Date of Degree

6-2016

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

English

Advisor(s)

Kandice Chuh

Committee Members

Eric Lott

Robert Reid-Pharr

Karen Shimakawa

Subject Categories

American Studies | Asian American Studies | Ethnic Studies | Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies | Literature in English, North America, Ethnic and Cultural Minority

Keywords

Asian American Literatures, American Studies, Cultural Studies, Ethnic Studies, Queer Studies, Performance Studies

Abstract

My dissertation argues that the history of Asian racialization in the United States requires us to grapple with the seemingly counterintuitive entanglement between “the camp” as exceptional space of biopolitical management and “camp” as a performative practice of queer excess. While each practice of camp has been theorized as exemplary of modernity, these considerations have been largely separated into studies of political economy on the one hand, and queer aesthetics on the other. Taken up predominantly in political philosophy and the social sciences, the former centers the death camps in Europe during World War II as epitomizing state violence within modern politics. Meanwhile, celebratory narratives in queer studies champion camp aesthetics as a crucial survival strategy against widespread homophobia. Yet, these accounts neglect to consider how camps have sustained longer histories of racial violence. Examining camps organized around labor, internment, resettlement, and counterinsurgency, I consider how camps proliferated in the United States from the mid-nineteenth century onward alongside exclusionary measures against Asian migrants as a means of policing the parameters of citizenship and expanding the state’s capacities for managing space and bodies. My project establishes how these camps stage states of provisionality wherein populations are configured as provisional to national belonging along the axes of race and sexuality. That provisional state, in other words, affords the improvisation of the meaningfulness of legal citizenship. Camp aesthetics play a pivotal yet understudied role in the processes of racialization that produce confinement as well as embodied practices that challenge them.

This project traces a genealogy of camps that have mediated the entry of Asians into the United States, including Chinese railroad work camps, Japanese internment camps, resettlement camps for Southeast Asian refugees during the Cold War, and the counterinsurgency camps in the Philippines. Juxtaposing the governmental archives of these camps in relation to a set of literatures and performances, each chapter focuses on a figure central to (Asian) American Studies—the coolie, the internee, the refugee, the diva, and the Asian American—and attends to how they articulate and are mediated by these multiple forms of camp. Analyzing legal texts and government reports alongside cultural productions by David Henry Hwang, Maxine Hong Kingston, Miné Okubo, Karen Tei Yamashita, Chay Yew and others, I explore how these works use camp aesthetics to locate and dislocate the various logics of encampment that provide the conditions of possibility for juridico-political decisions to construct and sustain sites of encampments. Tracing the contestation of encampment through campiness in Asian/American history, I elucidate the creative modes of solidarities that such cultural works envision. In this way, this project deepens understandings about not only the interconnections between state power and sexuality, but also the processes by which militarized violence and rightlessness are rationalized, negotiated, and challenged.

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