Reading Asian American Literature: From Necessity to Extravagance

Reading Asian American Literature: From Necessity to Extravagance

Reading Asian American Literature: From Necessity to Extravagance

Reading Asian American Literature: From Necessity to Extravagance

Synopsis

A recent explosion of publishing activity by a wide range of talented writers has placed Asian American literature in the limelight. As the field of Asian American literary studies gains increasing recognition, however, questions of misreading and appropriation inevitably arise. How is the growing body of Asian American works to be read? What holds them together to constitute a tradition? What distinguishes this tradition from the "mainstream" canon and other "minority" literatures? In the first comprehensive book on Asian American literature since Elaine Kim's ground-breaking 1982 volume, Sau-ling Wong addresses these issues and explores their implications for the multiculturalist agenda.Wong does so by establishing the "intertextuality" of Asian American literature through the study of four motifs--food and eating, the Doppelg,nger figure, mobility, and play--in their multiple sociohistorical contexts. Occurring across ethnic subgroup, gender, class, generational, and historical boundaries, these motifs resonate with each other in distinctly Asian American patterns that universalistic theories cannot uncover. Two rhetorical figures from Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior, "Necessity" and "Extravagance," further unify this original, wide-ranging investigation. Authors studied include Carlos Bulosan, Frank Chin, Ashley Sheun Dunn, David Henry Hwang, Lonny Kaneko, Maxine Hong Kingston, Joy Kogawa, David Wong Louie, Darrell Lum, Wing Tek Lum, Toshio Mori, Bharati Mukherjee, Fae Myenne Ng, Bienvenido Santos, Monica Sone, Amy Tan, Yoshiko Uchida, Shawn Wong, Hisaye Yamamoto, and Wakako Yamauchi.

Excerpt

This book is a thematic study of Asian American literature. But perhaps even more important, it is a book about the reading of Asian American literature as a critical project within the academy.

Since its inception in the late 1960s, as part of the ethnic studies agenda established by student activism, Asian American literary studies have been gaining increasing institutional recognition across the nation, particularly on the West Coast, and especially since about 1986 A number of book-length studies by Asian American critics have appeared or are forthcoming, and recent publishing projects to broaden the canon of American literature have all, to varying extents, included Asian American authors (e.g., Gilbert and Gubar; Elliott et al.; Lauter et al.; Phillips et al.; Reed et al.). Growing academic interest in the subject, even from quarters previously indifferent to it, coincides with a recent explosion of publishing activity by Asian American authors, a phenomenon that has caught the interest of the “mainstream” media (e.g., Feldman; Simpson; Solovitch). In the half decade preceding the writing of this study, there have appeared a large number of first novels, most of them well received; new novels by established writers; several award-winning short story collections; many other interesting additions to Asian American literature; anthologies of Asian American writing, especially by and /or about women; a Broadway hit; and many volumes of poetry, several of which garnered national honors. The year 1991, in particular, is something of an annus mirabilis for Asian American writing; it witnessed the appearance of an extraordinary number of well-received books, some of them debuts for first-timers, others representing new directions for established authors. As this study goes to press in 1992, Asian American literature continues to thrive. In the words of one journalist, the “silence” that once shrouded painful Asian American experiences “has ended in a burst of voices as Asian Americans—long successful in fields such as medicine, engineering and business—are making their mark in the literary world” (Solovitch 1991:18).

The commercial success and general popularity of some Asian American writings, such as Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior, Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club and The Kitchen God's Wife, and David . . .

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