Anxieties of the Fictive: The Immigrant and Asian American Politics of Visibility analyzes Asian
American literature and film to theorize the limits of representational politics that depend on
visibility and recognition. Dominant discourses in Asian American studies examine the Asian
immigrant as a contentious figure in U.S. national politics and culture. This dissertation departs
from those frameworks to assess how the figure of the Asian immigrant is touted and
suppressed for recognition and legitimacy in the nation and its cultural spheres, and emerges as
a source of anxiety in Asian American cultural politics. In historical narratives, the Asian
immigrant as a laborer and as a contributor to the nation is used to legitimate the place of
Asians in America, but she is also a liminal figure that stands in excess to subjections of
visibilities as American as well as Asian American and all its constituent ideals: Asian, Korean,
individual, masculine, to name a few. Using cultural analysis, historical contexts, and critical
race and gender theory, this project intervenes in common perceptions of the Asian immigrant
as only reproductive of politics (i.e. Asian American activisms), culture (i.e. ethnicity and race),
labor (i.e. capital), and nationalism (i.e. American dream) to illustrate how the Asian immigrant
cannot be reconciled under nationalist tropes, narratives, and aesthetics as a subject. Instead,
she emerges as a dangerously transgressive and excessive figure that produces critiques of
normative formations of subjectivity and identity.
This dissertation periodizes these desires for subjectivity and identity produced against
the immigrant as occurring in the late 1970s following the institutionalization of Asian
American as a racial and cultural category. I look at how Asian American film and literature,
through specific examples and as generic categories, have represented and been defined as
“Asian American” in relation to the immigrant to draw out contradictory notions of domestic,
racial, and artistic politics and identities. As such, Asian American cultural production cannot
guarantee prescriptive and reconciliatory notions of identity between the Asian American,
American, and the immigrant. Rather than reading these excesses as failures of America and its
legal and cultural apparatuses, the impossibility of subjectivity for Asians in the U.S. points to
how Asian American cultural productions reveal alternative and heterogeneous representations
of Asian America that are imperceptible, spectacular, and innovative, challenging the
disciplinary terms of visibility administered and authorized by institutions and the markets.
I observe these excesses through four cases: Eric Liu’s memoir The Accidental Asian:
Notes of a Native Speaker considers how his racial somatic challenges his claims to national
identity underwritten by his articulations of English and its acoustic individualism; in Patti
Kim’s A Cab Called Reliable, the protagonist, Ahn Joo’s subjectivity as a “Korean-American
woman” exceeds the limned terms available by the authorizing narratives of belonging
produced by the nation and diaspora; in Justin Lin’s Better Luck Tomorrow, the Asian immigrant
stands in the shadows of heteromasculinities to critique discourses of equality produced by the
state and markets; and Deann Borshay Liem’s adoptee autoethnography First Person Plural
reconceives the Asian immigrant as a Korean adoptee to disrupt the naturalizing tendencies of
family and nation to think of immigrant labors as generative of new formations of belonging
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. June 2011. Major: American Studies. Advisor:Roderick A. Ferguson, Josephine D. Lee. 1 computer file (PDF);iv, 224 pages.
Hyon, Soyoung Sonjia.
Anxieties of the fictive: the immigrant and Asian American politics of visibility..
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