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Open Access Publications from the University of California

'My Father’s Daughter': Filial Dislocation in Shirley Geok-lin Lim’s Poetry


Drawing on the father figure and the father–daughter dynamic in Shirley Geok-lin Lim’s poetry, this article examines how the motif of filial dislocation underlines ambivalent and complicated emotions and meanings that can be traced back to the poet’s traumatic childhood experience of her father’s violence. This experience, described here as one of acute psychical and emotional rupture and dislocation, has been imprinted onto Lim’s body and consciousness in the form of embodied memories and emotions, and reenacted in writing and poetic articulation where the father figure is concerned. Through the recurring themes of memory, (dis)connection, distance, and dislocation, Lim’s deeply personal, even autobiographical, poems explore the wounded father–daughter relationship; in so doing, they trouble the ideological premise of filial piety as a cultural concept, which upholds the child’s obligation to the parent through the performance of filial care, respect, and obedience. At the same time, Lim’s poems reflect how embodied memories and emotions are relived and refelt in the process of writing as well as the depth of the poet’s emotional response and subjective interiority in the articulation and performance of filial and gender identity. Weaving through and traversing interior and exterior spaces and landscapes of memory and imagination, body and geography, the poems illuminate complex psychological, emotional, and embodied dimensions of Lim’s mediation of her filial and gender identity as a feminist poet, a daughter, and a gendered individual.

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