Timothy K. August is an Associate Professor of English at Stony Brook University. His latest publications have appeared in MELUS, LIT: Literature, Interpretation, Theory; and The Oxford Encyclopedia of Asian American Literature and Culture. He also co-edited a special issue of the Canadian Review of American Studies titled, Vietnam, War, and the Global Imagination. His book The Refugee Aesthetic: Reimagining Southeast Asian America (Temple University Press, 2020), addresses why a number of Southeast Asian American authors have recently embraced the refugee identity as a transformative position.
In this article I will be identifying uses, techniques, and goals of Southeast Asian Canadian refugee aesthetics in the present moment. Looking specifically at Souvankham Thammavongsa’s How to Pronounce Knife and Philip Huynh’s The Forbidden Purple City I show how each piece leverages what Ming Tiampo has called, the “aesthetics of heterogeneity” to articulate how refugee collectivities exists beyond state designations. While Thammavongsa and Huynh write from and about different Southeast Asian communities, as well as belonging to differing immigrant “waves,” both texts are similar in how they present a plurality of voices, with various interests, perspectives, and drives. This approach contrasts with the singularity that has positioned Southeast Asian Canadian refugees as the stable exemplary subject needed for Canadian national mythologies to be formed. I propose that a contemporary aesthetic of heterogeneity intervenes in the imagining of the Canadian social milieu, where refugee authors illustrate the different structures of knowledge created by refugee lives without having to represent and give up to the reader exactly what the refugee life is.
Canadian Literature issue 246, Refugee Worldmaking: Canada and the Afterlives of the Vietnam War, is available to order through our online store at https://canlit.ca/support/purchase/single-issues/.