National Abjection: The Asian American Body Onstage / Edition 1

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National Abjection explores the vexed relationship between "Asian Americanness" and "Americanness" through a focus on drama and performance art. Karen Shimakawa argues that the forms of Asian Americanness that appear in U.S. culture are a function of national abjection -- a process that demands that Americanness be defined by the exclusion of Asian Americans, who are either cast as symbolic foreigners incapable of integration or Americanization or distorted into an "honorary" whiteness. She examines how Asian Americans become culturally visible on and off stage, revealing the ways Asian American theater companies and artists respond to the cultural implications of this abjection. Shimakawa looks at the origins of Asian American theater, particularly through the memories of some of its pioneers. Her examination of the emergence of Asian American community theater companies illuminates their strategies for countering the stereotypes of Asian Americans and the lack of visibility of Asian American performers within the theater world. She shows how some plays -- Wakako Yamauchi's 12-1-A, Frank Chin's Chickencoop Chinaman, and The Year of the Dragon -- have both directly and indirectly addressed the displacement of Asian Americans. She analyzes works attempting to negate the process of abjection -- such as the 1988 Broadway production of M. Butterfly as well as Miss Saigon, a mainstream production that enacted the process of cultural displacement both onstage and off. Finally, Shimakawa considers Asian Americanness in the context of globalization by meditating on the work of Ping Chong, particularly his East-West Quartet.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“A provocative, well-researched study of the psychosocial and aesthetic representation of the Asian American as the ‘abject’ in the formation of the American nation. Karen Shimakawa writes elegantly and intelligently, with a lucid grasp of the complex psychoanalytic dynamic of abjection and an ability to lithely translate it into national, social, and racial terms. Her argument persuades the reader that the Asian American body is uniquely the specific index of a national ontology that fortifies the nation and its boundaries through the constitution of the Asian American as the abject to be refused, punished, and marginalized.”—Lisa Lowe, author of Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics

“Eloquent and insightful, National Abjection skillfully caputres the complicated ‘dance’ of Asian American cultural and political performance. Karen Shimakawa's reading of racial abjection makes an original and profound commentary on how theater embodies and engenders national fantasies, desires, and realities. This book should be read not only by scholars; in an ideal world, it should be distributed at all productions of Miss Saigon.”—Josephine Lee, author of Performing Asian America: Race and Ethnicity on the Contemporary Stage

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822328230
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 12/28/2002
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 1,573,075
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Karen Shimakawa is Assistant Professor in the Department of English and the Asian American Studies Program at the University of California, Davis. She is coeditor of Orientations: Mapping Studies in the Asian Diaspora, published by Duke University Press.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Introduction: "It's not right for a body to know his own origins" 1
Chapter 1 "I should be--American!" Abjection and the Asian (American) Body 23
Chapter 2 "The dance that's happening" Performance, Politics, and Asian American Theatre Companies 57
Chapter 3 "We'come a Chinatowng, Folks!" Resisting Abjection 77
Chapter 4 "I'll be here ... right where you left me" Mimetic Abjection/Abject Mimicry 99
Chapter 5 "Whose history is this, anyway?" Changing Geographies in Ping Chong's East-West Quartet 129
Afterword: "Then we'll have drama" 159
Notes 165
References 179
Index 189
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 20, 2003

    Dated but interesting

    This book takes off from the well-known Laura Mulvey text on the Male Gaze that was a foundational text of cinema studies in the eighties. This text has since been widely criticized, as well as defended, but the author here takes up Mulvey's viewpoint and uses it in the context of Asian theatre studies. Arguing that the American gaze always either 'others' or obliterates, or makes the Asian actor into an honorary white leaves this author as basically retierating Mulvey's view of what the male spectator does to the female in film. I was left with many questions. Asian-American is a huge category comprising everything from Hmong refugees, Vietnamese boat people, to wealthy Japanese businessmen. How can all of white America see all of these disparate individuals in the same light? Moreover, how can they even place themselves under the same rubric, as this author appears to do throughout her text? Afterall, Japan has something of an imperialist past in Asia, with the rape of Nanking (a million dead), Korean comfort women (still far from settled), the assault on the Philippines, and this is only the tip of a horrific history that goes back to the dawn of time. That all this is washed over by a Japanese writer who then argues that all of this history should be set to one side and that all Asians should be united because of the way in which the white gaze 'abjects' them is more or less a-historical and overly convenient, to say nothing of dated, theoretically. It has long been held that this kind of essentialist vision (that one entire group has ESSENTIALLY only one vision, and that another entire group appears in ESSENTIALLY only one image) is an inaccurate and deeply suspect theoretical model causing more problems than it solves. The writing is pedestrian here and the thought is simplistic. These plays (many of which appear to extremely interesting) deserve a more highly evolved theoretical approach that isn't so one-sided.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 24, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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