The Americas of Asian American Literature: Gendered Fictions of Nation and Transnation

The Americas of Asian American Literature: Gendered Fictions of Nation and Transnation

The Americas of Asian American Literature: Gendered Fictions of Nation and Transnation

The Americas of Asian American Literature: Gendered Fictions of Nation and Transnation


""The Americas of Asian American Literature" is a critique of ideology and an interrogation of political power arrangements as they shift in different historical contexts. Rachel Lee looks at the ideological implications of various ways of reading literature that foreground some issues and suppress others. With its richly nuanced readings of how various kinds of racialized gendering shape both writing and reading across space and time, Rachel Lee's breakthrough book enriches both Asian American cultural critique and feminist inquiry, suggesting to us how much can be gained if we more clearly understand the inseparability of representations of race, gender, class, and sexuality."--Elaine H. Kim, University of California, author of "Asian American Literature"

"Rachel Lee has opened an important new chapter in the study of Asian American literature. Her trans-Pacific and trans-hemispheric conception of the 'Americas' of Asian American culture, combined with her scrupulous theorizing of gender, provides a fresh, original approach to the field. In doing so, she also maps out the criticism of the future and boldly enlarges the meaning of American literature."--Eric Sundquist, Northwestern University


Several years ago, on a visit to a small Northeastern college, I was asked by a musicologist about the importance of my work. “But really,” he said, “aren't you just reading a bunch of books?” I was startled by the question because it asked me to speak not just for the significance of my project in particular but for the value of literary studies as a whole. Reflecting back on the incident, I am struck by how often my predecessors in Asian American literary criticism have had to face similar questions regarding the “relevance” of literature to Asian American Studies and its political goals, foremost among them, as a 1975 curricular report phrased it, to effect “fundamental social change” (“Curriculum Committee Report,” 13). As Victor Bascara recently pointed out, when Bruce Iwasaki was writing in 1976 he had to counter a widely held view in “the Asian American activist community” that literature was “extraneous to political emancipation” (Bascara, 25). Likewise, Elaine Kim in her seminal survey of Asian American literature implicitly rose to the demand of social relevance by underscoring her deliberate choice “to emphasize how the literature elucidates the social history of Asians in the United States,” thus rendering literature in the service of social change (Kim, xv, emphasis mine).

Because I work at the crossroads of at least three disciplinary fields— Asian American Studies, American literature, and studies in gender and sexuality—I find that I am continually answering versions of the musicologist's question, and that my answers vary depending upon the particular constituency being addressed. Yet, in each of my answers I am aware of the need to forge a connection between collective politics and institutionalized knowledge production. Thus, the political thrust of my answers is steady and clear: this particular work, as well as the broad disciplinary fields that it presumes and to which it contributes, illuminates the material and ideological conditions that render specific communities what they are. My hope is not only that these illuminations will help bring about social change for these communities, but also that this project will help transform the way in which we think about “social change” and “radical politics” in the first place.

Since the publication of Elaine Kim's book, with its emphasis on literature as an elucidation of social history, Asian American scholars have made different claims for the promise of literary criticism. Their arguments range from viewing critical interpretation as an enhancement of one's understanding of empirical data (Sumida), to claiming literary criticism as a . . .

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