Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

The Native and the Diasporic: Owning America in Native American and Asian American Literatures

Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

The Native and the Diasporic: Owning America in Native American and Asian American Literatures

Article excerpt

In ethnic American literature, the rhetoric of origins, exclusions, boundary markings, invasion, succession, purity, and contamination, critiqued as regressive by antimulticulturalists, are also frequently progressive in effect, for they provide the concepts that organize resistance on the part of subordinate or subaltern groups against dominant and hegemonizing centers. A casual reading of these books demonstrates that obdurate issues of race and territory, and of gender and sexual orientation, underlie the superstructural phenomena that daily circulate in U.S. society. The intersection of mental, social, and political categories and phenomena is not unique to mainstream U.S. thought. Indeed, one of the major ways in which identity is marked in world literatures, as well as in ethnic American texts, is through a geospatial imagination. The geographer Rob Shields offers a fascinating premise, that "the spatial has an epistemic and ontological importance-it is part and parcel of our notions of reality, truth, and causality" (1991, 7). I use the term social spatialization in the ways that Shields has formulated it, to designate the social construction of the spatial and its formalization in both discursive and nondiscursive elements, practices, and processes.

In reading literary texts, we often find passages of description, images, and references that have conventionally been bracketed as "setting." "Setting," we are told, provides the ambiance for characterization, suggests the themes that the plot or action will unfold, and, as local color, is often interesting for its own sake. Sometimes, when the narrative is read in the tradition of regionalism, "setting" is enlarged to take on the historical and territorial specificity of a recognized political unit or locale. Subsuming "setting" to narrative structures that cohere as geospatial formations of identity, interpretation moves beyond considerations of textual form or of specifie regional content to illuminate the ideological apparatuses that apprise hegemonic identities usually conceived of as nation, people, a binding fusion of groups with place or place identities that are termed "country" or "homeland." The question asked is, How do specific U.S. ethnic texts reproduce or critique the ontological assumptions that underlie representations of individual identity as a raced and cultural subject? If such assumptions operate in their texts, how are they related to a social construction of identity as an original and historical relationship to specific territory? In brief, how are subjects interpellated as "native" to American territory?

One means by which American identity is marked in these texts is through a geospatial imagination. Space denotes a limited area, a site, zone, or place characterized by specific social activities with culturally given names and images. Social spatialization signifies the ongoing social construction at the level of the social imaginary (collective mythologies, presuppositions) as well as interventions in the landscape. It encompasses the cultural logic of the spatial and its expression and elaboration in language and institutional arrangements. Symbolic spatialization is particularly evident in N. Scott Momaday's The Way to Rainy Mountain (1969) and Maxinc Hong Kingston's China Men (1980), both works of mixed genres, combining myth, history, legend, familial and oral stories, personal memoirs, and autobiography. Image-places in these memoirs reproduce, appeal to, and construct forms of historical, legislative, political, and imagined possession of U.S. territory.

Both Momaday's and Kingston's books require historicist and selfreflexive interpretative approaches. Using dialogical strategies to interweave multiple discourses, voices, stories, and periods, they insist on a method of polyvalent analyses. Their fictions have the effect of transforming a cultural text, whether ritual, institutional, or familial, into a speaking subject, who sees as well as is seen, who evades, argues, and probes. …

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