Megatextual Readings: Accessing an Archive of Korean/American Constructions

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2006-05-10

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This dissertation formulates an approach to reading Korean/American narratives through what I call a "megatext" in order to understand the uneven and dynamic production of Korean/Americanness. By advancing a "megatextual" approach to conceiving of identity and politics, I argue for a way of addressing the critical gap Asian Americanist practitioners continue to witness between activist demands for social justice and scholarly articulations of those demands. A megatextual approach seeks to be an alternative reading practice that bridges different realms of knowledge production.

Megatexts argue for a practice of reading across an archive in which texts are actively cross-referencing each other. This approach is essential to the way we apprehend knowledge in the current economy. I define the overarching term "megatext" as a rewritable archive of information and meaning within which the processes of archiving and interpretation are taking place at the same time. I identify particular theoretical concepts leading into my formulation of megatexts and argue the political significance of this approach in terms of Asian American studies and public intellectualism. Then, I define and apply the term "Korean/American" in order to refer to the broad body of work constituting here a "Korean/American megatext." The convergences among the various discourses referenced by megatexts demonstrate how they are useful for bridging different realms. Lastly, I identify the significant constructions of "Korea" in the media as impacting Korean/American ethnic identity formations in order to establish my focus on contemporary Korean/Americanness.

I apply this focus and formulate megatexts for each chapter based on individual Korean/American authors and the texts and discourses they reference. Chapter one examines a megatext of Chang-rae Lee's novels, authorship, and popularity. Chapter two expands on the concept of authorship and discusses Don Lee and his collection, Yellow, as evidence of the commodification of author and text. Chapter three examines Korean/American women's bodies in Nora Okja Keller's novels as emblematic of the gendered, neocolonial U.S.-Korea relationship. This dissertation emphasizes the importance of reading the dynamic elements of narratives as a way of contending with the shifting and relational nature of the meanings that accrue to Korean/Americanness.

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