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Article

Cliché  

Tom Grimwood

A term deriving from the sound of the mechanical printing process able to provide cheap and fast reproductions of literary works, the cliché is at once both a foundation of modern culture and its constant adversary. Denoting a lack of originality, thought, or effort, clichés appear to be the very opposite of literature’s aspirations, and there is no end to the warnings for writers to avoid them at all costs. However, few theorists have spent sustained time detailing the workings of the cliché outside of criticizing their use. Indeed, the cliché seems to resist being thought about too much. At the same time, this resistance to theory can also obscure a range of issues that the cliché raises as a problem for literature. Unpacking these problems suggests that the cliché is not simply an issue of unoriginal thought, but arises from, and is perpetuated by, a number of tensions within the production and circulation of writing itself. These include tensions between artistic worth and literary ownership; between organic creation and technologies of reproduction; between localized communications and universal truth; and concerning the status of the intellectual in relation to the masses and the place of authenticity in late-modern culture.

Article

The study of food in Asian American literary and cultural studies is particularly concerned with the political significance of rhetorically linking of identity and cuisine. Addressing the ways eating, cooking, and preparing food is represented in a number of literary works and cultural texts, these academic studies investigate how culinary and literary tastes serve as boundaries that define and manage racial expression. Indeed, Asian American studies scholars approach food by taking culinary taste, ethnicity, and racialized labor as co-constitutive, rather than given. For the ways Asian American chefs, cooks, eaters, and food workers engage food, in part, defines their cultural position, both internally and to the US population at large. The performative force of these acts is transformed by writers and artists into personal and sensual histories, that for various gendered, linguistic, and economic reasons would otherwise be silenced. Further, Asian American authors and artists can strategically use an interest in food and cuisine to convey the complexity, multiplicity, and history of Asian American identities and politics. Recently the study of food has been transformed into a critical practice used to combat the challenges Asian Americans endure surrounding the question of authenticity. Stories of culinary ethnic affiliation are marketable, and Frank Chin’s calls of “food pornography” loom whenever a predominately white audience wolfs down overly saccharine stories of Asian American culinary solidarity. But in the same breath the genre is also commercially viable because of its unique ability to communicate culturally specific stories in ways that are appealing to younger generations unfamiliar with, or who want to learn more about, customs, traditions, and historical events. Indeed, these stories are unique insofar as they can provide material histories that explain how socioeconomic institutions reproduce racial inequity; yet remain palatable for those outside the ethnic group, even if these readers are those whose subject position comes under review. This article will serve as a reminder, then, that culinary writing remains a robust literary form that makes use of its market appeal to write about Asian America in a manner that is at once personal, material, and historically potent, while the study of this work recognizes that the rhetoric that becomes attached to culinary acts is a unique, active, and, at times, combative, discursive space. The study of food in Asian American studies has been invested in demonstrating how the rhetorical linking of identity and cuisine is a politically significant act. As the “event of eating” is impossible to describe without using expressive language that catalogues communal values, the ways cultural producers write about cuisine is a unit of analysis that can be compared across national traditions, genres, and media. By historically situating how eating, cooking, and preparing food is represented in a number of literary works, academic studies of Asian Americans, food, and literary culture show how culinary and literary tastes serve as boundaries that define and manage racial expression. The ways Asian American chefs, cooks, eaters, and food workers engage food, in part, defines their cultural position, both internally and to the US population at large. The material force of these performative acts has been refashioned, aesthetically, by writers and artists to counter the persistence of the perpetual foreigner stereotype, as Asian American authors and artists leverage a general interest in their food and cuisine to convey the complexity, multiplicity, and history of Asian American identities and politics. Asian American studies scholars approach food by taking culinary taste, ethnicity, and racialized labor as co-constitutive, rather than given. This approach recognizes a unique and active Asian American culinary space, while opposing pernicious stereotypes that seek to limit the power of alimentary images and Asian American ways of life. In this light, the study of food has been transformed into a critical practice used to combat the challenges Asian Americans endure surrounding the question of authenticity. Faced with articulating the parameters of their community, often without the benefit of institutional power, Asian Americans have turned to food to tell not only “who they are” but to communicate sensual and complex histories that for various gendered, linguistic, and economic reasons would otherwise be silenced.

Article

Smaro Kamboureli

Diaspora as a concept and a particular phenomenon of migration has a double origin: etymologically, it comes from the Greek verb diaspeirein, meaning to scatter; historically, it refers to the dispersal of the Jews from their ancestral land after the destruction of the Second Temple in 586 bce. The term has been applied to the involuntary displacement of other peoples—for example, the African, Armenian, and Irish diasporas—but the Jewish diaspora has served as the principal paradigm of diasporic experience. Based on the Jewish “prototypical” case, the concept has been commonly defined as encompassing a collective identity shaped by the trauma that accompanies a group’s forced departure from its ancestral land and its emotional and material attachment to the origins that is sustained by the desire to return home or by symbolic manifestations of nostalgia. Although scholars have identified different kinds of diasporas—labor, trading, imperial diasporas—the term has maintained its emphasis on dislocation and loss, evoking at once the experience and politics of dispossession and ethnic identification. Since the second half of the 20th century, however, this understanding of diaspora has expanded to embrace a range of displaced communities—immigrants, migrants, exiles, refugees—and has thus come to be identified with global mobilities as an aftereffect of modernity. The malleability of the concept has given rise to many debates about its meaning, application, and methodology, especially since the late 1980s when diaspora began to attract systematic critical attention. The study of diaspora is generally characterized by both a centripetal and a centrifugal approach: the former, holding up the home nation as the ultimate reference point and thus viewing diasporas as distinct and cohesive entities, is concerned with demarcating the boundaries of the term by establishing categorical definitions and typologies; the latter, viewing diaspora as inhabiting an interstitial space in relation to the receiving nation and thus as a hybrid formation and social condition, is interested in diasporic subjectivity as a question of becoming. This opening up of the concept of diaspora, along with the increased global flow of people and parallel developments in other fields, has meant that, since the latter part of the 20th century, diaspora is examined in the adjacent contexts of globalization, postcolonialism, multiculturalism, transnationalism, and hybridity.

Article

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.