Seminar in Asian American Literature and Theory

735Q (001): Seminar in Asian American Literature and Theory (CRN 80024)

Subtitle: Gender and Race in Asian/Asian America (LSE, CSAP, HAP)

Fall 2020 / Wednesdays, 6 pm to 8:30 pm /synchronous online via zoom

Ruth Y. Hsu (email)

Description, purpose, goals:

This course examines literary, cultural, and scholarly texts (text is broadly defined), containing representations of Asian/Asian American resistance or revolt against, subversion of, or dissent from American heteronormativity and regime of biopower and biopolitics. Texts on the reading list are by women, but not exclusively, and texts are by Asian Americans, but not exclusively. The class will analyze the work of playwrights, poets, scholars, filmmakers, architects, novelists, essayists in terms of how and what these texts envision and transform – in ways that leave meager room for regression – of the concept of “American,” specifically along the nexus of gender, sexuality, race, and class.

Often, Asian American women (and men) lived and labored in a vector of economic and cultural deprivation; attempts were made to silence and erase them. On one hand, their writing was “against the grain.” On another, “against the grain” can be imagined through Newton’s 1st and 3rd ideas of motion: “every object persists in its state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line unless it is compelled to change . . .” and “for every action, there is an equal and opposite re-action” (NASA). Indeed, transformation is one of the terms that the texts in this course will have us examine, particularly transformation’s myriad, unanticipated, un-uniform trajectory, velocity, magnitude, and so on. Asian American artists and texts on gender, sexuality, and race have re-imagined both the means and the definition of change. Texts on the reading list have much to say to contemporary readers in light of the context of the corporate and governmental reactions to COVID-19. Specifically, Asian American writers and artists have been confronting since the mid-19th century, at time life-threatening rejection of their place in American-ness, narrowly delimited by the identity politics of Anglo-European and heteronormative identity. Asian American literary and cultural texts can and have de-constructed and transformed what nationality can mean.

What desires to be expressed in the texts selected for this course is the question, “What and where is Asian America?” Writers, playwrights, and scholars represent in novels, on the stage, and in history-making studies polyvocal narratives about gender, sexuality, race, and class undergirded by that central question. One set of texts invites class members to address this question from the perspective of Hawai’i; most of the texts critique the concept of America from the perspective of Asia-Pacific.

Student Learning Outcomes:

Develop a complex understanding of the contributions of Asian/Asian American literature and cultures to the formation of the field of English Studies (specifically north American literary studies in the 21st Century as formulated from this Hawai’i, Asia-Pacific location);

A stronger ability to undertake advanced critical analysis in both written and oral formats;

A stronger ability to undertake advanced research methods and to prepare an essay for submission to an academic or literary journal;

Develop a complex understanding of the origins and consequences of literary and cultural interpretative frameworks based on concepts of identity and subjectivity, at varying discursive scales.

Writing Requirements:

One research paper: minimum15 pages, double-spaced; in preparation for submission to scholarly  or literary journals (reputable, online journal is acceptable);

Leading one seminar discussion, 20-25 minutes, accompanied by a 600-700-word post on  Laulima Forums;

One book review on a recent Asian American text (literature, cultural artefact, or scholarship) to be submitted to a scholarly or literary journal (reputable, online journal is acceptable) and posted to Forums on Laulima.

Primary readings/texts include

Fiction:           Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (fiction); Karen Tei Yamashita’s I Hotel(selection); Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters (fiction, selection); R. Zamora Linmark’s Leche (fiction); Hualing Nieh’s Mulberry and Peach (fiction); and Edith Eaton’s Mrs. Spring Fragrance (short fiction, selection); Making Waves: an Anthology of Writings by and about Asian American Women (selection).

Cultural texts:           Maya Lin’s and I.M. Pei’s architectural work, including the Vietnam War Veterans’ Memorial