Asian-American Writers

Asian-American Writers

Asian-American Writers

Asian-American Writers


-- Brings together the best criticism on the most widely read poets, novelists, and playwrights

-- Presents complex critical portraits of the most influential writers in the English-speaking world -- from the English medievalists to contemporary writers


I have written once before about Maxine Hong Kingston's "No Name Woman," which is part of her famous fictive autobiography, The Woman Warrior (1976), and I return to it here to consider again the question of ambivalence towards ancestral tradition in Asian American writing. Ambivalence, marked by its simultaneous negative and positive reactions to a violent past, one that generally featured paternalistic repression of the individual, pervades the work of the authors who are the subject of this volume. Since Kingston, at this time, remains the most widely read of all Asian American writers, her own representation of ambivalence towards an Asian family heritage is likely to remain influential, perhaps more among the general public than among her fellow creators of narratives, lyrics, and plays.

Wallace Stevens remarked that the final belief was to believe in a fiction, with the nicer knowledge of belief, which is that what one believes in is not true. That is probably more ambiguously fictive than Kingston's transformation of her mother's story about a long-dead, nameless aunt, but it may suggest how much the telling (and retelling) of a story always involves imaginative distortions that are essential if anything fresh is to come into being. Kingston writes of "a girlhood among ghosts," and ghosts (unless you believe in them) are fantasies, mostly inherited from others. "No Name Woman," being a fantasy (whatever its basis in family legend) is perhaps best read backwards, starting with the third paragraph from the end, where first Kingston quotes her mother, and then adds her own element of supposed guilt:

"Don't tell anyone you had an aunt. Your father does not want to hear her name. She has never been born." I have believed that sex was unspeakable and words so strong and fathers so frail that "aunt" would do my father mysterious harm. I have thought that my family, having settled among immigrants who had also been their neighbors in the ancestral land, needed to clean their name . . .

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