Monday, July 19, 2004

Howdy folks. Long time no blog.

Those of you unfortunate enough to still subscribe to the Poetics list have seen me involved in a little dust-up over there recently. I've been meaning to post a little reflection on that argument here, but keep not doing so for the same reason I eventually stopped participating in the thread on the list: I found the whole exchange too exhausting, too dispiriting, and while at times interesting things were being said, I came away from each round of discussion feeling angrier than ever.

The spark was a new post by Andrew Loewen, of "Filipino crack whore" fame; in this case, a poem/diatribe titled "WHY DO THE TIAWANESE," which prompted an exasperated "here we go again" response from me. What followed felt depressingly like a replay of our previous exchange: some self-justifying posts in which Andrew defended his poem as not racist but "the Real of cultural interface" and again questioned my "short-sighted" reading abilities; to which I fired back that Andrew was relying on a vulgar poststructuralism to evade responsibility for his work, and neglecting the profound asymmetry of racism.

I was heartened by the eloquent responses of Richard Newman, who drew on his own experiences working and living in Asia, as well as by supportive remarks from kari edwards, Stephen Vincent, and Maria Damon. But I spent most of the thread engaged in debate with Lucas Klein, whose defense of Andrew's poem began with the unpromising suggestion that my response was merely "paranoia" (a charge, to be fair, that he later backed off of).

The discussion, I think, largely ceased being about Andrew's poem per se and became more about the legitimacy of my critique: why an Asian American would want to criticize a white person's perceptions of Asia; whether I was dismissing any Westerner who wrote about Asia (cf. Ezra Pound) as "imperialist"; whether "racism" and "imperialism" themselves were such toxic charges that they shouldn't even be made. It's probably the best I can do to point to Lucas's original posts (here, here, here, and here) and my responses (here, here, here).

Ultimately, though, what's left a sour taste in my mouth isn't my exchange with Lucas, which did at least feel like a real discussion, but some of the asides and remarks by others casting doubts on my motives and on the legitimacy of any discussion of racism. Worst of all were posts by folks who apparently though the whole thing was a big joke--including the guy who sent in a post referring to Asian members of his own family as "oriental" and "gook" and a slew of poems by another poster adorned with schoolyard mock-Asian talk (e.g. "chinese good / ping pong" and "ah so").

I received a few sympathetic backchannels, including a couple from fellow Asian American poets, one of whom very kindly wondered why I was bothering. I'm not sure I know. It seemed pretty clear to me that there was very little baseline sympathy for what I was saying on the list; I suppose it should not be surprising that there is little presence by minority writers on the Poetics list, and at this rate I suspect the atmosphere there is only worsening. I guess I was kind of hoping my tirades might bring a few people out of the woodwork, but I realize most people gave up on that forum a long time ago and have moved on. I suppose I will have to get used to the fact that the Poetics list is a place where Asian American perspectives, when presented as such, are essentially not welcome.

I'd like to think that this discussion would have happened very differently here in blogland; I'm thinking back to my exchange last year with David Hess and Gary Sullivan about the traits of Chinese poetry, which certainly touched on some similar issues but somehow got talked about in a friendly and open way, without resorting to the politics of destruction on either side. During the discussion I kept wanting to quit the on-list discussion and do what I thought of as "retreating" to my blog, which is, I guess, exactly why I didn't do it--"retreating" because it felt like a way of shielding myself from what seemed like increasingly personal attacks. (If someone attacks me on their blog, I guess, I can choose not to read it.) Having the discussion on the list changed my rhetoric in ways I became increasingly uncomfortable with--combative and angry and ratcheting up the stakes with each post. And finally the development of a dominant tone of rejection that pushed me out of the discussion.

Hm. I guess that's all to say: it feels a lot better to be blogging again.

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