Vince Schleitwiler's bold, revisionary study initiates readers into recognizable but uncharted transpacific terrain in African American and Asian American literatures. Schleitwiler's “transpacific” does not allude to an oceanic space or time frame, but rather to an “orientation”—“a kind of tilting of space and time” (p. 3). Sometimes, this spreads out from Georgia to Luzon via Hong Kong, and at other times, it is compressed between two towns in the Mississippi Delta. The “black Pacific” moniker is reserved for “a specific lure” within the terrain that gravitates toward seemingly incompatible forces represented by two black icons from the Asia-Pacific region, Barack Obama and King Kong; one represents hope for racial justice and multiculturalism, while the other represents sexualized violence and lynching, which appear as the antithesis of racial justice. Schleitwiler's main aim is to illuminate what he calls “imperialism's racial justice” and to argue that this “justice” “could be sustained only through an ongoing training of perception in an aesthetics of racial terror” (pp. 3, 4, emphasis in original). Organized into three parts and five chapters, the book offers nuanced readings of “the literatures that take form and flight within the fissures of imperialism's racial justice” to study race across U.S. transpacific domains (p. 4). Less interested in geographically fixed units with distinct borders than in migrations, Schleitwiler ingeniously traces and teases out multiple circuits of movements of ideologies and labor that at once crisscross U.S. imperialism and its shadows and cut across and along what W. E. B. Du Bois termed “the color line.” Chapter 1 provides a theoretical framework by elaborating on Du Bois's color line (from which Schleitwiler draws inspiration and methodology) as “a traveling analytical concept for examining how race is made and remade, in uneven and unpredictable ways, across a global field of imperial competition” (p. 41, emphasis in original). Chapters 2 and 3 focus on the “training” of racialized sexuality into normative gendering through which African Americans and Filipinos emerge as modern, mobile (or diasporic) subjects and its breakdown and “failure” (p. 122). Chapters 4 and 5 center on parallel readings of Nella Larsen's Passing (1929) and Toshio Mori's The Brothers Murata (completed in 1944, but unpublished until 2000) and of the New Negro and the Nisei, as well as intersectional readings of black and Japanese American migrations and “their uneasy convergence in Los Angeles after the war” (p. 223). Written in an enticing, cryptic style, Schleitwiler's study is not necessarily a reader-friendly guide to the terrain that it asks readers to enter; this is perhaps precisely because it “takes up the task of … learning how to read” (p. 4). Readers are urged to learn to read—not only the unmapped terrain in African American and Asian American literatures but also Schleitwiler's book on it. Scholars need to wrestle with this exceptionally challenging work to shape future work in the field. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Organization of American Historians. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Journal of American History – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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