“How Can I Prove that I am Not Who I am?”: Layered Identities and Genres in the Work of Shirley Geok-lin Lim


  • Katrina M. Powell, Virginia Tech, USA


With the recent publication of The Shirley Lim Collection, it is now more apparent than ever the range of Shirley Lim’s creative and scholarly pursuits. Writing in multiple genres including short stories, flash fiction, poetry, memoir, novels and academic scholarship, Lim’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.

    Like her fellow academics, Audre Lorde and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (among others), Shirley Geok-lin Lim engages in memoir in part to document women’s experiences of intellectual life in the academy. Beyond providing lessons learned for future women academics, however, memoirs like Lim’s Among the White Moon Faces, construct a self-conscious and interactive performance space, encouraging readers to experience the author’s reflexivity. Under Della Pollock’s formulation, Lim’s memoir thus serves as performative autobiography, “tend[ing] to subject the reader to the writer’s reflexivity, drawing [her] respective subject-selves reciprocally and simultaneously into critical ‘intimacy’†(“Performative Writing†86). Lim writes about the “tensions†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, “Do wild feminists live in universities? Can they?†(Among the White Moon Faces 226). In this way, she self-consciously constructs an interactive text that engages readers’ 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. Lim’s text mirrors for women the ways that they can write “out of turn†(Profession 214) and dismantle the power structures that serve to reify dominant narratives of self and women in the academy. By examining what Lim’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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Author Biography

Katrina M. Powell, Virginia Tech, USA

Katrina M. Powell is Associate Professor of English at Virginia Tech, USA. She teaches courses in autobiography, research methods, and writing and directs the Women’s and Gender Studies Program. In addition to several books including, The Anguish of Displacement (University of Virginia Press, 2007) and “Answer at Onceâ€: Letters of Mountain Families in Shenandoah National Park, 1934-1938 (University of Virginia Press, 2009), Powell has published articles in College English, Prose Studies and Biography.  




How to Cite

Powell, Virginia Tech, USA, K. M. (2014). “How Can I Prove that I am Not Who I am?”: Layered Identities and Genres in the Work of Shirley Geok-lin Lim. Asiatic: IIUM Journal of English Language and Literature, 8(1), 25–39. Retrieved from https://journals.iium.edu.my/asiatic/index.php/ajell/article/view/451



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