The Ethics of Race, Failure, and Asian American (Ethno)Futures

By Shiu, Anthony Sze-Fai | Extrapolation, October 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

The Ethics of Race, Failure, and Asian American (Ethno)Futures


Shiu, Anthony Sze-Fai, Extrapolation


What are the stakes of a critical praxis that both reads race and reimagines it? Alternately, how can we attend to a generic tendency that displaces race through analogy, submergence, and substitution while simultaneously foregrounding the concept as an organizing principle or, at the very least, a point of narrative departure? In Afrofuturist criticism the answer(s) are split. Mark Bould contends that the use of "aliens and androids" in science fiction exposes a "problem" in the genre: it "uses the indirection of metaphor or allegory to consider issues of race and prejudice" and "avoids direct engagement with the realities of racialized hierarchies and oppressions" (179). "Direct engagement," it is intimated, would alternately provide a critical ground out of which we pursue strategies of (conceptual) exposure in order to frame science fiction in a more just manner. On the other hand, Isiah Lavender III is concerned with science fiction's "problematic" attempts to avoid "race-reading" since "It has displayed racist attitudes and presented 'solutions' for the race problem by imagining postrace worlds, albeit imperfectly" (51-52). Lavender's theory of science fiction's "blackground"-a reading strategy aimed at attending to the predominance of race in science fiction-seeks to recenter a "range of race meanings" in order to properly situate the field/genre on the terrain of race/ literary studies (7). Common to both of these strategies is a formalization of the "race problem": assuming a stable and coherent field of reading practices and strategies that can lead to a wider reorganization of the science-fiction critical enterprise.

Yet how do we incorporate what De Witt Kilgore imagines as the "greatest challenge" for science fiction studies: understanding race as a concept that, with each articulation, is potentially "transformed, changing into something different and perhaps unexpected" ("Difference" 17)? In this essay I will attend to the "unexpected" by examining three pieces of contemporary Asian American science fiction: Ted Chiang's short stories "Division by Zero" and "Story of Your Life", and Charles Yu's novel How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe.1 At stake in each piece is the interrogation of commonplace representations of relation through a form of negative critique, and race is treated either directly or analogously. This interrogation addresses issues of affect and mortality, as well as the dysfunctional minority family as traditionally represented in Asian American literature. Indeed, each writer centralizes personal failures amid strong structural critiques, working with claustrophobic contexts in an attempt to address how structural issues both initiate and are affected by (inter)personal contexts. Chiang and Yu lead us to no safe place in particular, and they undercut hegemonic notions of relation so that we may theorize, in different ways, these relations in order to think of possible futures. Rather than primarily attending to progressive or regressive representations of race in science fiction, each writer invokes it while anticipating a future mode of relation influenced by but not fully determined by the past. While this will not lead to a particular "way" of understanding Asian American (or other minority) science fiction or a discovery of an internal logic unique to such productions, the aim here is to establish a provisional relation between different minority science fiction (critical) traditions by elaborating the "unexpected" stakes and strategies of a few literary interventions. Instead of "thinking about race along the black/white binary," this essay works to disrupt traditional ways of thinking about race in order to encourage new avenues of thinking about our shared racial futures (Lavender 8). As such, this analysis aspires to contribute to what Veronica Hollinger deems "a history about the imaginary/theoretical/narrative constitution of the subject of science fiction- not only the human subject but also the genre itself as subject of/to both history and futurity" ("A History" 30). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The Ethics of Race, Failure, and Asian American (Ethno)Futures
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    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.