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Monday, 31 January 2011


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NYFA Photography School

Spiegelman is a genius


I still remember once years ago on a late-night trip through various collegiate and young adult liminal neighborhoods visiting various friends and friends of friends, and I met a friend of a friend of a friend who was a Korean-American lesbian, just to give you a taste of all the identities she was juggling.

Someone said something which reminded me of just how fraught discussions of race, and Asian-American identities in particular can be. I was just drunk enough to think this was a great topic for discussion, but not so drunk that I seemed to make sense.

The FoaFoaF suddenly unleashed a wave of irony and satire worthy of Doug Piranha. It was layer-upon-layer, bitterness ameliorated by whimsy edged by anger. It was a beautiful thing, and all these years later, I am still awed.

I stammered, apologized, and changed the subject.


I find discussion of assimilation and the struggle people go through immensely fascinating. I think it's because as more or less the complete opposite I can't relate to it and it feels like something of a taboo subject. I always want to talk about it, but fear of putting my foot in my mouth a la HP prevents me.

liberal japonicus

I don't see it as so much of a dodge. He also points out that he actually looks more like the more stereotypical image of a Chinese kid and that he placed himself in the story not as that kid, but as a different image that seems to be moving away from the stereotypical image as well. So not drawing himself as he really looked needs to be balanced by taking on that stereotypical image

As a half sansei who now lives in Japan, I certainly may have a viewpoint that is different from what your students have, but I think that the image minorities (by which I mean the exclusive 'we' rather than an inclusive 'we') have of them/ourselves is often an image that is pushed on them/us by the majority culture. What precisely that image is can be very difficult to define, but it often, necessarily, partakes of earlier, undeniably racist images. This is because those images are floating around (think Crouching Dragon, Hidden Tiger, or Rush Hour for Chinese), and it is difficult to imagine them somehow just disappearing. So I think it is a bit harsh to call it 'the fruit of one's own unthinking racism'. It is not as if one can somehow erase those images, and even harder when they are still in the air. Given that the images carry a certain weight and imply a range of unacceptable stereotypes, laughing at them in private, but decrying them in public makes more sense than to somehow completely reject them (which seems impossible) or to totally embrace them (which does seem racist). Also, when I think of what my self image was when I was at university (and it is by no means sorted out now), 'unthinking' is precisely the wrong term to use. It was thought about a lot, and the point that your students are laughing in private but are refusing to admit it in public can be attributed not to them not thinking about it, but to them trying to find out where precisely it fits in their lives. They may not be able to put exactly what they are thinking about into words, but it doesn't mean that it is not occupying their thoughts.

Rereading this, you may be making the point that non Chinese laugh in private but refuse to acknowledge that in public. Yet saying that a chinese-american student can laugh at it, but a white student cannot (I think there might be a different problem if we are talking about the creation of the character) seems to restrict the appreciation of what Yang has created to a minority, which doesn't see right.


I get why the students are reluctant to speak. So would mine be, and they are almost all rural white folks. But I disagree that Chang's intentions are unclear -- students will be wary of trying to articulate why this is okay to laugh at, but they are laughing because they get the irony, even if they don't have the critical vocabulary to describe the irony. The laugh track represented by the words along the bottom of the panel makes the ironic intent very clear, if the extreme exaggeration and sitcom setting weren't enough. The satire is clear enough that it shouldn't surprise them too much when the racist caricature transforms into a trickster god. (Okay, I know that expecting students to get irony is a dangerous thing, but I guess I mean that most of them take irony for what it is until you ask them to interpret it in class, at which point they get afraid and come up with the most literal surface interpretation they can).

Maus is a lot harder to pin down, I think. I tell students that the words and pictures are conveying two separate messages, and that they have to notice how the two channels conflict. The pictures show us a racist vision, and the words humanize the characters. The oversimplification that Artie worries about can now be blamed on the racist culture all the characters exist in, rather than on limitations of the medium. We can read a great message about how cultural frames are pervasive and nearly invisible, but the ironic moments that lead us to that reading are a whole lot more subtle and hard to bring forward to students.


(This is just a placeholder comment: I need to finish lesson-planning, but don't want you to think I'm not listening. I'll respond later this afternoon.)

Gary Farber
The two problems that confront any author attempting to write a confessional comic are likely best summarized in these two sequences from Art Spieglman's Maus

This is also as true in this general form: "The two problems that confront any author" of fiction or POV narrative, and then apply Spiegleman's dialogue as posted.

In short: how are painful memories and painfully stereotypical people best represented in a medium associated with childishness?

This is, of course, the more specific topic you're addressing, and then there are the cultural issues you drive at, but I note the more general case.

On a similar note:

Except their culture isn't the lily white "American" one that Yang offers as an alternative to the "Asian." It's profoundly hybrid.
I note that, as you know, but we all must write in shorthand, the "lily white 'American'" culture is thoroughly hybrid, despite various narratives, and this is also why politics is so difficult.

And inter-human communication in general.

We all can only communicate across commonalities. And since I don't teach, that's what I'm doing here myself. :-)

In short, class discussion is fraught
In short, all discussion is fraught, including our interior monologues/dialogues, etc., depending upon how settled we are with ourselves, but then we go to questions of being inwardly peaceful yet able to deal with the constant inward change necessary to deal with a an every more dynamically accelerating rate of change in our external circumstances.

I note that how people relate to the internet and being high information or low information tends to directly correlate, in my observation, with how much change they are able to deal with in their own lives, and therefore how much change they are able to make in dealing with external circumstances such as back to the rate of change of technology, including communications techology and social media, so once again I'm also making a meta comment on the very means we're using to communicate here, when we might also be doing so via Facebook, Twitter, LiveJournal, LinkedIn, telephone, omg, snailmail, video chats, meatspace, and so on.

Someone was telling me last night how "the blogging moment is over" and... we all only see that which is around us and that which we are able to find time to explore.

I do this including by reading your great stuff on your blog, even though I can't attend your class. Which is just as well, because I'd probably be trying to read stuff on some mobile device at the same time, and write comments to you on one of your other written publishing platforms. :-)

I'm also reminded of another paradox I ran into recently wherein a leftist friend was expressing a view of localism and community that seemed to me to inevitably lead on a direct chain of logic that winds up with nationalism and racism. There are other aspects I won't explain, but a reason I'm throwing this in is because he's Chinese-American.

And also was explaining to me why jobs should stay in America and not India.

I'm not sure how I should explain that to my Indian friends, or how this is a sound leftish position, but, then, we all have views that contradict, and contain multitudes.

Now I may go say hi to you on Facebook. Toodles.


"I'll respond later this afternoon."

Scott, are you aware that you have a persistent habit of saying things like this and then not delivering?


Scott, are you aware that you have a persistent habit of saying things like this and then not delivering?

Not only do I, I constantly feel guilty when I don't. It's the quarter: I'm teaching one thing, then perforce have to move on to the next without giving the previous the attention it deserved. It was much easier to keep all this straight when I wasn't teaching so many courses.


Oh, hey, I know how it is. Now I feel guilty for compounding your guilt...


No worries. If I wasn't feeling guilty, I wouldn't feel alive.


Scott, I am deeply offended that you take your responsibilities to your students more seriously than your promises to a few blog commenters. Where are your priorities?!?!?

Gary Farber

"Not only do I, I constantly feel guilty when I don't. It's the quarter: I'm teaching one thing, then perforce have to move on to the next without giving the previous the attention it deserved. It was much easier to keep all this straight when I wasn't teaching so many courses."

We all do our own variants of this. The best solution, I think, which I of course, rarely follow, is to not announce any intents of follow up at all, and either they happen or they won't, or to announce that you'll either find time later to respond or not, we'll all find out together, or, perhaps, go look for one's misplaced car.

Or write another post. Or go to Facebook, or write email, or do one of your other blogs, or go read something, or stop and smell the flowers, or say hi to your wife, or do something more amusing and relaxing, and Go To Your Happy Place, briefly.

But it's a waste of time to post announcements of intent when it's too likely to not happen, and then to apologize.

I'm all about the efficiency, and also pissing people off with unwanted advice about how to improve their lives and everything else.

I'll follow up this comment in an hour.

Gary Farber

"I'll respond later this afternoon."

"I hope to respond to this later, if I can, but may not."

Sf fandom invented a very useful term back in the forties or fifties, I forget, but could look it up, but Real Soon Now, aka "RSN," aka "maybe it will happen, I hope so, but don't hold your breath, because maybe never."

And sheesh, popularized by Jerry. Damn neo/newbie Eric Raymond.

1962, Dick Eney. Knew him well enough before he died. Owned the original, of course, as well as the original Fancy, 1944, Jack Speer, but the term came into use in the early Fifties.

Jack Speer.

Better write up by me.

I really should get myself into Wikipedia more, or have someone do it for me. I have an awful lot of corrections for them. :-)

Digressive, self-centered, but I told you I'd follow up in an hour, so better to be sooner.

Hi, LJ.

"Spiegelman is a genius"

Yes, but of mixed graciousness towards others in the field. But, then, this is true of most of us, too.

I'll respond further RSN.

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