Sunny Xiang, "Tonal Intelligence: The Aesthetics of Asian Inscrutability During the Long Cold War" (Columbia UP, 2020)


In Tonal Intelligence: The Aesthetics of Asian Inscrutability During the Long Cold War (Columbia University Press, 2020), Sunny Xiang reads the archives of US intelligence agencies alongside Asian American literature to develop a method of reading for tone rather than content, and shows us how doing so allows us to rethink both the nature of war itself and the construction of race during the long cold war.

On this episode of New Books in Asian American Studies, Sunny Xiang chats about militarization and war as a way of life, race and rumor in Kazuo Ishiguro's work, Induk Pahk and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s differing approaches to incorporating the story of Korean independence activist Yu Guan Soon into their work, Ha Jin as an entryway to thinking about the boundaries between Asian American studies and Asian studies approaches to Asian/American literature, her hope for a multilingual future for Asian American studies, the limits of representation as a political goal, the nature of Asian American student groups on college campuses, and how Tonal Intelligence helps us understand (and respond to!) some Goodreads readers’ disappointment that Eugene Lim’s Dear Cyborgs isn’t the superhero novel they expected. Listen for more!

Sunny Xiang is an associate professor in the English Department at Yale University.

Jennifer Gayoung Lee is a writer and data analyst based in New York City.

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Jennifer Lee

Jennifer Gayoung Lee is a PhD student in Modern Thought and Literature at Stanford University.
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