier has used the dance martial art danmyé as a suggestive metaphor for how Caribbean writers merge individual with social and historical interests in bearing witness to the legacies of the colonial period and slavery. Among various innovations, this use of dance raises the possibility of autofiction existing in media other than print—including graphic novels, fine art, documentary film, and television. By this point, a new generation of media-savvy autofiction writers has emerged capable of using interactive media to promote and extend their published work. Just as the growth of reality genres represented television reversing its own belatedness with regard to literature, so transmedia emanations of autofiction re-reverse this trend, pointing to a complex interaction between what happens in literature and what happens in other media.
Twenty-first-century understandings of how disability figures in Asian American literature and the representation of Asian American individuals have greatly evolved. Earlier, highly pejorative characterizations associated with the 19th-century “Oriental” or “yellow peril” as a carrier of disease whose body needed to be quarantined and excluded. Later, the model minority myth typecast Asian Americans as having extreme intellectual abilities to the point of freakishness. Disability studies asserts that having an “imperfect” disabled body is nothing to hide and questions beliefs in norms of behavior and experience. Focusing on disability in Asian American literature opens a new path to reflect on Asian American identity and experience in ways that break away from the racial types and narrative trajectories of immigrant success that have often been seen as defining what it is to be Asian American. Integrating a disability studies perspective into Asian American studies provides a compelling and necessary means of critiquing stereotypes such as the model minority myth, as well as to reread many classic texts of Asian American literature with attentiveness to difference, impairment, and loss.
Although Freud’s key claims regarding unconscious processes are pervasive in psychoanalytic theory, psychoanalysis is not a singular unified system. Early originating frameworks have evolved to adapt to changing clinical practices. In Britain, Freud’s work was complicated by the work of Klein, and later by the British Object Relations school, and still later by the inclusion of empirical research from John Bowlby’s attachment theory. In France and Latin America, Lacan gained dominance; in the United States, early work in “ego psychology” was supplemented by Kohutian “self-psychology” and later by “relational psychoanalysis.” In the academy, the work of Slavoj Zizek, synthesizing Lacanian and Marxist theory, has had wide influence. All these perspectives offer different accounts of the legacies of the past in their impact on unconscious expression. Early applications of psychoanalysis to literature were concerned with the origins of creativity and the neurotic conditions of literary characters or authors. Subsequent interests have focused on the nature of literary language and the dynamics of readerly engagements. In the early 21st century, use of psychoanalysis as an analytic tool follows the model of a conversation. The goal is not to apply a theory to a text to illustrate a psychoanalytic truth but to tease out the “unsaid” of a text or set of texts. Psychoanalysis in literary engagements, as in clinical engagements, is not about establishing a truth; instead it is used in “dialogue” with another discourse to discover implicit or unacknowledged dimensions of that articulation. The diversity of psychoanalytic schools and concepts allows scholars to give attention to wide-ranging interests: to the grip of ideology on subject, to the unconscious thematics of authors, to the symptomatic conditions of culture. Popular subjects for the psychoanalytic study of literature or film are psychic conflict, suffering, anxiety, enjoyment, the uncanny, and the repressed. Following World War II, the Frankfurt school synthesized Freud with Marxist thought, laying out enduring parameters for the psychoanalytic study of social processes. Adorno and Horkheimer sought to understand totalitarian character and mass culture and explored literature as a response to ideological enlistment. Recent work by “the Lacanian Left” in political theory explores libidinal and affective dimensions of discourse. “Psychosocial studies” scholars in Britain utilize psychoanalytic principles to gain more complex information from interviews and social research designs. Contemporary work in neuropsychoanalysis develops empirical evidence to document psychoanalytic processes in the organizational patterns of the brain, particularly in the dynamics of dreaming, memory, and nonconscious behavior. All these newly emerging engagements with psychoanalytic thought offer opportunities for contemporary research.
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.
(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.
Jaime Javier Rodríguez
The US–Mexico War produced a wide range of literature in the United States that exposed the provisional and contingent qualities of US nationalism, even while it also asserted the anti-Mexican racism and xenophobia that continues to shape cultural and political discourse in the early 21st century. Much of the popular literature produced in mass-market novelette form, for example, deployed a range of Mexican enemies that ran through a sequence from noble, chivalrous opponents, to fiendish enemies and terrorist bandits. This instability in how writers saw Mexico and Mexicans suggests that the war could paradoxically generate critical self-reflections that countered essentialist notions of manifest destiny. The eventual projection of the bandit figure as the prototypical Mexican villain reinforced Anglo-American national self-definitions of moral, cultural, and racial superiority as a response to the destabilizing energies resulting from the invasion of a neighboring American republic. For Mexican American writers, the war, although a major feature of Mexican American literature, nonetheless became an environment in which to explore conditions of non-national, liminal border identities, which became strikingly relevant as the 20th century turned into the 21st. In Mexico, the agonized response to the nation’s failure to stop the “Yankee” invader led instead to a confrontation with its own lack of a unifying national identity and forced writers and political intellectuals to ask hard questions about Mexico’s destiny.
A focus on trauma’s institutional trajectory in literary and cultural theory serves to narrow the transnational and multidirectional scope of memory studies. While Sigmund Freud’s attempt in Beyond the Pleasure Principle to define trauma in order to account for World War I veterans’ symptoms might serve as a provisional departure point, the psychological afflictions that haunted American soldiers returning from the Vietnam War reinforced the explanatory value of what came to be called “posttraumatic stress disorder,” which the American Psychiatric Association added to the DSM-III (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) in 1980. Multiple dramatic films released in the 1980s about Vietnam conveyed images of the American soldier’s two-fold traumatization by the violence he not only witnessed but also perpetrated along with the ambivalent treatment he received upon his return to a protest-riven nation waking up to the demoralizing realization that US military prowess was neither absolute nor inherently just. Proliferating research and writing about trauma in the late 1980s reflected this juncture as well as the transformative impact of the new social movements whose consciousness-raising efforts inspired a generation of academics to revise secondary and post-secondary literary canons. The publication in 1992 of both Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery as well as Shoshana Felman and Dori Laub’s Testimony: Crises of Witnessing; In Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History, along with Cathy Caruth’s editorial compilation entitled Trauma: Explorations in Memory (1995) and collected essays in Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History (1996), crystallized a moment when trauma was manifestly coming into vogue as an object of inquiry. This trend was reinforced by simultaneous developments in Holocaust studies that included critical acclaim for Claude Lanzmann’s ten-hour documentary Shoah (released in 1985), the opening of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC in 1993, and, that same year, the international success of Stephen Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. Other key events that propelled the popularity of trauma studies in the 1990s included the fall of the Berlin wall, the dissolution of the Soviet Union and South African apartheid governments, and Toni Morrison receiving the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature for Beloved. The latter additionally bolstered specialization in African American studies as a platform for investigating representations of slavery and its violent afterlives. While some critics fault the 1990s confluence of Holocaust and trauma studies for its Eurocentrism, the research pursued by feminist, multiculturalist, and postcolonial scholars in the same period laid the foundation for increasingly diverse lines of inquiry. Postcolonial criticism in particular has inspired scholarship about the intergenerational aftereffects of civil war, partition, forced migration, and genocide as well as the damage that accrues as settler states continue to marginalize and constrain the indigenous groups they displaced. More recent trauma research has also moved beyond a focus on finite events to examine the compounding strain of the everyday denigrations and aggressions faced by subordinated groups in tandem with long-term persecution and systemically induced precarity. Ultimately, then, the scale of trauma and memory studies has become not only global but also planetary in response to intensifying public anxiety about extinction events and climate change.