Contesting Americanness in the Contemporary Asian American Bildungsroman
Yoon, Ji Young
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Yoon, Ji Young
My study examines contemporary Asian American narratives of subject formation through the theoretical lens of the Bildungsroman. A European genre originating in late-eighteenth- and early-nineteen-century Germany, the conventional Bildungsroman is a literary tool whose main objective is to depict an idealized subject's modern socialization. As Franco Moretti nicely captures in his study of the Bildungsroman, The Way of the World, the genre's significance is, above all, its successful representation of a reconciliation of an individual's revolting desires and society's regulatory demands. While highlighting a harmonious convergence of an individual and society, Moretti points to a white European subject's becoming a normative citizen in the rise of bourgeois capitalism. American writers of Asian descent have both utilized and transformed the conventional Bildungsroman form to describe their particular subject formation in the United States. The Asian American Bildungsroman differs from the white American as well as the European Bildungsroman, both formally and thematically, mainly because the racial group's social, political, and economic conditions have been marked by the U.S. exclusion of Asians. Asian American writers' generic interventions of the Bildungsroman thus exhibit their distinctive formal interventions and textual strategies to respond to legal and social exclusions of Asians in this country. In reading four Asian American narratives of subject formation, either novelistic or (auto)biographical in form, I argue the writers invented new versions of the genre, including the communal, the assimilative, the deconstructive, and the competitive Bildungsromane. This dissertation examines how conditions of textual expressions of the contemporary Asian American Bildungsroman have been not only predominantly marked by race but also further affected by class. The significance of the Asian American Bildungsroman is at once its interrogation of the contradiction within the American ideals and its construction of Asian American subjecthood.
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