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Article

Celebrity  

Lorraine York

Celebrity is the public performance, reception, and discursive interpretation of highly visible individual identities. The field of celebrity studies, which emerged from the study of cinema, has sought to theorize the celebrity phenomenon across numerous cultural sites and products, and for this reason theorists often distinguish the term “celebrity” from the more cinematically specific terms “star” and “stardom.” Theoretical accounts of celebrity have focused on the interactions of fantasy and the everyday, the negotiations of ordinariness and special status within the celebrity persona, the role of psychological drives or needs, the performance of an authenticity effect, and celebrity’s alignment with individualism in the context of commodity capitalism and neoliberal regimes of affect. Questions of celebrity agency and power have attracted special attention, as applied to specific issues of celebrity activism, as well as being more broadly considered in accounts of relations of power such as gender, race, and sexuality. In the 21st century, those analyses of gender, sexuality, and race in the production and consumption of celebrity, as well as theories of celebrity formations and practices in digital culture, have moved to the forefront of the field’s concerns.

Article

Hybridity  

David Huddart

Hybridity captures various ways in which identities are characterized by complexity or mixed-ness rather than simplicity or purity. It is a term that functions as a description of how things simply are, but it frequently appears to take on the characteristics of a prescription. It is not only that identities on various scales are hybrid, but also that they ought to be hybrid, or should become more hybrid. This prescriptive sense prompts reflection on the processes that drive mixed identities, shifting attention away from a static hybridity toward a dynamic and unending hybridization. The idea’s use in many different disciplinary formations typically implies that, while all identities are minimally hybrid, specific historical shifts have exaggerated and accelerated hybridity. Those shifts are associated with European colonialism, the Atlantic slave trade, neocolonial echoes, globalization, and the rise of the cyborg. Such associations raise the question of resistance to the prescriptive recommendation of hybridity to the extent that hybrid cultures are so frequently an outcome of violent domination. Formerly colonized cultures strive to re-establish more fundamental identities, casting the hybridizing colonial period as a brief if damaging and disruptive interlude. Resistance is also found in former imperial centers, with multiculturalism perceived as a hybridizing threat to the core integrity of a melancholic post-imperialism. And commentators continue to warn that automation and related AI will make unexpectedly diverse jobs obsolete in the very near future, a hybrid cyborg future that occasionally begins to feel more machine than human. Ultimately, it may seem that hybridity is opposed to various forms of indigeneity, purity, or in the most general case, humanity in general. However, such oppositions would be misleading, principally because hybridity as a cultural fact and as a concept implies nothing of necessity. Each context demands specific attention to the ways it is hybrid, the processes of hybridization, and the stabilities that follow.

Article

Impersonation  

Laura Browder

Impersonator narratives exist at the intersection of literature and history; they serve as interventions during flash points in history. Impersonation takes a number of different forms, but in all cases it is contingent on reader reception. There are narrative impersonations in which reader and writer are willing collaborators and in which readers feel little to no discomfort with an author’s assumption of a voice far from his or her public identity; any novel written in first person is in a sense an impersonation. Yet even when author and reader agree that the work is fictional, this compact between fiction reader and writer can become disrupted when readers question the author’s right to assume a specific voice. There are literary hoaxes, which generally (although not always) involve a body of work whose author is supposedly dead (and thus it is impossible for any actual impersonation to take place). The most analytically productive for textual scholars, however, are the most committed impersonators—those who (at least part-time) inhabit the literary personae they have created. For this last group of impersonators, as is true for some of the others, success depends on having a readership with fixed ideas about the identities the impersonator chooses to inhabit. The impersonator succeeds through a deep understanding of stereotypes and, through his or her success, further imprisons his or her readers in caricatured thinking about race and identity. Yet the unmasking of the impersonator offers the possibility of liberation to readers, in that it forces them to consider the preconceptions that led them to believe in these false narratives, no matter how implausible. Impersonation can be a means for its practitioners to escape historical traps, or identities that no longer work for them; it can be a way for practitioners to put a historically understood label (Holocaust survivor, AIDS victim) on their private, uncategorizable pain or trauma. Impersonation is meaningless without the underlying belief in an authentic voice. And these authentic voices are usually from speakers outside the literary canon.

Article

Virtual Identities  

Zara Dinnen

Virtual identities stand in for a user or player in a virtual environment; they are social media profiles; digital subjects—of human and nonhuman agency. Virtual identities are often imagined as something distinct from the “self” of the user of digital media but technically and existentially they determine the ways a user navigates life online. Virtual identities, then, might also be a category that captures the ways identity itself is virtual; a force of existence that determines how subjects can orient themselves in the world. The questions of what virtual identities are, how they operate, and the kinds of material expression of personhood they afford and signify has been taken up in scholarship across the last thirty years from a variety of disciplines including computer sciences, critical race studies, game studies, gender and sexuality studies, literary studies, new media studies, social sciences, science and technology studies, and visual culture studies. As an imminent figure in early 21st-century life, virtual identities might describe subjects who exist in global digital media networks but who do not necessarily profit from their participation and labor, or who are not always visible. Despite the virtuality of virtual identities, their partial and fragmentary status, they exist as a technology by which to fix identity to an embodied subject—via facial recognition, or biometric scanning, or the coaxing and collection of personal data. The study of virtual identities remains an ongoing and significant task.

Article

Muñoz, José Esteban  

Iván A. Ramos

The late José Esteban Muñoz’s body of work provides readers and scholars of Latina/o literary scholarship a vast scope that centers the work of performance as the tactic minoritarian subjects engage against a racist and homophobic public sphere. Throughout his writings, Muñoz sought to reveal a trajectory for minoritarian subjects from the realization of difference through disidentification through the search for what he called a “brown commons.” His oeuvre bridges the divides between Latina/o and queer studies, and offers an expansive methodological approach for both fields.

Article

Race and Ethnicity  

Amritjit Singh and Aaron Babcock

Racial patterns at any given time have been intertwined with local contexts, economic and political conditions, technological change, and a growing awareness of the socially constructed nature of race and gender. Race in the modern sense of the term emerged first in the 18th century amid the transformative changes of the industrial revolution, a growing slave trade, and the spread of European settler colonialism and imperialism in Asia, Africa, and the Western hemisphere. As a means of categorizing populations, race was a useful tool in justifying both slavery and imperialism. A further solidification of racial taxonomy developed over the course of the 19th century in which peoples and nations were grouped as genetically distinct. Race was thus essentialized and difference became widely accepted as biological and measurable. In the early decades of the 20th century, the view of race as biologically determined and immutable gradually gave way to sociological and anthropological reconsiderations of previously held assumptions. Contemporaneous to this reorientation of thinking on race was the growth of ethnicity as a related but distinct form of grouping populations that reframed identity as rooted in a shared national and sociopolitical history. In the 20th century, race across scholarly disciplines began to be divested gradually of its biological and genetic aspects and a recognition of race as a legal and social construction had emerged, especially in Postcolonial Theory and Critical Race Theory (CRT). In fact, what was viewed as “race” around 1900 (e.g., the Irish race, the Jewish race) came to be defined as “ethnicity” in the 20th century. For centuries, however, race has been used as a means for exercising power and control and as a defense of a racial caste system that privileges select groups. Through their many creative uses of memory and history, writers and artists in the United States and elsewhere have long responded in multiple genres by offering their own versions and visions of individual and community, complicating in the process our understandings of race, ethnicity, gender, nation, majoritarianism, and citizenship—the tangled issues that continue to haunt Americans and many others around the globe. Historians, literary scholars, and theorists have also played an active role in challenging old orthodoxies on race and ethnicity through multiple overlapping approaches, including African American Studies, Ethnic American Studies, Black Feminism, Postcolonial Studies, and Critical Race Theory (CRT).

Article

Biopolitics and Asian America  

Belinda Kong

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.

Article

The Pasts and Futures of Latina/o Indigeneities  

Simón Ventura Trujillo

The question of indigeneity in the study of Latina/o literature and culture points toward conflictive histories of colonization and invigorates a set of global directions for the future of Latina/o studies. The pairing of the two terms—Latina/o and Indigeneity—appears initially counterintuitive. Conventionally understood as an ancestral relation of Latina/o communities that has been vanished or lost over the duration of the European colonization of the Americas, Indigeneity opens a set of insuperable problematics that continue to pattern and shape multiple and incommensurate iterations of Latina/o politics and culture. While “Latina/o” in some instances denotes ancestral relation with Native tribes in the Americas, for many the term has also come to signify decidedly non-indigenous mestiza/o, settler, or migrant identities, imaginaries, and belongings. The literary, cultural, and intellectual production of Latina/o Indigeneity offers a unique window into the ways in which Native politics continue to compete with, accommodate, and challenge multiple regimes of colonial occupation and periods of modern state formation. Indigeneity illuminates places of Latina/o literary and cultural production through which to engage the historic ascendance of a number of fundaments of modern life across the globe, including capitalism, nation-state sovereignty, and the transnational social structures of race, sex, citizenship, and gender.

Article

Object Theory and Asian American Literature  

Chad Shomura

Do considerations of Asian America as, to use Kandice Chuh’s words, a “subjectless discourse” entail a turn toward objects? “Object theory” refers to a broad range of intellectual currents that take up objecthood, things, and matter as starting points for reconceptualizing identity, experience, politics, and critique. A few prominent threads of object theory include new materialism, thing theory, speculative realism, and object-oriented ontology. Versions of object theory have also been developed in disability studies, critical ethnic studies, posthumanism, and multispecies studies. What spans these varied, sometimes contentious fields is an effort to displace anthropocentrism as the measure of being and knowledge. By troubling the (human) subject, the poststructural and deconstructive turns in Asian American studies have especially primed the field to more closely engage the place of objects in Asian America. While Asian American writers and critics have tirelessly explored subjectivity and its mixed fortunes—from providing access to legal rights, political representation, and social resources to facilitating the reinforcement of racial and ethnic hierarchies—they have also sought to tweak the historical relationship of Asian Americans to objects. Asian Americans have been excluded, exploited, and treated as capital because they have been more closely associated to nonhuman objects than to human subjects. Asian American literary studies develops object theories to grasp these dynamics through investigations of racial form, modes of objecthood, material things, ecology, and speculative fiction. Ultimately, object theory leads Asian American literary studies to reconsider the place of human subjectivity in politics, attend to the formation of Asian America through nonhuman matter, and develop positive visions for Asian American futures from speculative imaginations of being and reality. This article discusses the place of object theory in Asian American literature and surveys key topics, including phenomenologies of race, transvaluations of objecthood, speculative realisms, and ontologies of Asian America.

Article

Folk and Blues Methods in American Literature and Criticism  

Taylor Black

Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in the fall of 2016. News of this drew predictable reactions from fans and naysayers who, each in their own way, either praised or lamented the judgment of the Nobel Committee’s decision to honor a songwriter and performer for a prize traditionally reserved for novelists, poets, and playwrights. Despite arguments about whether or not Dylan’s work is or is not sufficiently literary, his award confirmed something that, at least for Americans, has always been true: that popular music is as important a part of American literature as anything written in between the covers of a book. The folk and blues traditions from which Dylan emerges as a musical artist are also major sources of mythopoetic cultural production operating at the heart of American culture. These are first and foremost oral traditions, offered up in the form of songs and tales (and everything in between) and passed down from person to person, across regions, and through time. A folk and blues approach to American literature is one that understands there are no originary, primary folk and blues texts. It is also one that necessarily envisions a tradition as belonging to the future rather than the past. The American folk and blues method is, in other words, one of invention and adaptation, and its embedded notion of a tradition is something that is always shifting according to practice. Instead of only searching out primary textual examples of form, a folk and blues–influenced literary critical approach is drawn to figures—like Robert Johnson, Nina Simone, Woody Guthrie, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan—who are practitioners of folk and blues traditions. These performers are also experts in and vectors of folk and blues cultures. A prescriptive notion of an artistic tradition is determined based on what it was. In folk and blues, a tradition is what it does. There are also conventionally literary figures who seem to benefit from and understand the musical roots of American literature. Authors such as Edgar Allan Poe, Flannery O’Connor, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni, and Toni Morrison incorporate musical elements into their plays, novels, stories, and poems in such a way as to make these otherwise written forms sound American. Folk and blues idioms and aesthetics encircle these authors’ literary works and enhance their meanings. A critical approach to such artists is in search of these meanings. This involves listening and developing a feeling for folk and blues traces in song and prose. The historical echoes of the many folk and blues myths, figures, and refrains that float around the nation’s culture are resurrected, from generation to generation, in its art. In the end, a folk and blues method seeks out these originators and reproducers of folk and blues traditions, insisting on an interpretive practice that is closer to hearing than reading.

Article

Asian Americanist Critique and Listening Practices of Contemporary Popular Music  

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.