The Poetics of Appropriation: The Literary Theory and Practice of Huang Tingjian, 1045-1105 (Stanford University Press, 1993) addressed the notion of authorship and poetic language in Song dynasty China, taking as its focal point the work of Huang Tingjian, considered to be one of the most difficult poets in the classical Chinese tradition because of his dense use of recondite allusions. This study argued that the poetry of citation was completely in line with the Song project to reassess and classify all prior knowledge, and to invent a distinct cultural identity from those discourses. This book begins and ends with chapters that compare the seemingly contradictory elements of learning and spontaneity, and their relation to textuality, to similar discussions in western poetics.
My second book was an edited volume, The Ethnic Canon: History, Institutions, Interventions (Minnesota, 1995). In my critical introduction I address the historical occasion of multiculturalism and chart the various functions and histories of the institutionalization of ethnic literature in the U.S. academy. Eschewing the liberal celebration of “diversity,” the essays instead focus on the material histories that inform the production of “difference.” The anthology itself, with contributions from Norma Alarcòn, Rosaura Sanchez, Ramòn Saldìvar, Sau-ling Wong, Lisa Lowe, Colleen Lye, E. San Juan, Jr., Elliott Butler-Evans, Barbara Christian, Paula Gunn Allen, and Jana Sequoya-Magdelena, argues for a contestative and critical multicultural pedagogy, asserting by adopting new reading and interpretive practices we may gain a sense of how multiculturalism participates in a larger conversation about democracy and representation.
My third book publication, co-edited with Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, is entitled, Streams of Cultural Capital: Transnational Cultural Studies (special issue of Stanford Literature Review, 1993; book edition Stanford University Press, 1997). My introductory essay explores how Bourdieu’s concept, while demonstrating the social function of “culture,” is hard-pressed to address transnational cultural movements, which engage a wide variety of agents and media. The essays, from around the globe, analyze discrete cases of transnational movements and refigurations, recombinations, and reterritorializations of cultural objects. Broadly addressed to the notion of “global culture,” this anthology argues instead that we attend to the local manifestations of transnational flows of culture. Essays by Arjun Appadurai, Chen Xiaomei, Biodun Jeyifo, Bruce and Judith Kapferer, Anne Knudsen, Mary Layoun, Jean-François Lyotard, Carlos Rincón, Robert Weimann, and others. First published in 1993, this collection of essays was a pioneering interdisciplinary exploration of what became a predominant question for cultural studies and studies of globalization.
My fourth book, Asian/American: Historical Crossings of a Racial Frontier, was published in 1999 by Stanford University Press and is in its second printing. It was awarded the distinction of “Outstanding Academic Book Title” by Choice. This book is a long interdisciplinary study of “Asian America.” Seeing the modern identity of America as inseparable from its notion of a Pacific Destiny, I focus on the production of the identity “Asian/American.” I argue that the “proximity” of Asian Americans to that ideal of “American” should be read as a history of persistent reconfigurations and transgressions of the Asian/American “split,” designated by a solidus that signals those instances in which a liaison between “Asian” and “American,” a sliding over between two seemingly separate terms, is constituted.
As in the construction “and/or,” where the solidus at once instantiates a choice between two terms, their simultaneous and equal status, and an element of indecidability, that is, as it at once implies both exclusion and inclusion, “Asian/American” marks both the distinction installed between “Asian” and “American” and a dynamic, unsettled, and inclusive movement.
I move through readings of the material histories of Asian America (restructured urban geographies, the wars in Asia, the transformation of Asian American space into Pacific Rim space), as well as the ways the Asian/American liaison has been read as a psychic symptom. Chronologically beginning with the 1920s’ political and juridical discourses on American nationhood and Asia, and sociological attempts to read race in America, the study ends with an examination of the formation of “Asia Pacific” and its projection into a “borderless” cyberspace of a particularly liquid capital. This Asian “alternate modernity” is of course abruptly curtailed with the collapse of the Asian economies. The study follows closely both the way Asian identity is mapped in the crucible of multiracial dynamics in the U.S. (i.e., the racial categories of “brown,” “black,” and “white”), and the invention of diasporic identities, as both take part in the refiguring of American national identity.
For reviews of this book, click on its icon.
My fifth book is a co-edited anthology of essays by Franco Moretti, Neil Brenner, Helen Stacey, Gopal Balakrishnan, Kären Wigen, Immanuel Wallerstein and others that reassesses the work of Immanuel Wallerstein. Immanuel Wallerstein and the Problem of the World: System, Scale, Culture (Duke University Press, 2011), co-edited with Bruce Robbins and Nirvana Tanoukhi, contains contributions from a distinguished group of scholars from the fields of history, sociology, geography, law and literature. Each piece speaks to how world-systems analysis can be critically adapted to world-scale cultural studies.
Reviewing this volume, Etienne Balibar writes, “As the current crisis of financial markets displays both its high level of economic uncertainty and its devastating geopolitical consequences—with East and West, North and South progressively trading their places—the prescience of Wallerstein’s world-systems analysis appears admirable. But the authors of this book also demonstrate that it potentially affects the basic time-space determinants of every cultural critique. A timely and fruitful contribution.”
My sixth book, The Deliverance of Others: Reading Literature in a Global Age (Duke University Press, 2012) is a reappraisal of the idea that narrative literature can expand readers’ empathy. I ask what happens if–amid the voluminous influx of otherness facilitated by globalization–we continue the tradition of valorizing literature for bringing the lives of others to us, admitting them into our world and valuing the difference that they introduce into our lives? In this new historical situation, are we not forced to determine how much otherness is acceptable, as opposed how much is excessive, disruptive, and disturbing? This inevitably ties literary interpretation to ethics.
Ian Baucom writes, “Certain to be an important and influential book, The Deliverance of Others examines the profound challenges that the ‘contemporary’ historical moment poses to literary novel writing in the early twenty-first century, when the fine line between a ‘sufficient’ and an ‘excessive’ measure of otherness seems to have been trespassed, when, as Palumbo-Liu puts it in his extraordinary reading of J.M. Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello, readers of the novel are asked to imagine themselves confronting ‘tidal wave of difference’ that exceeds the specific capacities of realist form and the more general compact that literary writing offers to strike between historical conditions and the liberal, sympathetic imagination.”
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