Entries Tagged 'asam readings' ↓

Primal Poetry

Earlier this semester, in my 295 class, I read something by Freud that discussed what he called “primal words,” or words which have contradictory meanings. The example Freud used of this was “cleave,” which can mean both to hold onto something and to cut something apart. When I began reading “Notes from the Divided Country,” I noticed how cleave kept coming up and I wondered about how the meanings would change, depending on which definition was used. Here’re a couple of examples (If there’re any I missed, feel free to chime in).

In “Generation,” in the third part, there’s “We felt naked bodies climb each other, / cleaving, cleaving, / as if they could ride each other to a country that can’t be named.”

If you use the “clinging together” definition of cleave, then it seems like the two bodies are coming together, perhaps highlighting how people are united through being intimate. However, if you use the “cutting apart” definition, then it points out what damage people can do to each other in their quest for intimacy (or perhaps reference a loss of virginity).

In “Tree of Knowledge,” we see: “Step by step you’re learning what flesh is heir to, / you’re learning what cleaves.”

This one is really cool, because the differences with definitions are really obviously polar. Either the child is learning what flesh is heir to, what brings her intimacy OR she’s learning what separates her from others.

What might these mean in the larger contexts of the poems?

More Fluid Sexuality…

… than you can shake a stick at! So we’ve talked a ton about the relationship between the pair of AL’s. However, there’s another character whose sexuality is often called into question towards the end of the story: Frankie.

Is he gay? Annabel thinks so but his former mother-in-law does not. His behavior seems to imply it sometimes, when he doesn’t get another girlfriend after his divorce (So what, a guy can’t be single these days?) and when he won’t allow Alice to see Robin when s/he (later discovered to be a she) comes to pick him up. At the end we learn that Frankie is at least living with a guy and a girl and might possibly be in some sort of three-way relationship. Things’re left ambiguous, just as with Annabel and Alice. It just seems to be a theme for this book! The only person who is really questioned and ends up offering a solid answer is Coy.

My Year of Men

So on Monday, we all bashed (rightfully) and sympathized (also rightfully. Darn, why can’t things just be black and white?) on our man “John” (or John) Ueno. However, I had some thoughts about the other male characters in the book that we didn’t discuss, namely Suzuki, Oh, and Sloan.

What we get with “John,” Kenji, and Kato are frozen characters who never seem to change or grow, despite circumstances that you hope would help them change where it’s needed. With Suzuki, Oh, and Sloan though, they undergo incredible changes and growth throughout the story.

Suzuki and Oh are changed by their encounter with the angelic Christina, from drunken pigs into… drunks who are more considerate. Ok, so it’s so much more than that. The pair of men that swears to help Jane through her pregnancy and uncover the practices and ill effects of the meat industry are not the same perpetually wasted men who would shoot out the sex organs of pin-up girls with air guns. I seriously doubt that the pair of them in the beginning of the story would have cared enough (or been sober enough) to save Jane’s tapes from the pit that Ueno would have tossed them into.

The same goes for Sloan. When we meet Sloan, he’s Casanova. He’s Mr. Suave who’s a musician and in control of things. For much of the story, he and Jane don’t have a relationship; they have sex. It’s (allegedly) monogamous, but he still seems to have no emotional stake in it. Things (and Sloan) change though, when the pregnancy is introduced into the equation. After his apparent lack of emotion about the whole thing is shown to be a desire to not pressure Jane, Casanova turns into some kind of vagabond, giggly father-to-be. I thought it was really cool to see how the pregnancy, which was initially viewed so negatively, was turned into something beautiful. Anyway, just as J. Ueno isn’t completely without redeeming qualities, so is Sloan not without his share of faults. He doesn’t discuss things with Jane after her miscarriage, and when she finds him again, he’s surrounded by female admirers. He drops all that though, and the tears come, after Jane reappears. That’s just so far from where the two characters were at the start of their relationship. The desire to be a father, the tears, those aren’t things that Casanova does. However, Sloan proves to be more than that.

On a completely different note, I thought it was interesting that here, a week after the anti-abortion protesting on campus, we’re reading about a character who seriously considers an abortion. We watch Jane go from one end of the spectrum (it’ll be a burden, I can’t possibly do it) to the other (wanting to keep the child) while (we learn) Sloan watches anxiously from the sidelines. We also see Jane’s mother’s reaction (“You throw away your baby,” she said with disgust… “Why you throw away baby if you gonna be so sad?”).

Something else I noticed is Jane’s interaction with the doctor who tends her after her miscarriage. There’s a definite difference in how Jane and the doctor view her miscarried child: Jane says “baby” and the doctor says “fetus.” When Jane asks if she was pregnant with a boy or a girl, the doctor emphasizes not what the child was, but what it “would have been.” The doctor emphasizes to Jane that she had a “nonviable fetus” or “product of conception” in her, not an actual person. Finally, there is the “D and C” procedure, a term I recognized from some prior research I’ve done. “D and C” stands for dilatation and curettage. It is a procedure where the cervix is widened and the contents of the uterus are scraped out. It is most definitely a routine procedure for miscarriages where the entire body of the child is not expelled, but it is also (in other cases, obviously) an abortion procedure. It’s sad that Jane, who had opted to keep her child, ends up needing that such a procedure.

The Ice Scene

So, I thought I would put in my two cents about the scene in “Gangster” with the ice and shadowy figure that pursues our protagonist.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I think the figure was a rapist. On p. 73, she mentions seeing a figure in the Jehovah’s Witnesses tower. Then, she is pursued by someone whom she initially thinks is good, but turns out to be a more malevolent presence. When she says she feels like she’s moving underwater (like in a bad dream. You know you’ve all had those dreams), saying “I can’t, I can’t,” it really gives me the feeling that she’s kind of hurrying along, not quite running, trying to ignore the person behind her. Then, when she drops the ice on p. 75, she says “I thought I felt my brother’s breth upon me. This was not the warmth I’d felt earlier, but a chill now in the center of my spine. The feeling was so confusing and frightening, I ran.” This just seems to me to be screaming “sketchy scene with sketchy dude.”

Then, she runs past the towers and sees no one (makes sense if they’re behind her). I think the book omits something about our lady’s appearance, because her mother immediately knows something is wrong. Perhaps her clothes were torn or something. Anyway, when she begins to give her description, her mother immediately tells her to be quiet, which would make sense considering how much the other Asian societies have really disliked discussion of sexual topics period, much less in front of the people filling the apartment. Then, I think that her strange reactions and explanations are the startled, confused, shocked reactions of one who has just been in a terrifying situation and has become disoriented. When she sees her shirt is wet, she notices her breasts, something which has come up a few times throughout the book.

I discussed this with Dr. Scanlon after our last class, and I know my argument isn’t fool-proof. Where I was viewing her brother as being projected onto this potential rapist, in an attempt to sort of deal with it, Dr. Scanlon said differently. Honestly, I can’t remember exactly what she said, but it was interesting. All should ask, if we don’t discuss it tomorrow (today?).


I’ve seen a lot of similarities between this new book and “The Woman Warrior,” especially as compared to “Dogeaters.”

As I was reading “The Gangster We are all Looking for” today, I was noticing how Ma differs from Brave Orchid. Brave Orchid clung onto the old Chinese traditions like they were the only thing keeping her afloat. Ma, however, is eager to embrace American ways. She cuts her long hair short, to look “modern.” She enjoys going to the Chinese movie theater to watch the martial arts flicks with her daughter. Also, while Brave Orchid would make up answers whenever her daughter would ask a question, there are a lot of times where Ma just tells her daughter to be quiet. Ba and Ma seem to have much more of a relationship than Kingston’s parents, albeit much more tumultuous. What crazy fights they have!

Both women share a longing for their homes though, waiting across the Pacific Ocean.

Filipino Facts

Man, one of the things I’ve really enjoyed about this class is that I’m learning about cultures which I had no idea about. First it was the Chinese and now, with the new book, it’s the people of the Philipines.

First off, I knew that it had been a Spanish colony. However, it never occured to me that, like the people of Central and South America, the Spanish brought their language to the country. So, I was surprised when the characters in Dogeaters began using Spanish words (Spanglish, I guess). I guess it just never occured to me because Filipinos as a people group aren’t really thrown around too much in conversation. The Spanish connection then made me wonder how many Filipinos we have in the US. According to the 2005 Census, there were over 2.8 million Filipinos in our country. That makes them the second largest group of Asian Americans, behind the Chinese (not really a surprise). I was a bit surprised that, according to that Census, there are actually more than twice as many Filipinos here as Japanese, since the Japanese are mentioned far more.

Actually, it’s really surprising in general that the Philipines aren’t mentioned too much, since they were a US territory for awhile after the Spanish-American War. I wonder why that is.


One thing I’ve noticed while reading Maxine Hong Kingston’s book is my almost complete ignorance of the Chinese culture. I mean, it took me until last night to realize that when ghosts were referred to (Milkman Ghost, Garbageman Ghost, etc), they were people, just not Chinese or Japanese. Then, I remembered an earlier passage where Kingston says that the Japanese were the only foreigners that are not regarded as ghosts by the Chinese at that time. Then, I was also thinking “Man, what a terrible view of women they had in China,” and it is, but then I got to thinking about how women have been viewed in the West, and how not-worthy-of-mention that’s been. So, this book has been a definite learning experience for me.

The Woman as Warrior

After beginning this book, I really understand why it’s so difficult to categorize. Tomorrow’s reading moved seamlessly between a very biographical recounting of her mother, with fantasy elements seamlessly mixed in. Those two are so far apart in most American literature that it’s either one or the other. However, after reading some magic realism (Yay Spanish classes), I really think that’s a good way to describe “Woman Warrior.”

Since beginning this book, I think that Jessica really hit things on the head with her presentation last Friday (Not that I had any reason to doubt, but this has just reinforced it). The way that women were (are?) viewed by Chinese culture is simply appalling. Then, that got me to thinking (and talking) about other cultures in the world and how they’ve done similar things to women throughout the ages. Thinking about how advanced the world’s societies have (continue to) claimed to be so advanced (in whatever field), while such customs and abuse continue just sent me spiraling downward into oblivion.

However, I pulled myself out of the abyss to wonder at a couple of things. I’m assuming that the recounting of the mother’s battle with the Sitting Ghost was something that the mother had described to Maxine Hong Kingston. However, it’s later said that the mother never told any make-believe tales, only true (albeit weird or scary) ones. Since I’m kind of skeptical about the ghost incident, it made me wonder about the anus-less child she spoke of later, and if it was just some kind of scary bedtime story.

As well, I thought it was interesting that the Red Chinese (Communist) government issued tracts about dealing with ghosts, when (in my mind, at least) Communism is so attached to there not being a spiritual world. It’s kind of funny how that idea of a “perfect government” has to be twisted to fit reality.


Doing this Writing Event was very interesting because it forced me to examine my own culture and the stereotypes and assumptions we hold about those around us. It kind of surprised me how easily ideas came to me though. It showed me that even though literal colonialism is almost gone from the world, its ideas stubbornly persist.

Mainly, I’m talking about how it establishes binary relationships (“Us” and “Them”), and how commonplace those are, even within the same “race.” I mean, that’s completely how we define ourselves. If we’re not “black” or “Asian,” then we’re “preppy” or “goth,” and each of those labels carries connotations. I’m sure that other cultures have similar practices, and I just notice it here because it’s where I’m located. Or, maybe it’s just more common in the US because of the variety of people in the country. I just find it kind of scary that we consider ourselves to be a very advanced while we continue to hold views from the times which we’re supposed to have advanced from.