Asian American Literature: Discourses & Pedagogies, Vol 4 (2013)

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Commodified Desire: Negotiating Asian American Heteronormativity

Paul M McCutcheon


This essay examines H.T. Tsiang’s proletariat novel And China Has Hands and positions it within the diasporic network that it emerged from and suggest that, by satisfying the needs of capital by providing a constant source of labor, segregated Chinese spaces became, in Rodrick Ferguson’s words,  “the locations for possible critiques of state and capital..[because it did] not rely on normative prescriptions to assemble labor.”  Thus, if industrial imperialism helped create the terms by which heteronormative patriarchy became the norm, it also helped produce social formations that necessarily deviated from heteronormative familial relationships. Elaborating, I suggest that the novel’s basic logic relies on a strict adherence to a Marxist understanding of the reification of the commodity fetish in intimacy. I claim that, due to its rigidly Marxist reading, the novel’s logic problematically inscribes heteronormativity as a normative network of intimacy, even as it attempts to critique the heteropatriarchal nature of capitalist intimacy. Following Kevin Floyd’s recent attempt to rethink the categories of totality and reification, I also argue that, by shifting the focus away from the reification of the commodity fetish, And China Has Hands resolves itself by pointing to the impossibility of heteronormativity for Asian American men.

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