Doctor of Philosophy in English (PhD)
The Routes of Uranium and Its Impact on Indigenous Communities in Canada and across the Pacific
This dissertation examines the emergence of racial grids, which define and organize categories of racial difference in relation to one another in a hierarchical manner, in Canada, Singapore, and Malaysia. It considers their varied approaches to embodied lived experiences of race and as belonging to a broader logic of raciality across the postcolonial world. This project focuses on three thematic points of comparison: the use of English as a mediator of racial distinction; the lasting influence of narratives of raciality that emerged during moments of inter-communal violence; and more recent recastings of these grids under forms of state-directed multiculturalism under conditions of globalization. This project examines these issues through sociopolitical theory and socio-juridical documents, as well as through Asian Canadian literature and post-Independence writing in English from Malaysia and Singapore. Drawing the work of Denise Ferreira da Silva, Frantz Fanon, Michel Foucault, and Jacques Derrida, this dissertation theorizes a figuration called the racial nonhuman in order to analyze how race organizes populations based on human types and defines them against an ideal, that is white and European, human. The racial nonhuman is engendered by historical, socio-juridical, and aesthetic discourses that render particular bodies as simultaneously within these nations and their demands for different racial types, but outside their ideal body politic. I analyze works by Fred Wah, Shirley Lim, Larissa Lai, Tan Twan Eng, and Lydia Kwa to compare how these nations have instituted and maintained their racial grids, as well as to examine how the racial nonhuman is contested and reimagined across these contexts.
Drawing on recent queer scholars’ notion of queer temporalities and queer time as opposed to the heteronormative history and a seamless progress of linear time, this thesis looks at the emergence of Asian Canadian literary movement and examines the proliferation of non-linear temporality and non-normative sexuality in Asian Canadian women’s writing. Whereas the theme of discovering the matrilineal history has been constantly explored in Asian North American literature, this thesis suggests that their story-telling practices do not rely so much on the genealogical transmission. Rather, I bring my approach to grief, loss, displacement and history in line with queerness to read Asian Canadian women’s novels and explore the turn to the non-linear temporality and non-normative sexuality that is directly related to each novel’s representation of Asian women as they retell the family history. The two novels I choose to analyze, Hiromi Goto’s Japanese Canadian story Chorus of Mushrooms and SKY Lee’s Chinese Canadian family saga Disappearing Moon Cafe, are considered as founding texts of the Asian Canadian literary movement in the 1980s and 1990s. Both writers foreground the characters’ formation of non-normative sexual identity alongside the unearth of the family’s past to reconstruct the personal, family and collective histories. I examine the non-linear temporality as a strategy in their stories for women characters as racialized and gendered minority to reject and critique the official account of history of nation-building. Through the culminating story-telling practices, female characters appear to exist outside the normative time of the worlds they occupy, and in doing so they offer the reconstruction of subjectivity and relationality with queer utopic visions beyond the white heteronormative framework. Therefore, queerness only marks the turn to non-conforming, non-normative sexualities but also offers a new mode of relationality that puts emphasis on women’s communities, rejecting a singular or reductive expectation of Asian Canadian women’s identity. Queerness, this thesis suggests, provides fertile terrain for tracing the spatiotemporal disjunction that the Asian Canadians have suffered, so as to reimagine identity, history and futurity.
This thesis outlines the ways in which reticent homophobia in diasporic Chinese families and communities contribute to the filial distress experienced by queer diasporic subjects. The analysis in this thesis can be located at the intersections of reticence, filial piety, and coercive mimeticism. This project was conceived with the intent to delineate reticence as defined by Ding Naifei and Liu Jen-peng in the context of queer Chinese diasporic identity. It argues that the power of reticence is not confined to its violence against expressions of queerness and non-heteronormative behaviour, but that it is an expression of power as social and linguistic aesthetic that paradoxically exerts itself as a form of powerlessness. Ultimately, this thesis is an attempt to use reticence as a critical lens through which to gain a deeper understanding of the “family’s structure of feeling” that erin Khuê Ninh imagines in analyses of the intergenerational conflict in immigrant families.
This thesis examines the relation between race and intimacy, particularly the ways in which intimacy is used in film and literature as an aesthetic strategy to resist heteropatriarchal and colonial constructions of racialized subjectivities, histories, and knowledge. Drawing from Lisa Lowe’s recent The Intimacies of Four Continents, I argue that Shani Mootoo’s Cereus Blooms at Night and Trinh T. Minh-ha’s Surname Viet Given Name Nam reframe intimacy by engaging with the residual and emergent to emphasize the lesser known forms of kinship and alliance between different colonized groups of people. In Chapter 1, I trace articulations of reticent intimacies in Cereus Blooms and contend that they generate an anticolonial mode of remembering that reimagines intergenerational relationships. Mootoo’s emphasis on historical gaps, fragments, and erasures to reconstruct narratives demonstrates a practice of reticent intimacy that challenges linear narratives and historical memory. In Chapter 2, I explore how Surname Viet depicts a transnational feminist intimacy through a narrative arc that reflects a transformation to visuality. The film makes visible palimpsest identities engendered through intimacies-in-motion as Vietnamese American women’s stories are inscribed with traces of the colonial past. This interdisciplinary project not only furthers understandings of the relation between the politics of intimacy and racialized subjectivities, but it also suggests aesthetic strategies of reading for alternative modernities that push beyond limits of inherited genealogies of liberal humanism to reveal possibilities of knowing what has been assumed to be erased, lost, and forgotten.