Lists, <i>Native Speaker</i>, and the Politics of Emergence

Yoon Lee

in Modern Minority

Published in print January 2013 | ISBN: 9780199915835
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199315956 | DOI:
Lists, Native Speaker, and the Politics of Emergence

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  • Literary Studies (20th Century onwards)


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In the late twentieth-century context of multiculturalism, the emptiness of the modern everyday can appear as a form of potential openness and equality. Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker explores the possibilities of mere proximity, of things and persons that exist side-by-side without knowing or affecting each other. The form of the list is the most significant example. An everyday form without boundaries or internal coherence, the list lies at the heart of this novel. Though it begins as a banal, everyday thing, it provides a crucial lyricism as well as a key to the novel’s subtle critique of nation-based thinking. Lee’s novel articulates the Asian immigrant’s longing not only for economic success, but also for political modernity––action in the public sphere. When the latter is made impossible by racial constraints, the novel imagines a different model of political community. Reflecting the everyday and figured through the list, this imagined community consists in a pattern of emergence. Lee’s novel uncovers the political value of open-ended, on-going everydayness.

Keywords: Chang-rae Lee; list; contiguity; emergence; politics; public sphere

Chapter.  10147 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (20th Century onwards)

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