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The Politics of Feeling and the Work of Belonging in US Immigrant Fiction 1990 - 2015

“The Politics of Feeling and the Work of Belonging in US Immigrant Fiction 1990 – 2015” presents readers with a distinct optic: if we are to fully grasp contemporary US racial politics, we must recognize the narrative work emotion performs in popular US diasporic fiction. Comparing the work of authors who have become mainstays in the multi-ethnic US literary canon such as Jhumpa Lahiri, Julia Alvarez, Junot Díaz, Lan Cao, Achy Obejas, Cristina Garcia, Kiran Desai, and Nora Okja Keller, I explicate how these popular authors exhume the complex entanglements of racialization, US empire, and global capitalism by narrating the everyday emotional negotiations of diasporic characters and communities. In this way, I approach national belonging as a process of emotional work, rather than a final subject formation. By bringing feminist and queer theories of emotion to bear on literatures marketed and taught as US immigrant fiction, I reveal how these authors transform emotion into a narrative technique, one that speaks back to power through the felt. In addition to articulating a theory of emotional narrativity, “The Politics of Feeling and the Work of Belonging" considers how Asian and Latin Caribbean diasporic texts, when put in dialogue, expose similar US empire practices enacted across the Caribbean and the Pacific. This comparative diasporic framework emerges by examining the emotional life-worlds of labor migrants, political exiles, transnational families, and refugees from Korea, Vietnam, India, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic relationally. Putting difference into dialogue elucidates how modern liberal ideals of belonging and mobility produced racialized and gendered categories that greatly limited cross-racial anti-imperial efforts. By exposing felt histories of power that continue to shape the lived and political life of race, “The Politics of Feeling and the Work of Belonging” demonstrates the importance of literary expression for contemporary political and racial discourse.
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