October 18, 2007 – David Eng: “The Art of Waiting: Queer Diasporas and The Book of Salt”

The Art of Waiting: Queer Diasporas and The Book of Salt
Thursday, October 18 / 4 PM / Humanities 210

David Eng’s forthcoming book, The Feeling of Kinship: Queer Diasporas and the Racialization of Intimacy, examines the impact of Asian diasporic and queer social movements on conventional structures of family and kinship in the U.S. It explores the ways race is exploited and privatized in a “colorblind” age to shore up ideals of family and kinship in the global North. The book also investigates why we have numerous poststructuralist accounts of language but few poststructuralist accounts of kinship. This presentation, drawn from The Feeling of Kinship, explores Monique Truong’s 2003 novel The Book of Salt in relation to issues of historiography and historicism. When Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas were expatriates living in Paris, the American couple employed a series of Vietnamese cooks. Truong’s novel is told from the cook’s point of view. In this talk, Eng asks why it is that Stein and Toklas can appear in history as the iconic lesbian couple of modernism and modernity while Bình, the “gay” migrant laborer, cannot appear. In other words, how is it that Stein and Toklas are placed in history while Bình is displaced from it? As an “Asian American,” “refugee,” “postcolonial,” and “queer” text, The Book of Salt positions itself within and against the historiography of modernism by illuminating what this historiography obscures: the more extensive forms of social violence and forgetting that configure the political as well as epistemological limits of modernity.

Transnational Adoption, Racial Melancholia, and Racial Reparation
Friday, October 19 / 10 AM – 12 PM / Humanities 210

David Eng’s previous work has explored the relationship between racial melancholia and processes of immigration, racialization, and assimilation for Asian Americans. In these two essays, he considers how the contemporary practice of transnational adoption traces out a psychic and social arc from racial melancholia to racial reparation. He writes, “If racial reparation might be considered a constrained response to the psychic and social pressures of racial melancholia, I would like us to consider collectively in this seminar how, and under what conditions, the disparate paradigms of psychic and political reparation might be brought together in a productive manner. In other words, what (if any) is the relationship between psychic reparation, which is at the heart of object relations theory (Melanie Klein), and political reparation, which is central to histories of genocide, slavery, apartheid, comfort women, and other crimes against humanity?”

David L. Eng is Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of The Feeling of Kinship: Queer Diasporas and the Racialization of Intimacy (Duke, forthcoming) and Racial Castration: Managing Masculinity in Asian America (Duke, 2001). In addition, he is co-editor with David Kazanjian of Loss: The Politics of Mourning (California, 2003); with Alice Y. Hom of Q & A: Queer in Asian America (Temple, 1998); and with Judith Halberstam and José Muñoz of a special issue of the journal Social Text (2005) entitled “What’s Queer about Queer Studies Now?” Professor Eng is the current co-chair of the Board of Directors of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop as well as the former chair of the Board of Directors of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies, both based in New York City. Prior to joining the University of Pennsylvania, he was a faculty member at Columbia University and Rutgers University and was also a visiting professor at Hong Kong University and Harvard University. He received his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of California at Berkeley.

For a copy of the seminar readings, please email cult@ucsc.edu.