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Pädagogik & Soziales

Alina Degünther

Technology and ethnicity in American Studies

ISBN: 978-3-96146-886-7

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Produktart: Buch
Verlag: Diplomica Verlag
Erscheinungsdatum: 05.2022
AuflagenNr.: 1
Seiten: 72
Sprache: Englisch
Einband: Paperback


The technological imagery of twentieth century literature reveals that the profound fusion of technology with the human body altered the way people considered their bodies. In this period, a special attention was drawn to the representation of ethnic bodies, such as African Americans, Latino Americans or Asian Americans, through technology. The study of technology and ethnicity is relevant to American Studies because it highlights the nature of technology which can be gendered or racialized. Historically, mainstream American fiction can be identified as colorblind, because it has produced racial stereotypes of the ethnic others depicting them as inferior to the whites. For example, Ridley Scott’s film Blade Runner (1982) or Larry and Andy Wachowski’s the Matrix (1999) reveal how the ethnic bodies of African Americans or Asian Americans can be marginalized and objectified through technological means in fiction. Most of the analysis of ethnicity in this fiction has been done within postcolonial theory but less attention has been drawn to critical race theory. This paper intends to analyze the popular representation of Asians and Asian Americans as cyborgs and technological beings in William Gibson’s cyberpunk novel Neuromancer (1984), Mamoru Oshii’s cyberpunk film Ghost in the Shell (1995) and Larissa Lai’s post-cyberpunk novel Salt Fish Girl (2002) within critical race theory. These speculative fictions represent images of Asians and Asian Americans as cyborgs and technological objects, at the same time questioning and challenging the issues of ethnicity, gender and ethnic identity representation in fiction. While Gibson, an American mainstream fiction writer, provides exotic images of Asian cyborgs, the Japanese writer Oshii and the ethnic writer Lai use cyborgs in their narratives to address the issues of white supremacy and marginalization of ethnic bodies.


Text sample: Chapter 2. The Cyborg Body as a Metaphor for Ethnicity: In the American mainstream cyberpunk novel Neuromancer, which is set in the futuristic dystopian world, Asian cyborgs fulfill the role of oriental warriors that remind one of the premodern Japanese culture. Neuromancer applies a techno-Orientalist strategy in is narrative which means the interplay of futuristic high-tech images of contemporary Japan and anachronistic images of feudal Japan” (Morley and Robins 169). The speculations on Japanese culture by depictions of the interplay of historical images of Japanese warriors and technology reveal how the American mainstream novel establishes the difference between East and West. American Orientalism emerged before the cyberpunk fiction of the eighties. For example, Betsy Huang suggests that in premodern Orientalist science fiction novels, such as Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle (1962) and Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven (1971), the figurations of the Orient demonstrate a premodern form of technologizing the Orient that served as precursor for the postmodern techno-Orientalism of eighties cyberpunk and beyond (25). She further explains how the Orient and technology are embedded in Western consciousness and imagined in literature: Time and again in the Western futuristic imaginary, the Orient is the cognitive estrangement device of choice. The emphasis is perpetually on Asia as technology rather than as designers and wielders of it. In American science fiction, the technologizing of Asia began with premodern orientalist figurations before they took the form of robots, androids, and other types of machinery. The ‘Orient’ is the path but rarely the destination, and the characters who embody it are tools for, but not the architects of, the West’s construction of its future. (Huang 39). Stephen Hong Sohn explains that speculations on eastern tradition and culture in these science fictional novels reveal the ambiguous nature of the West's relationship with the ‘Orient’”. Sohn introduces the term Alien/Asian pointing out that the alien stands as a convenient metaphor for the experiences of Asian Americans [or figures of Asian descent], which range from the extraterrestrial being who seems to speak in a strange, yet familiar, accented English to the migrant subject excluded from legislative enfranchisement”. Sohn suggests that the fear of an alien Asian already existed in yellow-peril fiction and continues to exist in cyberpunk fiction. As Sohn puts it Although yellow-peril fictions and other such cultural forms first proliferated over a century ago, […] the connection between the Asian American and the alien other still remains a force to draw upon to allegorize racial tension and exclusion”. He further suggest that the spectrum that draws together the Alien/Asian across the late nineteenth century and well into the twenty first century demonstrates the dramatically divergent and varied ways Asian Americans have been represented as dangerous, subversive, and tactical in visual, aural, and written texts (Sohn 7).

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