Sunday, February 3, 2008

chan is missing and postmodernist critique

I thought Feng's essay on Chan was provocative, to say the least, humorous, and provided important context and insight as to why Asian American identity studies is still very important especially in this period where postmodernism does seem to project the idea that society is changing in a way that "effaces the markers of social marginality" (188).

Feng asks, is Chan Is Missing a postmodernist film or does it belong to Harper's project? Does the film "critique the appropriation of social marginality by the postmodern subject, or does it equate Chines American fragmentation with postmodern fragnmentation" (189)?

I think Chan Is Missing is an important film (even relevant today 26 years after release) in this age of postmodern theory where Lyotard suggests the end of the metanarrative, overlooking "contingent political phenomena" (188) and essentially, the fact that a "process" can even be a metanarrative. By this, I mean that through his "journey," and his quest to find where is Chan Hung or more relevantly who is chan hung and what it means to be Chinese American, Jo shows us how one "becomes" Asian American, and that the process of becoming is an integral part of being Asian American. The film and Feng's article shows us there is no set identity or role of the Asian American, that this process of becoming and "writing your own manual" as to how to be Asian American as Victor Wong said, is the important metanarrative of those living hyphenated-identity lives. It is important to realize that there is still the question of identity, and that there needs to be the process towards discovering it, because "it" is fluid, "it," doesn't really exist--there is no set Asian American identity. Jo's search for Chinese/Asian Americanness is an important critique of postmodernit theory because it does highlight the "contingency of Chinese American subjectivities" (189).

I would like to contrast, using Steve vs. Jo, what Feng refers to as "ceding" to postmodernist thought about erasure of identity politics. In the scene where Steve is frustrated with Jo, Steve criticizes Jo for being so "tripped up" about the "identity bullshit." He claims that the question of identity is in the past, going off the postmodernist erasure of markers of social marginality. However, he himself gets frustrated in the middle of his own spiel on "playing the game," because he realizes he is playing a game where he is tossing the ball to the other side. Feng explains Steve's own frustration after telling a story about his friend and invoking his experience in Vietnam: "Steve almost refers to the Vietnamese as his own people, but he stops himself; is it because he realizes that he is Chinese, not Vietnamese? Or is it because Marc Hayashi the actor who plays Steve, realizes that he is Japanese" (202)? Steve, Marc Hayashi, and Feng make important realizations at this moment about the need to continue the path of discovering how to become Asian American. As Feng puts it, "CIM, by showing us why it is impossible to know precisely who we are as Chinese Americans, shows us how we might discover how we can become Asian Americans" (210).


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