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Michelle N. Huang on anti-Asian Racism across Time and Space

In this episode we chat to Michelle N. Huang, Assistant Professor of English and Asian American literature at Northwestern University. Chatting with Michelle is bittersweet, as we think collectively together about anti-Asian racism and how it intersects with histories and representations of technological development in the context of intensified violence against Asian American and Asian diaspora communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. We discuss why the humanities really matter when thinking about technology and the sciences, Michelle’s amazing film essay Inhuman Figures which examines and subverts racist tropes and stereotypes about Asian Americans; why the central idea of looking at what's been discarded, devalued, and finding different values and ways of doing things defines the power of feminist science studies; and what it means to think about race on a molecular level.


Michelle N. Huang (she/her/hers, Ph.D. English and Women’s Studies, Pennsylvania State University), jointly appointed in the English Department and in the Asian American Studies Program, has research and teaching interests in contemporary Asian American literature, posthumanism, and feminist science studies. Her current project, “Molecular Race,” examines posthumanist aesthetics in post-1965 Asian American literature to trace racial representation and epistemology at nonhuman, minute scales. “Molecular Race” argues that a rapprochement with scientific discourse is necessary to fully grasp how the formal and aesthetic qualities of Asian American literature unsettle sedimented structures of racial formation.


Reading List:


“Racial Disintegration: Biomedical Futurity at the Environmental Limit.” Forthcoming in American Literature 93.3 (September 2021).

“Matériel Culture: The Militourist Aesthetic of Mary McCarthy’s Vietnam War Reportage.” Contemporary Literature 61.2 (Summer 2020): 162-193.

“‘feeling something as luminous’: an interview with Mei-mei Berssenbrugge and Teddy Yoshikami.” Tripwire: A Journal of Poetics 16 (2020): 192-212.

“On ‘Resisting Extinction,’” Verge: Studies in Global Asia 2 (Fall 2019; “Forgetting Wars”): 99-106.

“The Posthuman Subject in/of Asian American Literature,” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Literature (February 2019): 1-23.

“Ecologies of Entanglement in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch,Journal of Asian American Studies 1 (February 2017): 95-117. *Winner of the 2016 Bruns Essay Prize from the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts (SLSA)

“Creative Evolution: Narrative Symbiogenesis in Larissa Lari’s Salt Fish Girl.” Amerasia 2 (2016): 118-138.

“Rematerializations of Race,” Lateral: Journal of the Cultural Studies Association 1 (May 2017).

“The Synaptic Poetics of Kimiko Hahn’s Brain Fever,” Post45: Contemporaries series on Asian/American (Anti-)Bodies (December 2016).

“In Uniform Code: Catherine Barkley’s Wartime Nursing Service in A Farewell to Arms,” Twentieth-Century Literature 2 (Summer 2016): 197-222.

“Hospice Comics: Representations of Patient and Family Experience of Illness and Death in Graphic Novels,” Co-authored with MK Czerwiec, R.N. Journal of Medical Humanities2 (June 2017): 95-113.


Transcript:


KERRY MACKERETH:

Hi! We're Eleanor and Kerry. We're the hosts of The Good Robot podcast, and join us as we ask the experts: what is good technology? Is it even possible? And what does feminism have to bring to this conversation? If you wanna learn more about today's topic, head over to our website, where we've got a full transcript of the episode and a specially curated reading list with work by, or picked by, our experts. But until then, sit back, relax, and enjoy the episode.


ELEANOR DRAGE:

Today, we’re talking to Michelle N. Huang, Assistant Professor of English and Asian American literature at Northwestern University. Chatting with Michelle is bittersweet, as we think collectively together about anti-Asian racism and how it intersects with histories and representations of technological development in the context of intensified violence against Asian American and Asian diaspora communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. We discuss why the humanities really matter when thinking about technology and the sciences, Michelle’s amazing film essay Inhuman Figures which examines and subverts racist tropes and stereotypes about Asian Americans; why the central idea of looking at what's been discarded, devalued, and finding different values and ways of doing things defines the power of feminist science studies; and what it means to think about race on a molecular level. We hope you enjoy the show.


KERRY MACKERETH

Michelle, thank you so much for joining us. It's really such a delight to have you here. So just to kick us off, can you tell us a bit about who you are, what you do and what's brought you to thinking about gender, race, feminism and technology?


MICHELLE N HUANG

Thanks so much, Kerry. Thank you, Eleanor. I'm really glad to be here. Um, so yeah, I'm an Assistant Professor of English and Asian American Studies at Northwestern in Evanston, Illinois. I teach classes on contemporary American literature and primarily Asian American literature. What brought me to gender, feminism and technology could literally be a whole book, but maybe I'll just say that I'm the only non STEM person in my entire family. My grandfather was a microbiologist at UNC Chapel Hill, my dad is systems engineer at Bell Labs, AT&T, my mother, a computer programmer at Pfizer. So I think my research has always been inflected by my my own background and thinking about the emergence of race, immigration, science and technology.


ELEANOR DRAGE:

Amazing. Well, your list of achievements is incredible. And also your family sounds amazing, too. This is our three part billion dollar question, and I'd love to hear your take on it - which is, what is good technology? Is it even possible? And how can feminism help us work towards it?


MICHELLE N HUANG:

That is the million dollar question. So I do think about it a lot in relation to you know, my own positionality like thinking about what it means to be a good immigrant, right? Like to think about how the ‘model minority’ narrative that is so clearly inflected in my family's history coincides with, you know, the US Empire in the 20th century - the wars in Korea, in Vietnam, the civil rights movement, right? These are all things that are also going on at the same time when we tell this narrative of sort of media or technological ascension in the United States. And so I really think the question is literally like, what is good though, right? Like if the science fiction writer Margaret Atwood, says that ‘every dystopia is also a utopia’ right. So when she writes The Handmaid's Tale, like clearly, that may be, you know, it's a reproductive dystopia for those who think that women should have control over their own bodies, but it might be a utopia for someone - clearly the characters figured in the book. So, to me the question of goodness is a functional one, right? Like good for who? If good is something the way I would define it - something in the nexus of equitable, sustainable, non-violent - then yeah, I totally think technology can help in those aims. But I think our discussion of technologies is often unsutured from the aims of the creators or those who manage that technology, so I think what's really occluded when we talk about technology in and of itself is, what does it mean to be a good human still? This is why I still stand for the humanities, I guess, right? Like is a good human the autonomous agent of Enlightenment Consciousness, or is it something you know, rather more frail, connected, interdependent? And that's where feminism comes in for me, because that's the signal insight of feminism, right? That there is no sharp division between subject and object, that these are categories formed in relation and thinking about the sort of asymmetries of power and history I think can tell us a lot about how objects and technology manifest human desire, identity, history.


KERRY MACKERETH:

Fantastic, yes. And I think, you know, your work on this is just so fascinating as well. And I actually came to your work through a wonderful friend, Xine Yao, who also they have a podcast called PhDivas - I highly recommend to our listeners that you check that out - and they passed on this phenomenal art piece you did with CA Davis called Inhuman Figures: Robots, Clones and Aliens and thinking through Asian diasporic experiences and how its been tied particularly to these inhuman figures throughout history. And so could you tell our listeners a bit more about this piece? So what inspired it, why you thought this video medium was important, and how you think these racialized inhuman figures shape contemporary relationships to technology, particularly in the US context where I know you're based?


MICHELLE N HUANG:

Totally, yeah, so at Northwestern I teach a class called Techno-Orientalism, which focuses, you know, primarily on the relationship between Asian American representation and you know, the associations of the Asiatic body with science and technology. So we kind of move from 19th century Yellow Peril discourse, right, about Chinese railroad workers as robots who don't need real food, compared to like, you know, brawny Irishmen or something, to the Japan panic in the 1980s right, how that manifested anti-Asian sentiment due to the threat to the American auto industry. So this kind of, you know, bastion of American nationalism. And you know, we look at science fiction, contemporary science fiction films like Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, which was actually based on Ted Chiang's “The Story Of Your Life”. So I think it's really powerful to see over time, right, how racial embodiment works, how there's kind of patterns, tropes that repeat over and over. So I wanted to create a film essay that kind of models this historical genealogical thinking, but also is doing the kind of theoretical work that I think sometimes looking at just history can make difficult, right, like to just capture the power of the imaginary. And I wanted to model that for my students, rather than just doing negative critique. So in the video, I work through the robot, the clone and the alien, right, these three inhuman figures that manifest specific logics of racialization. So for the robot, dehumanised labour; for the clone, it’s kind of an all look the same interchangeability, fungibility; and for the alien, radical otherness, and xenophobia. And, you know, since many of the most popular representations that I look at, in the film essay, like Alex Garland's Ex Machina, I think they're really powerful, because you're able to see it, you know, like, on the other hand, it's sort of a cavalcade of bad objects that kind of reify and retrench rather than complicate and historicize stereotypes about Asian Americans. So it was actually my undergrad research assistant, Nathan Aprah Saddam, who suggested we also create an alternative storyline to embed within the film essay about a young Asian American woman who engages with and embraces rather than fears these inhuman figures, right. So it's kind of working against, you know, internalised racism to do a very, you know, straightforward reading of it. And, you know, we had to do that part in animation because honestly, we're, you know, as an academic project, there's no budget or know how to do live action, but I think the kind of multimodal result where there's the animation storyline, which is kind of nascent, maybe future oriented, sketchy, like, you know, on purpose then there sort of me as a talking head, like my racialized body as an Asian American woman, offering an analysis as an authority on the subject. And then those two modes are juxtaposed with the dehumanising representations of say Afong Moy, or Kyoko, the cyborg from Ex Machina. And I think that sort of juxtaposition invites actually a meta critique about the forms and scripts in environments into which women of colour, like do work and are written.


KERRY MACKERETH:

That's so fascinating to hear about the process, because that's something I really love about the piece, you have all these different textures of animation, of fiction and fantasy, any of these deeply grounded historical events, I think brings about that point so powerfully. It's also a real privilege to get to hear you talk about it, because even just that opening comment you made about the idea that sort of the Asiatic railroad worker, for example, didn't need the same kind of food as a brawny Irish white railroad worker. And that reminded me so much of two things like firstly, the very famous early 20th century anti-Chinese treatise, Meat versus Rice, produced in the US, but also moving to contemporary or kind of a fictional example, that particular scene and Cloud Atlas with the clones - and I know you and I have talked about this - where it cuts across to you see the scene of these Asiatic female clones kind of hanging, headless, from meat hooks, and I remember having a very visceral reaction to that, that scene, I just thought, Oh, we just wouldn't be seeing this if the clones were white women. Like there was something to me in that that really spoke to a particular kind of violent objectification of Asiatic women.


And I guess that kind of brings us to the next thing I want to ask you about, which is, you know, a really difficult question, in that we're at a very specific sociohistoric moment where violence against Asian diasporic people is particularly visible, and largely in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic and the rise of anti-Asian rhetoric that's accompanied that. And so I think as Asian women, I think this is something we both witnessed, and that has probably profoundly shaped our experiences over the last couple of years. And I think there's something you know, very healing about connecting with and talking to other Asian diasporic people about this, to know that you're sort of not alone in that feeling. But I've also seen a lot of polarisation around how Asian diasporic communities should be responding to these acts of violence, you know, should we be attempting to collect more data on these particular kinds of crimes? And as some have asked or argued, you know, push for stronger hate crime legislation? Or as people like Dylan Rodriguez and other Asian abolitionists have argued, you know, should we be actively pushing for anti-carceral solutions to the rise in anti Asian violence? So I want to ask you, how does your particular work on Asian racialization, on technology and techno-Orientalism shape your approach to this current spike in anti-Asian violence?


MICHELLE N HUANG:

Yeah, it's a thing I've been thinking about a lot, particularly the last couple years, of course, you know, my, the final for my Introduction to Asian American literature class last year was due literally the day of the Atlanta shootings. And it was, you know, very sobering thing to have to send an email in a moment in which I was, you know, honestly in mourning and traumatised, and my students are also in mourning and traumatised to be like, this does not matter today, like, but also you have to give me a final at some point, right. There's a sort of, I think there's still a collective mourning that we haven't really come to grips with maybe is kind of what I'm hearing in what you're saying in that we don't have a good way of thinking and talking about violence against Asian people, particularly the United States, because it's just not a discourse that is available to us. And yes, compiling, you know, the film clips for Robots, Clones and Aliens, you know, watching these dehumanising scenes of Asian women's bodies hanging from meat hooks, like you said, or being thrown in the incinerator over and over again, just in the course of editing and compiling, it makes it clear, right, how it becomes natural and normalised. And what's missing from the sort of individualization or spectacularisation of the events now, I think, is the history of war that actually underwrites violence against Asian women. So some of my colleagues in Asian American studies have written this great piece in Harper's that's like, we need, it's time to talk about, you know, the history of violence against Asian women about the Atlanta shootings. So yeah, like, you know, data on crimes - yeah, sure. Like it's important in the sort of like, in a way to ensure that there's commensurability with other data that's gathered, but it's not enough, like, and yes, it's totally heartbreaking to see Asian people, particularly elders, be attacked, but ultimately like, yeah, I guess I agree with Dylan Rodriguez, there are no individual solutions to structural problems, right? Like, calling for individual accountability, like or rewards for perpetrators is like not going to cause this to stop happening actually, that's, we know that very well, from all the work that people have done with prison abolition and trying to develop anti-carceral solutions. So this, I guess, this is kind of like a big answer to your rather focused question, but I think it's necessary in that people don't know anything about Asian Americans, right? Like I'm teaching a class of over 100 students in Asian American literature right now. I'm Professor of a field that I've never taken a graduate class in, or even an undergraduate class; very few of the journalists who write on Asian American culture have any training in ethnic studies. And I think that, like that failure of knowledge, of epistemology, of thinking is actually so important to understanding why there is violence against Asian people, because we can't even imagine, like, why we're here. And, you know, in thinking about how my work connects to this, I think it's ironically, you know, as someone who works on the contemporary and a lot on sort of future, futuristic representations as well, is that these are all old tropes, not new, I feel very allergic to the word new, right. So when we think about like, the pitting of Black and Asian populations against each other, you know, we saw it in the LA uprisings, we saw in the civil rights movement, we see it now and the focus on Black perpetrators of anti Asian sentiment, right, like most of the sort of surveillance videos being disseminated. And I think in each of these cases, we have to ask, like, where is whiteness? Like, what does the present absence of whiteness in the LA uprisings tell us about racial triangulation in the United States? It's like, oh, yeah, the cops all went to Beverly Hills to protect, like white people's houses, and like left, like, you know, KoreaTown to like, burn. Um, and so I think that that sort of focusing on just what's happening in the frame, rather than the sort of structural narratives is actually the most important thing that we don't get when we don't know about Asian American history in the United States.


KERRY MACKERETH:

That's really fascinating. And, yeah, I think, I really liked the point to make around the need for these abolitionist approaches. And we'll certainly - for our listeners - will post some of the Asian American groups that are doing really fantastic abolitionist work in this space, and also kind of the way that you've connected that through to needing to interrogate these histories of empire. And I think that's, of course, critical for Asian Americans and Asian American studies. But I think it's also something increasingly that I think British Chinese and British East Asian diasporic populations are now grappling a lot with in terms of things like, for example, I just learned the other day that, you know, Agent Orange, which is so strongly associated with American violence in the Vietnam War, was first used by the Brits in the so-called Malayan Emergency. And so you know, it's very strong to British imperial roots. And I certainly also resonate with kind of your comments around the triangulation of racialization in the US context, and some of the most hopeful responses I think I see in light of this violence are the kinds of, I guess what Xine Yao calls the sort of racial counter-intimacies arise in these spaces and the formations of these solidarity groups and alliances, that kind of combat various kinds of, for example, anti-Black racism, I often see like in my own communities, I think that, you know, it's one of the only things that makes me feel more hopeful in those times.


MICHELLE N HUANG:

Yeah, absolutely. I think, you know, to your point about imperialism right like it's the logics of imperialism that are shared like the violence you know, the violence against Asian women in Vietnam for example is like completely predicated on like the comfort women system in like used by the Japanese Imperial Army too right, so or even like, you know, the war crimes like committed by the Japanese Imperial Army, using like Chinese and Korean bodies to do medical experimentation on to literally learn how to treat things like frostbite and were then you know, basically bought by the United States and are like part of, you know, our medical care and treatment and innovation now. So these, this, you know, I think this is like why looking at things that aren't just individual humans is really important, like why looking at the history of technology is so important.


ELEANOR DRAGE:

Yeah, and I think that that's kind of one of the great things about academia in some ways that the temporality of it is so slow. And that can be really nice, because you get a time to pause and think, and look at the wider histories, the contexts, and think things through slowly. I had a really difficult conversation last week with someone who worked for a newspaper in the UK. And I think one of the things I struggled with is that the reaction by the by newspapers and other kinds of media has to be so immediate. It's like a Twitter response. And that means that you go with your emotion, and you throw it out there without having time to consider what that means, what throwing those kinds of emotions out into the wider public means. You know, this is not the stuff that I read, God knows how many people read it, but like the people that read her stuff, you know, 10s of 1000s of people, if not millions. And that just makes a huge difference. You were talking also about what it means to reclaim humanity, and this kind of absurdity of having to reclaim humanity for certain groups still now. In the meantime, there's this big trend in technology spaces, particularly in AI, to think about either the transhuman, so this idea that we will just move out of humanity, as we have moved out of apedom and become these superhuman, more than human entities technologically enhanced in various ways. And then, in feminist circles, there's been this movement towards posthumanism, which is quite different, which is this idea that we've never been fully human, we've always been really connected related to the environment, other kinds of critters, to technology, but in really intimate ways. And that has been critiqued by scholars who say, okay, but this is quite like a, like white feminist philosophy can do that, because it's the the human already belongs to these communities. And there's, you know, the push back by Zakkiyah Iman Jackson, Alexander Weheliye saying, you know, posthumanism, we need to be careful when we use these posthumanist ideas. But you still think that posthumanism is a useful concept for thinking about race and the experiences of Asian diaspora. So I'm really interested to think, you know, thinking of why that is. And I also use the post human in my work - thanks to Kerry a lot more critically than I did before. So I'd love to hear what you're doing with the posthuman in your work.


MICHELLE N HUANG:

I feel like you summarised that so well, I'm like, what do I even add? But yeah, like, I think, to me, the post in posthuman is analogous in some way to the post and post colonial if we could shorthand it like that, which is to say that it's not something that demarcates after or transcendence, but it's a critical stance that starts as soon as the colonial is instantiated, right, like, so if we think about post in posthuman in that way as the sort of bracketed ironisation that occurs, like from the moment that the human comes into being as something nameable. I think that that's different than the sort of transhuman super human beyondness context, right. And yeah, in my work, I'm not trying to get beyond human subjectivity. I think that's actually not possible. So the work of feminist new materialists, I think, you know, is very instructive in this way, like Stacey Alaimo, I’d put Donna Haraway under here, but and the, you know, I think we need more context, more subjectivity, not less. And the idea that we could engineer ourselves out of context, I think is like, pretty funny to me and very human actually, as a fantasy. But yeah, I think the term posthuman itself is obviously a huge umbrella term. I think there's lots of people like Zakkiyah and Alex Weheliye that you're talking about who point out the problems in just sort of reaching towards the posthuman, Neel Ahuja’s work I think it's very instructive in this way too on bioinsecurities, thinking about the way that the government of species, the environment, etc, has been used to sort of discipline race and empire. But I think that I think it is important, because otherwise, letting the human stay the way it kind of is as a received category just like reaffirms the sort of tenets of liberal humanism, of possessive individualism that actually do not serve racialized people at all right? Just asking to be included in this category reproduces the same logics of exclusion. And, yeah, that's so that's how I feel about that.


KERRY MACKERETH

That's really fascinating. And I also think, you know, what you kind of were just saying those last moments really reminds me of van Dooren’s work, who talks about how conservation practices understood as forms of care for one species always involve, sort of often the elimination or violence against another species in the name of care. And so the kind of ambiguities of care and I’m also thinking of Lisa Stevenson's work about which bodies come to matter, as bodies of care, and also how care functions as a form of governance, in the Canadian Arctic, you know, I think it's also a really important intervention here. And I think that kind of brings me on to almost to another question I had actually related to your video project, which was thinking about the way that feminist and critical scholarship interacts with these inhuman figures that you named earlier. Right? So the alien, the robot, the clone, and often treats these figures as quite generative sources for existing differently within, in relation to the human and sees some certain kinds of emancipatory potentials in those. And so I'm reminded here of, you know, a fantastic critique, by Annie Goh on how the aliens are deployed and used in a feminist tract called Xenofeminism. So I was wondering if you could comment a bit further on how you think gender particularly shapes the inhuman figures you describe in the video, and how you think these inhuman figures interact and intersect with feminism, feminist thought and feminist activism?


MICHELLE N HUANG:

Yeah, absolutely. I think, you know, two of the core tenets, the two of the core ways to challenge individualism, which is my sort of hobbyhorse in my research is interdependency and collectivity, right? So, in thinking about interdependency, this means thinking about our relationship to nonhuman plants, animals, the environment, etc. And then call activity you know, like not seeking to reify individual autonomous subjectivity as like the goal. Um, and, you know, this is where being a literature scholar comes into it because the kind of structure of the bildungsroman is so much about the ascension of the individual protagonist against, you know, the travails of their life. And, you know, if you think about something as scary as Ayn Rand's Anthem or something like that, it's like we we we and at the end, I've become I, and I think about that a lot. But I think, you know, um, feminism is so important, I think about Julia Kristeva his work on the abject and the sort of into how integral the abject is to our understanding of the creation of the subject, right. So what does it mean to engage, embrace, be interested in, dwell in, you know, that which is seen as undesirable, or scary, that creates anxiety, and I'm not trying to romanticise that. But I think it's really important to kind of examine where our affects come from with regard to that. And I think, you know, there's so much interesting work mostly from femme and queer artists now that do do that. So I think about like Franny Choi's poetry collection Soft Science right, the desire to inhabit a robot, a cyborg subject speaking, to interrogate like the sort of contours of desire and Asian femininity, rather than, you know, asserting herself as like powerful or the same sort of male scientist but a woman or something like that. I think that's sort of what that does instead is kind of bring attention to the way in which narrative scripts are structured around power and create subject positions out of it. I also think about Olivia Ho’s working woman which is a, you know, diasporic sort of Southeast Asian steampunk short stories sort of Frankensteiny but set in Malaysia and like thinking about how the three women in that story like come together as like a collective with different strengths and weaknesses in order to sort of challenge like the colonial police and the also the white male scientist, so you know, like, I guess is that like, too naive to say, but I think in the end like no really like it really is like collectivity to me without while preserving incommensurability, right, like not trying to homogenise experience across women. But I think that this is such a woman of colour sentiment actually. Right. So even though a lot of the things I don't look at, are a lot of things I look at are not explicitly sort of about woman-shaped things in some ways, I think that that central idea of looking at what's been discarded, devalued, and then finding different values that challenge epistemically the sort of societal structure is the power of feminist science studies.


ELEANOR DRAGE:

That's amazing. And actually, I, I love that idea of that, you know, from literature, because I also studied literature, you know, there has to be a main character and that main character is just detached from everything. Right, you know, that is the kind of the essence of the novel, you're carried through by one voice and a lot of the stories that I loved growing up like Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, I guess there is a sort of ‘I’ that has traced through, but you're right, it's also incommensurable, you can't be judged by the same standards of the, by the same metrics, because, you know, these, its subjectivity shifts so much over the course of the novel, and that I was thinking about last week, Jeanette Winterson's Oranges are not the Only Fruit that you don't even know who they desire, they just desire, this kind of desirous being that exists by virtue of the thing that it desires. It's so nice to, such a beautiful enactment of this philosophy that is big in feminism, this idea of reaching out towards the other, like Hannah Arendt - the other that that we have to responsibly reach towards. I wanted to end on a question that is about your next project about molecular race and Asian diasporic literature. That sounds amazing. I'd love to hear more about that. What does it mean to weave molecular race into into these kinds of studies?


MICHELLE N HUANG:

Thanks. Um, yeah, so my book project, Molecular Race, is on post-1965 Asian American literature that experiments with race, formally and thematically so kind of what you were just saying Eleanor, about how there are different feminist narrative structures, right. So I'm interested in how like, having braided narratives can challenge the idea of an evolutionary origin story or something like that, or how having like, queer reproduction, like parthogenesis can also challenged the sort of nuclear family unit as like the site of capitalist reproduction or something like that. So I use molecular in two senses. One is the minute scale of material composition, just because I think that that is the scale at which we are increasingly seeing human existence being played out, engineered, especially genetically, but I'm also you know, drawing on Deleuze and Guattari’s theorisation of the molar in molecular in A Thousand Plateaus. So thinking about the way in which race, which is often thought of as a molar characteristic, right, like as homogenous, contained, like a category in which like, I would be seen as obviously an Asian American woman as an atoxinous? identity, how to molecularise that, meaning how to maintain its heterogeneity, its relationality. Vicki Kirby, the feminist science studies scholar has this line about how all identity is given chiasmically. And I think that that's actually a really lovely way to think about it because it maps on both in the formal literary sense of thinking about chiasmus as a poetic device, as well as moving against the sort of material in the sense that there might be a material way in which identity is contained in like, some bit off in the gene inside one person. That it is, in fact, sociocultural, all the way down. So yeah, I think, you know, my text in trying to challenge sort of received categories of reading about Asian American literature, which to me are to cathected onto the individual racialized subject kind of what we were talking about, I’m interested in thinking about, my chapters are organised around tropes instead, so like human, object, gene, elements, species, atom, and eventually race, these things that we think of as sort of objects, but are in fact not self contained at all. So, you know, even if you think about the atom, like the atom is not atomic, right, it actually speaks to this fantasy of like, a completely homogenous alienable unit, but then we keep discovering smaller and smaller bits of the atom even. So, I think that it's a pretty apt way of thinking about race as well, that it's actually quite complex and distributed outside even the sort of boundaries of what we would think of as Asian American literature.


ELEANOR DRAGE:

Yeah, that's fascinating. Especially because, you know, as you said, making these different things discrete, separable, is a control device, and you can see that so obviously play out in the stuff that we were talking about towards the beginning of the episode, so I can't wait to read it. And thank you so much for talking about it with us here first.


MICHELLE N HUANG:

Thanks so much. I'm excited to you, write it and share it with you one day, but it's been so fun hanging out with you.


KERRY MACKERETH:

Thank you so much.


ELEANOR DRAGE:

This episode was made possible thanks to our generous funder, Christina Gaw. It was written and produced by Dr Eleanor Drage and Dr Kerry Mackereth, and edited by Laura Samulionyte.




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