Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Details

Morris, R. L. (2012). "Cultural criticism and change: new directions in Asian Canadian writing". British Journal of Canadian Studies, 25 (1), 21-36.


Asian Canadian writer Larissa Lai reflects, in an article written eight yearsafter the publication of her first novel, When Fox Is a Thousand, that thecentral character, Artemis, ‘is a product of my thinking through whathappens to young Asian Canadian women in the absence of a radicalcommunity-based identity politic. She has some awareness of colonialismand white privilege, and some awareness of how her body is readwithin mainstream white society, but she does not really have any usefultools to deal with this knowledge’ (2005: 168). This article explores Lai’s‘thinking through’ the issue of white visualising practices that ‘read’ theAsian female body as a hyper-feminised, doll-like other in her mostrecently released book, Automaton Diaries (2009). This article will focusupon the consistent return within her body of fiction and poetry to thefigure of the Replicant Rachel from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Lai’simplicit questioning of Rachel’s fixed subject positioning in Blade Runnerindicates that her body of work is part of a wider project; for while undertakinga project of redress, more fundamental to Lai’s politics of identityis the notion of address. This paper argues that Lai’s answer in AutomatonDiaries to Deckard’s well-known question in Blade Runner – ‘How can itnot know what it is?’ – is a vision of Rachel turning around and lookingwithin and across the differing paradigmatic structures of cinema, literature,art, photography and all its attendant criticism. This glance back(and at) these structures foregrounds the transformative values availableto the subject who looks at and records her life through her own eyes,overtly challenging the elisions and silences of white patriarchal inscriptionsof subjectivity that would otherwise place her (like the character ofArtemis in Fox) as a racialised, voiceless, doll-like object of white privilegeand desire.