The Exquisite Corpse of Asian America

Biopolitics, Biosociality, and Posthuman Ecologies

336 pages

24 halftones, 1 table, 6 textboxes

December, 2014

ISBN: 9781479809783



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Rachel C. Lee is Associate Professor of English and Gender Studies at UCLA.  She is the author of The Americas of Asian American Literature: Gendered Fictions of Nation and Transnation, co-editor of the volume Asian America.Net: Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Cyberspace, and editor of the Routledge Companion to Asian American and Pacific Islander Literature and Culture.  

All books by Rachel C. Lee

Winner of the 2016 Association for Asian American Studies Award for Best Book in Cultural Studies

The Exquisite Corpse of Asian America
addresses this central question: if race has been settled as a legal or social construction and not as biological fact, why do Asian American artists, authors, and performers continue to scrutinize their body parts? Engaging novels, poetry, theater, and new media from both the U.S. and internationally—such as Kazuo Ishiguro’s science fiction novel Never Let Me Go or Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats and exhibits like that of Body Worlds in which many of the bodies on display originated from Chinese prisons—Rachel C. Lee teases out the preoccupation with human fragments and posthuman ecologies in the context of Asian American cultural production and theory. She unpacks how the designation of “Asian American” itself is a mental construct that is paradoxically linked to the biological body.
Through chapters that each use a body part as springboard for reading Asian American texts, Lee inaugurates a new avenue of research on biosociality and biopolitics within Asian American criticism, focused on the literary and cultural understandings of pastoral governmentality, the divergent scales of embodiment, and the queer (cross)species being of racial subjects. She establishes an intellectual alliance and methodological synergy between Asian American studies and Science and Technology Studies (STS), biocultures, medical humanities, and femiqueer approaches to family formation, carework, affect, and ethics. In pursuing an Asian Americanist critique concerned with speculative and real changes to human biologies, she both produces innovation within the field and demonstrates the urgency of that critique to other disciplines.


  • “Lee convincingly shows that Asian Americanist critique in science and technology studies and analytic that takes seriously the biological in critical race and ethnic studies is not far-fetched.”


  •  "[T]he study is provocative and evocative, raising such issues and questions as why Asian American artists (in fiction, theater, poetry, and comedy) are so preoccupied with fragments of 'self.'"


  • "[Lee’s] readings are rich. She shows how artists use kinesthetic tactility, movement, and humor to revel in bodily excesses, to reveal how gag reflexes challenge the false divide between the psychic and somatic, and to index on their bodies the oppression and resistance of being biopolitically contained and regulated."

    American Literature

  • “Lee’s propositional and performative writing style will prod readers in (Asian) American studies, performative studies, and critical race theory to reexamine their scholarly assumptions..."

    Theatre Journal

  • “Rachel Lee’s stunning new book explores contemporary Asian American performance, comedy, written word, and a body exhibit that concern racialized, gendered, militarized body parts. Drawing upon Science and Technology Studies and Asian American Studies, with the aid of transnational femiqueer, critical race, and disability studies, Lee eviscerates what we thought we knew about biopolitics and biosociality.”

    —Charis Thompson, author of Good Science: The Ethical Choreography of Stem Cell Research

  • “Ambitious, original, and immensely generative, The Exquisite Corpse of Asian America challenges us to move outside the paradigms of the racialized body we’ve relied on in Asian American studies. Lee pushes our thinking in productive new ways to consider more broadly how critical race studies might incorporate new concepts and technologies related to the biological body.”

    —Josephine Lee, author of Performing Asian America: Race and Ethnicity on the Contemporary Stage