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American Techno-Orientalism: Speculative Fiction and the Rise of China


American Techno-Orientalism asks how Orientalism and literary form have responded to China’s post-socialist, post-1989 rise. It explores this question through readings of speculative fiction, in which Orientalism has been an aesthetic dominant since the 1980s, and demonstrates how technologically-inflected, future-oriented genres have transformed Asian racial forms as they have been mediated by Anglophone and Asian/American fiction. It argues that techno-Orientalist forms enable the depiction and racialization of new groups of economically privileged yet aesthetically underrepresented subjects like transnational workers holding H1-B visas, queer techno-cosmopolitans, and Asian/American math and science nerds. While these subjects are well known through caricature and stereotype, the texts examined in this dissertation reveal how such caricatures and stereotypes have adjusted to account for subjectivities newly privileged by deepening U.S.-China interdependency.

This dissertation also argues that a historically informed description of techno-Orientalist aesthetics will reveal how China’s rise has rebalanced the East versus West framework that has hitherto grounded critiques of Orientalism. This development is due in part to how perceptions of U.S.-China interdependency, which conform and conflict with the more familiar logics of Saidian Orientalism, bring into focus historically and formally specific modes of Orientalism, which is typically treated as antinomic and transhistorical. Consequently, the techno-Orientalist forms in Japan-inflected novels like William Gibson’s Neuromancer differ sharply from China-inflected novels like Maureen F. McHugh’s China Mountain Zhang. These forms move away from an aesthetic of reification indexed to U.S.-Japan rivalry of the 1970s and 1980s, to an aesthetic of totality indexed to U.S.-China interdependency and attuned to social relations. As a consequence, fiction by Asian American writers like Ted Chiang and Charles Yu has developed along so-called “postracial” lines, as Asian and Asian American characters are complicated when mapped geopolitically rather than domestically.

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