Trauma Of Empire: Violence, Minor Affect, And The Cold War Transpacific

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Comparative Literature and Literary Theory
Cold War
U.S. empire
Asian American Studies
English Language and Literature
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This dissertation turns to contemporary Asian American literature to examine how the aftereffects of U.S. Cold War violence and trauma manifest themselves in minor subjectivities. In the texts I explore, peripheral subjects, whose physical and psychic dislocations stem from Cold War dynamics between Asia and the United States, develop affective modes of reciprocity and intimacy and thereby collectively act out and work through historical damage. In these sites of wounded sociality, trauma appears not just as catastrophic but also as ordinary; rather than displaying itself as an individual psychic pathology, trauma is reconfigured as a collective affective labor that produces a set of minor historiographies. In rewriting the dominant U.S. Cold War historiography through a traumatic genealogy of American empire in Asia, the cultural productions this project discusses create an aesthetics of the periphery and reveal the forgotten historical sites that the progressive temporality of U.S. imperialism has occluded. The writers I explore, including Jessica Hagedorn, Jane Jeong Trenka, Aimee Phan, and Ruth Ozeki, engage multiple historical scenes of the Cold War across the Pacific, from the metropolitanization of Manila and the refugees and transnational adoptees produced by the Cold War's "hot wars" in Korea and Vietnam to the economic alliance between Japan and the United States. This dissertation proposes that these historically, geographically broad and diverse sites are interlinked not simply through the shared experience of U.S. Cold War dominance and neoliberal governance, but also through literary mediations establishing an affective transnational zone: an alternative historical space that at once reveals the contradictions of "liberal empire" and produces an eccentric temporality disrupting its linear forms of progress.

David L. Eng
Josephine N. Park
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