Imagining the Nation: Asian American Literature and Cultural Consent

Imagining the Nation: Asian American Literature and Cultural Consent

Imagining the Nation: Asian American Literature and Cultural Consent

Imagining the Nation: Asian American Literature and Cultural Consent


Since the 1970's, when Maxine Hong Kingston began publishing her prize-winning books, we have seen an explosive growth in Asian American literature, a literature that has won both popular and critical acclaim. Literary anthologies and critical studies attest to a growing academic interest in the field. This book seeks to identify the forces behind this literary emergence and to explore both the unique place of Asian Americans in American culture and what that place says about the way Americanness is defined.

The author is preoccupied with how the sense of the nation is disseminated through the practice of reading and writing, and he argues that Asian American literature is a productive discursive negotiation of the contemporary contradiction in American citizenship. By analyzing the textual strategies with which literary Asian America is represented, the book shows how the "fictive ethnicity" of the nation continues to exert its regulatory power and suggests how we can work toward a radical American democratic consent.

Through nuanced readings of exemplary texts, the author delineates how Asian American literary production has become a site for the creation of Asian American subjects and community. The texts range from Kingston's enigmatic Tripmaster Monkey to the seductive cunning of Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club; from Bharati Mukherjee's romantic Jasmine to the geocultural ambivalence of David Mure's Turning Japanese; and from the transvestic subversion of David Henry Hwang's M. Butterfly to the transpirational tropes of David Wong Louie's Pangs of Love.

Imagining the Nation integrates a fine appreciation of the formal features of Asian American literature with the conflict andconvergence among different reading communities and the dilemma of ethnic intellectuals caught in the process of their institutionalization. By articulating Asian American structures of feeling across the nexus of East and Wes


Since Maxine Hong Kingston won the National Book Critics Circle award for The Woman Warrior (1976), we have witnessed a steady output of Asian American texts and their gradual ascendance as deserved objects of academic study. At the same time, the theory and practice of Asian American studies have experienced radical transformations. "Region" seems to have overridden "race," and the "global" seems to have overtaken the "local" in the ongoing disciplinary redefinition of "Asian America(n)." What are the forces behind the unprecedented Asian American literary emergence? What has occasioned its paradigmatic shift from an insistence on the geopolitical centrality of the United States to an eager embrace of the Pacific Rim? What does the changing significance of "Asian America(n)" say about the nature of the nation and the status of American democracy?

This study of contemporary Asian American literary production approaches these questions in the context of citizenship. It conceives the reading and writing of Asian American literature as a significant performance not only of the political delineation of the ethnic community but also of the cultural narration of the nation. By analyzing how literary "Asian America" is represented, I intend to reveal the historical contradiction of a United States caught between the utopian impulse of democratic consent and the residual practice of national inheritance. Close readings of how Asian American texts both embody and negotiate this contradiction at once affirm the imaginative power of cultural critique and express the possibility of realizing a radical American democracy.

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