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In Flux: Transnational Shifts in Asian Canadian Writing

By Roy Miki

Review By Janey Lew

October 28, 2013

BC Studies no. 178 Summer 2013  | p. 154-155

The twelfth and most recent volume in NeWest Press’s Writer as Critic series, Roy Miki’s In Flux: Transnational Shifts in Asian Canadian Writing, like others in the series, approaches writing as praxical intervention. Beginning with the central argument that Asian Canadian subjectivity is formed in the interchange between racialization and performance, Miki goes on to trace Asian Canadian as a sign that undergoes and produces shifts in meaning within the national imaginary, through Asian Canadian cultural and critical productions, and in transaction with rapidly transforming global body politics. In the collection’s nine essays, Miki offers nuanced and attentive analysis of a wide variety of texts, including the multi-disciplinary work of artist-poet Roy Kiyooka, historical materials relating to anti-Oriental policies and popular opinion, the poetry of Rita Wong, and Northrop Frye’s canonical essay, “Conclusion to A Literary History of Canada.” The essays in In Flux develop a set of tightly-woven arguments, the first, a set of political and historical propositions about Asian Canadian writing as an exemplary site to track changes in national and transnational subject formation from the post-war period to the present, and the second, a set of critical and theoretical calls for developing reading practices and cultural engagements that spur ethical acts and reflection.

Few voices carry as much weight as Miki’s in the emergent field of Asian Canadian literary studies. The essay “Asiancy: Making Space for Asian Canadian Writing,” from Miki’s Broken Entries: Race Subjectivity Writing  (2000), has arguably set the tone for scholarly production in the field. In “Asiancy” (and more generally in Broken Entries), Miki critiques centralist narratives of Anglo-Canadian canonization and suggests Asian Canadian writing as a potential site for resisting White, hetero-patriarchal ideologies underlying nationalist literature. In Flux, to a large extent, picks up where Broken Entries leaves off, rehearsing some of Miki’s familiar critiques of Canadian multicultural discourse as an assimilative cover for Asian Canadian difference over a history of official racism. Miki widens the scope in In Flux to account for the effects of increasing globalization and commodification on the neoliberal subject, asking, how are the effects of Asian Canadian racialization articulated in an increasingly transnational context? In what ways is Asian Canadian writing being mobilized? In what ways can it be? And, how can Asian Canadian as a critical methodology move towards unsettling a “settler consciousness” (249)?

In Flux arrives at an opportune time in Asian Canadian Studies’ institutional trajectory. Miki’s scepticism over institutionalization follows his line of thinking about embodiment: as universities becoming increasingly corporatized, fields of difference like Asian Canadian studies are likewise susceptible to incorporation — or assimilation into the corporate body. With inaugural programs in Asian Canadian Studies recently announced at the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia, Miki’s pointed questions about developing a rigorous critical pedagogy are not only urgent, but also prescient. In the wake of post-structural arguments that seemingly textualize the human out of existence, In Flux arrives as essential reading for those interested in reintroducing ethics into cultural praxis.

In Flux: Transnational Shifts in Asian Canadian Writing
By Roy Miki
Edmonton: NeWest Press, 2011. 288pp. $24.95 paper.

BC Studies, no. 178, Summer 2013.