Asian American Literature: Discourses & Pedagogies, Vol 3 (2012)

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The Abjection of James Dean: Mixed Media/Mixed Race Performances in Ai's Poem, "James Dean"

Cathy Irwin


This paper investigates how the developmental process of the Japanese-Black-Choctaw-Irish American poet Ai translates into a creative process that integrates aspects of identity thrown out or made abject by dominant cultural norms and ideals.  Just as Ai once disidentified with parts of her identity to discover and integrate her abject Japanese heritage, Ai's dramatic monologue "James Dean" explores the intersections where the poetic voice-the narrator or subject speaking-disidentifies with the cinematic and textual image of iconic white, heterosexual masculinity in order to integrate a sexuality that usually constitutes its "outside."  In the process, this paper argues that by mixing print and visual mediums, Ai's mixed media, mixed race performance on the page creates an allegoric body, a space for a mediated identification with the icon that recognizes the oppressive discourses of white, male hetero-normativity and the apparatuses that sustain such an ideal by making certain bodies abject.

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