The Ghost as Ghost: Compulsory Rationalism and Asian American Literature, Post-1965
Davis, Lawrence-Minh Bui
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Since the early 1980s, scholarship across disciplines has employed the "ghostly" as critical lens for understanding the upheavals of modernity. The ghost stands metaphorically for the lasting trace of what has been erased, whether bodies or histories. The ghost always stands for something, rather than the ghost simply is--a conception in keeping with dominant Western rationalism. But such a reading practice threatens the very sort of violent erasure it means to redress, uncovering lost histories at the expense of non-Western and "minority" ways of knowing. What about the ghost as ghost? What about the array of non-rational knowledges out of which the ghostly frequently emerges? This project seeks to transform the application of the ghostly as scholarly lens, bringing to bear Foucault's notion of "popular" knowledges and drawing from Asian American studies and critical mixed race studies frameworks. Its timeline begins with the 1965 Immigration Act and traces across the 1970s to 1990s rise of multiculturalism and the 1980s to 2000s rise of the Multiracial Movement. For field of analysis, the project turns to Asian American literature and its rich evocations of the ghostly and compulsory rationalism, in particular Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior and China Men, Amy Tan's The Hundred Secret Senses, Nora Okja Keller's Comfort Woman, Lan Cao's Monkey Bridge, Heinz Insu Fenkl's Memories of My Ghost Brother, Shawna Yang Ryan's Water Ghosts, and Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being. It outlines a new reading strategy, a new means of conceiving of both Asian American literature and existing "spectral" scholarship as cultural productions. It also addresses a dimension of American history and lived reality that scholarship to date has not only ignored but actively suppressed. And insofar as the reach of "spectral" scholarship extends well beyond Asian American communities and Asian American studies--across an interdisciplinary net of subjects, a cross-cultural set of histories--this project is a necessary corrective with a wide scope of consequence for scholarly practice more generally. What it offers is an alternative approach, an alternative vision, reaching for a progressive politics of the ghostly.