Slanting I, Imagining We

Slanting I, Imagining We


255 pages


The 1980s and 1990s are a historically crucial period in the development of Asian Canadian literature. Slanting I, Imagining We: Asian Canadian Literary Production in the 1980s and 1990s contextualizes and reanimates the urgency of that period, illustrates its historical specificities, and shows how the concerns of that moment—from cultural appropriation to race essentialism to shifting models of the state—continue to resonate for contemporary discussions of race and literature in Canada. Larissa Lai takes up the term “Asian Canadian” as a term of emergence, in the sense that it is constantly produced differently, and always in relation to other terms—often “whiteness” but also Indigeneity, queerness, feminism, African Canadian, and Asian American. In the 1980s and 1990s, “Asian Canadian” erupted in conjunction with the post-structural recognition of the instability of the subject. But paradoxically it also came into being through activist work, and so depended on an imagined stability that never fully materialized. Slanting I, Imagining We interrogates this fraught tension and the relational nature of the term through a range of texts and events, including the Gold Mountain Blues scandal, the conference Writing Thru Race, and the self-writings of Evelyn Lau and Wayson Choy.


Publié par
Date de parution 31 juillet 2014
Nombre de visites sur la page 2
EAN13 9781771120432
Licence : Tous droits réservés
Langue English

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TransCanada Series The study of Canadian literature can no longer take place in isolation from larger external forces. Pressures of multiculturalism put emphasis upon discourses of citizenship and security, while market-driven facto rs increasingly shape the publication, dissemination, and reception of Canadian writing. T he persistent questioning of the Humanities has invited a rethinking of the discipli nary and curricular structures within which the literature is taught, while the developme nt of area and diaspora studies has raised important questions about the tradition. The goal of the TransCanada series is to publish forward-thinking critical interventions tha t investigate these paradigm shifts in interdisciplinary ways.
Series editor: Smaro Kamboureli, Avie Bennett Chair in Canadian Literature, Department of English, University of Toronto
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Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Lai, Larissa, 1967–, author Slanting I, imagining we : Asian Canadian literary production in the 1980s and 1990s / Larissa Lai.
(TransCanada) Includes bibliographical references and index. Issued in print and electronic formats. ISBN 978-1-77112-041-8 (pbk.).—ISBN 978-1-77112-042 -5 (pdf).— ISBN 978-1-77112-043-2 (epub)
1. Canadian literature (English) —Asian Canadian au thors—History and criticism. 2. Canadian literature (English) —20th century—History and criticism. I. Title.
PS8089.5.A8L33 2014 C810.9’895 C2014-901721 -9 C2014-901722-7
Front-cover image by Haruko Okano:The Hands of the Compassionate One, 1993 (acrylic on canvas, 5’ wide by 9’ high); photo by A l Reid Studio. Cover design by Martyn Schmoll. Text design by Angela Booth Malleau.
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for my mother and father, Yuen-Ting Lai and Tyrone Lai
It was all well and good to have a tragic story in the past, but what if it returns? What if it comes back with all it has stored up, to be resolved and decided, to be answered. She couldn’t foresee an easy time, as Binh must have envisaged.… Would he be kind to her mother and father? In the end that is what she meant, she realized, that is what she wanted. They deserved kindness, and Tuyen doubted whether this ghost could deliver it.
What We All Long For Dionne Brand
Ihold my culture in my hands and form it on my own, so that no one else can shape the way it lies upon my body
“The Body Politic” Hiromi Goto
Of course this is a personal project. How could it b e otherwise? The 1980s and 1990s appear to me as an extraordinary moment in Canadian cultural politics because they were also the moment of my own emergence from the s leep of invisibilization into a subject with a measure of public voice. The first a nti-racist project I worked on was the 1990 exhibitYellow Peril: Reconsidered,organized by the video artist and curator Paul Wong and his collaborator Elspeth Sage, through the ir production company On Edge, which Paul housed in his Main Street apartment on V ancouver’s East Side. It was a national exhibition that travelled to six artist-ru n centres across the country, showcasing the works of twenty-five Asian Canadian artists working in contemporary media. Through a reclamation of the racist name “yellow pe ril,” the show was, for me, a moment of inauguration into an oppositional politic s of race that was both empowering and unsettling. I lived it out at work and at play, in intellectual and creative modes as much as personal ones. It drew me into a consciousn ess of my own subjectivity and agency (or lack thereof), in ways that I had not co nsidered before, perhaps in ways that were not available for consideration until this cul tural moment. For me, the “reconsideration” of the “yellow peril” occurred be fore its overt “consideration.” The problem with race for the duration of my childhood growing up in Newfoundland in the 1970s was that it was a repressed but very much liv e force beneath the surface of Canadian cultural life. Both “consideration” and “reconsideration” were a huge relief, as though one could finally point out the tiger sleepi ng in the corner of the room. In the years after the implementation of the Multic ulturalism Act, so much was possible—not because of the act itself, but because community-based artists’, writers’, and activists’ responses to its limitations added to an organic energy that was already there in racialized Canadian communities. It was a moment in which the Japanese Canadian Internment, the Chinese Head Tax and Chine se Exclusion Act, the Indian Act, and theKomagata Maruincident could be spoken of and interrogated for their social, cultural, and political effects as much as for their legal ones. Mainstream reaction and obfuscation were and continue to be tremendous. Nonetheless, with the reclamation of the racist name and the concept of “breaking the silence” as two of its major tools, Canadian anti-racist cultural communities opened up new possibilities for ethical practices, human relations, “self-fashionin g,” art, and writing. Some people embraced these possibilities inside the walls of th e academy, some found it more productive to engage through artist-run centres, sm all collectives, spontaneous gatherings, organized gatherings, editorial committees, conference organizing committees, demonstrations, or purely within the co ntext of their own art or writing practices. I engaged through a combination of these strategies , working for a while as the administrative coordinator for SAW Video in Ottawa, organizing two small exhibitions Telling RelationsandEarthly Pleasures—for the grunt gallery in Vancouver, reading creative work for the exhibition and performance projectRacy Sexy, working as a video technician for the Banff residency Race and the Bod y Politic, enjoying potlucks and video nights with Asian Lesbians of Vancouver (ALOV ), briefly editingFrontmagazine, guest editingKinesisrs’ Union–, sitting on the organizing committee for the Write sponsored conference Writing Thru Race, while writing my first novelWhen Fox Is a Thousand. This way of working was not so uncommon among anti-racist cultural
workers of that decade. The cultural movements of the moment were saturated with love, joy, envy, competition, rage, horror, sorrow, and dismay. These emotions could be crushing, but they could also lead to generative acts of creation or critique. With the question “How do I (or we) make (or remake ) things/events/texts/selves in order to be free?” at its centre, this book explore s a range of strategies engaged in by groups or individuals identified with the concept “Asian Canadian” in order to test the waters of liberation (variously defined, imagined, and/or produced). I am highly aware that this is a question that can be addressed throu gh a range of discourses and practices; indeed, I have engaged those practices a nd languages in other ways at other moments. In Western critical terms, this book’s initial impu lse is a Foucauldian one: What are the possibilities for “self-fashioning” through his tories of the present, in the “present” of 1980s and 1990s Canada? Its concerns become quickly Marxist materialist, with a Deleuzian tinge as questions of subject constructio n veer quickly away from what linear history can offer. The subject itself is thrown into contention, and then variously (and always differently) reconstituted through collabora tion, juxtaposition, active imagination, experiments in language, or an emphasis on relation that destabilizes the Cartesian subject altogether. This book, in a sense, tries ou t different kinds of liberatory practices by examining how different individuals or collectiv es have engaged in them. It asks who or what is produced through these engagements. The “personal” and the collective, then, enter into realms of re-vision and reconsideration in ways that remain lively and productively unfinished. Questions of how to be and how to write are deeply intertwined. If I have done my job well, this book illustrates the mutual dependency o f theory on practice and vice versa; or indeed, the continuity between modes that aren’t nearly as discrete as we sometimes imagine them. My dream is that it will be taken up by artists, writers, cultural workers, and activists as much as by intellectuals. This book would not have been possible without the support of Aruna Srivastava, who, as my Ph.D. supervisor, saw it through its first incarnation. I am so appreciative of the ideas, critique, and encouragement received fro m the original members of my dissertation committee: Pamela McCallum, Shaobo Xie , Clara Joseph, Rebecca Sullivan, and Heather Zwicker. In the rewriting and revision of this book, Smaro Kamboureli has been supportive far and beyond her role as editor of the TransCanada series. I most grateful to her. I would also like to thank the good people at Wilfrid Laurier University Press for the roles they played in guiding this book to publication, especially Lisa Quinn, Leslie Macredie, Rob Kohlmei er, and Wendy Thomas. I have been incredibly fortunate in having strong c ommunities that have supported me and my work. This project would not have been po ssible without the support, feedback, and encouragement of many friends and col leagues with whom I was in conversation while the book was being written: Rita Wong, Hiromi Goto, Ashok Mathur, Janet Neigh, Roy Miki, Fred Wah, Pauline Butling, Rebecca Sullivan, Bart Beaty, Malek Khouri, Mary Polito, James Ellis, Jacqueline Jenkin s, Tom Loebel, Jay Gamble, Carmen Derksen, Nikki Sheppy, Camille Isaacs, Robin der Sehdev, Christopher Ewart, Jason Christie, derek beaulieu, Jill Hartman, Paul Kennett, Janice Grant, Myron Campbell, Michael Boyce, Sandra Dametto, Leonard Le e, Sandy Lam, Travis Murphy, and Jason Laurendeau. I am most appreciative of current friends and colleagues, who were so present and supportive during the rewrite: Lorraine Weir, Christopher Lee, Glenn Deer, Laura Moss, Sherrill Grace, Richard Cav ell, Margery Fee, Jennifer Chun, David Chariandy, Sophie McCall, David Khang, Christine Kim, Daniel Heath Justice,