“I Have Heard the Land Sing:” (Re)reading American Landscapes in Shawn Wong’s Homebase and Maxine Hong Kingston’s China Men
AbstractThe myths of North America were born out of the imaginaries of the American landscape—the wilderness, the Frontier, the West, the Cultivated Garden. From Washington Irving’s New World folktales, the adventures of Davy Crockett, the landscape artists of the Hudson River School, Concord’s transcendentalists, to Jackson Turner’s thesis, Nature was conceived/perceived as a constant given, as an object, a resource bestowed to the White, Anglo-Saxon, heterosexual male. The project of nation-building required the creation of national narratives and an American consciousness of progress, advancement, strength, and regeneration—through violence, to distinguish itself from the Old World and gain position within a geopolitical-geoeconomic colonial world order. These myths, imagineerings, and historical documentation of the American landscape have systematically silenced and erased the histories of Native Americans, Black slaves, Latino ranchers and Chinese coolie workers and at the same time dehistoricized and depoliticized thehistory of the material, natural world. This paper discusses Chinese American story-telling in Shawn Wong’s Homebase (1979) and Maxine Hong Kingston’s Chinamen (1980) as a means of (re)imagining a material history of the American landscapes in the negotiation of agency. Approaching the history of land(scaping) as material-cultural history formed during the colonial and industrial era, it seeks to understand and complicate the dialectic relationship between the material space of land and the body, the discursive space of American landscapes and identity, and the lived space of experience and memory.
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