Broken Entries

by R. Miki,
ISBN: 1551280590

Post Your Opinion
Shaowy Ruins of Colonial Architecture
by Scott McFarlane

Roy Miki's Broken Entries: Race, Subjectivity, Writing is a politically provocative collection of essays written by a prominent figure in the Japanese Canadian redress movement. Miki, who recently coordinated the controversial "Writing Thru `Race'" conference and who has lectured on Canadian multiculturalism in Canada, the U.S., Australia, and Japan, currently teaches contemporary Canadian Literature at Simon Fraser University. While Broken Entries should appeal to those with broad interests in Canadian culture, it is a "must read" for those interested in Canadian Literature and/or questions of multiculturalism and Asian Canadian identity. Included in the essays are important discussions of Obasan and the institutionalization of Canadian Literature; a rare interview with the late Roy Kiyooka; and re-readings of Japanese Canadian history that will provoke a reconsideration of how to approach Asian Canadian studies.

What holds this somewhat disparate set of essays together is Miki's persistent questioning of the politics of inclusion as they pertain to issues of race. The essay, "Asiancy: Making Space for Asian Canadian Writing", for example, is the first substantial examination of the ways in which the growing number of acclaimed literary works produced by Asian Canadians is affecting how we think about the Canadian literary canon and its ability to represent "us". It is an important contribution to Canadian literary and cultural theory as it grapples with the only very recent phenomenon of non-white Canadian writers receiving critical attention and being taught in universities.

Miki's questioning of "race" and the politics of inclusion repeatedly leads him back to discussions of multiculturalism. He argues that, by the early 1980s, multicultural policy was "perceived to be inadequate to deal with systemic racism and the specific problems of non-European minorities of colour who, in turn, had begun to confront racism by foregrounding the historical framework of colonization and eurocentricity still evident in Canadian institutions and public policies". Broken Entries seems to ask: How does a racialized identity such as "Japanese Canadian" work outside of multiculturalism-or at least within the horizon of its failure?

"The loss," says Miki, "or demise, of any given subject formation ensures that identity not become a residence but a performance of multiple and often contradictory positionings". We see this performance of multiple positioning within the essays, which include parallel texts, narrative inserts, journal-style entries, letters, and poems. And the collection itself has separate essays engaging with what it means to be a "Japanese Canadian" after redress; an "Asian Canadian" literary and cultural theorist working within a university; and an "Asian Canadian" writer and editor working within the constraints of the publishing industry.

For starters, Miki would have us think the term "racialization" differently. David Theo Goldberg first developed the term in Racist Culture: Philosophy and the Politics of Meaning (1993). Goldberg expands on the idea that race is a social construct, which usually refers to how a social group's beliefs about the perceived physical difference between races constructs a person's racial identity. Goldberg argues that racialization occurs through discourse, which suggests that a cultural logic of race, including the principles and assumptions upon which a culture's institutions and history are based, brings forth ways of seeing bodies within specific, if unspoken, racial hierarchies. For example, the Multiculturalism Act's specific exclusion of Yukon and Northwest Territories as well as First Nations band councils allows for a naturalized European Canadian identity with the land-through the erasure of First Peoples. Other racialized groups, in contrast, gain their identity through their relationship to rights-based legislation as "immigrants-become-citizens". In other words, people of colour gain their multicultural identity in relation to the "norm" and "priorities" established by eurocentric, bourgeois constructions of the juridical individual within the nation-state-i.e., in relation to whiteness. Miki writes, "`Racialization'...applies to the imposition of race constructs and hierarchies on marked and demarked `groups' whose members come to signify divergence from the normative body inscribed by whiteness. The subject racialized is identified by systemic categories that winnow the body, according privilege to those glossed with dominance and privation to those digressed to subordination". Within the cultural logic of the Multiculturalism Act, then, racialized subjects are identified by the systemic categories of citizenry in ways that produce explicit cultural erasures and implicit cultural hierarchies.

Miki develops Goldberg's sense of "racialization" as that which determines one's racial identity with Judith Butler's sense of the performative. He argues: "the formation of a subjectivity that interacts with the racialization of the body is never necessarily passive in its relations with the boundaries of language". We get a sense of the performative by "re-reading" proper names such as "Japanese Canadian", where "re-reading" is "an act of breaking and entering [which demands] that the term acquire opacity and semantic instability". The term, "Japanese Canadian", then, is not a transparent, stable one and Miki would have us confront the fact that it is an effect of the positions accorded by discourse. This is not opacity for opacity's sake. We are being asked to move beyond the limits and centralizing forces of liberal humanist understandings that would encase a universal body within a series of ideas. Instead, we are to come to terms with the discourses and politics of our values systems that materialize the "JC" body-that multicultural logic that would make it matter in ways that exclude and repress the possibilities of other notions of the body. It is the sense of these other bodies that traces the performance of the racialized body, giving it opacity and imbuing it with other possibilities.

It is the horizon of these other possibilities that holds Miki's eye. For example, he writes of JCs finally being recognized as full citizens through redress and thus losing their sense of identity through opposition to the state: "The loss functions as both a stabilizing resolution to an identity now `past' and the harbinger of an as yet unknown identity formation". Such passings and harbingers destabilize our sense of knowing what it means to be "JC" and a "Canadian citizen". Each term has been broken into, as if to occupy the shadowy ruins of multiculturalism's colonial architecture. Such hauntings demand political transformation. Miki would insist on it.

Broken Entries belongs to the increasing number of texts that, since the late 1980s, have turned to cultural theory as a means of articulating how racism operates through more than simply a "bad set of beliefs" that can be reformed through education and rights-based legislation. This collection will appeal to those in a variety of fields who are working toward developing a cultural theory of races and racism in Canada, and more generally, to those looking for a language that grapples more effectively with the foggy limits of our multicultural horizons. 

Scott Toguri McFarlane has written extensively on the politics of race, especially in relation to Asian Canadian art and writing, as well as on multiculturalism. He is a doctoral candidate in the English Department at Simon Fraser University.


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