Minor Transpacific
Triangulating American, Japanese, and Korean Fictions
David S. Roh


Contents and Abstracts
Introduction: Triangulating Fictions
chapter abstract

The introductory chapter makes the case for how a comparative study of minor literatures necessitates a theoretical framework for "triangulating fictions." Opening with a study of the proliferation of comfort woman statues across the globe, this chapter shows the need for a trilateral, rather than bilateral, framework. Furthermore, it traces the respective origins of Asian studies and Asian American studies—national intelligence and political activism—to account for their tendency to avoid engaging in scholarly conversation. I offer an overview of the key formative points of both Korean American and Zainichi fiction, their respective histories, their similarities and dissimilarities, and how they engage one another textually and politically.

1 The Japanese Empire, American Industrialism, and Korean Labor: Younghill Kang's East Goes West as Colonial Critique
chapter abstract

Chapter 1 typifies how the specter of colonialism shadows Korean American fiction by tracing labor practices in Younghill Kang's East Goes West (1937) from Japan to the United States; I frame Kang's critique of American capitalism as part of an expansive discussion of colonial labor and manufacturing techniques. While much of the scholarly discourse on Kang's novel focuses on its critique of American cultural materialism, I concentrate on the mechanism driving it, "Taylorism," to link modern industrialism in America with colonial modernity in the Japanese Empire. Kang's critique of race within a stratified economic system, I argue, echoes his early experiences with imperial Japan. For a complete consideration of Kang's work—and much of early Korean American literature—imperial Japan cannot be ignored.

2 American Racial Discourse in Zainichi Fiction: Transpacific Cultural Mediation in Kaneshiro Kazuki's GO
chapter abstract

Chapter 2 turns to Kaneshiro Kazuki's GO (1996) and theorizes how Zainichi literature betrays an awareness of Asian American subject formation; I show how Kaneshiro integrates American racial discourse, particularly African American and Korean American, through culture to reconceptualize Zainichi identity in Japan. Zainichi fiction incorporates American racial discourse to formulate a mode of "transpacific cultural mediation"—that is, American culture functions as a mediating space for Zainichi subject formation in the discriminatory social structure of Japan. I frame GO through a transnational Asian American studies framework to articulate the importance of considering tertiary national sites in diasporic minority discourse and to reveal the triangulated formation of these communities through national policy, history, and culture. The relationship between the US Empire and imperial Japan, with the Zainichi population caught between, informs their definition as colonized people, their ephemerality as citizens, their formulation as resident aliens, and finally, their construction as racialized subjects.

3 Korean American Literature Has Always Been Postcolonial: Clay Walls, A Gesture Life, and Colonial Trauma
chapter abstract

Chapter 3, in concert with chapter 1, makes visible how Japanese colonial trauma haunts contemporary Korean American fiction with Chang-rae Lee's A Gesture Life (1999) and Ronyoung Kim's Clay Walls (1987). I explore how they grapple with the legacy of colonialism, which both interrupts and shapes Korean American literary formation. Clay Walls is entirely determined by Japanese colonialism, as is A Gesture Life, yet the prevailing criticism tends to gloss over that dimension. In an expansive reading of A Gesture Life, I demonstrate how colonial logic and trauma permeate every aspect of the narrative, including the extended period in the United States. Furthermore, I argue that that connection extends to nearly all Korean American literature: in other words, Korean America is intimately intertwined with Japanese America, and the two cannot be considered in isolation.

4 International Study and Sojournship: Absence and Presence in Seoul Searching and Yuhi
chapter abstract

Chapter 4 theorizes how international education may be the only institutional means through which Zainichi and Korean Americans can interact through Seoul Searching (2016) and Yi Yangji's Yuhi (1988), a semiautobiographical novel in Japanese dwelling on a return "home" to South Korea by a second-generation Zainichi. The first Zainichi woman to win the prestigious Akutagawa Literary Prize, Yi unspools the contradictions that a young Zainichi woman faces while studying abroad in Seoul. Most germane to this book is that both Yi and her protagonist compare her studies in Seoul against discussions of relatives' study abroad in America and access to a Korean American subjectivity that releases them from the limitations being Zainichi. This "absent presence" operates as a gravitational force that cannot help but dictate the terms of the narrator's relationship to Yuhi and her own sense of self.

5 Los Angeles and Osaka Are Burning: Diasporic Minority Transpositions in Pachinko and Moeru Sōka
chapter abstract

Chapter 5 underscores this book's thesis with readings of two texts that directly engage through the space of business enterprises. The first is Zainichi author Kim Masumi's Moeru Sōka (The burning Grass House, 1997), a novella set in the background of the 1992 Los Angeles Riots. Similarly, Korean American author Min Jin Lee's Pachinko (2017) is set in Japan with Zainichi protagonists and is written entirely in English—the first direct overture from Korean America to the Zainichi. I argue that these texts are only half articulable in disciplinary silos of Asian or Asian American studies; a framework—what I call a "diasporic minority transposition"—triangulating the multitude of histories, racialization, and politics from all three national sites is necessary to situate these works in a greater transpacific discourse.

Coda: Zainichi, Korean, American
chapter abstract

The Conclusion draws from the real-life example of a Zainichi Korean who immigrated from Tokyo to Los Angeles under mysterious circumstances, and who happens to be the grandfather of actor and comedian Fred Armisen, to illustrate how a comparative framework affords a complete understanding of personal and national histories as well as cultural conduits. The coda concludes with a speculation and a proposal for a new arena of study in Asian American studies that consciously views comparative minor literatures through a transpacific lens, including Vietnamese American and Vietnamese French literature.