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Inhuman Citizenship

Traumatic Enjoyment and Asian American Literature

2012
Author:

Juliana Chang

Inhuman Citizenship

Explores the complicated relationships between those who suffer and their tormenters

In Inhuman Citizenship, Juliana Chang claims that literary representations of Asian American domesticity may be understood as symptoms of America’s relationship to its national fantasies and to the “jouissance” that both overhangs and underlies those fantasies. Chang shows that by identifying with the nation’s psychic disturbance, Asian American characters ethically assume responsibility for a national unconscious that is often disclaimed.

Inhuman Citizenship has much to offer; it will make important interventions in our current understanding of the position of Asian American literature within larger canons of American literary studies. There is much to be admired here.

Karen Shimakawa, author of National Abjection: The Asian American Body Onstage

In Inhuman Citizenship, Juliana Chang claims that literary representations of Asian American domesticity may be understood as symptoms of America’s relationship to its national fantasies and to the “jouissance”—a Lacanian term signifying a violent yet euphoric shattering of the self—that both overhangs and underlies those fantasies. In the national imaginary, according to Chang, racial subjects are often perceived as the source of jouissance, which they supposedly embody through their excesses of violence, sexuality, anger, and ecstasy—excesses that threaten to overwhelm the social order.

To examine her argument that racism ascribes too much, rather than a lack of, humanity, Chang analyzes domestic accounts by Asian American writers, including Fae Myenne Ng’s Bone, Brian Ascalon Roley’s American Son, Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker, and Suki Kim’s The Interpreter. Employing careful reading and Lacanian psychoanalysis, Chang finds sites of excess and shock: they are not just narratives of trauma, but they produce trauma as well. They render Asian Americans as not only the objects but also the vehicles and agents of inhuman suffering. And, claims Chang, these novels disturb yet strangely exhilarate the reader through characters who are objects of racism and yet inhumanly enjoy their suffering and the suffering of others.

Through a detailed investigation of “family business” in literature depicting Asian American life, Chang shows that by identifying with the nation’s psychic disturbance, Asian American characters ethically assume responsibility for a national unconscious that is all too often disclaimed.

Inhuman Citizenship

Juliana Chang is associate professor of English at Santa Clara University.

Inhuman Citizenship

Inhuman Citizenship has much to offer; it will make important interventions in our current understanding of the position of Asian American literature within larger canons of American literary studies. There is much to be admired here.

Karen Shimakawa, author of National Abjection: The Asian American Body Onstage

Inhuman Citizenship

Contents

Introduction: Inhuman Citizenship
1. Melancholic Citizenship: The Living Dead and Fae Myenne Ng’s Bone
2. Shameful Citizenship: Animal Jouissance and Brian Ascalon Roley’s American Son
3. Romantic Citizenship: Immigrant–Nation Romance, the Antifetish, and Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker
4. Perverse Citizenship: The Death Drive and Suki Kim’s The Interpreter
Coda

Acknowledgments
Notes
Bibliography
Index