The Deathly Embrace: Orientalism and Asian American Identity

By Sheng-Mei Ma | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
“Chinese and Dogs” in
The Hundred Secret Senses
The Primitive à la New Age

New Age

Marianna Torgovnick's Gone Primitive: Savage Intellects, Modern Lives (1990) takes the pulse of the contemporary world in such a way that it sheds light on Amy Tan:

[A]n essential fact of urban life in the last decades of the twentieth century: its polyglot, syncretic nature, its hodgepodge of the indigenous and imported, the native and the foreign. In the deflationary era of postmodernism, the primitive often frankly loses any particular identity and even its sense of being “out there”; it merges into a generalized, marketable thing — a grab-bag primitive in which urban and rural, modern and traditional Africa and South America and Asia and the Middle East merge into a common locale called the third world which exports garments and accessories, music, ideologies, and styles for Western, and especially urban Western, consumption. (37)

Reified and atomized in economies of advanced technology, the “Western” self feels drained, in need of recharging or healing in a spiritual sense, for which purpose the “primitive” Third World cultures are deployed. Simultaneously marked by its bestial savagery and spiritual transcendence, the primitive other is made to coalesce the physical with the metaphysical. In The Hundred Secret Senses (1995), imbued with such an ethos, the ethnic other's faculties of sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch, as well as the capacity to feel, are intensified by fusions with animal senses and instincts in order to, paradoxically, invoke the hidden, essentialist, and extrasensory human soul. Tan's version of primitivism

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