â€œHow Can I Prove that I am Not Who I am?â€: Layered Identities and Genres in the Work of Shirley Geok-lin Lim
With the recent publication of The Shirley Lim Collection, it is now more apparent than ever the range of Shirley Limâ€™s creative and scholarly pursuits. Writing in multiple genres including short stories, flash fiction, poetry, memoir, novels and academic scholarship, Limâ€™s work captures many dimensions not only of layered identities but also of layered genres. Much has already been written about her universal themes of shifting identities, loss, displacement, belonging and borders. This article addresses these issues but through the lens of multiple and layered genres. Like the geographical border crossings that Lim addresses in her work, she also crosses genre borders, examining these issues in many different forms. This article asks what difference form makes in representing identities and reconciling the conflicting identities within.
Â Â Â Like her fellow academics, Audre Lorde and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (among others), Shirley Geok-lin Lim engages in memoir in part to document womenâ€™s experiences of intellectual life in the academy. Beyond providing lessons learned for future women academics, however, memoirs like Limâ€™s Among the White Moon Faces, construct a self-conscious and interactive performance space, encouraging readers to experience the authorâ€™s reflexivity. Under Della Pollockâ€™s formulation, Limâ€™s memoir thus serves as performative autobiography, â€œtend[ing] to subject the reader to the writerâ€™s reflexivity, drawing [her] respective subject-selves reciprocally and simultaneously into critical â€˜intimacyâ€™â€ (â€œPerformative Writingâ€ 86). Lim writes about the â€œtensionsâ€ in her multiple identities, proving that she is something other than what the academy imagines she should be. During this process, she reflects on her role as an educator and feminist, asking readers directly, â€œDo wild feminists live in universities? Can they?â€ (Among the White Moon Faces 226). In this way, she self-consciously constructs an interactive text that engages readersâ€™ senses of civic, academic and intellectual justice. In doing so, she reveals an additional element to performative autobiography not yet defined by scholars: a call to action. Limâ€™s text mirrors for women the ways that they can write â€œout of turnâ€ (Profession 214) and dismantle the power structures that serve to reify dominant narratives of self and women in the academy. By examining what Limâ€™s text does as much as what it says, I highlight the ways her memoir resists cultural definitions of immigrant women and Asian literature scholars in particular, and generic definitions of memoir and scholarly writing more generally. Furthermore, I compare these resistances to the ways she addresses similar issues in her poetry and fiction, exploring the ways that form can impact the ways that identities are told, represented, and (mis)understood.
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