Academic journal article Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature : JASAL

Does Anglophone Chinese Diasporic Avant-Garde Writing Exist?

Academic journal article Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature : JASAL

Does Anglophone Chinese Diasporic Avant-Garde Writing Exist?

Article excerpt

Judging from the prevailing criticism of minority literature-in the United States, whose critical practices I am most familiar with, and in the wider Anglophone world-one could almost say that 'minority' and 'the literary' are mutually exclusive categories for most literary critics, even those of the highest calibre. Texts by racialised minorities, including Asian American and Asian Australian writers, are almost always read for content-ethnic, ethnographic, sociological, autobiographical, and so on-with virtually no attention paid to the form, especially the literary aspects, of this body of literature. This mode of apprehending Asian American (and Asian Australian) literary writing as extended Chinatown tour or as the rendered truths of a native informant is particularly problematic when one is reading minority experimental writing-writing, for example, that has no visible markers of ethnicity or a stable autobiographical 'I' or other recognisable signs of ethnic writing.

In their attenuated treatment of recognisable 'content', such writing can be seen as test cases highlighting the problems with current modes of interpreting minority literary texts. In this article, I focus on two such texts, Pamela Lu's 1998 Pamela: A Novel and Brian Castro's 2009 novel The Bath Fugues.1 Though the United States and Australia share some obvious links-English is the official language in both countries, both are white settler former colonies of England that flourished after the genocide and displacement of the aboriginal populations, both share remarkably similar histories of racism and discrimination against non-white minorities, and so on-there are also significant differences between the American and Australian contexts and histories of Anglophone Chinese diasporic writing, such as Australia's location in the Pacific; the existence at one time of an official 'White Australia' policy and, now, an official multiculturalism; the absence in Australia of both the institution of chattel slavery and a very visible and powerful Civil Rights Movement. Indeed, in thinking about diasporic literature, the differences between and among various literatures might be as salient as the similarities.

By reading minority writing primarily in terms of 'content' with little or no attention to its formal or literary properties, critics reveal their assumptions that minority literature is somehow not 'real' literature. In the United States, Asian American has a tertiary status. Not only is it read, like other minority writing, as a 'subset' of American literature, but even within the category of minority literature, it shares with Latina/o and Native American writing second-class status in relation to African American literature (for various reasons, one of which invokes hierarchies of suffering). Asian Americans have the added honour of being considered, among the various American ethnic minorities, the most irredeemably alien to the idea of 'Americanness' and, thus, are read as constitutively non-native to the English language as well.

Judging by Brian Castro's remarks about critical reception of his work, the critical reception of Asian Australian writing in Australia-even with the differing historical contexts, both social and literary, of Asian Australian and Asian American writing-exhibits some similar tendencies. He writes that '[a]lthough one should never confuse the author with a character or anything said in a work of fiction, some critics were doing anything but this. I was, in effect, classified immediately as being or representing my characters' (Writing Asia 13). That remark was made in 1995 and, from all available evidence, the situation has not drastically changed.

Given the view of Asian American literature as secondary to real American literature, the move to read Asian American writing as part of global diasporic literatures seems promising-to read it as much for its horizontal links as its vertical ones and to see the larger global context of this writing in contrast to its more provincial and minor status within national boundaries. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.