How did Asian bodies and labor become the negative representation of capital in the settler colonial space of North America? Conversely, how do racialized Asian bodies defy and challenge the normative logics of settler colonial capitalism? These are the two principal questions pursued by Iyko Day in Alien Capital: Asian Racialization and the Logic of Settler Colonial Capitalism. Day’s questions reveal how white settlers abstract Asian bodies into alien capital to conceal their own relation to capitalism. The questions also expose how settler societies rely on alien labor to accumulate capital and to complete settler colonial projects after the dispossession of indigenous peoples. The book thus makes welcome contributions to both settler colonial studies and Asian American studies, complicating the Native/settler binary by investigating the abstraction and exploitation of Asian laborers while also articulating a genealogy of Asian North Americans’ relation to settler colonial capitalism. Central to Day’s theorization of alien capital is her critique of settler colonial capitalism’s inherent “romantic anti-capitalist logic”—a concept thoughtfully elaborated in the introduction. Engaging with Marx’s labor theory of value and Moishe Postone’s articulation of modern anti-Semitism, Day illustrates how capitalism is misunderstood as the structural opposition between the abstract and concrete realms. While the abstract represents the unnatural and intangible that characterizes money, capital accumulation, and surplus value, the concrete is falsely romanticized into the “thingly” (10) and sensory that marks one’s social relations and organic connection with nature. Day shows that as settler subjects embrace the concrete realm and the social relations it represents, they project their own insecurity with “destructively abstract” capitalism (16) onto Asian bodies, in effect using Asian labor to conceal their own relation with capitalism while accumulating capital at the same time. Combining historical analysis with literary criticism, Day reaches into a transnational Asian American past to make sense of how contemporary Asian North Americans have been abstracted as economic expressions of alien capital. To do so, she offers a Marxist analysis of labor, value, and capital by reading Asian American and Asian Canadian literature and visual culture into the context of settler colonial capitalism and anti-Asian racism. Although Day agrees with Lisa Lowe and David Roediger that modern capital accumulation relies on the production and reinforcement of racialized difference, she extends this argument by demonstrating that settler colonial capitalism racializes Asian laborers only to eradicate their individual difference and replace it with universal commensurability (8). Day’s model of settler colonial capitalism thus exposes capitalism’s contradictions: specifically, it uses race as a marker to single out those who do not fit into a white, homogenous universe, but the act of singling out and othering further renders marked and nonwhite bodies anonymous and ultimately disposable. Alien Capital is smartly organized to show the critical importance of both chronology and conceptual movement. Chronologically, the book opens with a transnational history of the Pacific railroad construction and ends with the contemporary moment of neoliberal borders, with an epilogue that contemplates the dehumanized global labor migrations of today. Conceptually, each chapter critiques different aspects of settler colonial capitalism: the first two chapters focus on the reductive representation of Asian bodies and labor as well as their potential for disrupting this representation; the third chapter analyzes how Japanese labor was interned and “indigenized” (147) into an efficient and tractable labor population; and the fourth chapter investigates contemporary borders as sites where settlers restrict and exploit laborers while simultaneously reinforcing their racialized abstractions. Because the structure of the book is largely focused on Asian racialization, it leaves Day little space to triangulate the relationship between white settlers, Asian laborers, and indigenous peoples. This drawback is most evident in chapter 3, where more information about indigenous dispossession and relocation to contextualize indigenous population as surplus labor in the first half of the twentieth century would help persuade readers even more of the conflation of Japanese and indigenous peoples. The first two chapters develop Day’s penetrating critique of romantic anti-capitalism, analyzing how Asian bodies disrupt the oppressive temporality of capitalism and the normative conventions of North American landscape art respectively. In both chapters, Day underlines the queerness of Asian bodies by attending to multiple literary and artistic texts, including Maxine Hong Kingston’s short story “The Grandfather of the Sierra Nevada Mountains” (1980) and the photographs of the artist Tseng Kwong Chi. Day affirms Asian bodies’ self-conscious foreign qualities as a resource for challenging settler colonial capitalism’s reductive representation. Chapter 3 engages with Joy Kogawa’s novel Obasan (1981) and Rea Tajiri’s video memoir History and Memory (1991), elucidating how “mechanical, nonhuman” (114) Japanese laborers must be eradicated and indigenized into a model minority of efficient labor. In chapter 4, Day examines Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange (1997) and Ken Lum’s multimedia artworks while broadening the scope of her project: the transnational genealogy of alien capital becomes a critical tool to assess the contemporary neoliberal moment. Readers interested in multi-ethnic studies, settler colonial capitalism, and borderlands literature will find this chapter especially valuable because it demonstrates how immigration control today subjects both wealthy, skilled Asian professionals (“high-tech coolies”) and poor, expendable Asian workers (“retro coolies”) to the logic of abstraction and commensurability (174). Toward the end of Alien Capital, Day calls for a rethinking and reconstituting of “commodity-determined labor and its mediation of social and cultural temporality” (198). Her final statement gestures toward another important question that remains unanswered in critical race studies: how can one theorize and represent the radical incommensurability of individual lives? Only when this radical incommensurability is recognized can we transform settler colonial capitalism and discover a new set of relations. The major strengths of the book lie not only in its analysis of a transnational genealogy of alien/Asian capital but also in its refusal to reduce Asian labor to mere capital. Crucially, as Asian American Studies is turning its attention to “the Asian century” or “Asia-Pacific futurity,” Day’s sophisticated analysis revisits the history of East Asian laborers in North America, questioning if this Asian century and futurity can be shared by the most vulnerable and exploited. Are they part of that futurity? Or are they alien capital on whom people project their own anxieties about settler colonial capitalism? © MELUS: The Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States – Oxford University Press
Published: Jun 6, 2018
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