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To Report a Crime:
The Woman Warrior as a Live/Life Testimony

Shu-ching Chen

 

1.      One of the important features of ethnic literature lies in the writers' specific responsibility toward their ethnic communities. Among other things, the historical oppression and silencing by racial and institutional hegemony constitute an important part of the collective memory of the ethnic community. The silence of their history, or the history of their silence, often functions as the clandestine drive that propels the writers' artistic articulation. Unlike writers of the dominant race who are able to bypass their racial status and claim their writing a representation of universal human condition, ethnic writers find their ethnicity an indelible factor of their artistic activity. Indeed it is as if ethnicity was an innate quality of their art. The term "ethnic literature" has circumscribed the activity of writing as an act that only gains its meaning within a social context. More than writers of other social orientation, ethnic writers are compelled, and often feel obligated to be the spokespersons of their communities. The issue seems to be whether there is only one way--one that is operating along the binary of loyalty and betrayal--to express one's ethnicity.

 

2.

     The specific relationship between ethnic writers and their communities gives rise to peculiar artistic criteria that places great emphasis on "cultural authenticity," "loyalty to the historical facts" and "positive representation of ethnic subjects." Such social factors and aesthetic expectation forge the ideological undercurrents in the famous controversy surrounding Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior (1976). When Kingston first published her book through Knopf Publishing House, it was labeled as nonfiction "autobiography." As it turned out, Kingston's narrative strategies in the book deviated, to a great extent, from the factual delineation and chronological order the autobiographical genre is supposed to follow. Indeed, with its mixture of facts and myths, fabrication of family legends and imaginary history, constant change of narrative voices and points of view, The Woman Warrior is a far cry from the established conventions of autobiography. Earlier Kingston detractors dismissed The Woman Warrior outright for its questionable autobiographical generic status, inaccurate representation of traditional Chinese culture, and its complicity with the publishing market to please white readership.{1} At the heart of such harsh denunciation lies the cultural anxiety typical to a minority community seeking recognition and understanding from the mainstream regime of representation. It seems to rightly assume the title of ethnic writer, one has no choice but to truthfully reflect the manner and life of ethnic community as it is. Ethnicity, as it is perceived in the specific socio-historical exigency, is deemed as a pre-given inheritance one is obligated to transcribe in one’s text.

 

3.

     The insiders' claim for authentic ethnicity is supported by a method of differentiation which Werner Sollors has termed "descent" relations--the process of ethnic differentiation in reference to heredity, kinship, community, and fixed tradition.{2} To "truthfully reflect" such an "authentic ethnic tradition" one would imagine realistic, mimetic autobiographical narrative would be expected by those who promote the idea of solidified ethnic community and tradition. Clearly Kingston's "ethnic autobiography" cannot satisfy that expectation. With the fragmentary narratives, multiple voices, and fictive rendering of Chinese cultural components, The Woman Warrior seems to fit better in Sollors's category of "consent" relations, which stresses the possibility of remaking one's ethnic identity through free choices. But if Kingston's text is part of the cultural expression which seeks to remake one's ethnic identity, whether it is done through free choices or deliberate manipulation, is still debatable. Kingston is sometimes regarded, with caution, as part of the postmodernist literary canon because of her narrative traits of pastiche, collage, multiple voices, and fragmentary narratives. Marilyn Yalom observes: "the disjunctive effect of The Woman Warrior is to my mind, less a result of Kingston's gender than of a postmodern aesthetics that foregrounds its stylistic devices and makes them an integral part of the work's contents."{3} Here the concern of the aesthetics overrides the concern of gender politics, i.e., form becomes the content in a way that rubs off all the identity anxiety as well as gender political concern. But given the desire of the narrative for a proper gender position shown throughout The Woman Warrior, one would question whether Kingston is indeed exhibiting a savvy, free manipulation of ethnic cultural components, which Vivian Sobchack marks as the trade mark of "postmodern modes of ethnicity": "We can put ourselves together in almost any fashion we like--and our self-consciousness about so inventing ourselves tends to be reflected in the fact that the fashion we like asserts this 'right of representation' through pastiche or parody."{4}

 

4.

     Previous critical attempts have been made by third world feminists to debunk the conventional understanding of the genre of autobiography and ethnicity held by Kingston detractors, while vindicating Kingston's text of in-betweenness. Sau-ling Cynthia Wong, for example, seeks to negotiate a space for the untruthfully represented "autobiography" by the gendered ethnic subject:

Some Chinese-American autobiographers have, indeed, sought distinction in their exotic descent, 'allowing the dominant group's perceptions to define their identity. However, it is important to recognize that Kingston has taken an altogether different path in The Woman Warrior. The protagonist has eschewed the facile authority which self-appointed as guide and spokesperson could confer on her. The discursive space occupied by The Woman Warrior is between the two poles of the 'double consciousness.... Neither American nor Chinese culture, as given, offers a resting place (1992, 266-67).

 

5.

     Although taking issue with the cultural nationalists who fault Kingston in the name of preserving the authentic ethnicity against the imperialist construction of Asian Americans, my study intends to read Kingston's ethnic autobiography not as a postmodernist text nor as a text that vindicates an extended definition of autobiography. For me ethnicity is experienced by Kingston's narrator as problematic because of her multiply inscribed subjectivity. Her "autobiography" is thus translated into a dramatized personal testimony to the coercion of various coded concepts of ethnicity--Orientalist exoticism, and nativist claim to origin--as well as the very medium that sustains the operation of coded concepts of ethnicity--language itself. In this process, the representation of ethnic discourses and ethnic cultural components become the site of repetitive inscription of crisis of language and hegemonic regime of representation on the narrator. In other words, what is exhibited ethnically is not ethnic cultural signifiers as such--oppressive familial sexism, bizarre cultural manners, primitive construction of China--but the traces and marks of the violence of the regime of representation that demands a coherent ethnic subjectivity. If Kingston's narrative is driven by a desire for a proper, "genuine" Asian American female identity, what emerges from such process of translation is not what is intended. Rather it is a legal, linguistic gendered subject that surfaces from the textual translation. In what follows I will discuss the ways Kingston reveals the process of formation of ethnicity and the problematics of the coded language and system of signification that serve as the material condition of the formation of ethnicity and ethnic subject.

 

6.

Disclosing the Formation of Ethnicity 
and Ethnic Subject

     The bizarre manners of life, outlandish food, ethnic expression, sexist familial practice, the exotic stories of Chinese women, historical heroines, ancestors, myths of sword woman—these are the narrative elements that constitute one's general impression of Kingston's ethnicity. But they are there not to be "the thing itself;" rather, they represent the operation of several sets of coded cultural signifiers on the narrator's self-representation. What is represented in this life-story, therefore, is the signifying process of ethnicity and its immediate impact upon the narrator.

 

7.

     Like the idea of nation, ethnicity as a collective identity index is often strategically mobilized and produced at the moment of social and political threats from outside the group. Thus, what comes to us as distinctive characteristics of an ethnic group is but the result of a struggle against the enemy from outside, often at the expense of the minority and the powerless inside the group. Kingston's text reveals the process of formation of ethnicity and traditional culture through a critical portrait of the narrator's mother Brave Orchid. For the narrator, her mother is the foremost source of ethnic culture, whose story-telling and manners of life provide an entry into her original culture. Apparently, Kingston portrays Brave Orchid as the mediator between Chinese culture and the narrator.

 

8.      Brave Orchid's story-telling, verbal sexism as well as her "bizarre" cultural practice can be seen as the repeated performance of what amounts to "ethnicity." Within Kingston's text she is the boundary marker who guards against the invasion of white culture by insisting upon and magnifying Chinese manners and habits of life. Her stories of Chinese women in Mainland China constitute an ethnic female tradition--a legacy she intends to pass down to her daughter. Except for the opening story, the myths of Chinese women in her accounts often invoke women with power, courage, skills and wit that exceed the traditional expectation of femininity. While her habits of life are often characterized by ethnic idiosyncrasy, her tales of Chinese women are equally uncanny. Many of them deal with the supernatural power of women in overcoming the corrupted king, evil social forces, and ghosts. A good example of such tales is the story of the sitting ghost.

 

9.

     Brave Orchid's accounts of her encounter with the sitting ghost demonstrate an interesting encounter between modernity and primitivism. Historicized by the experience of Chinese male emigration to the Gold Mountains at the turn of the century, Brave Orchid's story of her life in China points to an entirely different experience from that of the No Name Woman's. Hers is far from a story of victimization. Using the money her husband sent home, Brave Orchid went to western midwife school and was trained to practice western medicine. Yet the accounts of her experience of modernization and liberation are embedded in and subsumed by a narrative of wonder, local superstition, and gothic mystery. The point of her story is not her deviation from the traditional and the superstitious through westernization. Rather, the knowledge of modern medicine and the training to think in a rational and scientific manner contribute to reinforcing her primitive power of exorcism. Brave Orchid is able to overpower the sitting ghost because she believes ghosts are another species, not the continuation of dead people. In that sense, ghosts are not frightening, mysterious apparition, but simply the others, different, but still comprehensible within human logic. An evidence of this is Brave Orchid’s ability to name and categorize the ghosts, which means to insert the ghosts into a cultural discourse that provides a space for them, and a way to cope with them. With this, Brave Orchid is invincible in the village haunted by the belief of ghosts. As the title of the section "Shaman" suggests, Brave Orchid gets the medical degree, which qualifies her not only as a peasant doctor but also as the medium between human and the subhuman of various kinds. Consequently, Brave Orchid’s experience of westernization in the local context becomes an occasion of social ascendancy and, paradoxically, reaffirmation of peasant belief system. The story of ghost busting thus implies a myth of overcoming westernization, of meeting the West head-on yet dissolving its impact on the local culture. The ghosts that are busted are ultimately the Ghosts of the West. The liberated woman functions, in this process, as the agent of the local culture, and the medium between Chinese human and Western ghosts.

 

10.

     In the context of Chinatown life experience, Brave Orchid's autoethnographical account can be seen as an act of boundary marking. The production of the image of a brave woman serving as the keeper of tradition is part of the strategy of claiming a home in a strange land. Under the threat of the dominant culture of the "white ghosts," the transmission of memories as such asserts the supremacy of one's cultural origin, thus legitimating its continuation. Yet along with this articulation, Brave Orchid also installs a gender politics that subsume women under the perennial reign of tradition and ethnicity. While vindicating a powerful image of Chinese women, this gender regulation ensures the subservient position of women in relation to family, tradition, and patriarchy. In effect, one might say that ethnicity as is implied in Brave Orchid's account is consolidated at the expense of women. The story of the No Name Woman serves exactly for the purpose of passing down such encoded self-regulation for gendered subjects. And the continuation and reproduction of such gender politics constitute the border policing that gives rise to the content of "ethnicity."

 

11.      As an effect of cultural articulation, Chinese ethnicity does not make a total claim to the narrator-protagonist. As much as she is inscribed by her mother's stories, her outlook is also shaped by the prevalence of Orientalist gaze on the East and white feminist politics of empowerment. Situated at the intersection between Orientalist discourse, white feminist tenets and her mother's nativist narrative, Kingston's narrator-protagonist is plagued with triple visual defects. Ethnic reality as she sees it is already mediated by textuality formed in and through various fields of cultural ideologies. For the ethnic autobiographer, the transformation of life into text, therefore, is far from a matter of conscious verbal representation of a tangible real life experience. Rather it is a constant grappling with textualized factors and historicized fictions by a writing subject who is at once inside and outside the ethnic community, claiming no authority over the ethnic cultural materials she is dealing with.

 

12.      In this light, one can argue that what Kingston detractors considered a deliberate cultural exhibition to cater to the exotic taste of the white reader is actually a textual manifestation of the continual inscription of the crisis of language and discourse on the interstitial subject.{5} The former opinion implies a conscious manipulation and exploitation by a subject in full control of the cultural ethnic signifiers from a distance, the latter suggests a position of always already in the interstices of multiple forms of cultural domination. The shift from considering the writing subject as a conscious subject to the recognition that the writing subject is inextricably bound up by various cultural ideologies--therefore can not sustain an all-conscious writing subjectivity--generates an epistemological shift in terms of the nature of resistance and agency.

 

13.

     The ideas of "agency" and "resistance" have been taken as the invariable telos of contemporary cultural studies. They serve as the major concern of the study of minority discourses and feminist cultural politics. Following the Enlightenment project of subject formation, Western feminist politics of empowerment often stresses the ability to articulate and name oneself as the ground on which one realizes one’s gendered (class, racial) human agency. Nancy Hartsock says:

We need to develop our understanding of difference by creating a situation in which hitherto marginalized groups can name themselves, speak for themselves, and participate in defining the terms of interaction, a situation in which we can construct an understanding of the world that is sensitive to difference.{6}

 

14.       Hartsock's project of empowerment thus entails the transformation of the silenced objects of history into the articulating subjects of history. Despite Hartsock's quarrel with the Enlightenment project which subjugates the Others to construct a sovereign male European subject, her endorsement of "naming" and "articulation" as the core of resistance and agency for the gendered, racial and class others leaves their epistemological grounding unquestioned. For one thing, the ability to name and speak for oneself involves an ego-cogito situated at a fixed social position with all-present consciousness. But do the minority possess the same consciousness and occupy similar subject positions? For the other, naming and speaking as a form of agency are already a bourgeois Enlightenment manner of self-expression, which can hardly be universalized as the route to agency for all. Also, do the subjugated others sustain an unambiguous relations with the language they are inscribed with and which they adopt in their articulation? How, then, does one conceptualize an alternative form of agency for the subject of interstices?

 

15.

Filling the Blank of Name

     On surface The Woman Warrior is about the narrator's search for Chinese American femininity through the imaginary memories she had for her Chinese female blood kin and ancestors. The gesture to go back to her original culture in order to claim her dislocated female identity constitutes a fundamental motif that links the five otherwise disconnected chapters together. But as I said before, the narrative drive toward claiming an Asian American gendered subjectivity ends up somewhere else. In her struggle for a "voice" by means of suturing herself into Chinese female lineage and retelling the myths, stories and historical accounts concerning Chinese women, Kingston's narrator-protagonist encounters not her female ancestors nor folk heroines nor herself, but the multiple cultural ideological mechanism that renders these figures slippery and inaccessible.

 

16.      The retelling of the story of "No Name Woman" marks the narrator's first attempt to "articulate" on her own terms. Brave Orchid told the story of "No Name Woman" to warn the narrator against sexual misdemeanor. A woman—the narrator's paternal aunt--was left behind by her husband who went away to the "Gold Mountain" and was not heard for many years. During the long absence of her husband, the woman got pregnant and seriously violated the patriarchal moral codes that govern the lives of the villagers. As a way to purge the evil, the villagers raided the woman's house on the night the baby was to be born. They wrecked up the house and chastised the woman in front of the people. The next morning, the woman and the baby's bodies were found plugging the family well. Brave Orchid's story is sealed with a warning—a moral in disguise: "Don't let your father know that I told you. He denies her. Now that you have started to menstruate, what happened to her could happen to you. Don't humiliate us. You wouldn't like to be forgotten as if you had never been born. The villagers are watchful" (WW, 5).{7}

 

17.      On Brave Orchid's part, the story of No-Name woman is told not to reveal what is suppressed, but to perpetuate the secret, to continue to seal the name, to pass down a memory that means to erase memories. But the story does not work in ways it is originally intended. In the context of a dislocated cultural environment, the story loses its ideological stronghold. Instead of setting up an example to curb and police female desire and sexuality, it lures and seduces, inviting imaginary and emotional involvement. When transmitted to the narrator, the story haunts the narrator like a ghost returning after years of repression, opening the floodgate of "memories."{8}

 

18.

     In retelling the story the narrator lays out layers of varieties of imagined episodes, seeking to tell the history of oriental female desire absent in the original story. As she meanders through the imaginative landscape, her aunt's sexual history is painted not just once but many times, each version more daring and graphic than the previous one. At the very beginning, she sticks with her Chinatown bias of Chinese culture and muses: "My aunt could not have been the lone romantic who gave up everything for sex. Women in the old China did not choose" (WW, 7). The narrator then infuses interiority and capability of desire to her aunt: "But perhaps my aunt, my forerunner, caught in a slow life, let dreams grow and fade and after some months or years went toward what persisted. Fear at the enormities of the forbidden kept her desires delicate, wire and bone" (WW, 9). Then she goes to the extreme of her imagination: "It could very well have been, however, that my aunt did not take subtle enjoyment of her friend, but a wild woman, kept rollicking company" (WW, 9).

 

19.      The reader soon realizes the narrator's attempt to retrieve desire to her aunt is not a gesture of retrieving the origin. Instead, it is an act of constructing an image of the ancestor that works for her in her American life: "Unless I see her life branching into mine, she gives me no ancestral help" (WW, 10). The narrator idealizes the aunt as a defiant woman, violating every Chinese social demeanor the narrator detests in her American life. This reimagining project is prompted by her real life predicament in which she finds herself unable to formulate Asian American femininity for the lack of cultural model. The Chinese femininity as she sees it in Chinatown life is anything but feminine. Men and women efface their sexual color; her mother screams in a public library or over the telephone. To create femininity which is different from Chinese one, the narrator turns to American model: "Walking erect... and speaking in an inaudible voice, I have tired to turn myself American-feminine" (WW, 13). "If I made myself American-pretty so that the five or six Chinese boys in the class fell in love with me, everyone else--the Caucasian, Negro, and Japanese boys--would too" (WW, 14). Her aunt is portrayed as a rebellious woman with a clear sense of self: "my aunt used a secret voice, a separate attentiveness" (WW, 13). "The villagers punished her for acting as if she could have a private life, secret and apart from them" (WW, 14).

 

20.      "No Name Woman" demonstrates the narrator's search for a specific mode of desire and voice appropriate for Chinese American sensibility. The project starts with the defiance against Chinese sexual oppression, and is aiming towards a deviation from American mode of femininity. However, the narrator's invention of an Asian American femininity through the retelling of her aunt's love life is inevitably contingent upon a white bourgeois feminist politics of identity that stresses individuality and a feminist politics of desire that foregrounds sexual autonomy. In other words, the viewing position she is situated in is already a shifting ground, where although her visions are constituted by two cultures, the structure of that very visibility is governed by imperialist cultural coding. The narrator is thus caught in the deadlock of transcultural vision. Between joining up the family punishment of silence and telling on her aunt in terms of white feminist politics of empowerment, is there an alternative channel of articulation for the narrator? Between stigmatizing her aunt as a shame of the family and sanctifying her for her boldness in sex and love, is there other way to explore her aunt's gendered subjectivity?

 

21.      If the young narrator is drawn to explore the content of her aunt's sexuality to challenge her family's deliberate forgetting and erasure, she does so by retroactively giving her aunt what she (the narrator) desires. This is an act not so dissimilar to some new historical attempt in postcoloniality to retrieve the voice, desire and subjectivity of the natives. Such a gesture has been proved to be illusory through the scrutiny of many cultural critics.{9} The act of resurrecting what is lost in history cannot help but become an act of inserting what is desired--a sort of white bourgeois subjectivity--by the postcolonial critics who still cling on the idea of origin and authentic culture. Likewise, the narrator's blank-filling (of memories, sexuality, subjectivity, etc) is obviously a form of ventriloquism. That is, the narrator is putting words in her aunt's mouth.

 

22.

     Kingston's multiply fragmentary narrative voices disrupt a continuing operation of rationalist, cohesive blank-filling. The blank-filling is taken to task by a questioning voice emerging at the end of the chapter. The voice confesses her participation in the collective punishment of silence and announces her new decision to break the silence:

"My aunt haunts me--her ghost drawn to me because now, after fifty years of neglect, I alone devote pages of paper to her, though not origamied into houses and clothes. I do not think she always means me well. I am telling on her, and she was a spite suicide, drowning herself in the drinking water" (WW, 19).

But despite her gesture of paper-feeding, her aunt remains a spiteful, hungry, drowned ghosts. Using the metaphors of food and eating, the questioning narrative voice expresses her plight of representation as follows:

Always hungry, always needing, she would have to beg food from other ghosts, snatch and steal it from those whose living descendants give them gifts... My aunt remains forever hungry, Goods are not distributed evenly among the dead (WW, 18-19).

Despite the words and report she made about her aunt, the latter remains forever hungry. Although she is telling on her aunt, the blank persists. The effort to obtain a resisting voice comes to nothing because the cultural mechanism that sustains the voice is itself problematic. The crisis the narrator faces is not a crisis of proper gendered subjectivity, but the crisis that is implied when one acquires a voice contingent upon an Enlightenment concept of subject. Kingston's narrative brings Hartsock's arguments into crisis.

 

23.

To Talk or Not to Talk

     For Kingston, both voice and silence are strategies of survivals. Yet, as such, they are equally problematic when being singularly deployed or fetishized as the vessel of agency. The necessity to have a voice on the part of the narrator is the end result of a historical contingency in which not to talk, not to have a voice, is the way to survive. The politics of not-talking, often adopted by first generation immigrants living in the fear of deportment, guarantees invisibility and stealthy permanent residency. "There were secrets never to be said in front of the ghosts, immigration secrets whose telling could get us sent back to China" (WW, 213). Such silence extends to the realm of cultural practices, which are often done without proper explanation. On the other hand, silence could also be the space of insanity occupied by those who are outside the subject position of any forms of knowledge. In Kingston's text, this position is taken up by displaced Chinese women failed to adapt to the New World. "I thought talking and not talking made the difference between sanity and insanity. Insane people were the one who couldn't explain themselves. There were many crazy girls and women... Within a few blocks of our house were half a dozen crazy women and girls, all belonging to village families" (WW, 216).

 

24.

     The need to have a voice is therefore contingent upon racist history of American immigrant politics that excluded Chinese immigrants from citizenship.{10} The crisis of silence in Chinatown community life necessitates a reconstruction of voice in public. It is especially important for a vulnerable young child striving to establish an identity at school. And the only voice she can imitate from, of course, is an American one. The narrator is embedded in the social ideological Symbolic in which a voice--often an American one--points directly to a solid American subject position. To suppress her Chinese voice so that the American one can emerge, the narrator and her sister "whispered even more softly than the Americans" (WW, 200). As I have shown above, the ideological pressure to posit a voice in a vacant subject often gives rise to epistemological violence. This motif is dramatized in another episode in which the necessity to have a voice leads to, not epistemological violence, but real, physical violence and the violence of language. In the Chinese school, the narrator bullies the other Chinese girl "who could not speak up even in Chinese school" (WW, 200) to talk. What is interesting in this scene is, along with the various physical tortures she inflicts upon the girl, the narrator pours out with words and threats to coerce the girl into a speaking position. The mixture of threats, pleads, and plain verbal terrorism, however, fails to induce any word from the girl's mouth. If having an American-speaking personality is vital to communication and making oneself understood, thus recognized and valorized as a subject, this speaking personality is obviously encountering its epistemological limit. The Chinese girl's silence and her refusal to articulate an "Americanized"voice after hours of "language treatment" by the narrator, poses as a direct challenge to the belief on which the narrator's search for an American identity builds. Furthermore, the narrator's act reproduces the kind of coercion implied in dominant language which demands the others to speak the Master's language.

 

25.      The result of the quest for a voice grounded in dominant cultural logic of agency is prolonged illness. "I spent the next eighteen months sick in bed with a mysterious illness. There was no pain and no symptoms, though the middle of my left palm broke in two... It was the best year and a half of my life. Nothing happened" (WW, 211-212). Through the illness, the narrator's body "speaks" and "not speaks" in the interstices of voice and silence. It carries a sort of agency as yet unknown to the narrator. What the body says and does not says exposes the insufficiency of the form of knowledge that sustains the binary of voice and silence, and its ideological implication. Kingston's body text, which locates in the cracks and interstices of the conscious narration of the young narrator, delineates the sudden opening of an unconscious in-between textual ground.{11} It disturbs and reveals the interior ambiguity of voice agency that appears as the driving force for the narration of "A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe." More importantly, it designates a particular survival strategy that oscillates between the Master discourse and the ethnic gendered discourse. What it amounts to, at the end, is a different "form" of knowledge, one which has No Name and cannot be named.

 

26.

The Ethnic Artistic Self and Language 

     The problematic of having a voice resides in the very fact that the voice acquired is always already laden with tracks of hegemonic system of representation. Language, too, is an ambiguous vessel of self-representation for ethnic writers. As the artistic self emerges in the process of Kingston's account through imaginary reconstruction of ethnic female tradition, she is also brought to face the dilemma of language. The problematic relation between the ethnic artist and language is, however, quite unlike that of the postmodernist literary convention.

 

27.      Postmodernist literary representation of the crisis of historicity often stresses the inevitability of the intervention of language in producing "history."{12} The crisis of historicity, however, does not always lead to anxiety for history. Quite the contrary, postmodern novels often indulge in the play of words and the plasticity of history to the extent that the activity of writing and the endless regression of language becomes the main concern of the texts. In other words, postmodernist literary indulgence in language games is engaged under the tacit acceptance of the impossibility of reality, history and meaning. The epistemology on which the new literary practice is grounded is performed quite without anxiety or sense of alienation.{13} The liberation from anxiety and the disappearance of the individual subject entail a specific formal consequence that is characterized by the increasing unavailability of the personal style and the practice of pastiche. In Jameson's terms, "[p]astiche is like parody, the imitation of a peculiar or unique, idiosyncratic style, the wearing of a linguistic mask, speech in a dead language. But it is a neutral practice of such mimicry, without any of parody's ulterior motives" (17, Italics mine).

 

28.      Given the textual display of exuberant Chinese cultural components, Kingston's representation of her life as embedded in ethnic history and female tradition might resemble postmodernist pastiche. Yet if postmodernist pastiche is neutral in its political motive and free from anxiety, Kingston's is driven by a desire for history, lineage and tradition. But the anxiety for history is first experienced as an anxiety for the representations of ethnicity. This anxiety of representation/history is mediated through the narrator's reimagining of the woman warrior--that central figure on whom the narrator's search for Asian American femininity is hinged.

 

29.

     As the title figure of the text, the woman warrior receives multiple signifying investments by the author. She is the site where femininity is reimagined, and where history is captured in retrospect in order to progressively construct a new lineage; she is also the place where exotic ethnic cultural signifiers seem to get blatantly displayed. Yet most important of all, she designates a site of war on the level of the signification of ethnicity for the displaced ethnic woman.

 

30.      The woman warrior is a composite figure whose primary characterization is based upon a historical figure--Fa Mu Lan, the legendary heroine who went to war in place of her aging father upon the call of the king. But to this legendary event, Kingston adds fragments of the stories of other Chinese folk hero and prototype ancient Chinese heroines. For example, in Kingston's imagination, the image of Fa Mu Lan--the woman warrior--is conflated with the swordswoman. While the former is a historical figure, the latter is a prototype female martial art fighter easily to be found in various forms of popular culture like martial art novels and martial art movies. On the other hand, the episode of word-carving on the back is an appropriation of the famous story of Yu Fai, a folk hero widely known for his loyalty to the court at the reluctant expense of filial piety.

 

31.      The specific cultural significance behind the adoption of the legend of the woman warrior necessitates two sets of reading. First, in line with a feminist critical tradition, I will argue that Kingston has reinvented a threadbare cultural figure as a locus to begin to fabricate a cross-culture, cross-generation female lineage. But almost immediately Kingston problematizes such a myth by means of juxtaposing American reality and contemporary Chinese history with it. At times, what she seems to foreground is no longer the image of a powerful woman but the plight and dilemma of diaspora cultural writing. I will start by giving a feminist cultural reading on the myth of the woman warrior.

 

32.

     In their original cultural representations, the significance of the stories of Yu Fai, Fa Mu Lan, and even the martial art swordswoman, lies mainly in their promotion of traditional virtues like filial piety and loyalty to the country/king through war, fighting and revenge. In constructing a myth of female tradition, Kingston brings the stories of Fa Mu Lan and Yu Fai out of their hierarchical as well as patriarchal network of signification. The emphasis of the story of the woman warrior falls on her individual valor and female power in rebellion against the given political system. Moreover, Kingston embedded the action of the swordwoman/woman warrior in an ahistorical narrative of martial art fairies-encounters and a fabricated peasant revolt. Thus Kingston creates a myth of female ancestor, while instilling in this myth a modernist concern of the revolt of the down-trodden. Kingston's myth is, therefore, not a self-enclosed system of signification. Rather, it is greatly intertwined with and modified by the concern of the present. For one thing, the configuration of this composite ancestor is operated through a process of suture in which the narrator stitches herself into the imaginary narrative. Conflating the woman warrior with herself, the narrator strives to consolidate what was formerly floating and shifting, and grasp the clear contour of a powerful female Chinese American subject. In this sense, the swordswoman is but a stand-in, a contingent fixture of the forever sliding chain of signifiers in the realm of Western Symbolic. As much as it is a figuration of what is formerly ethereal, it serves to counter the stereotypical sexist and racist image of the Oriental female. Furthermore, it offers a nodal point from which all other women figures in the novel can be seen and quilted into a network of genealogy. Her valor and courage immediately reminds us of Brave Orchid; the stress on her sexuality, pregnancy and motherhood despite her gender transgression as a warrior points to a quasi-androgynous sexual identity which the narrator takes as a telos in her reconstruction of Chinese American femininity. In short, the woman warrior as a fantastic construction functions to suture the generation gap among the immigrants, the ruptures between the original culture and the adopted one, and fill in the void of ideological proper in the American public sphere.

 

33.

     But as Kingston pushes to confront Chinatown sexism and white racism with the image of an empowered woman warrior, and whereby to assert an Asian American gender position, she cannot help but resort to another cultural discourse that is equally problematic as native sexism and white racism. Even though Kingston's feminist myth is constructed through the demolition of feudalism and patriarchy, it is, however, greatly bound up with an imperialist system of representation. For the imagined source that empowers this woman comes from an Orientalist symbolic order. To be more specific, the discourse that translates the woman warrior into a feminist figure is hinged upon a system of signification that reads China as a land rife with fairies and supernatural force, where martial art is still the key for revenge and justice. For example, the reason that the woman warrior is able to assume the role as a warrior lies in a mysterious calling through the advent of a bird. Led by the bird, the woman warrior enters the realm of the fairies and encounters an old couple with supreme martial art feat, wisdom and mysterious power. In this wonderland, time is felt differently from that of the ordinary world, a rabbit jumps into the fire to serve as food in times of hunger. The narrative structure of the encounter with the fairies follows a familiar Chinese martial art fiction convention that often involves the intervention of mysterious martial art masters in reinforcing the power of the heroes. As a cultural adoption, such borrowing has nothing wrong by itself. What is troubling in the narrator's fantasy is that it is fabricated through a coded cultural discourse that reads the supernatural, the fairy land and the stunning Kung-fu as the trope for China and "Chineseness." The narrator, for example, shows how her fantasy is formed through watching movies of the swordswoman in Confucian church. Thus, the narrator's fascination with the warrior woman is inextricably entangled with a fascination with a China which is primitive, mythical and beyond (western) time. Such representation demonstrates a sort of ethnographical primitivism that stripes China of its history and turns it into a primitive "other," qualitatively different from the West. Furthermore, the fascination with a martial art China coincides with an Orientalist imagination promoted by banal, yet influential Hollywood mode of representation.

 

34.

     If Kingston is seen as catering to the exotic taste of the mainstream readers, it is because the content of the process of signification of ethnicity is taken literally. In other words, the floating cultural signifiers that are in the process of freezing into signifieds and cultural ideology--China as mythical fairy land, the confusion of historical figures and legendary heroines--are seen as a realistic "reflection" of Kingston's cultural ideology. In the mean time, the process of the chain of signification of ethnicity is totally neglected. Asian American feminist critic Elaine Kim rightly points out that the confusion between truth and facts constitutes the main concern of the narrative of The Woman Warrior:

The Woman Warrior is about women, but it is primarily about the Chinese American's attempt to sort fact from fantasy in order to come to terms with the paradoxes that shape her life as a member of a racial minority group in America.... The narrator of The Woman Warrior "sees double" almost all the time: she has two vantage points, and the images are blurred. Continually confronted with dualities, contradictions, and paradoxes, she struggles to discern "what is real" from what is illusory by asking questions, trying to name the unnamed, and "speaking the unspeakable" (1982, 199).

If the central concern of The Woman Warrior is about the narrator's attempt to name the unnamed and speak the unspeakable, this concern is elaborated and dramatized through a narrative structure that foregrounds the very cultural ideological operation that is always implicated in the process of naming and speaking. The unnamed cannot be named without being immediately misnamed, and the unspeakable cannot be spoken without being distorted because once we start to name what was unnamed and speak what was unsaid, we simultaneously impose on it a kind of logic of signification that was not there originally. The point of such narrative thus, is not about coming to terms with this confusion or negotiating a reality in between fact and fiction; rather, it is about bringing to light and making bare what was transparent and invisible before, i.e., the persisting implication of ideological signification in the process of representation. In the wake of a long history of self-exoticism shown in the works of many earlier Asian American writers, Kingston's ethnic exhibitionism can be seen as a meta-narrative of that history. But it is a meta-narrative not expressed in the form of universal abstraction, rather in the most specific form of self-representation, which reads such process of ideological signification as an indelible violence of epistemology of speaking.

 

35.      Asian American feminist critics usually resort to a double voice narrative structure to address the issue of the confusion between facts and fantasy, with one mature voice framing the other younger and dumbfounded voice, and correcting the latter's mistakes and misconceptions.{14} To read the narrative structure this way inevitably directs the effort of criticism in the direction of what is original, authentic, and outside ideology. I would suggest reading the text not told by two voices, but by a serious of conflicting and fragmentary voices, embodied by a fractured, fragmented subject whose knowledge, desire, and un/consciousness are caught in the process of cultural ideological signification.

 

36.

     Kingston frames the narrator's retelling of the myth of the woman warrior with a few questioning voices that articulate American reality and the historical happenings on Mainland China in the 60's. The ironic effect produced from this juxtaposition undercuts the mesmerizing power that contributes to the pleasure of reading the myth. As the narrator strives to follow swordswoman in taking revenge for her family, the confused, questioning voices emerges. The first voice tries to justify the fact that she is no Woman Warrior at all despite her imagination:

I mustn't feel bad that I haven't done as well as the swordswoman did; after all, no bird called me, no wise old people tutored me. I have no magic beads, no water gourd sight, no rabbit that will jump in the fire when I'm hungry. I dislike armies (WW, 58).

The second voice articulates confusion and doubts about the effect of martial art and local belief system as a valid methods of empowerment:

...Fights are confusing as to who has won....  I've also looked for old people who could be my gurus....  I could become a medium myself. I don't want to be a medium.... And martial arts are for unsure little boys kicking away under fluorescent lights (WW, 58-62).

The reflections made by the questioning and obfuscated voices disturb readers’ pleasure of immersing in an ahistorical myth, bringing them back to the secular temporality of American reality.

 

37.      The narrator's sense of reality is rendered even more fractured when the narrator's family received letters from their relatives caught in the swirl wind of Chinese Cultural Revolution. In the narrator's imagined China ruled by the will of the female avenger, the tyrant is beheaded to be replaced by a peasant king; the corrupted baron slain to pay for their own evil doings. But in the reality of Chinese modernity of which the communist Cultural Revolution is a symptom, punishment does not always befall the corrupted ruler and the evil aristocrats. Instead, it is often the poor and the innocent who are suffering from unjust punishment. Upon hearing the death of an uncle killed by the communists because he tries to catch a bird selfishly for his own family, the narrative voice ponders: "It is confusing that my family was not the poor to be championed. They were executed like the barons in the stories, when they were not barons. It is confusing that birds tricked us" (WW, 61). Through these juxtapositions, Kingston foregrounds the narrator's fascination as another issue to be investigated. Clearly, what sustains the narrator's fantasy is a hybrid cultural ideology consisting of Orientalist fantasy, American leftist utopianism and bourgeois feminism. All contribute to the skewed vision the narrator adopts in perceiving China and fabricating her ethnic genealogy. What is highlighted, through Kingston's complex cultural rewriting of the woman warrior, is therefore the operation of multiple hegemonic systems of representation that inscribe on the narrator's self-representation. The "autobiography" thus is translated into a live report in which life and text, crime and reportage take place at the same time.

 

38.

To Report a Crime 

     The intervention of the wavering, questioning narrative voices function to make visible the ideological structure of the young narrator's fantastic construction of China. The juxtaposition highlights, indeed bracket, such ideological construction as a reflection of the plight of long-distanced loyalty to one's original culture. Namely, instead of showing the reader the mistakes of the narrator, Kingston's narrative arrangements constitute a display of the tenacity of the hegemonic symbolic order. In this sense, the process of ideological construction on the part of the narrator becomes the quoted evidence for the violence of cultural imperialism. This understanding provides a new angle for us to tackle the issue of revenge, which seems to be the clandestine motif structuring the fragmented and highly diversified plot of the chapter "White Tigers."

 

39.      The narrator's obsession with the woman warrior is but a manifestation of her obsession with the idea of revenge. As a fantastic stand-in, the warrior woman fulfilled the narrator's secret desire to punish those who have unjustly treated her family on both sides of the Pacific. Yet, as the inquisitive narrative voice displays, revenges by force and physical power are also delusive, because even that level of revenge is caught up in Orientalist symbolic order in which martial art is allotted to be the trope for "China." The concept of revenge, thus, has to be reformulated. How does one take revenge without force and action? Kingston's answer is, by words.

 

40.

     At the end of the second chapter, the questioning narrative voice posits a new formula of revenge:

The swordswoman and I are not so dissimilar. May my people understand the resemblance soon so that I can return to them. What we have in common are the words at our backs. The idioms for revenge are 'report a crime' and 'report to five families.'  The reporting is the vengeance--not the beheading, not the cutting, but the words. And I have so many words--'chink' words and 'gook' words too--that they do not fit my skin (WW, 62-63).

In Chinese discursive context, the two Chinese characters denoting "revenge"--"pau-chau"--do not contain the meaning of report. The meaning of "pau" is circumstantially decided. That is, when it is linked up with "chau" (hatred), it denotes "to return" and "to fight back." Only when "pau" is linked up with the character "gau" (tell), it signifies the idea "report." Intentionally or not, the misreading and mistranslation of the term "pau-chau" on the part of the narrator sheds a new light on the concept of revenge. To revenge for Kingston means to articulate, to use the words that come with her birth, and to make a report for something previously silenced and suppressed. The silence and suppression are what amount to a crime. To report a crime means to report and reveal the history of the silence of the minority group. We have seen such narrative intention in chapter 1 where the narrator dedicated pages and pages of accounts to "tell[ing] on" her aunt and break the punishment of silence her family have imposed on her aunt. But while she realizes her attempt to speak "for" her aunt is futile, on the later occasion she realizes even the very words she uses are problematic. They are "chink words" and "gook words,"--words which are already mixed with and infiltrated by the hegemonic logic of representation. The inevitability of the enemy's symbolic order, thus, becomes the determined condition of the logic of revenge. This leads to a second meaning of revenge. To revenge means not just to break the silence, but to turn the experience of breaking silence into a testimony to the inevitability of the (violence of) language.

 

41.

     The insertion of a series of hesitating, contradictory, disappointed narrative voices right after the retelling of the story of the woman warrior undercuts the effect of a glorious putative Chinese female history. Those are voices suffering from incongruity between fantasy and reality. "My American life has been such a disappointment" (WW, 54). "There is a Chinese word for the female--which is 'slave.' Break the women with their own tongues" (WW, 56). "I've looked for the bird. I've seen clouds make pointed angel wings that stream past the sunset, but they shred into clouds" (WW, 59). The total effect of such braiding of voices puts the act of re-memory into bracket whereby questioning the validity of the language she uses and turning such event into an evidence of a testimony. The speaking subject--the narrator with various floating speaking positions and a few broken, fragmentary narrative voices, thus, cannot be perceived as a mere linguistic construct shaped by language and dominant system of representations. Rather, she is moving in and out of language, weaving her stories with it while questioning it, if unconsciously, at the same time. The struggle with language becomes a living experience, and a crime to be revenged. In other words, the report of the "crime" becomes a "crime," and an evidence. The reporter is at once the perpetrator, the witness and the victim of the crime. Here, the speaking subject is intersected by text and reality. The act of self-representation is overlapped, indeed inextricably bound up with real life struggle with language one cannot do with nor do without.

 

42.      The awareness of language as both a passage to and the very obstacle of her claim to ethnic history produces anxiety absent in most of postmodernist texts. It is at this point that Kingston is able to break the incessant textualization of personal life and history and turn this very linguistic event into a living experience. From the intersection of language and experience derives the specific ethnic literary representation of life and history. Kingston's narrator recreates the ethnic past largely unknown to her through her imagination and the use of dominant systems of representation. Yet the narrative also calls attention to the interior contradiction of such indulgence in forms of knowledge that both construct and deconstruct one's cultural memories.

 

43.

     We can now reflect upon the routes of translation that have been taken in the text of The Woman Warrior. It starts out as an autobiographical account by an Asian American woman seeking to translate Chinese cultural discourses concerning women and render them an entry into a new lineage of Asian American female historiography. Yet this level of cultural translation is laden with ideological imagination and exotic fantasy. In other words, in the wake of the narrator's translation that purports to translate the original into the translated--i.e., from Chinese to English, and from Chinese women into prototype Asian American women--what remains unrecognized and unrepresented by the conscious act of the narrator is the very act of translation itself. This unrecognized stage of translation is the process of signification the narrator's agency of translation and transformation is constructed. What makes Kingston's text an effective translation resides in the narrative strategies with which she stages the act of translation as an event itself, and bring our critical attention to it. She does this by the use of multiple points of view and inserting fragmentary, contradicting, questioning voices that surround and frame the major translation scenario and render it visible and problematic. What emerges from this specific narrative interruption is an act of bracketing that functions to point to the very operation of signification itself as the site of the production of subject and agency. Namely, what matters is not what is translated into what, but how it is translated, and what sort of subject is constructed through this process of translation. The voice that reports the crime is therefore not the voice of the subject after the translation, i.e., it is not the voice of the utopian proper Asian American woman, but the voice of a subject trapped in and constructed by the process of translation, which is also a process of signification of ethnicity. What appears is a legal, linguistic subject constructed by the process of signification in multiple hegemonic regimes of representation whose articulation is at once the crime, the evidence and the testimony to the violence of signification that produces ideological construction of ethnicity and Asian American gendered subject.

 

44.

Conclusion

     Near the end of The Woman Warrior, Kingston invokes yet another cultural heroine--the woman artist Ts'ai Yen--to replace the swordswoman as the dominant figure for her reconfiguration of Chinese American gender identity. As Kingston's final episode in "A Song for the Barbarian Reed Pipe" hints, the major function of art is the survival from disaster: "our family was immune to harm as long as they went to plays." Ts'ai Yen's story extends the significance of art as a survival strategy from the level of life to that of discourse. A well-educated daughter of Ts'ai Yun, the famous Han Chinese scholar, Ts'ai Yen was captured and made into the wife of a chieftain of a Southern Hsiung-nu during a raid. To express her anger and sadness, Ts'ai Yen sang along the tunes of the Barbarian Reed pipe--which could also be made into deadly, whistling arrows in combats against Chinese--in Chinese. After she was ransomed, Ts'ai Yen brought her songs back, and one of the three songs was passed down to the offspring as "Eighteen Stanzas for a Barbarian Reed Pipe," a song that Chinese sing to their own instruments.

 

45.      If "Eighteen Stanzas for a Barbarian Reed Pipe" is considered part of the Chinese cultural heritage, Kingston discloses the very foreignness of this tradition. At the heart of such ethnicity locate many layers of cultural translation, from the Barbarian's reed arrows to flute tunes to Ts'ai Yen's Chinese lyrics to Chinese instruments to a trope of Chinese cultural tradition and finally to Kingston's English as well as literary translation. The irony of the story brings to home the futility to cling on an essentialized notion of ethnicity. Since the very origin of "Eighteen Stanzas of the Barbarian Reed Pipe" is a deadly weapon the Barbarian used to kill Chinese, tradition becomes unthinkable and untraceable for an entirely different reason. Ts'ai Yen survives artistically by turning the enemy's music into her own songs, and by means of this translation inherits and extends the content of Chinese culture. But more importantly, Ts'ai Yen's story designates the dialectic relationship between a cross-cultural ethnic artist and the ethnicity she is working inside and against. While the ethnic writing subject is intersected, and rendered fragmentary by multiple cross-cultural narratives, she in turn, by turning these narratives into endless train of translation, inscribes upon the on-going articulation of ethnicity her gender, racial and cultural marks. And that is Kingston's cultural inheritance.

 

Notes

1. Earlier Kingston detractors included Jeffery Chan, Benjamin Tong, Katheryn Fong, whose sole concern with The Woman Warrior lies in Kingston's imaginative rendering of the genre of autobiography. To these ethnic cultural critics The Woman Warrior's label of "autobiography" implicates a truthful self-representation and tends to mislead the readers outside the ethnic group to read it as a guide to Asian American culture. Frank Chin, on the other hand, denounced Kingston for catering to white readership by falsifying Chinese myths and "cashing in" on a "feminist fad." See Frank Chin et al's "Introduction: Fifty Years of Our Whole Voice" to Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Asian-American Writers. (Washington DC: Howard University Press, 1974.) For feminist defense against Chin's attack see Elaine Kim's comments on Chin et al in "Chinatown Cowboy and Warrior Women: Searching for a New Self-Image," Asian American Literature: An Introduction to the Writings and Their Social Context, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1982), 173-213.

2. See Werner Sollors, Beyond Ethnicity: Consent and Descent in American Culture (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1986), 6.

3. See Marilyn Yalom, "The Woman Warrior as Postmodern Autobiography," Approaches to Teaching Kingston's The Woman Warrior, ed. Shirley Geok-lin Lim (New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1991), 108-15. 

4. Vivian Sobchack, "Postmodern Modes of Ethnicity," in Unspeakable Images, ed. Lester Friedman (Urbanan and Chicago: U of Illinois P, 1991, 329-52, 330; quoted in Elaine Chang, "Spaghetti Eastern: Mutating Mass Culture, Transforming Ethnicity," in Revisioning Italy: National Identity and Global Culture (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1997), 292-313, 295.

5. See Catheryn Fong, Benjamin Tong, and Jeffery Paul Chan.

6. Nancy Hartsock, "Foucault on Power: A Theory for Women?" Feminism/Postmodernism. Ed, and Intro. Linda J. Nicholson. (London and New York: Routledge, 1990), 157-75, 158.

7. Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of A Girlhood among Ghosts (New York: Vintage Books, 1977), 5. The page numbers of the subsequent citations from this text will be incorporated in the text.

8. The fascination with an old, mythic China is, in fact, what Kingston called "memories" in an interview entitled "Eccentric memories": "The artist's memory winnows out; it edits for what is important and significant. Memory, my own memory, shows me what is unforgettable, and helps me get to an essence that will not die, and that haunts me until I can put it into a form, which is the writing. I don't want to get confused by making new memories on top of the old ones which were already such a large vision--the mythic China. Going to China would have meant the creation of, and the beginning of, another memory." (Paula Rabinowitz 1987, 177-78) Differentiated from the kind of memories one bears from actual living impression, Kingston's memories of China are nothing but plain fantasy. What is interesting in this interview is, Kingston, fully aware that China as is represented according to her "memories" is not the China out there, refused to go to China while she was writing the book, less the new memories will confuse the old ones. It is clear to see that Kingston is fully aware the China she constructed had no pragmatic foundation and does not want it to be confused with the actual historical China. See Paula Rabinowitz, "Eccentric Memories," Michigan Quarterly Review 26 (1987):177-87.

9. See Gayatri Spivak's critique of the subaltern group in "Can the Subaltern Speak?" and Rey Chow's critique of Malek Alloula in "Where Have all the Natives Gone?"

10. See Lisa Lowe's discussion of the American immigrant laws for Asian immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries in "Immigration, Citizenship, Racialization: Asian American Critique," Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics, (Durham and London: Duke UP), 1996, 1-36.

11. In formulating a theory of "writing the body," Trinh T. Minh-ha asked: "Can knowledge circulate without a position of mastery? Can it be conveyed without the exercise of power? No, because there is no end to understanding power relations which are rooted deep in the social nexus--not merely added to society nor easily locatable so that we can just radically do away with them. Yes, however, because in-between grounds always exist, and cracks and interstices are like gaps of fresh air that keep on being suppressed because they tend to render more visible the failures operating in every system." (41) "'Writing the body' is that abstract-concrete, personal-political realm of excess not fully contained by writing’s unifying structural forces. Its physicality (vocality, tactility, touch, resonance), or edging and margin, exceeds the rationalized 'clarity' of communicative structures and cannot be fully explained by any analysis. It is a way of making theory in gender, of making of theory a politics of everyday life, thereby re-writing the ethnic female subject as site of differences" (44). My observation of Kingston’s body writing resonates with Trinh's to the extent that I read Kingston’s body writing as that transitive knowledge of the interstices between silence and language. See Trinh, 1989, "Commitment from the Mirror-Writing Box," Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism, (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 1989), 5-46.

12. See Frederic Jameson's reading of E.L.Doctorow's Ragtime in "The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism." Jameson says: "E.L.Doctorow is the epic poet of the disappearance of the American radical past, of the suppression of older traditions and moments of the American radical tradition… Ragtime remains the most peculiar and stunning monument to the aesthetic situation engendered by the disappearance of the historical referent. This historical novel can no longer set out to represent the historical past; it can only 'represent' our ideas and stereotypes about that past (which thereby at once becomes 'pop history')... If there is any realism left here, it is a 'realism' that is meant to derive from the shock of grasping that confinement and of slowly becoming aware of a new and original historical situation in which we are condemned to seek History by way of our own pop images and simulacra of that history, which itself remains forever out of reach" (24-25).

13. Jameson notes: "As for expression and feelings or emotions, the liberation, in contemporary society, from the older anomie of the centered subject may also mean not merely a liberation from anxiety but a liberation from every other kind of feeling as well, since there is no longer a self present to do the feeling. This is not to say that the cultural products of the postmodern era are utterly devoid of feeling, but rather that such feelings--which it may be better and more accurate, following J.F. Lyotard, to call "intensities" are now free-floating and impersonal and tend to be dominated by a peculiar kind of euphoria...." See Jameson, 1991, 15-16.

14. See Elaine Kim, "Chinatown Cowboy and Warrior Women: Searching for a New Self-image," Asian American Literature: An Introduction to the Writings and Their Social Context (Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1982), 173-213, 199. Also see King-Kok Cheung, Articulate Silence: Hisaye Yamamoto, Maxine Hong Kingston, Joy Kogawa (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1993).

 

Works Cited

Chan, Jeffery Paul. "Jeff Chan, Chairman of SF State Asian American Studies, Attacks Review," The San Francisco Journal (May 4, 1997).

Chang, Elaine K. "Spaghetti Easter: Mutating Mass Culture, Transforming Ethnicity." Revisioning Italy: National Identity and Global Culture. Ed. Beverly Allen and Mary Russo. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 292-314.

Cheung, King-Kok. Articulate Silences: Hisaye Yamamoto, Maxine Hong Kingston, Joy Kogawa. Ithaca & London: Cornell UP, 1993.

---. "Assaying the Gold: Or, Contesting the Ground of Asian American Literature." New Literary History 24:1 (Winter 1993): 147-69.

Chin, Frank et al eds. Aiiieeeee!: An Anthology of Asian-American Writers. Washington D C: Howard UP, 1974.

Chow, Rey. "Where Have All the Natives Gone?" Writing Diaspora: Tactics of Intervention in Contemporary Cultural Studies. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 27-54.

Fong, Katheryn. "An Open Letter/Review to Maxine Hong Kingston." Bulletin for Concerned Asian Scholars (October-December 1977): 67-9.

Hartsock, Nancy. "Foucault on Power: A Theory for Women?" Feminism/Postmodernism. Ed. and Intro.

Linda J. Nicholson. London and New York: Routledge, 1990. 157-75.

Jameson, Frederic. "Third World Literature in the Era of Multi-national Capitalism." Social Text 15 (Fall 1986): 65-88.

---. Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham: Duke UP, 1991.

Kim, Elaine H. Asian American Literature: An Introduction to The Writings and Their Context. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1982.

Kingston, Maxine Hong. The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of A Girlhood among Ghosts. New York: Vintage Books, 1977.Lim, Shirley Geok-lin ed. Approaches to Teaching Kingston's The Women Warrior. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 1991.

Lowe, Lisa. Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics. Durham and London: Duke UP, 1996.

Palumbo-liu, David, ed. The Ethnic Canon: Histories, Institutions and Interventions. Minneapolis, London: U of Minnesota P, 1995.

Rabinowitz, Paula. "Eccentric Memories: A Conversation with Maxine Hong Kingston." Michigan Quarterly Review 26 (1987): 177-87.

Sobachack, Vivian. "Postmodern Modes of Ethnicity." Unspeakable Images. Ed. Lester Friedman. Urbanan and Chicago: U of Illinois P, 1991. 329-52.

Sollors, Werner. Beyond Ethnicity: Consent and Descent in American culture. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1986.

Spivak, Gayatri. "Can the Subaltern Speak?" Colonial Discourse and Postcolonial Theory: A Reader. Eds. Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman. New York: Columbia UP, 1994. 66-111.

Trinh T. Minh-ha. Woman, Native, Other. Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 1989.

Tong, Benjamin. "Critic of Admirer Sees Dumb Racist," The San Francisco Journal (May 11 1977).

Wong, Sau-ling Cynthia. "Autobiography as Guided Chinatown Tour? Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior and the Chinese American Autobiographical Controversy." Multicultural Autobiography: American Lives. Ed. James Robert Payne. Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 1992. 248-75.

Yalom, Marilyn.  "The Woman Warrior as Postmodern Autobiography." Approaches to Teaching Kingston's The Woman Warrior. Ed. Shirley Geok-lin Lim. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1991, 108-15.

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