Minority Models: Masochism, Masculinity, and the Machine in Asian American Cultural Politics
As W.E.B. DuBois asked African Americans in The Souls of Black Folk, “How does it feel to be the problem?”, Vijay Prashad asked Asian Americans in The Karma of Brown Folk, “How does it feel to be the solution?” That is, what are the affective and ethical repercussions of being positioned as “model minority” in the U.S. racial system? In response, this dissertation aims to develop a queer theory of Asian American masochism, gesturing to a cultural politics intertwined with this racial position, negotiated through a masochistic attachment to the figure of the machine. My dissertation, Minority Models: Masochism, Masculinity, and the Machine in Asian American Cultural Politics, analyzes the masochistic performance of masculine Asian American cultural production in the co-constitution of Asianness and machineness in Asian American identity from 1982 to the present day.
Through the study of Asian American literature and theater, the political histories of Asian American critique, as well as new media forms like video games and comics, I argue that masculine Asian American cultural production places Asian American masculinity and mechanization into a symbiotic relationship in its articulations of Asian American identity. My work asks: what are the affective and ethical repercussions of being positioned as “model minority” in the U.S. racial system? One answer, this text suggests, lies in masochistic pleasure, wherein reception of pain and penetrability become sources of both pleasure and moral legitimacy. Building upon prior scholarship that models Asian American subject formation within a rubric of melancholic lack—such as Anne Cheng’s Melancholy of Race and David Eng’s Racial Castration—I gesture towards revising such models in favor of the pleasures of masochism. I argue that Asian American cultural production generates affective and ethical meaning from masochism as a moral economy, source of pleasure, and avenue for imagining racial form beyond human boundaries.