Erica Kanesaka Kalnay Responds to Kristin Mahoney

I share Kristin Mahoney’s admiration for how sensitively Lavery illustrates the ways in which Asian diasporic writers defy simplistic readings in which they must either accommodate or resist Orientalist stereotypes. I found Lavery’s analysis of the half-Chinese, half-British writer Winnifred Eaton particularly compelling in this regard, as Eaton has been maligned for not simply capitulating to a white gaze, but for performing an act of impersonation by writing under the faux-Japanese penname “Onoto Watanna.” Lavery’s theory of the exquisite as an aesthetic that combines attraction and harm may provide a useful framework for historicizing the construction of Asian women as both wounded beauties and beautiful assassins, and for thinking about the ambivalent feelings with which Asian women flexibly inhabit, interpret, and reject these roles.

Eaton is also interesting because her status as a transnational figure situates her across disciplines. Eaton’s work has primarily been taken up in Asian American studies, where Viet Thanh Nguyen argues she was initially positioned as a “bad” Asian American political subject in contradistinction to her sister, Edith Maude Eaton, who wrote about marginalized Chinese American communities. Nguyen contends that Asian American studies for too long failed to recognize the “flexible strategies” employed by both of the Eatons because the field’s origins in political activism of the 1960s caused Asian Americanists to cling to the dichotomy of accommodation (Winnifred) and resistance (Edith).[1] Given that Victorian studies is a very different disciplinary formation that has historically excluded people of color, I wonder how the field might engage these kinds of ambivalences while pursuing an antiracist orientation.

[1] Viet Thanh Nguyen, Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America (Oxford UP, 2002), 34.

Reflection by Kristin Mahoney

Anna Maria Jones responds

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