I: Activating Memory' as Personal Testimony
The first part of the volume is titled Activating Memory as Personal Testimony and engages with the role of memory' and testimony in relation to trauma in literary' texts. The section begins with Michael Ka Chi Cheuk’s “The Language of Trauma in Gao Xingjian’s Selected Short Stories.” In it, Cheuk observes that the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) is referred to as shi nian haojie (Ten Years of Chaos) in the Chinese community' and as a human tragedy on a grand scale by' many Western observers (Macfarquhar 2006; Dikotter 2016). Due to the Cultural Revolution’s organic discourse and unpredictable changes, many' of the perpetrators who initiated the purging ultimately' became targets of self-purging. In 2000, the Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Gao Xingjian, himself a survivor of the Cultural Revolution. In its announcement, the Nobel Committee opted to highlight Gao’s most political works - Soul Mountain (1991), One Man’s Bible (1999), and the play' Escape (1989) - all of which are based on two of the most scarring events in modern Chinese history', the Cultural Revolution and the Tiananmen Square Massacre (1989).
Yet, observes Cheuk, Gao vehemently rejects politics in his works, and upholds aesthetics as the highest priority in his portrayal of human realities. With reference to his largely understudied short stories, this essay argues that Gao’s aesthetic exploration of trauma avoids reducing the participants of the Cultural Revolution to binary pairs of victim/ perpetrator because his aesthetics focus on the participants’ subjectivity rather than specific external events. Beginning with a critical review of studies of memory and recollection related to the Cultural Revolution, this essay then presents a comparative study of trauma theory and Gao’s artistic vision of meiyou zhuyi in order to explore the significance of his emphasis on memory and recollection of the Cultural Revolution as opposed to historical documentation and testimony. Of key importance here is Cathy Caruth’s understanding of survivor’s guilt as an “oscillation between a crisis of death and the correlative crisis of life” (7). This “oscillation” leads to self-blame and suicidal tendencies, among other self-deprecating symptoms, since Gao’s short stories concentrate on the subjectivity of the traumatized self.
Chapter 3 features Kerry' Kumabe’s “Exorcising the Yellow Perils Within: Internment Trauma and Memory' in Joy' Kogawa’s Obasan and John Okada’s No-No Boy." In her contribution, Kumabe argues that the internment of Japanese Americans during WW II served to neutralize the United States “enemy” abroad by' controlling Japanese Americans at home: the national majority' established itself negatively in relation to Japanese Americans as “alien” others. The rhetoric ofWorld War II exclusion characterized “Japanese” in opposition to “American” along “racial strains,” forcing polarized notions of identity' onto the minority' Japanese Americans, dividing loyal from disloyal, alien from citizen. In her essay, Kumabe analyzes John Okada’s No-No Boy (1957), a novel about the residual effects of Japanese internment in the United States after World War II, and Joy' Kogawa’s Obasan (1981), a novel about retrospective recollections of the Japanese evacuation in Canada and the life of memory' in the present.
Kumabe argues that both novels profoundly' complicate any' unified representation of Japanese American internment experience. The contradictions within and between each artistic narrative encourage readers to define their own meanings or closures, positioning Japanese Americans not as a unitary alien body' inassimilable to the nation, but as citizens with whom to engage and understand. Internment surfaces as a theme in these texts, suggesting that the experience of internment symbolizes a continued shuttling between national exclusion and inclusion that shapes the formation of Japanese American identity. This lack of resolution in these internment texts, suggests Kumabe, suggests that the project of narrating Japanese Americans from national exclusion to inclusion still recurs in a discursive process. That is, for Kumabe, the internment experience in memory' transcends time and space and continues even today' as suggested by both novels’ lack of resolution, in the haunting form of internment memories and collective recounting.
The third chapter in Part I is Nelly' Mok’s “Healing from the Khmer Rouge Genocide by' ‘Telljing] the World’: Active Subjectivity and Cultural Memory' in Loung Ung’s First They Killed My Father." This essay' focuses on Cambodian-born
American human rights activist Loung Ung’s childhood memoir, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers (2000), which is the first of Ung’s three autobiographical narratives, and which narrates Ung’s childhood experience of the Khmer Rouge genocidal regime from 1975 to 1979. As both a childhood memoir and a testimonial autobiography, Ung’s memoir engages the generic hybridity that characterizes literary productions from first and first-and-a-half generation Cambodian Americans, offering a manifold writing space where the self-uncovering/self-recovering quest of a Cambodian “I” relies on a private move - from victimhood to survival - and a public move, from silence to testimony. Mok’s essay investigates such double life writing by examining the modalities of Ung’s cathartic writing in the author’s quest for ontological significance in the face of a self-shattering past.
However, due to traumatic socio-political and historical wounds that Ung’s life writing addresses, healing can only be achieved within the public sphere. Therefore, Mok’s analysis illuminates the therapeutic and political functions of Ung’s childhood memoir, which provides a cathartic space in which she can write herself and her deceased relatives out of dazed and coerced silence into survival while seeking international recognition of Khmer Rouge war crimes. The essay probes Ung’s personal negotiation of a “post-Democratic Kampuchean citizenship” (Schlund-Vials 46), putting forward the necessarily transcultural/transna-tional vector of Ung’s identity as a Cambodian American peace and human rights advocate, living and working in America but also regularly returning to Cambodia to help her people cope with the devastating effects of landmines. If Ung constructs what Yamada describes as “a socially active form of Americanness” (152), argues Mok, she perhaps more crucially contributes to Cambodian writers’ continuing (reconstruction of Cambodian cultural memory.
The fourth and final essay in Part I is Zhu Ying’s “To Forgive Yet Not Forget in Tan Twan Eng’s The Garden of Evening Mist” and it argues that recent studies of trauma and memory in the Southeast Asian context have initiated new understandings and definitions of trauma. Indeed, they have emphasized the transformative quality of traumatic memory of catastrophes, natural or man-made. Revisiting places of violence in the region shaped by the “ethics of memory” (Bell 19), scholars using a range of socio-political perspectives have focused on the “ethnographic, qualitative and textual methodologies of lived experiences of trauma by survivors of violence” (Bong 3). For Zhu, such analyses focus upon testimonies, interviews, media, and visual art, to explore transformative actions of reconciliation and peace. In this context, Tan Twan Eng’s acclaimed Man Asian Literary Prize-winning novel The Garden of Evening Mists examines the “traces” and “indexicality” of trauma as well as the “politics of memory” (Violi, 39, 38, 37) presented by current explorations of trauma in the region.
Such endeavors to steer the study of traumatic memory away from geographical paralysis can be greatly enhanced by Paul Ricoeur’s philosophical perceptions of re-enactment and forgiveness in The Reality of the Historical Past (1984) and Memory, History, Forgetting. Zhu’s essay thus broadens studies of trauma and memory through literary fiction from a hermeneutic perspective rather than psychoanalytical or socio-political approaches. It focuses on the dialectics of remembering and forgetting in Tan’s novel through Ricoeur’s cogent analyses of the interconnectedness between history and fiction, as well as the interdependence between memory and forgetting. As such, this essay is divided into four sections with the first section introducing Tan’s novel. The second section examines, under the aegis of memory, the power of mnemonic recollection and cyclic “rememory.” Beneath the sign of history, the third section examines representations of history through “traces” of the past. The last section of Zhu’s essay evaluates mourning and “difficult forgiveness” as a survival tactic of forgetting.
The essays in this section cumulatively render a panorama of how memory' as a non-hegemonic, yet at times unstable, historical register shapes the ways in which trauma is recognized and memorialized. As such, the section meditates on the innovative ways in which memory can serve as a modality of personal testimony. In dealing with memory and personal witness, this section focuses on the inner life of traumatized Asian psyches, mapping out the ways and means through which pain and affect reflexively impact the inner self. This section thus offers readers a way to rethink expanding memory and trauma studies in and through an expansion of the personal as political and how we might one by one begin to recognize and validate internal pain of the heart and mind through the exclusive lens of cartographic difference that privileges the Occident above the so-called Orient. This cartographic difference in constructing an epistemology of the world is explored herein, in other words, through the territorilaization of Asian memory' and testimony' that can be consciously' countered and resisted in the cultural texts examined in this section.