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12 November 2010 @ 11:22 pm
A Cha Literary Review Debate  

Henry W. Leung posted a review of Cha: An Asian Literary Journal's 12th issue recently on the Lantern Review Blog. I was impressed that he had a detractor in his comments who called his use of words like "abstruse," "dialectical," "vernacular," "colloquial" among several others "arcane." When I think of arcane words, none of these come to mind. Not even Old English like "yonder" and "thither" would register for me. I'd think of words that are dead or that were used back in ancient or classical times. Maybe ekphrasis, but I digress.

The other interesting thing about Henry's review is that Cha decided to review his review of them in a post on their blog, found here. They believe that Henry posed a valid question: what constitutes "Asian" literature or writing? In this post, they stand by their editorial choices, however, it sounds like they, too, are unsure of what constitutes "Asian" writing. Does the author simply have to be from Asia or should the material touch on "Asian" themes? It's something they're pondering for future issues.

These two posts, in dialogue with each other, as well as their comments underscore two ideas I've been wrestling with lately. One, is the impact of dialogue itself. stephenhongsohn brought the idea of juxtaposition in choosing where and how to place pieces in an anthology (or a literary journal) to my attention in my last post. And now, here are two reviews of each other, in turn, wrestling with what is Asian, or for that matter Asian American, literature? pylduck addressed this question in terms of AA Lit in his review of Sigrid Nunez's The Last of Her Kind, found here, and since we didn't get into it then, I thought now might be a good time if fostering discussion is a goal here. It seems to be an issue that's consistently raised regarding ethnic writing. Where does everyone here stand, or do you stand?

jailbaitjellojailbaitjello on November 13th, 2010 08:24 pm (UTC)
Well, given that in the continent of Asia, an "Asian" identity is virtually non-existent, I think it's safe to say that "Asian" as an identity is a social construct that pretty much only exists outside of Asia. (This might be a generalization, but I would still argue that within Asia itself, most people would subscribe more to a national identity than a continental one...)

So, basically, since it's a social construct to begin with, trying to define it, or limit it, or set boundaries for it in any way seems to be adding even more artificiality to an already artificial construct.

In short, IMO, if the writer thinks its Asian, its Asian. Who else should be the judge?
Secret Asian American Man: too much coffeesa_am on November 14th, 2010 03:44 pm (UTC)
well the critic can judge and plus, if it were all about authorial intentionality, why bother reading books at all?

the whole point is that literary terrains are chaotic and supposedly interpretive gold mines! =)

i agree though, the boundaries should be pretty far and wide
Chen: asterisksper_sona on November 13th, 2010 09:14 pm (UTC)
a little different, but also related i think... the first issue of the new Asian American Literary Review opens with a forum--a discussion on what makes writing "asian" and/or "asian american," between David Mura, Alexander Chee, and Ru Freeman. it's telling of how heated the debate gets that all three writers end up focusing on asian american identity and politics, when the original question for the forum was specifically on the existence and maintenance of asian american literary journals.

i think each writer should be free to self-identify, and to do so with shifting contexts in mind. for example, there are times when i think it's helpful for reading a piece of my writing to call it "asian american" and other times when the term seems less accurate.
Secret Asian American Mansa_am on November 14th, 2010 03:45 pm (UTC)
thanks for this question; it's a tough one
shadowy duckpylduck on November 14th, 2010 10:32 pm (UTC)
yah. perennial question for asian american literary studies. i'm of the camp that thinks that, yes, all writers should be free to self-identify, but also that publishers, critics, and readers are active producers of what "asian american literature" is as a category. that is, the act of naming an author an asian american author or a text an asian american text is a powerful rhetorical move that has consequences (both good and bad!).
shadowy duckpylduck on November 14th, 2010 10:37 pm (UTC)
thebowlerhat , thanks for pointing out the cha journal. if you look at the "about" page, you quickly see that the journal has two foci: publishing asian-themed creative writing and asian writers in english. that basically encompasses the two major ways of defining asian literature (by content or by authorial background).