The Semblance of Identity: Aesthetic Mediation in Asian American Literature

The Semblance of Identity: Aesthetic Mediation in Asian American Literature

The Semblance of Identity: Aesthetic Mediation in Asian American Literature

The Semblance of Identity: Aesthetic Mediation in Asian American Literature

Synopsis

The history of Asian American literature reveals the ongoing attempt to work through the fraught relationship between identity politics and literary representation. This relationship is especially evident in literary works which claim that their content represents the socio-historical world. The Semblance of Identity argues that the reframing of the field as a critical, rather than identity-based, project nonetheless continues to rely on the logics of identity.

Drawing on the writings of philosopher and literary critic Georg Lukacs, Christopher Lee identifies a persistent composite figure that he calls the "idealized critical subject," which provides coherence to oppositional knowledge projects and political practices. He reframes identity as an aesthetic figure that tries to articulate the subjective conditions for knowledge. Harnessing Theodor Adorno's notion of aesthetic semblance, Lee offers an alternative account of identity as a figure akin to modern artwork. Like art, Lee argues, identity provides access to imagined worlds that in turn wage a critique of ongoing histories and realities of racialization.

This book assembles a transnational archive of literary texts by Eileen Chang, Frank Chin, Maxine Hong Kingston, Chang-rae Lee, Michael Ondaatje, and Jose Garcia Villa, revealing the intersections of subjectivity and representation, and drawing our attention to their limits.

Excerpt

Asian American Studies traces its origins to radical social movements that emerged in the United States in the late 1960s and 1970s. Invented by scholar-activist Yuji Ichioka at the University of California, Berkeley in 1968, “Asian America” provided a sense of political and cultural identity for Asians in the United States by appealing to shared histories and experiences of racialization. Although Asian America has undergone tremendous growth since its inception and currently includes a wide spectrum of academic, cultural, political, community, and economic formations, its relevance, coherence, and political efficacy have been extensively questioned. These challenges have undoubtedly been prompted by demographic considerations, especially in light of changes in immigration policy. As longestablished Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino American communities experienced renewed growth in the wake of the 1965 Immigration Act, the emergence of newer communities, from Southeast Asian refugees to well-educated professionals from South Asia, greatly expanded the diversity of Asian America.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the fledging field of Asian American Studies repeatedly contended with this ever-increasing internal diversity. Considerable efforts have been directed toward reconfiguring Asian America into a more pluralistic rubric that can be inclusive of, and responsive to, undernoticed groups and constituencies. These efforts, along with those of feminist and queer scholars, have interrogated the constituting assumptions of the field. But as Susan Koshy incisively points out, a continuing . . .

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