CURRENTS OF STUDY: CHARTING THE COURSE OF ASIAN AMERICAN LITERARY CRITICISM
Sohn, Stephen Hong
Asian American literature has now been in production for over a century,1 and recent decades have shown an exponential increase in its publication. With this critical mass firmly in place, Asian American literary criticism continues to grow as a field. Interestingly enough, this field of inquiry is still fairly nascent and has only recently experienced a significant increase in terms of full-length texts. Of course, the connection between Asian American literature as a cultural production and Asian American literary criticism is quite explicit and symbiotic. The work of literary critics has been crucial to the ways that Asian American literatures have been defined, archived, re-issued, and taught at universities in the United States and internationally. At the same time, the heated pace of publication of Asian American writing expands the scope of literary criticism. In this examination of Asian American literary criticism over time and across general thematics, we posit tentatively three distinct, but not wholly partitioned, temporal phases and five thematic categories. These three phases of literary critical studies are: pre-1982, between 1982 and 1995, and from 1995 to the present. The appearance of thematic categories takes prominent shape in the third temporal phase. We begin with a short exploration of three anthologies published in the seventies and move to examinations of the first Asian American critical texts that appear in the eighties and early nineties. In the third temporal phase, we begin to fully differentiate the thematic categories that emerge. Finally, we conclude with a foray into the gaps within Asian American literary criticism, which leaves this field open to new avenues of study.
The five thematic categories that have been codified within the critical texts are: the problematics of defining Asian American literature, especially in relation to discourses on nation/transnation/globalization; studies on gender and sexuality; examinations of genre and form; single-author studies; and finally, meta-critical studies of Asian American literary criticism. A murky sixth category comes in the form of a separate listing of edited anthologies whose placement within a particular thematic context is difficult considering the myriad critical strategies included in those colleclions. Ultimately, these categories and temporal phases clarify and problematize the greater rubric under which Asian American literary criticism works. Whereas we fully understand the limitations and problematics involved with taxonomies,2 the current study provides a jumping-off point for scholars to contextualize and negotiate an understanding of Asian American literary criticism. While a number of critics provide partial constructions of the critical terrain, we discuss texts and arguments by those we see as the luminaries and strong contributors to the field of Asian American literary criticism. In doing so, we have restricted our study mainly to full-length texts such as edited collections and single-authored literary critical books. We hope to offer a useful tool for understanding the manner in which the field has taken shape and continues to evolve today.
The first historical appearances of what can be viewed as Asian American literary criticism took place prior to 1982 in the introductions of edited collections of creative writing by Asian Americans. These edited collections began the controversial dialogue of constituting an “Asian American literature,” which was defined by the inclusion or exclusion of certain Asian American ethnic groups. Much of the published creative work at that time was limited to what these editors considered worthy or could have accessed, which by the 1970s was composed primarily of works by writers of Japanese, Korean, Filipino, and Chinese descent. Not surprisingly, the first collection of edited work, Kai-Yu Hsu and Helen Palubinskas’s Asian-American Authors (1972), contains references to only three ethnic groups within Asian American literature: Chinese, Filipino, and Japanese American. In the introduction to AiiieeeeeIII (1974), a pioneering collection of Asian American writing, the now well-known quartet of editors-Jeffrey Paul Chan, Frank Chin, Lawson Fusao Inada, and Shawn Wong-generated a controversial formulation of Asian American identity by limiting its composition to the same ethnic groups. At the same time, they demanded a separatist politic in their distinction between Asian American and immigrant/diasporic Asian subjectivity, a move that expressed their cultural nationalist politic. The editors’ masculinist approach to defining Asian American literature remains a firm counterpoint to the works by major female authors, including but not limited to Maxine Hong Kingston and Amy Tan. David Hsin-Fu Wand’s Asian-American Heritage: An Anthology of Prose and Poetry (1974) provided further elaborations of Asian American literature, adding other ethnic groups, including Korean Americans.1 Besides these, the period prior to 1982 contains a relatively scant number of Asian American literary critical works, in part due to the small number of prominent Asian American writers as well as a relatively unreceptive publishing industry and public.
The period between 1982 and 1995 marks a new phase of Asian American literary critical production with the emergence of a number of prominent Asian American literary critics, including Elaine H. Kim, Stephen H. Sumida, Amy Ling, King-Kok Cheung, Sau-ling Cynthia Wong, and Shirley Geok-lin Lim. These individuals articulated the critical strategies on which later literary critics would build. Their formative works furthered the debate about what constituted Asian American literature and which books should enter its canon. The publication of Elaine H. Kim’s pioneering work, Asian American Literature: An Introduction to the Writings and Their Social Context (1982), commenced this middle phase of Asian American literary criticism. Kirn’s single-authored book-length study of Asian American literature was the first of its kind. Kim openly articulates the contentious definition of “Asian American literature” as a term and field of study; in her preface, Kim notes, “I have defined Asian American literature as published creative writings in English by Americans of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Filipino descent. This definition is problematical” (xi). Her admission suggests the turmoil in the field concerning the composition of the literary canon and remains a major critical mode of inquiry within the field. Kim’s text also deploys history to contextualize the authors and texts studied; her chapter examining gendered representations in Chinese-American writing provided a foundation for the debates that would arise around the work of Frank Chin and Maxine Hong Kingston. Two other pioneering works appeared around this time. Houston A. Baker’s Three American Literatures: Essays in Chicana, Native American, and Asian-American Literature for Teachers of American Literatures (1982) was one of the first texts to show how Asian American literature could be taught. This collection, which includes a reprint of the Aiiieeeee!!! preface, also contains essays geared toward a basic understanding of Japanese American literature and Frank Chin’s plays.4 Baker’s text demonstrates how Asian American literature can and should be read in a comparative frame with other ethnic productions. Karin Meissenburg’s The Writing on the Wall: Socio-historical Aspects of Chinese American Literature (1986) provides a generalized mapping of Chinese American literature but remains relatively uncited as a critical text.
Toward the latter end of the second phase, a number of foundational Asian American literary critical texts materialized. Stephen H. Sumida’s And the View from the Shore: Literary Traditions of Hawai’i (1990) signals the need to explore regionalism within the national context of Asian American literature, especially considering Hawaii’s unique colonial and postcolonial history. Sumida considers the Hawaiian pastoral impulse as separate from previously articulated Eurocentric renderings. Sau-ling Cynthia Wong’s Reading Asian American Literature: From Necessity to Extravagance (1992) offers an excellent inter-ethnic literary study; in a move similar to Sumida’s, Wong refigures archetypal images, myths, and themes within an Asian American cultural framework. Ultimately, this framework produces an alternative rendering of literary subjectivity. Wong examines the role of food, the notions of the doppelgänger as a racialized construct, and the fraught subject of mobility within Asian American works. Amy Ling’s Between Worlds: Women Writers of Chinese Ancestry (1990) and King-Kok Cheung’s Articulate Silences: Hisaye Yamamoto, Maxine Hong Kingston, Joy Kogawa (1994) offer comprehensive analyses of gender within Asian American women’s literature. Ling’s study focuses on prose narratives written by women of Chinese or Chinese-American ancestry published in English within the United States. Using feminist theories, Cheung argues that silence reflects not only cultural specificity but also the strategies of survival that Asian American women employ. Cheung concludes that these silences can also be constitutive and formative rather than singularly destructive. Both texts reflect the strength and pivotal placement of Asian American women’s writing as an object of critical study.
In this second phase of Asian American literary criticism, scholars also produced edited collections and full-length critical texts centering on the collected works of a single writer. Shirley Geok-lin Lim and Amy Ling edited the first collection fully devoted to Asian American literary criticism, Reading the Literatures of Asian America (1992). This volume gestures to the multiplicity of inquiry and critical strategies in the field. Lim and Ling’s anthology is divided into four sections, the “Ambivalent Identities” of Asian American subjects, “Race and Gender” in Asian American literature, “Borders and Boundaries” of national and cultural identities, and “Representations and Self-Representations” from early to contemporary Asian American texts. Franklin Ng’s edited collection, New Visions in Asian American Studies: Diversity, Community, Power (1994), emphasizes the ties between literary and cultural studies. It devotes a full section to the study of literature, with essays on Cathy Song’s poetics and Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club. Works like Ng’s illustrate that Asian American literary criticism remains interdisciplinary, exploring texts as historical artifacts, political narratives, and constructed social realities. Shirley Geok-lin Lim provided a useful pedagogical tool with the publication of Approaches to Teaching Maxine Hong Kingston’s Woman Warrior (1991). This work merits recognition due to its exclusive critical devotion to a single author’s work. Elaine H. Kim and Norma Alarcon continue this trend with Writing Self Writing Nation: A Collection of Essays on Dictée by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha (1992). Both volumes establish the unique positions of The Woman Warrior and Dictée in the Asian American literary canon.
We have called the last phase of literary criticism, extending from 1995 to the present, the meta-critical phase. Critics have now begun to contextualize analyses in a discursive tradition established by the previous phases. This field’s referentiality encourages critics to elaborate, refute, and reexamine texts in new and different ways. Contemporary Asian American criticism is traversed by theories associated with postmodernism, poststructuralism, psychoanalysis, and discourses on globalization, diaspora, transnationalism, and post-colonialism. Critical modes and strategies in place during the first and second phases have been modified and re-articulated. Today we find studies on form and genre, pioneering works on homosexuality, and meta-critical texts that examine Asian American literary criticism as a field. The explosion of directions in which Asian American literary criticism is being taken suggests that sub-fields must be considered in order to account properly for some of the recurring critical strategies that have appeared over the course of the last quarter century. While we have articulated at least five recurring critical thematics undertaken by Asian American literary critics, our study cannot account for the approaches made by every critical text nor does it seek to ghettoize certain books within a specific analytical framework. What we envision here is a generalized mapping of the field that provides a few constructed categories into which studies of Asian American literature can be classified. Our charting first explores the contested ground of Asian American identity as represented by literature, then moves to examine gender and sexuality. We then offer analyses on genre and form, meta-critical texts, single-author studies, and finally edited collections.
Today, the debates on the constitution of Asian American identity as constructed through literature continue as seen in Lisa Lowe’s Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics (1996). Because a number of her chapters were published previous to the volume, Lowe’s text provides a strong bridge between the temporal phases of literary criticism. Lowe’s study queries Asian American canon formation and analyzes cultural productions to explicate socio-historical issues within Asian America. In her 1991 article (later to be published as part of Immigrant Acts), “Heterogeneity, Hybridity, Multiplicity: Asian American Differences,” Lowe describes Asian American identity and culture as “contested and unsettled, as taking place in the movement between sites and in the strategic occupation of heterogeneous and multiple positions” (82). Indeed, Lowe’s articulation of the “heterogeneous and multiple positions” of Asian American identities mirrors the varied methods and strategies employed by Asian American literary critics to define Asian American identity and literature. In fact, Susan Koshy’s “The Fiction of Asian American Literature” takes up this very notion by asserting that “Asian American literature” as a term is collapsing under the weight of its very heterogeneity.
The following critics within this thematic group also articulate and track the ways in which they see Asian American identity fluctuating through its literature. In Imagining the Nation: Asian American Literature and Cultural Consent (1997), David Leiwei Li examines narratives that address the predicament of Asian American subjectivity in a nation that defines that subjectivity as foreign. Sheng-mei Ma’s Immigrant Subjectivities in Asian American and Asian Diaspora Literatures (1998) argues for a more expansive understanding of Asian American literature and identity that includes immigrant subjectivity. Ma’s text works in contrast to the cultural nationalist model set up by the Aiiieeeee!!! editors and prefigures the position David Palumbo-Liu takes in Asian/American: Historical Crossings of a Racial Frontier (1999). Palumbo-Liu follows the shifting identity formations of Asian Americans from the modernist age through the current deterritorialized and globalized era in which bounded notions of Asian American identity have begun to collapse. His use of the slash in “Asian/American” demonstrates the oscillating quality of Asian American identity. Anne Anlin Cheng’s The Melancholy of Race: Psychoanalysis, Assimilation, and Hidden Grief (2000) employs psychoanalytic theory to study identity and cultural productions. Her work asserts the importance of acknowledging and confronting racialized grief (rather than grievance) experienced by Asian Americans. Sheng-mei Ma divides The Deathly Embrace: Orientalism and Asian American Identity into four sections: “Clutch of Rape: Imperialist Adventure Narratives,” “Clash of Arms,” “Multicultural Flaunting of Ethnicity,” and “Masquerading of Ethnicity.” Within each of these sections, he examines the use of Orientalist stereotypes in a number of cultural and literary texts from the 1920s through today, including those by some of the most prominent Asian American authors of the past decades: Maxine Hong Kingston, Frank Chin, Amy Tan, and David Henry Hwang. Eleanor Ty’s The Politics of the Visible in Asian North American Narratives (2004) expands the scope of Asian American literary criticism by including Asian Canadian authors. Her critical text asserts the contradictory position of the Asian American in relation to visuality; while Asian Americans find themselves displaced from positions of power and relatively unseen within hegemonic populations, they are also simultaneously cast in positions of marked difference, wherein their very bodies become conspicuous sites of identity and cultural conflict.
Literary critics continue to analyze representations of gender, women, and sexuality. The popularity of studies on gender and sexuality in Asian American critical circles follows the development of third-wave feminism. Not surprisingly these critics often weave feminist theories into their analyses. Many of the following literary critics specifically articulate the identity of the Asian American woman, which is complicated by various disempowering and oppressive patriarchal systems. Certain studies identify the female protagonist as allegorizing and embodying familial and national struggles. Phillipa Kafka’s (Un)Doing the Missionary Position: Gender Asymmetry in Contemporary Asian American Women’s Writing (1997) uses feminist theories to explain Asian American women’s identity, navigating the cultural and ideological structures of America and of specific Asian ethnic value systems. In Her Mother’s House: The Politics of Asian American Mother-Daughter Writing (1999), Wendy Ho explores the generational tensions between mothers and daughters and argues that Asian American women’s writing resists patriarchal and totalizing discourses. Ho looks at the historical and material contexts for works by Maxine Hong Kingston, Amy Tan, and Fae Myenne Ng. In The Americas of Asian American Literature: Gendered Fictions of Nation and Transnation (1999), Rachel C. Lee proposes “that gender and sexuality remain instrumental to the ways in which Asian American writers conceive of and write about ‘America,'” (3). Too often, Lee argues, critics discuss race and nation without acknowledging the varying intersectionalities of Asian American identity. Patricia E Chu’s Assimilating Asians: Gendered Strategies of Authorship in Asian America (2000) asserts that Asian American novels and memoirs confront the dissonance between the American ideal of democratic inclusion and the material reality of exclusionary politics. According to Chu, who distinguishes between Asian American men and women writers, gender plays an enormous role in the formation of texts as authors deploy different narrative strategies to highlight their unique subject positions. Leslie Bow’s Betrayal and Other Acts of Subversion: Feminism, Sexual Politics, Asian American Women’s Literature (2001) examines how Asian American women’s bodies and sexualities are symbolically tied to discourses on the nation-state. These women subsequently are rendered as either traitors or patriots. David L. Eng’s Racial Castration: Managing Masculinity in Asian America (2001) focuses on representations of Asian American men and the intersections of gender, sexuality and racial identity formation. His larger move to merge Asian American diasporic identity with queer identity remains a flashpoint of this argument. The governmental restriction of Asian American immigration deterred the dispersal of Asian American sexualities in the United States, rendered Asian American identity as a kind of queerness. Eng’s use of psychoanalytic theory resonates with the strategies employed by Anne Anlin Cheng in her study of melancholia and race. In Compositional Subjects: Enfiguring Asian/American Women (2002), Laura Hyun Yi Rang explores how Asian American women’s identities have been shaped, re-constituted, and contested by different cultural productions. She employs the slash in her title to emphasize the importance of immigrant subjectivity in the formation of Asian American women’s identities. Helena Grice’s Negotiating Identities: An Introduction to Asian American Women’s Writing (2002), a broad-based study that contextualizes the history of Asian American women’s writing over the course of the twentieth century, scrutinizes the thematics of genre, mother-daughter writing, biraciality and citizenship. Patti Duncan’s Tell This Silence: Asian American Women Writers and the Politics of Speech (2004) builds on Cheung’s 1994 text and examines the roles of speech and silence in relation to race, gender, sexuality, and national identity in works by Kingston, Cha, Kogawa, Nora Okja Keller, and Anchee Min.
The study of Asian American identity as it simultaneously is performed and constructed on the stage represents a nexus of analyses of form and genre within the latest phase of criticism. Visuality as a general theme and critical pursuit figures in, and indeed challenges, the rubric of Asian American literary analysis as critics explore conceptions of photography, graphic novels, and staging in cultural productions. Josephine Lee’s Performing Asian America: Race and Ethnicity on the Contemporary Stage (1997), one of the first Asian American critical texts devoted to the study of a major literary genre, provides an innovative critical methodology. Her work examines such different thematic elements as masculinism, realism, and the re-appropriation of stereotypes in plays by dramatists including Frank Chin, David Henry Hwang, Wakako Yamauchi, and Genny Lim. Rocio G. Davis’s Transcultural Reinventions: Asian American and Asian Canadian Short-Story Cycles (2001) expands critical boundaries by comparing Asian American literature alongside Asian-Canadian texts. According to Davis, the formal use of the short-story cycle by Asian American and Asian Canadian writers underlies their desire to maintain control over literary representations of identity. She further argues that the fragmented short-story cycle mirrors the texts’ transnational, globalized, and multi-ethnic complexities. Davis seeks to de-center the perception of the short-story cycle as a European invention and to study it as an Asian American and Asian Canadian form that requires the reader to participate in the process of generating meaning. In National Abjection: The Asian American Body Onstage (2002), Karen Shimakawa argues that, since the introduction of the term Chinaman, Asian and Asian American bodies in the United States have been envisaged as Other and remain incapable of being culturally accepted or socially absorbed. Following Josephine Lee’s work on Asian American drama, Shimakawa’s book contributes to a growing scholarship on Asian American staged productions to examine the importance of Broadway musicals as well as performance politics. In contrast, Elena Tajima Creef’s Imaging Japanese America: The Visual Construction of Citizenship, Nation, and the Body (2004) explores visual culture and analyzes photography, graphic novels, and media representations of Japanese Americans. Her literary emphasis lies primarily in her study of Mine Okubo’s Citizen 13660.
Jinqi Ling’s contention that critics have analyzed early Asian American narratives primarily through the lens of their own politico-historical contexts is representative of the move to scrutinize the strategies of literary critics in the field. In Narrating Nationalisms: Ideology and Form in Asian American Literature (1998), Ling critiques Asian American literature written prior to 1980 according to some of the formal characteristics it possesses, particularly the formal features of social realism and cultural nationalist narrative. In uniting formal considerations with political content, Ling addresses large gaps in the field. Viet Thanh Nguyen and Kandice Chuh take up meta-critical studies in Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America (2002) and Imagine Otherwise: On Asian Americanist Critique (2003), respectively. Nguyen argues that Asian American intellectuals tend to over-read the resistance narratives of Asian American writers, and in privileging oppositional politics in texts, Nguyen asserts, critics can lose or inappropriately obscure the complexities of a particular narrative. In her study, Chuh reads nationally based ethnic identity as too essentialist in nature in that it expunges too many particularities for the sake of constructing a unified identity that is clearly collapsing in an age of globalization. She focuses her argument through an examination of legal discourse in Asian American narratives.
The number of single-author studies, particularly those devoted to Maxine Hong Kingston’s oeuvre, has been increasing. Clearly, many of these studies have been developed as useful pedagogical tools by addressing well-recognized authors in the literary canon. In The Art of Parody: Maxine Hong Kingston’s Uses of Chinese Sources (1966), Yan Gao looks at the Chinese myths, folktales, and customs in Kingston’s work to de-stabilize and complicate her representations of Asian diasporic and Asian American identities. E. D. Huntley’s Amy Tan: A Critical Companion (1998) reviews Tan’s career and life and explores critical discourses on The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God’s Wife, and The Hundred secret Senses. Laura E. Skandera-Trombley’s Critical Essays on Maxine Hong Kingston (1998) reinforces Kingston’s established position within the canon. SkanderaTrombley’s critical anthology provides an extensive collection of original and reprinted essays on Kingston’s Tripmaster Monkey, China Men, and The Woman Warrior, including reviews and historical contextualizations of these works. Sau-ling Cynthia Wong’s edited collection, Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior: A casebook (1999), is divided into four parts: issues and debates surrounding the text, genre and gender studies, explorations of Chinese American traditions, and an interview with Kingston. Diane Simmons’s Maxine Hong Kingston (1999), also consisting of essays and interviews, contains a brief version of the “Ballad of Mulan,” a biographical essay, as well as a bibliographic history of Kingston’s work. In The Literary Voices of Winnifred Eaton: Redefining Ethnicity and Authenticity (2002), Jean Eee Cole examines Eaton’s literary career and analyzes the shifting discourses used to interpret Eaton’s work. Given the growing scholarship on Eaton, Cole’s text is a timely addition to the field.
A number of edited collections appear in this last phase, primarily in the form of cultural studies texts. Only a couple of the following collections are devoted entirely to Asian American literary criticism. David PalumboLiu’s The Ethnic Canon: Histories, Institutions, and Interventions (1995) lists critical works on Amy Tan and David Henry Hwang and recalls the multiethnic content of Baker’s 1982 edited collection. Wendy Ng’s Reviewing Asian America: Locating Diversity (1995) contains two essays on Asian American literature devoted to the critical study of texts by Maxine Hong Kingston. In Between the Lines, South Asians and Postcoloniality (1996), Deepika Bahri and Mary Vasudeva focus exclusively on South Asian and South Asian American writing. Russell Eeong’s Asian American Sexualities: Dimensions of Gay and Lesbian Experience (1996) offers one of the first collections on Asian American queerness, including an essay on Hwang’s M. Butterfly. Geoffrey Kain’s Ideas of Home: The Literatures of Asian Migration (1997) examines works by many prominent Asian American and Asian transnational authors and details how they portray and narrate the complex and deeply formative concept of “home.” This book also examines the connection between constructions of self and home in the immigrant psyche. King-Kok Cheung’s An Interethnic Companion to Asian American Literature (1997) is the first critical edition since the publication of Lim and Ling’s 1992 volume to be devoted fully to Asian American literary criticism. Cheung’s volume historically contextualizes Asian American ethnic writing and theorizes the field as a whole. QcvA: Queer in Asian America (1998), edited by David L. Eng and Alice Y. Horn, continues the examination of Asian American queerness with essays on Frank Chin and on sexuality in Sui Sin Par’s writing. Orientations: Mapping Studies in the Asian Diaspora (2001), edited by Karen Shimakawa and Kandice Chuh, explores theories of Asian and Asian American postcolonialism, diaspora, transnationalism, hybridity, and border crossings. Rocio G. Davis and Sämi Ludwig’s edited collection, Asian American Literature in the International Context: Readings on Fiction, Poetry, and Performance (2002), places Asian American literary criticism in a globalized context. This collection reflects the growing numbers of studies of Asian American literature outside the United States, especially in Europe and Asia. The internationalist frame is also evident in the publication of Crossing Oceans: Reconfiguring American Literary Studies in the Pacific Rim (2004), edited by Noëlle Brada-Williams and Karen Chow. The publication Asian North American Identities: Beyond the Hyphen (2004), edited by Eleanor Ty and Donald C. Goellnicht, pushes the boundaries of Asian American literary criticism in its study of multiple media-such as film, photography, and literature-and multiplenationality authors, including but not limited to Karen Tei Yamashita, Myung Mi Kim, Tseng Kwong Chi, Nora Okja Keller, and Sara Suleri. Its devotion primarily to Asian American literary texts sets it apart from many of the previous edited collections, which have been more heavily interdisciplinary in nature.
Contemporary Asian American literary criticism focuses on works by a handful of Asian American writers; however, critics must possess the courage to forge new critical strategies and lenses through which to seek out emergent literatures and thematics. As the critical terrain shifts, the analytical strategies will multiply, refute, and revise positions taken by previous scholars. Today, the generalized canon of Asian American literature includes, but is not limited to, the writings of Maxine Hong Kingston, Frank Chin, Theresa Cha, David Henry Hwang, Amy Tan, Carlos Bulosan, Jade Snow Wong, Hisaye Yamamoto, and Joy Kogawa. That so many critics focus on these authors demonstrates that Asian American literary discourse continues to center on East Asian American writing. However, with the increased publication of authors from different Asian American ethnic groups, an expanded critical work is again needed. Asian American literary critics need to respond to this growing body of work and examine how these newer writers complicate and expand the Asian American literary canon. Bahri and Masudeva’s text underlies the necessity to examine regionality in Asian America, including South Asian American, Asian Pacific Islander American, and Southeast Asian American literatures. While inclusion in the canon cannot be based simply on the need for representation of certain ethnic groups, Asian American critics nevertheless must update their work even as they evaluate the extant canon. Some writers who suggest the need for such inquiry include SP Somtow, Lawrence Chua, Lan Cao, Le Thi Diem Thuy Kien Nguyen, Lydia Kwa, Ghalib Shiraz Dhalla, Sigrid Nunez, and others. Dana Takagi addresses the inadequate attention still paid to queerness when she writes, “while there has been a good deal of talk about the diversity of Asian American communities, we are relatively uninformed about Asian American subcultures organized specifically around sexuality” (547). Russell Leong’s and David Eng and Alice Horn’s collections have begun to rectify the dearth of criticism in this area, but more work needs to be undertaken considering the profound numbers of texts that deal quite explicitly with queerness, works by Catherine Liu, Larissa Lai, Willyce Kim, TC Huo, Bino Realuyo, Justin Chin, Norman Wong, Helen Zia, Ameena Mair, and Shyam Selvadurai, for example.
In addition, critical examinations of class in Asian American writing have been largely lacking. The difference in the trajectories of Asian immigrant groups over the last fifty years suggests that a large-scale study of the representations of socio-economic constructions within Asian American literature is needed. Furthermore, examinations of the memoir, the novel, and, to a certain extent, dramatic forms reveal the necessity for more critical analyses of these and other genres, including poetry and visual texts (i.e., graphic novels). That is, more studies should be undertaken to analyze the specific ways Asian American authors employ traditional European and Asian literary genres. Jinqi Ling’s work on the formal presentations of Asian American narratives exposes the need for additional studies on Asian American literary aesthetics. Asian American literary criticism is in a fertile moment; intersecting disciplines, identities, genres, and histories continue to complicate and multiply meanings.
We hope this essay proves a useful tool for scholars beginning research in Asian American literature and literary criticism. Summative undertakings such as this are necessarily incomplete-the field being as diverse and rich as it is today, it is impossible to include every critical text on Asian American literature; instead, we have endeavored to touch upon the most relevant texts. The categories laid out here are not intended to serve as an absolute taxonomy for classifying Asian American literature; rather, we offer this introductory essay as a tool in the study of this large, complex, and evolving field.
University of California, Santa Barbara
1 As discussed in Elaine H. Kim’s Asian American Literature: An Introduction to the Writings and Their Social Context (1982), the first work of Asian American literature is Lee Yan Phou’s When I Was a Boy in China (1887).
2 For instance, literary critical texts can never fully be pared down to one thematic and often easily will overlap into other categories. Undoubtedly, future formulations of the field of Asian American literary criticism will redefine the patterns that have been articulated here.
3 See Amy Ling’s “Teaching Asian American Literature” for more on these three early anthologies.
4 These essays are “An Introduction to Frank Chin’s Chickencoop Chinaman and The Year of a Dragon,” by Dorothy Ritsuko McDonald, and “Of Place and Displacement: The Range of Japanese-American Literature,” by Lawson Fusao Inada.
Bahri, Deepika, and Mary Vasudeva, eds. Between the Lines: South Asians and Postcoloniality. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1996.
Baker, Jr., Houston A., ed. Three American Literatures: Essays in Chicana, Native American, and Asian-American Literature for Teachers of American Literature. New York: MLA, 1982.
Bow, Leslie. Betrayal and Other Acts of Subversion: Feminism, Sexual Politics, Asian American Women’s Literature. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2001.
Brada-Williams, Noelle, and Karen Chow, eds. Crossing Oceans: Reconfiguring American Literary Studies in the Pacific Rim. Hong Kong: Hong Kong UP, 2004. Chan, Jeffrey Paul, et al., eds. Aiiieeeee!!! An Anthology of Asian American Writers. New York: New American Library, 1974.
Cheng, Anne Anlin. The Melancholy of Race: Psychoanalysis, Assimilation, and Hidden Grief. New York: Oxford UP, 2000.
Cheung, King-Kok. Articulate Silences: Hisaye Yamamoto, Maxine Hong Kingston, joy Kogawa. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1994.
_____, ed. An Interethnic Companion to Asian American Literature. Cambridge, Cambridge UP, 1997.
Chu, Patricia P. Assimilating Asians: Gendered Strategies of Authorship in Asian America. Durham: Duke UP, 2000.
Chuh, Kandice. Imagine Otherwise: On Asian Americanist Critique. Durham: Duke UP, 2003.
Chuh, Kandice, and Karen Shimakawa, eds. Orientations: Mapping Studies in the Asian Diaspora. Durham, Duke UP, 2001.
Cole, Jean Lee. The Literary Voices of Winnifred Eaton: Redefining Ethnicity and Authenticity. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2002.
Creef, Elena Tajima. imaging Japanese America: The Visual Construction of Citizenship, Nation, and the Body. New York: NYUP, 2004.
Davis, Rocio G. Transcultural Reinventions: Asian American and A.sian Canadian Short Story Cycles. Toronto: TSAR Publications, 2001.
Davis, Rocio, and Sämi Ludwig, eds. Asian American Literature in the International Context: Readings on Fiction, Poetry, and Performance. Münster: Lit Verlag, 2002.
Duncan, Patti. Tell This Silence: Asian American Women Writers and the Politics of Speech. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 2004.
Eng, David L. Racial Castration: Managing Masculinity in Asian America. Durham: Duke UP, 2001.
Eng, David L., and Alice Y. Horn, eds. Q & A: Queer in Asian America. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1998.
Gao, Yan. The Art of Parody: Maxine Hong Kingston’s Use of Chinese Sources. New York: Peter Lang, 1998.
Grice, Helena. Negotiating Identities: An Introduction to Asian American Women’s Writing. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2002.
Ho, Wendy. In Her Mother’s House: The Politics of Asian American Mother-Daughter Writing. Walnut Creek, CA: Alta Mira P, 1999.
Hsu, Kai-Yu, and Helen Palubinskas. Asian-American Authors. Boston: Houghion Mifflin, 1972.
Huntley, E. D. Amy Tan: A Critical Companion. London: Greenwood P, 1998.
Inada, Lawson Fusao. “Of Place and Displacement: The Range of Japanese-American Literature.” Baker 254-65.
Kafka, Phillipa. (Un)Doing the Missionary Position: Gender Asymmetry in Contemporary Asian American Women’s Writing. Westport, CT: Greenwood P, 1997.
Kain, Geoffrey. Ideas of Home: The Literature of Asian Migration. Lansing: Michigan State UP, 1997.
Kang, Laura Hyun Yi. Compositional Subjects: Enjiguring Asian/American Women. Durham: Duke UP, 2002.
Kim, Elaine H. Asian American Literature: An Introduction to the Writings and Their Social Context. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1982.
Kim, Elaine H., and Norma Alarcon, eds. Writing Self, Writing Nation: A Collection of Essays on Dictée by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. Berkeley: Third Woman Press, 1994.
Koshy, Susan. “The Fiction of Asian American Literature.” Yale Journal of Criticism (1996): 316-46.
Lee, Josephine. Performing Asian America: Race and Ethnicity on the Contemporary Stage. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1997.
Lee, Rachel C. The Americas of Asian American Literature: Gendered Fictions of Nation and Transnation. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1999.
Leong, Russell, ed. Asian American Sexualities: Dimensions of the Gay and Lesbian Experience. New York: Routledge, 1996.
Li, David Leiwei. Imagining the Nation: Asian American Literature and Cultural Consent. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1997.
Lim, Shirley Geok-lin, ed. Approaches to Teaching Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior. New York: MLA, 1991.
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