Diffuse Connections: Smell and Diasporic Subjectivity in Larissa Lai’s Salt Fish Girl


This essay argues that smell plays a crucial role in shaping diasporic subjectivity. It thus marks a conceptual shift from the visual and auditory frameworks that tend to characterize postcolonial and diaspora criticism. This essay also extends studies that examine taste and smell together by exploring how smells mark diasporic subjects differently than tastes. Aromas have the ability to evoke memories of past “homelands” and mark diasporic subjects as “foreign” in their present living places. Examining scents’ varied functions thus complicates approaches to diasporic subjectivity that emphasize memory and nostalgic longing. By re-conceptualizing “diffusion,” the first part of this essay uses an olfactory metaphor to theorize both the intersubjective encounters that emerge from diasporic movements, and the intersecting spatio-temporal experiences that inform diasporic subjectivity. This essay then explores the dynamics of diffusion in Larissa Lai’s novel Salt Fish Girl and examines how Lai’s text draws attention to histories of olfactory discrimination against Chinese immigrants in Canada.

This article “Diffuse Connections: Smell and Diasporic Subjectivity in Larissa Lai’s Salt Fish Girl ” originally appeared in Prison Writing. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 208 (Spring 2011): 85-107.

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