National Abjection

The Asian American Body Onstage

National Abjection

Book Pages: 208 Illustrations: 7 b&w photos Published: December 2002

Author: Karen Shimakawa

Asian American Studies, Theater and Performance > Theater, Theory and Philosophy > Race and Indigeneity

National Abjection explores the vexed relationship between "Asian Americanness" and "Americanness” through a focus on drama and performance art. Karen Shimakawa argues that the forms of Asian Americanness that appear in U.S. culture are a function of national abjection—a process that demands that Americanness be defined by the exclusion of Asian Americans, who are either cast as symbolic foreigners incapable of integration or Americanization or distorted into an “honorary” whiteness. She examines how Asian Americans become culturally visible on and off stage, revealing the ways Asian American theater companies and artists respond to the cultural implications of this abjection.

Shimakawa looks at the origins of Asian American theater, particularly through the memories of some of its pioneers. Her examination of the emergence of Asian American theater companies illuminates their strategies for countering the stereotypes of Asian Americans and the lack of visibility of Asian American performers within the theater world. She shows how some plays—Wakako Yamauchi’s 12-1-A, Frank Chin’s Chickencoop Chinaman, and The Year of the Dragon—have both directly and indirectly addressed the displacement of Asian Americans. She analyzes works attempting to negate the process of abjection—such as the 1988 Broadway production of M. Butterfly as well as Miss Saigon, a mainstream production that enacted the process of cultural displacement both onstage and off. Finally, Shimakawa considers Asian Americanness in the context of globalization by meditating on the work of Ping Chong, particularly his East-West Quartet.


"[Shimakawa's] clear-eyed, often elegant argument is one that demands attention." — Carol Fisher , Theatre Research International

"Considering the relatively uncharted terrain of Asian American theater and performance . . . National Abjection is a welcome addition to this growing body of criticism." — Mark Chiang , American Literature

"I have anticipated the publication of Karen Shimakawa's book for quite some time now. . . . [S]he offers a fresh perspective under the compelling rubric of abjection, presenting the most effective examination of this well-covered terrain to date. . . . Shimakawa's application of abjection to Asian American dramaturgy and performance is a valuable contribution to the growing discourse in Asian American cultural studies. Her book functions effectively as a coherent narrative and as a group of essays with diverse subject matter. Such a feat is difficult to accomplish." — Claire Conceison, Asian Theatre Journal

"National Abjection is an important contribution to the fields of performance studies and Asian American studies, while also of interest to scholars examining transnationalism, globalization, critical race theory, and the body." — Dan Bacalzo, Journal of Asian Studies

"Shimakawa has written an important and very intelligent book that requires the attention of all scholars of contemporary performance and race relations." — Emily Roxworthy , Essays in Theatre

“A provocative, well-researched study of the psychosocial and aesthetic representation of the Asian American as the ‘abject’ in the formation of the American nation. Karen Shimakawa writes elegantly and intelligently, with a lucid grasp of the complex psychoanalytic dynamic of abjection and an ability to lithely translate it into national, social, and racial terms. Her argument persuades the reader that the Asian American body is uniquely the specific index of a national ontology that fortifies the nation and its boundaries through the constitution of the Asian American as the abject to be refused, punished, and marginalized.” — Lisa Lowe, author of Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics

“Eloquent and insightful, National Abjection skillfully caputres the complicated ‘dance’ of Asian American cultural and political performance. Karen Shimakawa's reading of racial abjection makes an original and profound commentary on how theater embodies and engenders national fantasies, desires, and realities. This book should be read not only by scholars; in an ideal world, it should be distributed at all productions of Miss Saigon.” — Josephine Lee, author of Performing Asian America: Race and Ethnicity on the Contemporary Stage


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Price: $24.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Karen Shimakawa is Assistant Professor in the Department of English and the Asian American Studies Program at the University of California, Davis. She is coeditor of Orientations: Mapping Studies in the Asian Diaspora, published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top

Introduction: “It’s not right for a body to know his own origins”

1. “I should be -- American!” Abjection and the Asian (American) Body

2. “The dance that’s happening” Performance, Politics, and Asian American Theatre Companies

3. “We’come a Chinatowng, Folks!” Resisting Abjection

4. “I’ll be right here . . . right where you left me” Mimetic Abjection/Abject Mimicry

5. “Whose history is this, anyway?” Changing Geographies in Ping Chong’s East-West Quartet

Afterword: “Then we’ll have drama”



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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2823-0 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2937-4
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