This course will examine a series of impossible subject positions for Asian Americans in the so-called “Pacific Century.” We will consider four outbreaks of war in the Pacific, each inaugurating a newly significant yet abject identity: 1) the Spanish-American War and the impossible Filipino colonial subject; 2) World War II and the Japanese warrior; 3) the Korean War and the proxy Korean subject; 4) Vietnam and the phantom Vietnamese enemy. Faced with these roles, Asians in the U.S. grappled with complex identificatory processes which encompassed a transnational frame while burrowing into domestic nightmares. In each of the four instances, we will explore a different critical paradigm (U.S. imperialism; questions of citizenship; cold war invisibility; trauma theory), turning to key critical texts from Asian American Studies.
Asian American subjecthood is typically understood to be bounded by two opposing characterizations, the yellow peril and the model minority. As we analyze the negotiations of subjects who suddenly find themselves in a popular spotlight switched on by foreign conflicts, we will discuss the historical shaping of these roles as well as discover imagined identities that exceed these poles of identification.
Primary texts will include works by Lawson Fusao Inada, Myung Mi Kim, Richard Kim, Le Thi Diem Thuy, Julie Otsuka, Andrew X. Pham, Ninotchka Rosca, Bienvenido Santos, among others. Secondary readings will include Anne Anlin Cheng, Kandice Chuh, Robert G. Lee, Lisa Lowe, Colleen Lye, Mae Ngai, David Palumbo-Liu, E. San Juan, Jr., among others.