An Ethics of Betrayal: The Politics of Otherness in Emergent U.S. Literatures and Culture

An Ethics of Betrayal: The Politics of Otherness in Emergent U.S. Literatures and Culture

An Ethics of Betrayal: The Politics of Otherness in Emergent U.S. Literatures and Culture

An Ethics of Betrayal: The Politics of Otherness in Emergent U.S. Literatures and Culture


In An Ethics of Betrayal, Crystal Parikh investigates the theme and tropes of betrayal and treason in Asian American and Chicano/Latino literary and cultural narratives. In considering betrayal from an ethical perspective, one grounded in the theories of Emmanuel Levinas and Jacques Derrida, Parikh argues that the minority subject is obligated in a primary, preontological, and irrecusable relation of responsibility to the Other. Episodes of betrayal and treason allegorize the position of this subject, beholden to the many others who embody the alterity of existence and whose demands upon the subject result in transgressions of intimacy and loyalty. In this first major comparative study of narratives by and about Asian Americans and Latinos, Parikh considers writings by Frank Chin, Gish Jen, Chang-rae Lee, Eric Liu, Américo Parades, and Richard Rodriguez, as well as narratives about the persecution of Wen Ho Lee and the rescue and return of Elian González. By addressing the conflicts at the heart of filiality, the public dimensions of language in the constitution of minority "community," and the mercenary mobilizations of "model minority" status, An Ethics of Betrayal seriously engages the challenges of conducting ethnic and critical race studies based on the uncompromising and unromantic ideas of justice, reciprocity, and ethical society.


Treachery is more sweetly served by our dearest than by archstrangers we
never see

—CHANG-RAE lee, native speaker

In Dante’s Inferno, as is famously known, the ninth circle of hell is reserved for the most loathsome of sinners, those given special trust and love who have proven themselves traitors to God, country, and family. Most impressively, Lucifer gnaws on the heads of Judas, Brutus, and Cassius and weeps as he struggles futilely to free himself from his own entrapment. in Dante’s portrait, betrayal is a transgression in which crime provides its own punishment. Where traitor feeds upon traitors, betrayal exacts its own self-consuming vindication. Lucifer’s flapping wings only produce cold winds, gusts of ignorance and impotence that further ensure he is trapped in the icy hell created by his own rebellion against God. An Ethics of Betrayal asks why and how, in a very different place and time than Dante’s—the United States at the end of the twentieth century—this portrait of iniquitous betrayers remains a viable emblem of the relations between self and others, identity and difference, that undergird the charge of betrayal. This book investigates the structures of knowledge and feeling upon which betrayals depend, through which traitors are forged, and which these acts of betrayal transform.

In particular, An Ethics of Betrayal reads betrayals as performances of social difference in the context of Asian American and Latina/o racial formation and literary and cultural production. By adopting an ethical mode of inquiry to read what I describe below as “parables” of betrayal, this book asks what the possibilities and limitations of minority discourse are with respect to projects of democracy and social justice for “the Other.” Betrayals, I contend, can perform a cultural critique of . . .

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