Journal Articles

December 2009 - Vol.40/No.1
Untranslatables: A World System
Author : Emily Apter
Keywords : the untranslatable, world-systems, world literature, translation studies, risk, comparative literature, language cartography
This essay experiments with an approach that uses “untranslatables”— terms that fail to transfer or resist ready equivalence in other languages, cultures and disciplines—as the basis of new cartographies of comparatism. Literary studies, it is argued, has traditionally been structured according to influence, the slow translatability of genres, the trajectories of cultural diffusion that reflect neo-colonial geographies. There are few models of comparison that encourage a comparative literature in real time; few contingent theoretical models that remain free of Eurocentric reference, or enable fluid analysis of “Second World” cultural interactions among, say, the “Stans,” the Greater Middle East, “Chindia,” the Americas, Eurasia, intra-Asia, “other Asias,” or Euroland. Though transnational research occurs, as does transhistorical or asynchronous analysis, the academic organization of the humanities tends to re-impose national periodizing strictures on knowledge-fields, some of them inherited from area studies. Literary history’s cartography is thus constrained by old frameworks of comparison. This essay works with the Untranslatable as a concept that permits unlike cultures and languages to be more readily compared. Drawing on the example offered by the collective work of scholarship, the Dictionary of Untranslatables: A Philosophical Lexicon (edited by Barbara Cassin), the essay suggests that modeling literary world systems around Untranslatables responds to the dearth of paradigms of east-west or European and non-European comparison.
Out of Brick Lane: The Novel of Awakening and Monica Ali’s Brick Lane
Author : Pin-chia Feng
Keywords : South Asian diaspora studies, South Asian British literature, the female Bildungsroman, Monica Ali, Brick Lane
Conditioned by South Asian social and religious traditions, the South Asian British literary arena has long been dominated by prominent male figures such as V. S. Naipaul and Salman Rushdie. However, the end of the twentieth century has witnessed the rising prominence of creative works by women. Many of these have entered the mass cultural imagination and have become highly influential not only in terms of the reformulation of “Britishness,” but also as an important and integral part of the South Asian diaspora within the context of global flows. This essay reads Monica Ali’s acclaimed debut novel Brick Lane (2003) as a quintessential Bildungsroman focusing on a female immigrant subject and as a representation of the ways in which South Asian women cope with the problems of re/constructing selfhood, subjectivity and South Asian British identity. As such, it focuses on exploring the themes of belated sexual and political awakenings of a Bangladeshi immigrant female protagonist, Nazneen. Since both sexual and political awakenings are still tabooed in Islamic traditions, in the final analysis Ali’s novel challenges the traditional definition of South Asian Muslim womanhood and provides a way out of the brick lane of an ethnic ghetto.
Who’s Afraid of Mickey Mouse?: Revisiting the Benjamin-Adorno Debate on Disney from a Psychoanalytic Perspective
Author : Tsung-huei Huang
Keywords : Benjamin, Adorno, Disney, regression, fantasy
It has been assumed that Benjamin’s dialogue with Adorno on popular culture ultimately establishes two extremes: Benjamin’s defense of its emancipatory potential, and Adorno’s fear of mass deception. These divergent views are also apparent in their interpretations of Mickey Mouse. For Benjamin, as the globe-encircling figure of our collective dream, Mickey Mouse ushers contemporary men into a fascinating realm of fantasy. Adorno, however, cautions Benjamin against using concepts like the collective dream or collective unconscious. From Adorno’s point of view, the sadistic fantasies or masochistic delusions endorsed by Disney films are prone to incur irreversible regression. Without charging Benjamin for his naive optimism or dismissing Adorno as pessimistic, this paper endeavors to revisit the so-called Benjamin- Adorno debate from a psychoanalytic perspective. Their polarized observations on Disney films, I would argue, are closely related to their different assessments of the function of fantasy. As the nature of fantasy is Janus-faced, it is not far-fetched to assume that their observations can both be justified. The main argument of this paper is divided into three parts. In the first section, I will account for Freud’s notion of (day-)dream, why he classifies dream-work as a kind of topographical regression and how he conceives of such regression as liberating or even future-oriented. I contend that Benjamin’s upbeat assessment of Disney’s beneficent effects is in tune with Freud’s conceptualization of (day-)dreaming. On the other hand, Adorno’s criticism of regression is not utterly incompatible with Freud’s theory. In the second section, I will explore why Adorno distrusts collective fantasy and whether or not he reveals a different dimension of dreams that both Freud and Benjamin pay scant attention to. I suggest that Adorno’s warning against regressive reception should not be hastily dismissed as elitism, for the standardized fantasy fabricated by the culture industry, like stereotyped daydream, does threaten to encourage the disavowal of reality. In the last section, I draw on early Disney films to analyze the appeal of Mickey Mouse, with a view to examining if this cartoon figure might indeed lure the audience into pathologically acting out their fantasies. Or, on the contrary, whether we may glimpse in Mickey Mouse’s emergence the utopian potential of the “cracking open of natural teleology.”
A Native Sense of Existence: The Poetry and Poetics of Risk in Simon J. Ortiz
Author : A. Robert Lee
Keywords : Simon J. Ortiz, risk, Out There Somewhere, pan-Indianism, After and Before Lightning
In “Headlands Journal,” the opening sequence of Out There Somewhere (2002), Simon Ortiz develops a whole riff on the issue of “risk.” His concern is with what risk has meant for Native Americans—risks of life, survival, and with it risks of storytelling and poetry. How best to articulate the risks taken by Native peoples to counter the assaults of American history? How best to find and make poetry in the face of assumed margin and even evisceration? How best to establish his own Acoma-Native voice begun in McCarty’s, New Mexico (Deetzeyaamah in the Acoma language) and forged both from a love of heritage and against a fair amount of personal set-back, whether drink and rehab at a Colorado VA hospital, hands-on mining work, or periods of drift and lost relationships? Few would doubt that his has been a key literary achievement, a vindication in verse and prose of his own chance-taking as a writer. The span runs also from his early University of New Mexico student years and MFA from Iowa through to his present academic position in Toronto and the writerly “journeys” he has made—notably to the Lumbee nation and to the Rosebud Lakota Sioux out of which arose his After and Before the Lightning (1994). The presentation to hand examines a run of poems that take on these issues as Ortiz develops them not only in Out There Somewhere and After and Before the Lightning, but in from Sand Creek (1981), with its memory of the US cavalry massacre of encamped Cheyenne and Arapaho in 1984, and the volumes collected in Woven Stone (1992 and re-printings). Not the least of the creative risks Ortiz has taken, and as he writes in the poem “A New Story,” has been the writing-in, the counter-voicing, against an American mainstream’s assumption of “a lack of Indians.”
Cherríe Moraga’s Ecofeminist Aesthetics toward Reclaiming Chicana Body in Heroes and Saints and Watsonville: Some Place Not Here
Author : Ikue Kina
Keywords : Cherríe Moraga, Chicana/o, queer, ecofeminism, theater
This study examines two plays written by Cherríe Moraga, a queer Chicana playwright living in San Francisco Bay Area, from ecofaminist perspectives. These plays—Heroes and Saints and Watsonville—present Chicacas who are victimized in the multi-layered structure of capitalist economic system following environmental devastation, racism, and sexism. Moraga, however, depicts those women’s characters not as victims but as resisters who strive to survive, fighting against the oppressive forces of American society. Chicano Theaters have developed as a poignant practice in Chicano farm workers’ labor movement. While Moraga’s plays share this historical background, they are different from the plays written by male authors, e.g., Luis Valdez, because Moraga with her discourses as a Lesbian Chicana criticizes male-dominated heterosexism in capitalism, which disgraces the natural environment and eventually women’s bodies. This paper analyzes how Moraga’s two plays can be read in terms of the more advanced ecofeminism which intermixes different aspects of ecofeminism reflecting Moraga’s critical stance as a lesbian (queer) Chicana.
Transnational Hybridity and Re-(b)ordering Cultural Reality in Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss
Author : Yu-Yen Liu
Keywords : The Inheritance of Loss, transnationalism, transnational hybridity, diaspora
This paper addresses the way in which Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss (2006) locates the formation of racial and cultural identities both across multiple national sites and in specific localities—both through processes of transnationalism and through negotiations of specific geographical space undertaken by transnational diasporic subjects. The Inheritance of Loss is a transnational novel in terms of the subjects it treats, its geographical scope, and the kinds of experience it dramatizes. The narrative of the novel switches between Manhattan and Kalimpong, moving between “First” world and “Third” world, metropolis and hamlet, personal and political. In doing so, The Inheritance of Loss combines elements of South Asian and American cultures while offering a new racial and cultural synthesis and a renewed vision of the transnational mobility. The novel’s two-world/parallel form actually bespeaks an awareness of re-(b)ordering cultural reality necessary for a global and transnational imaginary that can no longer be fully encapsulated under the old trope of national identity. By looking specifically at how the postcolonial issues in Indian subcontinent and the dislocation experiences of the migrants in New York City are intersected in the novel, the paper proposes that The Inheritance of Loss points us towards a transnational politics attentive to these questions, which are complicated by today’s globalized world.
“I Translate, Therefore I Am”: Names and Cultural Translation in Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake
Author : Shao-ming Kung
Keywords : Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake, cultural translation, South Asian diaspora, names, translatability of cultures
Cultural translation has won substantial attention in recent years when many scholars have discussed its relation to culture exchange, inequity between languages/cultures, and what role a translator/writer may play in this complicated process of cultural production. As Sherry Simon puts it, “the globalization of culture means that we all live in ‘translated’ worlds” (Gender in Translation 134). In the work of South Asian diasporic writers, we can perceive such a translated world wherein the space of the host society and national narratives are transformed and re-imagined by the creative intervention of transnational, global diasporas. This paper attempts to investigate the negotiation of hybrid cultural identities by South Asian immigrants in Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake (2003). In my research, Stuart Hall’s assertion of diasporic identity, Homi Bhabha’s theory of cultural translation as well as John Lechet and Gill Bottomley’s concept of “cultural interweaving” will be applied to explore the identity-making process of immigrant groups in Lahiri’s novel. The main focus is on the way Ganguli family—the first and second generation immigrants in the U.S.— retranslates their diasporic identities through names (naming and re-naming), “homing desire,” foods and festivals. Rather than presenting an exotic commodification of Indianness, my study argues that Lahiri’s text offers an intricate interpretation/translation of South Asian immigrant cultures. Through Gogol’s straddling between Indian heritages and American cultures, Ashima’s nostalgia for her cultural roots, and Moushumi’s global hybridization, Lahiri brings to the forefront the “translatability” as well as “untranslatability” of cultures facing the immigrant group, which requires an ongoing struggle, negotiation and understanding in the context of South Asian diaspora.
Divinity on the Implacable and Immemorial Earth: Dialectics of Pregnancy in Light in August
Author : Chung-jen Chen
Keywords : Faulkner, Light in August, Bakhtin, grotesque, the Bible, dialectics, pregnancy
William Faulkner claimed that his admiration for women activated his writing. In Light in August, this point is even more evident. More specifically, pregnant women and Milly Hines and the fraught pregnancy of Joanna Burden not only motivates the narration but provides depth to this book. As the representation of pregnancy encompasses complex spiritual and socio-cultural dimensions, pregnancy in Light in August is never an unmarked feature. Thus, it is the purpose of this paper to discuss the spiritual and sociocultural significance of pregnancy in this book. By applying Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of the grotesque body, this paper attempts to explore the significance of the pregnant body. In addition, by examining the biblical allusion, bringing in the dialectics of divinity and secularity in the cultural significance of pregnancy, this paper analyzes the ambivalence and dialectics in the lower and upper stratum of the human body. Moreover, by discussing the individual significance of pregnancy in Lena Grove, Joanna Burden, and Milly Hines in counterpoint to each other, this paper tries to relocate the significance of pregnancy and reveal the depth of pregnancy in the readings of Light in August.
Making Waves and Breathing Fire: An Interview with Elaine Kim
Author : Te-Hsing Shan
Keywords : Elaine Kim, Asian American Studies, Asian American Literature, cultural nationalism, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Korean Americans
This interview explores various aspects of Elaine Kim, a third-generation Korean American scholar and one of the pioneers in Asian American literary and cultural studies. The issues covered include her family and educational background, the writing and publication of her groundbreaking Asian American Literature: An Introduction to the Writings and Their Social Context, the campus and racial politics, her critical intervention into Asian American Studies, the visual and social/sociological turns in her intellectual trajectory, the relationship between feminism, racism, and (cultural) nationalism, the balance between the academy and the society, the interracial relationship between Asian Americans and African Americans, the transnational perspective on Asian American literature, and the role of a female Asian American intellectual.