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Title:"We are here because you were there": Kinship and loss in 20th- and 21st-century Korean American Narratives
Author(s):Cassinelli, Silas M.
Director of Research:Somerville, Siobhan B.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Somerville, Siobhan B.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Nguyen, Mimi Thi; Byrd, Jodi; Manalansan IV, Martin F.
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
transnational adoption
Korean American literature
Abstract:“We are Here Because You were There”: Kinship and Loss in 20th- and 21st-Century Korean American Narratives analyzes the significance of trauma and attachment in representations of family within contemporary Korean American literature and films. Situating these texts in relation to Asian American histories of warfare, migration, and adoption, my project asks how contemporary Korean American authors and filmmakers represent the possibility of constructing genealogies in the face of trauma and abandonment. To answer this question, I analyze late-twentieth- and early-twenty-first-century Korean American fiction and documentary films by authors Grace M. Cho, Nora Okja Keller, Chang-rae Lee, Alexander Chee and filmmaker Deann Borshay Liem that historicize the Korean diaspora through its generational models. These narratives feature absent mothers, motherless children, adopted children, and families who are haunted by psychic and material losses. I argue that scholars must contextualize the formation of the Korean American family through histories of war that involve the US nation-state to understand the potential for non-biological kinship relations produced by conditions of militarization. The project is organized into four chapters and an introduction that provides the historical and theoretical contexts for the chapters that follow. Chapter one puts forward a comparative discussion of two documentary films by Deann Borshay Liem, First Person Plural (2000) and In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee (2010), to argue that Borshay Liem constructs a queer kinship of Korean and Korean American women within the diaspora. For the second chapter I frame the mother-daughter relationship within Nora Okja Keller’s novel Comfort Woman (1997) through the mother’s queer desires that originate from relationships with the other Korean comfort women at the Japanese military camp during World War II. Chapter three analyzes the queer relationships that exist at the margins of the family narrative within Chang-rae Lee’s novel, A Gesture Life (1999), to argue that queerness is integral to the institutions responsible for gendered and sexual violence in the diaspora. For the last chapter I read Alexander Chee’s Edinburgh (2001) through a queer of color critique, tracing the effects of sexual trauma throughout the narrative to show that the gay, biracial protagonist’s lack of concern about his race is an unavoidable result of his childhood experiences with racialized desires and the construction of the child victim. The project draws from and contributes to the fields of feminist and queer studies, Asian American literary studies, transnational adoption studies, and American studies. My analysis of representations of Korean American intergenerational relations reformulates two sites of inquiry that have shaped the field of Asian American studies: one, the significance of the family; and two, the relative invisibility of the figure of the transnational adoptee. While Asian American scholars have called for a shift away from an exclusive focus on intergenerational questions in approaches to Asian American literary studies, I revisit questions of generational models to foreground the transnational sexual and gendered labor required for the formation of US families involving the Korean military war bride and the transnational Korean adoptee after 1945. I use queer and feminist theories of kinship to examine the nonbiological and alternative kinships threaded throughout the narratives in these texts, but which are often overlooked in favor of the normative family relations also present. For those reasons, my project calls for more approaches in which biological reproduction is not prioritized within discussions of lineage, genealogies, and diasporic intimacies.
Issue Date:2018-07-13
Rights Information:Copyright 2018 Silas Moon Cassinelli
Date Available in IDEALS:2018-09-27
Date Deposited:2018-08

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