Considering Chang and Eng's body in America from the nineteenth century to the present
Chang and Eng Reconnected
The Original Siamese Twins in American Culture
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Conjoined twins Chang and Eng Bunker have fascinated the world since the nineteenth century. In her captivating book, Chang and Eng Reconnected, Cynthia Wu traces the "Original Siamese Twins" through the terrain of American culture, showing how their inseparability underscored tensions between individuality and collectivity in the American popular imagination.
Using letters, medical documents and exhibits, literature, art, film, and family lore, Wu provides a trans-historical analysis that presents the Bunkers as both a material presence and as metaphor. She also shows how the twins figure in representations of race, disability, and science in fictional narratives about nation building.
As astute entrepreneurs, the twins managed their own lives; nonetheless, as Chang and Eng Reconnected shows, American culture has always viewed them through the multiple lenses of difference.
"The fascinating story of the Bunkers has an excellent framework in Chang and Eng Reconnected. Wu’s creative, incisive approach to the Bunkers’ story uses the twins as a lens for exploring how imagined communities form around an imagined body (or bodies) marvelously suited both to expose and to conceal social contradictions. Wu’s far-reaching and often brilliant analysis intertwines Asian Americanist and disability studies approaches to focus attention on forms of political representation in/of the United States. The discussion of the autopsy and of cultural understandings of the twins’ connecting band and of Eng’s death is fascinating. The analyses of contemporary art, film and writing are all very well done, and they distinguish this book’s approach from the generally more narrowly historically focused work on the Bunkers."
"Wu's excellent study is supplemented by a detailed analysis of the metaphors represented by conjoined twins.... [Chang and Eng Reconnected is] full of fascinating details unearthed by Wu's thorough research -- not just about the Bunkers, but about the social treatment and subsequent fate of 'freaks' generally."
"Given the amount of time and archival material the book covers, it is a credit to Wu's ability as a writer that she leads readers seamlessly from beginning to end.... Wu's nuanced reading of embodiment provides a way of conceptualizing and analyzing disability diaspora."
List of Figures
Part I: Locating Material Traces in the Archives
Part II: Reading Literature and Visual Cultures
Part III: Observing and Participating
Epilogue: Alone or Together?
Cynthia Wu is Assistant Professor of American Studies at the University at Buffalo.