S/Tex(t)ual Transgression

  • Bennett Yu-Hsiang Fu (Author)
    Transgressive Transcripts: Gender and Sexuality in Contemporary Chinese Canadian Women's Writing. Rodopi (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Ziyan Yang

In Transgressive Transcripts, Bennett Yu-Hsiang Fu studies how four Chinese Canadian women writers—namely SKY Lee, Larissa Lai, Lydia Kwa, and Evelyn Lau—develop “hidden transcripts” as “offstage speeches, gestures, and practices” to resist and undermine public discourses of domination. By highlighting the interplay between sexuality, textuality, and ethnicity, Fu argues that their writings, while questioning common stereotypes related to Asian women in North America, promote “culturally heterogeneous, racially hybrid, and historically and genealogically inclusive visions” of Chinese Canadian womanhood.

Inspired by Foucault’s theory of sexuality, Fu’s book relies on the works of North American and Western European feminist theoreticians such as Elizabeth Grosz, Luce Irigaray, Julia Kristeva, and Judith Butler. The theoretical insights of some Asian American and Canadian critics including Rey Chow, Lisa Lowe, David Eng, Eleanor Ty, among others, are also incorporated in this focus on diverse sexualities as a transgressive way for Chinese Canadian women to articulate their agency and subjectivity.

Fu’s work is divided into four chapters, each dealing with one writer and the specificity of her “transgressive transcript.” The first chapter, based on SKY Lee’s multi-generational family saga Disappearing Moon Cafe, examines a certain “spatial transgression” in which four generations of women negotiate their subjectivity between fixation and mobility. According to Fu, space is a “crucial factor in the social production of sexed corporeality.” The trope of displacement, in Lee’s novel, participates in the redefinition of Chinese Canadian women’s sexuality and subjectivity. By reconceptualising migrant movement in terms of sexuality, Fu contends that the heroines’ transgression of boundaries defined by race, class, lineage, and gender challenges the cultural domination by race and sexuality imposed by the Chinese and the Canadian communities, both obsessed with racial purity. Therefore, “Lee’s contestation of homogenizing and authenticating Chinese Canadianness (or Canadian Chineseness) within a patriarchal, heterosexual definition” suggests “a new Chinese Canadian sexual, racial subjectivity” defined henceforth by “heterogeneity, hybridity, and multiplicity.”

In Chapter Two, Fu describes the transgression in Larissa Lai’s novel When Fox Is a Thousand as a “morphological” one. The interweaving of three narrative voices—the fox spirit, the ninth century Chinese poetess Yu Hsuan-Chi, and a young Chinese Canadian woman named Artemis Wong—presents various forms of boundary-crossing: shape-shifting, naming and name-changing, transvestism and cross-dressing, doubles and doubling, and so forth. Lai’s use of Chinese and Western histories as well as various cultural sources places the novel within different intertexts and multiple territories, defined by “mythology, history, and geographical reality.” Fu employs Elizabeth Ammons’ notion of the trickster to analyse these transgressive practices and indicates that such “cross-cultural, -racial, -sexual, -gender identifications” create “a female intersubjective paradigm.” This intersubjective paradigm perceives the body as “proliferating, fluid constructions,” stresses “multi-voiced interpretations of History,” and promotes the collaboration of multiple women’s voices and narratives to achieve a multidimensional subjectivity.

In the third chapter, Fu provides a reading of Lydia Kwa’s debut novel This Place Called Absencethrough Julia Kristeva’s notion of abject(ion). Associating abject(ion) with displacement, in-betweenness, and blurred boundaries, Fu considers Kwa’s representation of lesbianism as a resistance to “the dominant masculinist positions in the field of Chinese American studies.” By merging four female voices—mother, daughter, and two prostitutes—into the narrative, Kwa creates a “utopic lesbian site” where prohibited female desire is fully voiced, and lesbian subjectivity is constructed by subverting the patriarchal law and breaking temporal and spatial barriers.

Two autobiographical texts by Evelyn Lau, Diary of a Street Kid and Inside Out: Reflections on a Life So Far, are examined in the fourth chapter to illustrate what Fu calls a “hypersexual transcript.” Focusing on two deviant representations, the motif of runaway and prostitution, Fu demonstrates how deviance “as a borderland, a liminal space” offers a terrain for Lau to “distance herself as a deviant subject (prostitute and drug addict) from the rest of the model minority community.” Her writing, shifting between “inplacement (belonging) and displacement (marginalized), between the Freudian homely (das Heimliche) and unhomely (das Unheimliche),” resists “hegemonic cultural discourses imposed by both patriarchal Chinese and Canadian imperatives.”

According to Fu, The four writers studied in his book demonstrate their own way to “construct a utopic sexual site through their textual productions.” Their writings serve “as the basis for developing a new feminist praxis that articulates the ways in which (in)visibility, otherness, bonding, and stigma are reproduced on Chinese Canadian women’s bodies.” Hence, their “hidden transcript,” disclosed in transgressive ways, becomes “public transcript.” Fu’s book addresses important issues in the history of Chinese Canadian women’s writing and opens up new areas for future research.

This review “S/Tex(t)ual Transgression” originally appeared in Recursive Time. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 222 (Autumn 2014): 152-54.

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