Form as function in Asian American literature

Literary Gestures

The Aesthetic in Asian American Writing

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edited by Rocío G. Davis and Sue-Im Lee

Outstanding Academic Title, Choice, 2006

"The editors and authors have done an excellent job of offering essays that are individually and collectively on point, consistently illuminating, and thoroughly enjoyable—the volume, with respect to this last point, reflects the pleasures and power of aesthetic investigation of which it speaks."
Kandice Chuh, University of Maryland, College Park

Literary Gestures:The Aesthetic in Asian American Writing contests the dominance of materialist and cultural critiques in Asian American literary discourse by re-centering critical attention around issues of aesthetics and literary form. Collapsing the perceived divisions between the "ethnic" and the "aesthetic" in Asian American literary criticism, the eleven original essays in this volume provide theoretically sophisticated and formally sensitive readings of works in prose, poetry, and drama. These contributions bring discussions of genre, canonicity, narrative, and literary value to the fore to show how aesthetic and formal concerns play an important part in the production and consumption of these works. By calling for a more balanced mode of criticism, this collection invites students and scholars to reinvest in the literary, not as a negation of the sociopolitical, but as a complementary strategy in reading and understanding Asian American literature.



Read the Introduction (pdf).



"An exciting collection on a subject of immediate importance in several areas of the humanities, Literary Gestures is a powerful response to the call in recent years for the return to the aesthetic, with a difference. Rocío Davis and Sue-Im Lee have produced a path-breaking book on the aesthetic in Asian American writing that immediately transforms the field. A group of outstanding scholar/critics provide reassessments of a range of established and new writings and on compelling topics that are central to the areas of cultural studies, U.S. Studies, and Pan-Pacific literatures. This is essential for anyone working in these interrelated fields."
Emory Elliott, University Professor, University of California, Riverside

"A brilliant introduction frames the essays... This groundbreaking book of essays is a must for any scholar of Asian American literary studies, or indeed, ethnic literature in general.... Essential."

"These scholars effectively critique contemporary multicultural criticism’s inability or unwillingness to encompass the aesthetic."



1. Introduction: The Aesthetic in Asian American Literary Discourse – Sue-Im Lee

Part I. Asian American Critical Discourse in Academia
2. Autonomy and Representation: Aesthetics and the Crisis of Asian American Cultural Politics in the Controversy over Blu's Hanging – Mark Chiang
3. Interventing Innocence: Race, 'Resistance,' and the Asian North American Avant-Garde – Iyko Day

Part II. Aesthetics and Ethnicity
4. The Asian American in a Turtleneck: Fusing the Aesthetic and the Didactic in Maxine Hong Kingston's Tripmaster Monkey – Mita Banerjee
5. The Language of Ethnicity: John Yau's Poetry and the Ethnic/Aesthetic Divide – Christina Mar
6. "A Flame against a Sleeping Lake of Petrol": Form and the Sympathetic Witness in Selvadurai's Funny Boy and Ondaatje's Anil's Ghost – Patricia P. Chu
7. Poignant Pleasures: Feminist Ethics as Aesthetics in Jhumpa Lahiri and Anita Rao Badami – Gita Rajan

Part III. Intertexts: Asian American Writing and Literary Movements
8. "A Loose Horse": Asian American Poetry and the Aesthetics of the Ideogram – Josephine Nock-Hee Park
9. "A New Rule for the Imagination": Rewriting Modernism in Bone – Donatella Izzo

Part IV. Rewriting Form, Reading for New Expression
10. Performing Dialogic Subjectivities: The Aesthetic Project of Autobiographical Collaboration in Days and Nights in Calcutta – Rocío G. Davis
11. Bicultural World Creation: Laurence Yep, Cynthia Kadohata, and Asian American Fantasy – Celestine Woo
12. Dismantling the Realist Character in Velina Hasu Houston's Tea and David Henry Hwang's FOB – Kimberly M. Jew

Notes on Contributors


About the Author(s)

Rocío G. Davis is Associate Professor of American and Postcolonial Literatures at the University of Navarra and author of Transcultural Reinventions: Asian American and Asian Canadian Short-Story Cycles.

Sue-Im Lee is Assistant Professor of English at Temple University.

Contributors: Mita Banerjee, University of Siegen, Germany; Mark Chiang, University of Illinois-Chicago; Patricia P. Chu, George Washington University; Iyko Day, University of California-Berkeley; Donatella Izzo, Universita degli Studi di Napoli "L'Orientale," Italy; Kimberly M. Jew, Washington & Lee University; Christina Mar, University of California-Riverside; Josephine Nock-Hee Park, University of Pennsylvania; Gita Rajan, Fairfield University; Celestine Woo, Fort Lewis College; and the editors.

Subject Categories

Asian American Studies
Literature and Drama
Cultural Studies



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