"not the story I learned, but ... the story I tell" : (Re)presentation, Repair, and Asian Canadian Women's Writing of the Mid-1990s
This dissertation examines selected literary works by Anita Rau Badami, Denise Chong, Hiromi Goto, Larissa Lai, and Kerri Sakamoto, exploring how their stories respond both to the absence of representations of Asian Canadian women in literary discourses of the early twentieth century and to homogenizing assumptions in official histories. My formulation of (re)presentation in the title recognizes the multiplicity and constructedness of these denoted identities and experiences and the self-representations of these writers as a response to this elision and misrepresentation. The term repair borrows from philosopher Hilde Lindemann Nelson’s theorizing of “narrative repair,” which involves telling counterstories, but also is used in psychological contexts as a healing mechanism. An elaboration of both models, as applied in this study, is optimally useful in diasporic contexts as resistance to the elision and/or racist and gendered discursive constructions of Asian Canadian women and as restoration of damaged identities. The texts under study—Tamarind Mem, The Concubine’s Children, Chorus of Mushrooms, When Fox Is a Thousand, and The Electrical Field—were all published in the mid-1990s, after the initial forays into the writing of novels by Asian Canadian authors such as Joy Kogawa (1981) and SKY Lee (1990). My choice of these sister narratives recognizes the family as central to identity construction and intergenerational (mis)understanding and emphasizes the importance of this period’s second-generation explosion of writings by Japanese, Chinese, and Indo Canadian women that paved the way for the current plethora of writings by authors from these cultural groups that contribute significantly to Canadian representations of diasporic identity. This study explores the nuances and pluralisms of the representations of Asian Canadian women. The texts under consideration are cultural autobiographies and matrilineal or sexually transgressive narratives that reinvent the cultural memory of Canadian women of Asian ancestry; produce cultural fusions through the transcreation of oral traditions and simulations of the oral, transcoding of ancestral tongues, and discursive strategies of silence; and address connections between self and place in examinations of Canada, the adopted country, as (un)homely territory. Presenting unhyphenated diasporic female subjects who exceed socially scripted boundaries of gender, sexuality, race, and nationality, in terms of both Canada and the writers’ and protagonists’ ancestral Asian nations, these “acts of narrative insubordination” (Nelson 8) exemplify emancipatory politics and recuperative and revisionary projects. Interrogating questions of (re)presentation and repair from positions of liminality and across gendered, racial, linguistic, and geographical divides, this research contributes to current urgent discussions of identity, transculturation, multiculturalism, and globalization in literary and cultural studies.
Asian Canadian, Asian Canadian Women's Writing, Identity, Representation, Narrative Repair, Anita Rau Badami, Denise Chong, Hiromi Goto, Larissa Lai, Kerri Sakamoto, Tamarind Mem, The Concubine's Children, Chorus of Mushrooms, When Fox is a Thousand, The Electrical Field
Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)