Wednesday, March 15, 2006

rekindling the romance between me and my thesis

i just read this great essay called "Reading Asian American Poetry" by Juliana Chang. Her esssay really helped me think not only about poetry but all art forms created by marginalized people. this is just what i needed to read to get me through one or two more lesson plans. (hopefully i will read something equally wonderful on Saturday so I'll be able to finish by Monday.) Here are my notes on the reading for my lesson plan. there is a definite deconstruction of multiculturalism in this reading that i really appreciate. i want to read more about and from David Palumbo-Liu, who until today i don't think i've ever heard of.

Reading Asian American Poetry by Juliana Chang

-Audre Lorde argues that poetry is not a luxury. “Of all art forms, poetry is the most economical. It is the one which is the most secret, which requires the least physical labor, the least material, and the one which can be done between shifts, in the hospital pantry, on the subway, and on scraps of surplus paper.”

History of Asian American poetry
-Ethnic poetry in the 1960s and 1970s can be viewed as a “racial project” creating links between cultural representation, racial inequity, and racialized empowerment. The late 70s and 80s there was a shift from poetry to prose.

-Asian American poetry dates back to 1890s. Japanese folksong-derived plantations worksongs, Cantonese rhymes in Chinatown, poems carved into the walls of Angel Island.

-Despite the long history of Asian American poetry, it is marginalized by Asian American literary critics and mainstream critics.

How is Asian American poetry is received?
-Poems are considered lyric and private, not public or social even though in the 1960s and 1970s poetry was often oral and performative (public). Chang argues that poetry, not just the novel, can be read as dialogic and heteroglossic (Bhaktin & the novel as genre).

-Rendering poetry as private v. public gives the perception that poetry has less social relevance. The perceived private nature of poetry also makes it seem inaccessible or difficult to comprehend.

-When poetry is perceived as public:
-Artists must deal with the “burden of representation” and the gaze of a white audience.
-Runs the risk of being co-opted by “liberal multiculturalism”. David Palumbo-Liu says that liberal multiculturalism is a “mode of managing a crisis of race, ethnicity, gender, and labor in the First World and its relations with the Third.” Ethnic texts become stand-ins/ proxies for people of color.
-Palumbo-Liu says a critical multiculturalist practice would examine the “rough grains of political history” and its maintenance of inequity.
-Chang writes, “The reader attains the enlightenment of cross-cultural understanding, which s/he imagines as both enabled by and contributing to such a democratic pluralism. Potential social conflicts and tensions are presumably smoothed over in these literary encounters. “

-When poetry by people of color is accepted by mainstream society, then it is seen as a success for high culture. Standards for “good poetry” become universal. The accepted writer transcends race and color; the racial other has been civilized.

(How can Asian American poetry resist being appropriated by hegemonic narratives?)

-Depoliticized poetry is perceived as more authentic than prose. Mainstream readers witness a moment of “cultural authenticity.” Poems that may deal with claiming America are read as wanting to have membership of a white America/ dominant culture.

(How can Asian American writers/ people claim America in a counterhegemonic fashion? “How might we re-vision the United States in ways that interrupt the racist and imperialist ideologies of dominant ‘Americanism’?”)

What does this mean?
-Chang argues, “The project of reading Asian American poetry assumes the significance of ensuring that linguistic and cultural cracks and fissures do not get smoothed over in culturalist readings and containments of dissent.”

-Proposes reading poetry that highlights disruptions of meaning and space (Does this remind you of Bhabha?)


TR said...

For someone who is behind on her work, you're posting a lot of blogs!

Bryan Thao Worra said...

You may be interested in checking out "The Ethics and Poetics of Alterity in Asian American Poetry" by Xiaojing Zhou from the University of Iowa Press that's coming out this year.

The introduction / blurb, at the very least, makes some intriguing suggestions, although I personally find that these sorts of analysis really is like a kick in the knees to Asian American poetry.

There's actually a significant degree of variation within Asian American poetry, which is currently the form of choice for many Southeast Asian Americans to document their histories.

Histories otherwise dismissed within contemporary textbooks.

For the Southeast Asian American poets in the Midwest, there are few who don't engage in both the printing and the performance of their work.

Our experience has been by and large that poetry is in fact extremely relevant to socio-political activism, and we're quite successful in drawing predominantly Asian American audiences (crowds of 50 to 100 not being uncommon in MN, for example) to our events.

There are many Southeast Asian American poets who place greater value on appreciation by Asian American community members than receiving validation from those who are functionally representative of previous colonial powers who placed their communities into particular social distresses.

I'll just ask: If we don't question the existence of Russian literature, Spanish literature or German literature, why do some challenge the existence of Asian American literature?

Some elements of Southeast Asian American poetics are currently examining the process by which history and language is integrated into the American culture.

I.E. Why do we choose words like wasabi and sushi but balk at Wat or Sabaidee? Why do we have to place our words in italics, as if to reinforce their status as "The Other" ? If we don't do it for caucus or rendezvous, why should we do it for khop jai or jaew?

At the moment, refreshingly, Southeast Asian American poetics isn't dominated by the college educated or the former elites among the varied refugee communities, but is rather evenly distributed across a wide variety of social strata.

Asian American Poetry is a vibrant, lively form. Students should have fun with it- it's not the bore that it has become in more mainstream circles.

But again, good luck with the lesson plans! Hope you find something interesting by the end of Saturday!