Lisa Lowe’s Immigrant Acts

Lowe, Lisa. Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics. Durham: Duke University Press, 1996.

Lisa Lowe’s essay, “Canon, Institutionalization, Identity: Asian American Studies,” focuses on the importance of Asian American Studies in the American University, emphasizing that the main function of Asian American Studies is to explore the contradictions within the University system itself, and thereby American culture in general. Lowe seeks to implement Asian American Studies as “an oppositional site from which to contest the educational apparatus that reproduces and continues to be organized by Western culturalist, as well as developmental, narratives” (38). To Lowe, the voices of the minorities (ethnicities and women), reveal contradictions within the University as it presents itself as both “cultured” and “universal,” in that many of its students come in with dissimilar identity formations. Lowe sees many barriers that must be crossed in order for Asian American Studies to be “effective.” The first is the paradox of criticizing the traditional disciplines of the University, while at the same time, being a part of the methods of the University to turn its students into social subjects of the state. The term used for this type of integration—of including minorities while subjecting them—Lowe refers to as “Multiculturalism”. Multiculturalism itself becomes a dominant formation, using the promise of equal representation as a means to legitimize political exclusion, by giving each ethnicity its own literature. To Lowe Multiculturalism must be avoided through exploring the heterogeneity of the “Asian American” and the inability to form the Asian American canon as a simple expression of the minority experience. To Lowe, “Asian American Literature resists the formal abstraction of aestheticization and canonization,” and therefore any Asian American Canon must only find solidarity in the amount of diversity—its discontinuity of form. As a “branch” of the University, Asian American Studies is able to subvert the ideological inculcation of the University by focusing on the alternative “subject, for whom the ‘disidentification’ from national forms of identity is crucial to the construction of new forms of solidarity” (53).

It is only in culture, as Lisa Lowe argues, that resistance and struggle can be articulated and make itself known. As she says,

This is not to argue that cultural struggle can ever be the exclusive site for practice; it is rather to argue that if the state suppresses dissent by governing subjects through rights, citizenship, and political representation, it is only through culture that we conceive and enact new subjects and practices in antagonism to the regulatory locus of the citizen-subject, by way of culture that we can question these modes of government (22).

The terrain of culture thus acts as the only space of dissent and critical engagement with the regimes of the state as a whole.

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