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Representations of Food and Abjection in Asian American Fictions

Zhang, Jiachen (2018) Representations of Food and Abjection in Asian American Fictions. PhD thesis, University of Leeds.

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This thesis explores how Asian American literature constructs and negotiates Asian American cultural identities through a series of encounters with food tropes. By looking into images of food preparation, serving and consumption in Asian American fictions, I investigate the ways in which Asian American subjects respond to US racial views of Asian American ethnicity in relation to body, gender, sex and class. In particular, as it considers the ways in which these fictions handle dominant US culture, the thesis focuses on their response to this culture’s longstanding tendency to regard Asian culinary habits and conventions as exotic and disgusting. I argue that Julia Kristeva’s theorization of the abject illuminates the complex ways in which Asian American literary culture negotiates US hegemonic representations of Asian culinary tradition. I suggest that the abjection of Asian foods, bodies and subjectivities works against the received modes of racial othering in US culture, allowing new identity formations to emerge. The Asian foods and immigrants that are deemed exotic and loathsome come to provide a discursive space through which Asian American writers can begin to unsettle the boundaries that maintain US white supremacy. The thesis looks into how the literary representations of food tropes by Amy Tan, Gish Jen, Ruth Ozeki, Monique Truong and David Wong Louie reinvigorate and challenge the varied exoticization and repulsion of Asian foods and subjectivities. Through intersectional readings of the alimentary scenes, and avoiding causational links between food and identity, I examine how these fictions delineate a metaphorical and metonymic process of incorporating and disavowing Asian American characters by interlinking food with a set of critical terrains such as gender, class, sex, colonialism, domesticity and nationhood. But these texts also share a central determination to interrogate how the abjection of Asian American food and subjectivities provides Asian American characters with suggestive material through which they seek to displace stable racial categories and challenge dominant reductive clichés about ethnic food. In this body of fictional work, the diverse presentations of the subjects’ strategies of resistance and subversion further draw attention to the complicated workings of a set of Asian American cultural politics, including inter-generational reconciliation, feminist alliance, transnational feminism, queer diaspora, culinary authenticity and collective cultural memory.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Asian American fictions, food studies, abjection
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures (Leeds) > School of English (Leeds)
Depositing User: Mr Jiachen Zhang
Date Deposited: 29 Jan 2019 12:48
Last Modified: 29 Jan 2019 12:48
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/22722

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