We should be able to do textual critique of problematic elements (especially when harm is often in repetition than in individual instances of cringe) without it being all about a fundamental lack of ethics on the part of the author.
The point of literary analysis shouldn't be to separate out works into the Elect and the Damned. It's not a quest to find the one pure and unproblematic work. Nor should it be all about ferreting out secret bad people through their opaque word codes.
Of course the moment you find out someone is terrible, this will often change your reading of their books. Innocuous lines could gain much more uncomfortable readings. Implications crystallise. You don't give the author the benefit of the doubt anymore.
But that doesn't necessarily mean you could have always known. That you could reliably ferret out racists through the magic of textual criticism. That every line of cringe is a secret dog whistle.
The most prominent example is of course JKR. Given how public her radicalisation was and how substantial her political support for transphobia is, it doesn't have to be about the books. You don't need to double cancel her over the cringe-y way she names Asian characters.
But I feel like this is a recurring thing. We talk about authors like they're the sum of their works, that art can only be read through a single lens of moral worth and message, that it can't be messy metaphors and inconclusive meditations, screams of pain distilled into words.
It's a very limiting lens to view art. Sometimes we write ourselves as the bad guys because we are sick of handwringing moral guardians. Sometimes we write about tragedy not to punish or to romanticise, but as a memorial. Sometimes we write a power fantasy because it's just fun.
But even my tweet feels limiting. Not all explorations of dark themes need to be justified by personal trauma on the part of the author.
And the point of problematic stereotypes is that they draw on this vast morass of culture, that they develop endless clusters of associations, that their roots run deep. It's incredibly easy to evoke one without realising. To reenforce an idea without thinking.
I am alluding to the great baggage around Asian stereotypes again. And what I've previously titled "why I can't just repeat to you my uncle's favourite dog-eating joke".

I realise this thread is just an unwieldy redux of everything I've ever tweeted.
But I'm begging our approach to art and analysis not be this straightforward game "problematic or not" that projects back to therefore the author is a good or bad person. And I'm not just saying this because I wrote a dark book with dark themes. It's just a boring way to read.
PS: I also deeply dislike balancing "good rep" & "bad rep" in a book as though on some sort of absolute moral scale. I'm not sure it works like that. But it is true that I can get something out of a book that speaks to me & also find something else in it eye-rollingly insulting.
And I'm sure there are plenty of eyebrows to be raised about what (or even who) gets to be a "problematic fave" and what sinks without a trace.

But I keep circling back to how literary wack-a-mole isn't the best way to fight big tropes and recurring themes.
I did also write "But we cannot allow the rhetorical use of little Asian girls waiting to be inspired by Mulan to silence this conversation about actual genocide" so obviously. Exception. But same token, it's not the film itself. It's the circumstances of its production.
The film is a meandering pile of orientalist nothing but whilst I can decidedly see the shape of bad tropes and worse ideologies informing it, I'm not sure I can read in that like tea leaves the depths of Disney's complicity in genocide. Until the credits that is.

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More from @jeannette_ng

11 Feb
One of thing things that fascinate me is how characters and the spoken languages (mandarin, Cantonese, etc) evolved separately in Chinese and therefore often have different and independent evolutions.
It's really easy for those familiar with the written language to make assumptions based on that about what words mean and where they come from, despite the obvious fact that the spoken part has to come first and many words don't have consistent written forms across the centuries.
The classic example for me is 饅頭 which has a folk etymology of 蠻頭 (ie. barbarian head) and a story involving Zhugeliang and human sacrifice.

But the word is actually from Turkic and all the Central Asian filled buns with names like Manti. The sound comes first.
Read 28 tweets
6 Feb
Wandavision is hitting me in the feels because being stuck inside trying to be happy and "normal" whilst the world falls apart and trying to process loss through fiction has basically been my life.
I think a lot of EngLit critique 101 emphasises the importance of neatness for allegories. That things should be 1:1 in order to "work". So you have people arguing that Dorothy is America and the yellow brick road is the New Deal and the wizard is the president or whatever.
And increasingly I just don't think that's how my emotions are wired. Blunt obvious palette swap versions of real world events or simple 1:1 allegories just don't punch me in my feels in the same way as something a little bit more... refracted and abstract.
Read 12 tweets
5 Jan
This started with my being aesthetically offended by these tiles and their maker's "not your grandma's mahjong" attitude.

But what's more interesting is the rabbit hole I fell down about mahjong's popularity in America since the 1920s, especially among Jewish women.
There's this exhibition on mahjong in the Museum of Jewish Heritage.

I suppose it's always interesting for me to see these intersections of history and culture.

Also fascinating to me is how few Chinese faces and names there are in the ephemera, how despite this being a great intersection of culture it is not one of people.

I also note that the rules have diverged completely.

(Photos from mahjonggandme.com)
Read 33 tweets
28 Nov 20
Thinking of this and taking a step sideways, it's often how we (including me) end up experiencing art written by Asian ppl, expecting a recreation of their culture rather than ascribing agency to them as artists, making choices and reshaping reality within their fiction
I'm not here to defend Mulan (filmed in Xinjiang, where cultural genocide is still happening) but this tweet illustrates our denial of storytelling.

Her makeup looks bad because that's the story. However ham-fistedly executed, it's an obvious critique of traditional femininity.
You can make a case for how the critique and caricature of traditional Chinese feminine aesthetics is xenophobic, for example. But it is weird for me to overlook completely the narrative.

For reference, here's a screenshot of Shrek doing the same emotional beat.
Read 24 tweets
28 Nov 20
It never ceases to fascinate me how American Christmas movies project their most bland version of their culture onto Europe.

Where are all the goat skulls, and morris bells? The traditional sweets that are decidedly not sweet by modern standards? The aftertaste of paganism?
The Princess Switch has a Christmas themed baking competition and I was all ready to learn about the dozen extremely specific dried fruit centric traditional sweets that our baker protagonist has to master.... but all the entries looked like fondant-clad monstrosities!
You can't make a Christmas cake that close to Christmas! You need to spend weeks feeding it rum!
Read 9 tweets
14 Oct 20
I'm so serious because my own language and other languages that exist within the borders of China are being actively destroyed by Han supremacy and I'm deeply disinterested in perpetuating that erasure for the lulz.
I love whimsical and irreverent translations, by the way. I am not here to advocate any sort of linguistic purity. And I've been guilty myself of generalisations when casually explaining things to friends.
So I'm not.... I'm not trying to position myself as an authority. I just know a smudge of linguistics and like words.

I'm just painfully aware of how endangered fragments of our culture are.
Read 4 tweets

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