Asian American ecocriticism focuses on providing theoretical frameworks for understanding race and ethnicity in environmental contexts. Attention to Asian American literary criticism can fill crucial critical lacunae in the study of the environment in American studies. Since the early 2000s, ecocritical and environmental studies have conceptualized place, the physical and built environment, not only as an object of study but also as a site from which to launch a critique of how ecocritical studies has centered issues such as climate change and environmental degradation by understanding the intersectional contexts of environmental studies. Asian American ecocriticism in this sense can be understood as a rejoinder to the extant body of work in ecocritical studies in that it demands a vigorous engagement with race, class, and ethnicity in understanding what we think of as the environment.
Anita Mannur and Casey Kuhajda
Globalization and global travel have existed for centuries. It is over the past century in particular, however, that travel has become truly global, in the sense that most and not just some travel can in some way or other be said to globalized. Indeed, with the invention and spread of new technologies of mobility (like jet travel), and new technologies of information (like the internet), as with the increasingly invasive impact of human activity on the planet at large (like global warming), it is difficult to conceive of travel in the 21st century that is purely “local.” Travel in the age of globalization, then, is at one and the same time both more widespread yet also more irrelevant than ever. As humans, goods, and information move around in ever-increasing quantities, and at ever-greater speed, it seems that mobility is at an all-time high in human history. On the other hand, as a rising number of people and places are interlinked through ever-faster travel and various forms of communication technologies, the local and the global are becoming harder and harder to distinguish. In this, travel writing has faced a range of challenges that are both old and new. With contemporary travel writers facing a global reality that is very different from the colonial legacy of a traditionally Eurocentric genre, travel writers in the age of globalization have been forced to radically reconsider the itineraries, the destinations, the purpose, and the identity of the traveling subject. Traditionally defined as a white (European) male, the global traveler of the 21st century can take on many forms in terms of race, gender, sexuality, and nationality. At the same time, however, a large number of contemporary travel writers have found it hard to break with the mold of old, desperately continuing to pursue the exotic adventure and the untouched “otherness” of the blank spaces of a map that, in the age of Google Earth, satellite navigation, jet and space travel, global warming, and an explosive growth in human population, are no more.
Space is a fundamental, ineliminable dimension of existence, which manifests itself in every aspect of material, psychological, and social life. It is also a purely dimensional category, in the sense that it cannot be directly perceived. All representations, therefore, have a necessary spatial dimension and all representations of space require a medium (like objects and events) through which its presence can be made manifest. Moreover, spatial concepts are essential tools for rational thought, indeed, quite possibly a foundational element of rationality itself. Spatial metaphors consequently permeate every aspect of thinking, including topics that are not usually taken to have an intrinsically spatial dimension—from the spatialization of time that Zeno exploited and Henri Bergson complained about to the heavily spatialized vocabulary of information technology (with its computer domains, IP addresses, etc.). This combination of existential importance and cognitive adaptability helps to explain space’s enduring appeal as a focus of critical attention in literary studies but also the difficulty of the subject: the multifariousness and polysemy of spatial terms leads to much confusion between different modes of spatiality and much reliance on loose and often mixed metaphors. It is important, then, for literary critics and theorists to attend closely to the zones of overlap and confusion that might cloud spatial analyses in order to maximize the explanatory potential of the cluster of analytic tools that fall under the heading of spatial analysis. This has become especially apparent in the wake of the spatial turn that took place in literary theory and criticism toward the end of the 20th century.