Academic journal article Antipodes

Writing Hybridity: The Theory and Practice of Autobiography in Rey Chow's "The Secrets of Ethnic Abjection" and Brian Castro's Shanghai Dancing

Academic journal article Antipodes

Writing Hybridity: The Theory and Practice of Autobiography in Rey Chow's "The Secrets of Ethnic Abjection" and Brian Castro's Shanghai Dancing

Article excerpt

THE WRITING OF BOTH REY CHOW AND BRIAN CASTRO manifests a sustained engagement with questions of hybrid identity, even as these authors explore the operations of hybridity through different genres. Rey Chow is the Anne Firor Scott Professor of Literature at Duke University; her critical writings embrace cultural and postcolonial studies, poststructuralist theory, and feminist film theory. Brian Castro is an award-winning author of nine works of fiction who lives and writes in Australia. Both Chow and Castro have recently grappled with what it means to write autobiography as a hybrid "other." In this essay, I close read Chow's essay "The Secrets of Ethnic Abjection" (2012) alongside Brian Castro's autobiographical essays collected in Looking for Estrellita (1999), and his fictional autobiography Shanghai Dancing (2003). Within these texts, Chow and Castro present two overlapping yet distinct visions of how hybridity is performed through the respective genres of theory and autobiography. Despite some disagreement between their formulations of hybridity, 1 argue that Chow and Castro are similar insofar as their writing challenges essentialist understandings of hybrid identity by in fact straddling the genres of autobiography and theory.

Insofar as it connotes both sameness and difference, "hybridity" is a hybrid term. "[Hybridity] has been, and can be, invoked to imply Contrafusion and disjunction ... as well as fusion and assimilation" (Young 18). As it relates to identity, whether hybridity is used primarily to join or divide has varied with historical circumstance. Originally employed to support "colonial white suprematicist [sic] ideologies" (Papastergiadis 169), hybridity perpetuated difference as it described the fusion of otherwise distinct "races." "It served primarily as a metaphor for the negative consequences of racial encounter" (169). "Most contemporary discussions of hybridity," in contrast, "are preoccupied by its potential for inclusivity," even as "dubious traces" of its historical associations persist (169). hybridity thus denotes both inclusion in and exclusion from society, what does it mean to be hybrid? How does one perform hybridity?

In her essay "Secrets of Ethnic Abjection," Rey Chow explores the dual nature of hybridity through analysis of the politics of its representation in writing.1 She distinguishes a clear split between how different genres construct hybrid identity. Whereas literary theory engages in an "euphoric valorization" (131) of "hybridity, difference, and mobility" (132), she argues, "fictional and autobiographical writing" represent the "numerous sociocultural and/or geopolitical situations in which difference has led not so much to emancipation as to oppression" (135). Focusing on autobiography, Chow posits that ethnic literary writers perform the oppressiveness of their hybrid identities, as they are "encouraged" (152) by their societies "into acts of confessions about themselves" (138) that lead to a "social recognition" (152) of self characterized by "anger, pain, melancholy, shame, and abjection" (138). In writing, hybridity that breaks identity boundaries, that fuses and unifies, belongs to a theorized future, while hybridity that imposes identity boundaries, that segregates and disjoins, belongs to a lived and chronicled past (Chow 136).

The theory and fiction of Brian Castro stands in counterpoint to Chow's essay by presenting the performance of hybridity not in terms of temporal and generic dualities, but in terms of irreconcilable ambiguities. Castro is arguably a hybrid author- though he detests this "agricultural terminology" (Estrellita 10)- both in his use of literary forms and in his ethnic heritage. In his writing, he acknowledges that both constructions of hybridity- of art and of self- are marginalized, which is commensurate with Chow's description of the ethnic author. Castro insists, however, upon the simultaneous power of hybridity to challenge boundaries of genre and identity. …

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