The Politics of the Visible in Asian North American Narratives (review)

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humanities 197 university of toronto quarterly, volume 75, number 1, winter 2006 Ignoring the fact that all serious narrative prose at the time of its writing is experimental prose that seeks to de-automatize conventional perception, Biting the Error has little new to say about narrativity and literary experimentation. Nevertheless, most of its forty-eight essays are intelligent and insightful: Anne Stone on the photographic trope of the missing girl, Christian Bök on eunoia, Mary Berger on the formulaic New Yorker story, Bruce Boone on Hollywood celluloid nuke madness, not to mention a host of other essays on such diverse topics as the sentence, temporality, pornography, gender, sexuality, and bodily effluence. Not all of them convince, but most of them provoke. (greig henderson) Eleanor Ty. The Politics of the Visible in Asian North American Narratives University of Toronto Press. xv, 228. $24.95 One of the first sustained comparative analyses of Asian North American narratives, Eleanor Ty’s The Politics of the Visible is an important contribution to the study of Asian-American and Asian-Canadian cultural production. Moving beyond the United States racial paradigms that traditionally inform Asian-American literary criticism, Ty foregrounds the intersections between Canadian and United States racial politics in her readings of Asian-Canadian and Asian-American texts to demonstrate the ‘primacy of the visible in the construction of the Asian Canadian as well as the Asian American subject.’ Ty traces how Asian North American narratives negotiate the ambivalent and complex inscriptions of the racially marked body – its visibility as Other and the simultaneous invisibility of otherness – to formulate what she terms ‘the politics of the visible.’ According to Ty, the politics of the visible ‘starts with the visual – a set of bodily attributes that has been represented in our culture as “Asian,” filmic and pictorial representations of the Oriental – but moves beyond the visual to social, legal, political and historical spheres.’ Just as the visible is a defining site of racialization and containment, Ty argues it is also site of possible resistance, and she illuminates the various strategies that Asian North American writers and filmmakers deploy to challenge their marginalization and reimagine subjectivity. Ty’s cross-border perspective is also reflected in her eclectic theoretic approach as well as in her choices of texts. Drawing from feminist theories of the subject, psychoanalysis, postcolonial, and poststructuralist theories, Ty analyses texts across different narrative forms and medias, from autobiography and fiction to photography and film. The book is organized into three parts. The first, ‘Visuality, Representation, and the Gaze,’ tracks the interrogation and internalization of the unequal relations of power that structure the gaze in Denise Chong’s The Concubine’s Children, Bienvenido Santo’s The Man Who (Thought He) Looked Like Robert Taylor, and Mina 198 letters in canada 2004 university of toronto quarterly, volume 75, number 1, winter 2006 Shum’s film, Double Happiness. Part 2, ‘Transformations through the Sensual,’ examines bodily inscriptions and embodiment in Shirley Geok-lin Lim’s Among the White Moon Faces, Amy Tan’s The Kitchen God’s Wife, and Wayson Choy’s The Jade Peony. The final section, ‘Invisible Minorities in Asian America,’ explores Cecilia Brainard’s When the Rainbow Goddess Wept, Hiromi Goto’s Chorus of Mushrooms, and Bino Realuyo’s The Umbrella Country to illuminate the histories that are invisible within dominant culture and also glossed over in Asian-American literary studies. Through the range of texts examined, The Politics of the Visible testifies to the persistence of the visible as a locus of racial epistemology and the necessity of interrogating that persistence. Ty’s analysis offers a compelling lens through which to study the connections between Asian-American and Asian-Canadian narratives and recalibrates the uneven critical attention that has, so far, defined their respective places in North American academies. If there is a flaw in Ty’s synthesis of Asian-Canadian and Asian-American narratives, it is that its persuasive breadth of examples crowds out a concomitant assessment of how particularized forms of visibility are constituted at and through the us-Canada border. This downplaying of the us-Canada border, from its racialized enforcement to its material and discursive effects, implies a porous...

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Combining textual analysis, literary reception history, and qualitative sociological research, this study of a contemporary South Asian American book club historicizes and analyzes the various taste-making, ideological effects that multiple literary publics have on one another. Even as it documents how South Asian American readers strategically approach South Asian diasporic literature that purportedly mirrors their own cultural and diasporic experiences, this dissertation is a critical examination of the politics of self-recognition in an immigrant community, which oscillate between self-Orientalization and refutations of ethnic authenticity. Book club participants use South Asian diasporic literature to challenge and assert essentialized notions of gender, class and sexuality for wide-ranging yet contradictory purposes: to mobilize positive and negative stereotypes stemming from the model minority myth, to understand their transnational social and political positions, and to construct notions of South Asian femininity and masculinity in the diaspora. However, in contrast with most ethnographies of reading that survey the uses of literature within a group or community and that presume the strict separation of academic critics from lay readers, the ethnographic, interpretive methodology that I employ compels a critical, creative dialogue between these readerships. Taking a cue from lay readers' praxis in which desire plays a paramount role, I study the analogously contradictory effects of readerly desire in literary academia that lead critics of South Asian diasporic literatures to reinscribe the gendered hegemonies of mainstream canons. In their efforts to diversify the literary histories presented in the multicultural university classroom, critics of South Asian diasporic literatures reproduce structures of knowledge and disciplinary regimes wherein the “public,” historical sphere is male-dominated, while the “private,” identitarian realm is feminized. Employing an interdisciplinary methodology, I contextualize and historicize lay and academic critical readings of popular South Asian diasporic literature in order to examine the encounters between essentialized and constructed notions of identity and between representation and interpretation in both of these reading communities. In so doing, this dissertation considers simultaneously the instability of the representing and represented subject and the vitality of lived experience. Ph.D. English Language & Literature University of Michigan, Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies
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