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On "Ming the Merciless"


Juliana Chang

In "Ming the Merciless," Hapedorn figures home as space of feminine desire; here the female speaker is positioned not as object but subject of epistemophilic desire. . . . Like the images of U.S. popular culture in "Filipino Boogie, Ming, as popular representation of "Asia," is consumable and incorporable specularity. If we are attracted to what we desire to know, then the speaker's desire is to comprehend Ming's power and otherworldliness. The inhumanity of the racialized image of the Asian has been historically critiqued in Asian American Studies. However, it is precisely those characteristics that make Ming beyond human--"King of the lionmen," "flying angel," "pterodactyl"--that attract the speaker. The speaker's invitations of this public image into interior space represent the process of psychical internalization; rather than identification or dis-identification, the speaker articulates her desire as constituted by this image. She desires the internalization of what is apparently exterior, foreign, and unknown; yet at the same time imagined to be intimately known, a representation of "Asia" and former home.

As in 'Tenement Lover," the interior space of the house represents the space of feminine sexuality. Hagedorn disrupts the feminized image of interior as haven or safety with the potentially dangerous and stimulating "hot water" of her desire. In contrast to the misrecognitions of sight in the monologue, this poem proposes recognition between the lovers as taking place through touch, through the burning and fluid sensation of "hot water." "Hot water" is evidence of what is considered unknowable and visually unprovable: feminine desire. Unlike the visual proof of masculine desire, the erect penis, feminine desire is considered invisible and unknowable. In this poem knowledge is equated not with visuality but with touch; visuality, as in the monologue, is deprivileged as site of knowledge so as to allow for knowledges based on apprehension by senses other than sight, such as touch and sound. At the same time, the poem comprehends the power of the visual, as the speaker's seductive invitation to "come dancing in my tube" refers to the "tube" as both the vagina as feminine sex organ and as television, conjoining the speaker's desire with U.S. mass culture. Rather than simply critiquing mass culture, a vehicle for popular fantasy, the speaker cites its power in order to re-articulate an already mediated desire. She positions herself not as separate from, but as radically embodying the technological machine that would produce and contain Ming as demonized image and herself as passive spectator. The cyborgan body of the Asian diasporic female is proposed as intervening in the gap or distance between image and spectator, interior and exterior, subject and object, Asian American and "Asia."

Hagedorn unsettles the gendered constructions of home, nation and body as sites of interiority, coherence, and safety, showing how these sites are configured and divided by violence and erotic desire, both "internal" and "external." Evoking the surplus meanings suggested by these sites of fantasy, memory, and desire, Hagedorn proposes new gendered and postcolonial epistemologies of interior and exterior, domestic and national, location and dislocation, enabling new formulations of Asian diasporic desire and knowledge.

Copyright 1999 by Juliana Chang


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