British Journal of Canadian Studies

Cultural criticism and change: new directions in Asian Canadian writing

British Journal of Canadian Studies (2012), 25, (1), 21–36.

Abstract

Asian Canadian writer Larissa Lai reflects, in an article written eight years after the publication of her first novel, When Fox Is a Thousand, that the central character, Artemis, ‘is a product of my thinking through what happens to young Asian Canadian women in the absence of a radical community-based identity politic. She has some awareness of colonialism and white privilege, and some awareness of how her body is read within mainstream white society, but she does not really have any useful tools to deal with this knowledge’ (2005: 168). This article explores Lai's ‘thinking through’ the issue of white visualising practices that ‘read’ the Asian female body as a hyper-feminised, doll-like other in her most recently released book, Automaton Diaries (2009). This article will focus upon the consistent return within her body of fiction and poetry to the figure of the Replicant Rachel from Ridley Scott's Blade Runner. Lai's implicit questioning of Rachel's fixed subject positioning in Blade Runner indicates that her body of work is part of a wider project; for while under-taking a project of redress, more fundamental to Lai's politics of identity is the notion of address. This paper argues that Lai's answer in Automaton Diaries to Deckard's well-known question in Blade Runner - ‘How can it not know what it is?’ - is a vision of Rachel turning around and looking within and across the differing paradigmatic structures of cinema, literature, art, photography and all its attendant criticism. This glance back (and at) these structures foregrounds the transformative values available to the subject who looks at and records her life through her own eyes, overtly challenging the elisions and silences of white patriarchal inscriptions of subjectivity that would otherwise place her (like the character of Artemis in Fox) as a racialised, voiceless, doll-like object of white privilege and desire.

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Author details

Morris, Robyn