Apparitions of Asia: Modernist Form and Asian American Poetics

Apparitions of Asia: Modernist Form and Asian American Poetics

Apparitions of Asia: Modernist Form and Asian American Poetics

Apparitions of Asia: Modernist Form and Asian American Poetics

Synopsis

Walt Whitman called the Orient "The Past! the Past! the Past!" but East Asia was remarkably present for the United States in the twentieth century. Apparitions of Asia reads American literary expressions during a century of U.S.-East Asian alliances in which the Far East is imagined as both near and contemporary. Commercial and political bridges across the Pacific generated American literary fantasies of ethical and spiritual accord; Park examines American bards who capitalized on these ties and considers the price of such intimacies for Asian American poets. l l The book begins its literary history with the poetry of Ernest Fenollosa, who called for "The Future Union of East and West." From this prime instigator of the Gilded Age, Park newly considers the Orient of Ezra Pound, who turned to China to lay the groundwork for his poetics and ethics. Park argues that Pound's Orient was bound to his America, and she traces this American-East Asian nexus into the work of Gary Snyder, who found a native American spirituality in Zen. The second half of Apparitions of Asia considers the creation of Asian America against this backdrop of trans-pacific alliances. Park analyzes the burden of American Orientalism for Asian American poetry, and she argues that the innovations of Lawson Fusao Inada offer a critique of this literary past. Finally, she analyzes two Asian American poets, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha and Myung Mi Kim, who return to modernist forms in order to reveal a history of American interventions in East Asia.

Excerpt

In Myung Mi Kim’s 1991 poetry collection Under Flag, she describes a voyage from Korea to the United States: “Mostly, we cross bridges we did not see being built” (15). Kim is describing moving bodies, but this line invokes a long history of bridge-building: over a century of transpacific economic and military alliances. Kim’s poetry is remarkable for its allusive richness, and among the bridges she calls to mind is a literary one, constructed out of an imagined aesthetic accord between East and West. This aesthetic crossing, underwritten by material ties, spans my study: Apparitions of Asia traces a literary intimacy between the United States and East Asia, by turns welcomed and shunned, that runs the length of the twentieth century. A new appreciation of East Asia marked American literary modernism; the Orient became an emblem of artistic solace in the first half of the twentieth century, renewing American letters at the same time that the United States increasingly turned to the Pacific. Decades later, Kim’s verse echoes the literary structures enshrined by modernism’s Orient in order to reveal in formal terms a long-standing transpacific relationship. It is the aim of this study to make literary bridges visible: by uncovering a fragile yet persistent consonance, my readings seek to create a modern history of transpacific literary alliances.

This book closes with Myung Mi Kim: her work stands at the endpoint of a trajectory from modernist internationalism to the transnational flows of the late twentieth century. Between these two ends lies a significant breach which divides American Orientalism from Asian American literature: while modernist Orientalism rendered the Asiatic sign as a silent figure, artists of the Asian American movement in the late 1960s forged an ethnic coalition to sound a new voice in American literature and culture. My inquiry attempts to bridge these longsegregated discourses, and the task of the following pages is to illuminate the formal significance of modernism’s Orient in a century of United States expansion in the Pacific and the repercussions of this construction for Asian American artists. By considering the afterimage of American Orientalism in Asian American literature, Apparitions of Asia queries the costs of an Asiatic form cast as a peculiar figure of modernity. It is my . . .

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