Modern Language Association Convention, Chicago, IL, 2007

Friday, 28 December

154. Scripting Brutality on the Queer Asian American Body

8:30-9:45 a.m., Grand Suite 5, Hyatt Regency Chicago

A special session

Presiding: Allan P. Isaac, Wesleyan Univ.

1. "Queer Intimacies, Asian American Bodies, and Violence (Un)Represented Onstage," Paul Y. Lai, Univ. of Saint Thomas

2. "Queer in a Vaginal Economy: Global Capital and Heteropatriarchal Violence in Filipino American Gay Fiction," Jeffrey J. Santa Ana, Dartmouth Coll.

3. "Dangerous Detours: The Lyric I and Queer Road Trips in Timothy Liu's Burnt Offerings," Stephen Sohn, Univ. of California, Irvine

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Our panel, focusing on queer/Asian/American literature, addresses the violent acts faced by queer racialized subjects in order to argue collectively that the queer body remains a crucial sociopolitical nexus of power relations in trans/national perspective. Each paper focuses on a different generic registers -- drama, novels, and poetry -- in order to demonstrate the ways in which a representational mode can both enrich and complicate questions of queer/Asian/American sexualities. While the panel is unified under the argumentative frame linking violence, the queer body, and Asian/American identity, our wider methodology will engage different analytical discourses including, but not limited to queer theory, ethics, cultural materialism, critical race theory, and postmodernism. Following the work of both David Palumbo-Liu and Laura Hyun Yi Kang, we invoke the usage of the slash in the bimodal term Asian/American to note the ways in which each signifier stands in dynamic equilibrium with the other, elucidating the vitality of transnationalism, globalization, and diaspora within emergent Asian/American critiques.

We also propose the use of the triply-inflected term queer/Asian/American to complicate the shuttling back and forth between "Asian" and "American" with queer trajectories. According to cultural studies scholar Dana Takagi, "while there has been a good deal of talk about the 'diversity' of Asian American communities, we are relatively uninformed about Asian American subcultures specifically around sexuality" ("Maiden Voyage," 547). This statement is made evident in studies of queer representations of Asian/Americans in literature. While Asian/American literary studies has made quite productive interventions in gender studies (ranging from the early pioneering work of Amy Ling on women writers of Chinese ancestry to more recent work of Daniel Y. Kim on Asian/American masculinities), our panel also seeks to fill the burgeoning void made clear by Takagi through its emphasis on queer literary critique. Each paper will employ race and queer sexuality as foci through which Asian/American literature might be both recontextualized and reimagined. In particular, each paper draws from varied sociohistorical contexts which must be illuminated in order to broach the intricacies in each cultural production. Indeed, each act of violence produced on the queer/Asian/American body arises not out of an intersubjective vacuum, but rather occurs in and is evocative of larger structural systematics. Whether it be the state sanctioned governance which promotes the impossibly rigid expectations on "deviant" bodies, or the problematic societal value placed on queer bodies when they are placed in perilous situations (gay bashings and hate crimes), our collective work will draw out the terrain of power that subjugates, constrains, twists, deteriorates, and problematizes the very existence of the queer racialized subject.

In "Queer Intimacies, Asian/American Bodies, and Violence (Un)Represented on Stage," Paul Lai takes on the question of dramatic representation by exploring how reviewers have discussed the casting of the two female leads, Callie and Sara, in various productions of Korean American writer Diana Son's play, Stop Kiss. To varying extents, multiracial castings emphasize the racial queerness of the two women's intimacy in pushing against histories of anti-miscegenation bias while situating their relationship in the urban landscape of a globalized New York City. Such castings also root Stop Kiss in the specific U.S. cultural moment after the violent 1998 hate crimes against gay, white Matthew Shepherd and black James Byrd, Jr, Additionally, Lai notes how the play deals with the moment of gay bashing through a lacuna -- though Callie describes the attack, the moment does not appear on stage. Drawing on a long history of drama concerned with how to depict violence on stage and what violence does for the audience, this presentation posits the specific characteristic of an epistemology of the closet that structures how we understand intimacy and gay bashing in the context of interracial relationships.

In "Queer in a Vaginal Economy: Global Capital and Heteropatriarchal Violence in Filipino American Gay Fiction," Jeffrey Santa Ana argues that in recent queer Filipino American writings, the depiction of violence against women and gay men bears the historical legacy of the Philippine military's brutality during the past and recent dictatorships. Santa Ana connects this militarist violence to the current demands that global capital makes for exploiting Filipina laborers. This connection is a process of cooperation between the repressive heteronormative politics of the Philippine nation-state, led by patriarchal militarist regimes, and the capital bearing countries of the First World, which have conditioned the Philippines as a "vaginal economy": the sexual exploitation and hyper-feminization of the Philippines, in other words, based on a predominately female and exploitable feminized workforce. In his paper, Santa Ana examines how queer Filipino American writers, like Bino Realuyo in The Umbrella Country and R. Zamora Linmark in Rolling the R's, characterize Filipino patriarchy both in the domestic sphere and in a "vaginal economy" as violent repression of women and male homosexuals. In both novels, for example, unemployed husbands beat their wives, and jobless fathers terrorize their gay sons. Both novels take place during the Marcos regime of martial law (1972-81), providing historical context for their depictions of patriarchal brutality, which is linked to military fascism.

In "Dangerous Detours: The Lyric I and Queer Road Trips in Timothy Liu's Burnt Offerings," Stephen Hong Sohn investigates the question of ethics and how the queer Asian American body disrupts what queer theorist Lee Edelman has called "reproductive futurism" inherent in the US national imaginary. Sohn undertakes readings of two poems, "Highway 6" and "Rest Stop, Highway 91," a dynamically formed poetic coupling appearing in Burnt Offerings, authored by Chinese American writer Timothy Liu. In both poems, highway traveling signifies a convenient metaphor for queer racialized identity, one that is in some sense required to be mobile, evoking the traumatic rupture from home, and perhaps, most tragically, the ways in which queer visibility enables the body to be a primary site of violence. Sohn further argues that the lyric "I" in these poems possesses an unsettling corporeality because one cannot immediately assume that the speaker is a racialized subject. This reading engenders the sense that queer Asian Americans can face marginalization even from their identifiable sexual communities.