Asia's Unreliability: Literary and Historical Positings of the Asian Human, 1945-Present

Spring 2012
  • Graduate
Sunny Xiang
Comparative Literature
Asia's Unreliability: Literary and Historical Positings of the Asian Human, 1945-Present

My dissertation looks at literary and historical articulations of “Asian character” between 1945-present. In examining characterizations of Asians and Asianness in contemporary novels and in US foreign policy, I aim to limn the contours of Asia’s racial form, which I read as being defined in contradistinction to the morally endowed “human” of international law. Through my literary texts, I investigate how the unreliability of the Asian narratorial voice, in signifying both Oriental deception and human limitation, formally evokes the “Asian human” as literary effect. My interest in reading a literary archive in conjunction with government research and policy initiatives bespeaks a belief that Asian personality has been central to US foreign policy and is crucial to historicizing how Asia has become paradigmatic of modernity’s inhuman conditions. The CRG grant would fund archival work for my first chapter, which takes novelist Chang-rae Lee’s “model minority” narrators as a point of departure for exploring the US government’s burgeoning interest in Asian character between WWII and the Korean War. I am particularly interested in considering the male model minority and the female war refugee as different modes of consolidating the human that are both routed through the reified sign of Asia. In reading Lee’s unreliable Asian narrators within the context of the long Korean War, I hope to illuminate a gendered historiography of Asian’s racial form that is founded on both the moral economy of human rights and the humanistic ethos of literature.