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Johannes Hauser (M√ľnchen)



Structuring the Apokalypse:
Chaos and Order in Karen Tei Yamashita's Tropic of Orange



Structuring the Apokalypse: Chaos and Order in Karen Tei Yamashita's Tropic of Orange
Tropic of Orange (1997) by Karen Tei Yamashita represents a reality in which borders break down and are redrawn continuously. Embodied by models of tectonics and a dynamic social geography, border shift becomes the central (dis-)organizing figure of Yamashita's narrative. The text thus features elements of the apocalyptical, of a world on the brink of border-defying chaos; but in this narration of chaos, one can also find an intricate textual structure, presenting another order of things. This order is expressed and supported mainly by the author's obvious formal design, but also transcends it in a complex and expansive web of metaphoric and metonymic associations and symbols. Chaos and order in the text are thus not simply opposing states; they are complementary parts of a reality whose representation in the book challenges the reader with an aesthetics of instability, constantly oscillating between potential ruptures and potential coherence. Moreover, with its multicultural set of characters, Tropic of Orange is also deeply invested in current debates of migration, ethnic, and transnational identity. The paper is an attempt to explore in detail how the formal design of the novel interacts with its central concerns and issues.



1 Introduction: Dimensions of Asian American Ethnicity

The exact definition and meaning of Asian American identity have been disputed for the last decades. The last waves of immigration from Asian countries and Asian economic growth in the 1990s resulted in an increasing diversification of Asian American communities. This heterogeneity is not new, but it counters efforts to console and unify the idea of an Asian American identity more than ever (Koshy 2000: 473). These efforts, having started with the activities of scholars like Frank Chin or Elaine Kim during the 1960s, were directed at establishing a core concept of a common culture.




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This 'Asian American sensibility', however, focuses on the experience of Chinese, Japanese or perhaps even Korean immigrants, but it is hard to expand such concepts to all Asian American experiences. For instance, Filipinos or Vietnamese Americans share a history of being marginalized in these concepts (Koshy 2000: 478). The practice of ordering experiences into one common concept of identity, culture, or simply of one common reality can easily leave out the experience of those who have already been marginalized in the old country based on gender, class or intra-ethnic hierarchies.

A single formulation of Asian American identity has become even more difficult with the growing complexity of these communities since the 1980s. More stable social and economic links between America and Asia, enabled by cheaper and new ways of communication and travel, influence Americanization and the establishment of a stable notion of Asian American ethnicity. It is easier for immigrants to stay in touch with their families and friends back home. That is why not only Asian immigrant groups have been conceptualized as diasporas (Sadowski-Smith 2001: 93). Moreover, the immigrant communities in America are no longer the dominantly male bachelor working-class societies from the first half of the twentieth century. Brain drain from Asia to the U.S. and increased social mobility within the U.S. have created social stratification within Asian America and consequently resulted in further heterogenization.

Asian American studies thus has to analyze a community which is separated by divisions of gender, by material differences, and differences in the sort of migration – since it is materially significant whether an immigrant comes illegally or not. These factors complicate the formulation of a homogenic ethnic identity: "Ethnicity metamorphoses at multiple sites of transit, return, and arrival in the movement between and within nations; it can no longer be solely defined through the negotiation between origin and destination." (Koshy 2000: 487) This concept is thus charged with a notion of flow and constant change.

Theories of Asian American ethnic literature can no longer be conceptualized in reference to notions of departure and arrival, of adaptation and the loss of culture. Even the literarily successful ethnic formula of generational conflict today can only describe a small part of the contemporary Asian American experience. In this context, different scholars pose interesting alternatives to concepts of identity which center on other sources for the potential stability and consistency in Asian American ethnic identity. Lisa Lowe, for example, speaks of "'Asian American cultural practices' that produce identity" (Lowe 2000: 426) rather than 'Asian American identity'.




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This concept includes a broad range of cultural activities, paradigms, and representations. Furthermore, it emphasizes the dialectic relation between official construction of ethnicity by the state and the strategies employed by ethnic communities to face these policies and to define their own concepts of ethnic identity. The focus on Asian American identitarian interactions thus encompasses the fact that "one of the more important stories of Asian American experience is about the process of critically receiving and rearticulating cultural traditions in the face of a dominant national culture that exoticizes and 'orientalizes' Asians." (Lowe 2000: 427)

This interactive model moreover establishes political parallels to other minority groups, for example Latin Americans. Both Latin American and Asian American communities are socially stratified and thus ethnicity stopped to work as a common denominator in political struggles, not only for the working class but also for the middle and the upper classes.

Assimilation, therefore, has been working not only between respective ethnic groups and the majority, but also within cross-ethnic social layers. For example, Asian American or Latin American youths are attracted to the urban cultures of African Americans. This process, 'segmented assimilation', furthermore obscures the boundaries of ethnic distinctions, creating a cross-ethnic class-based culture (Alba 1999: 13).

An identity based on social and political interests can function as an interethnic identifier for common political action. Yet this boundary blurring can easily evolve into a mere boundary shifting when "new social mythologies, already at hand, about basic similarities in the characteristics of 'hard-working' immigrant groups, wherever they come from" (Alba 1999: 13) create a different subaltern class, this time on the basis of a combination of ethnic and material classes.

The novel Tropic of Orange (1997) by Karen Tei Yamashita at first glance proposes a political consciousness appropriate to this late-twentieth-century Asian America. Though only three of the characters are Asian Americans, and none of these can be described as being stereotypical, it covers key aspects of a reality defined by global migration. This outlook wil be elaborated in the first section of this essay, 'The New World Border'. The second part further deepens this approach, connecting it to the specific tropes of geography and social concepts that the text employs.

Tropic of Orange represents a reality in which borders break down and are re-erected at other places. Characterized by models of tectonics and social geography, all boundaries presented in the narative are continuously shifting. The novel thereby features elements of the apocalyptical, of a world on the brink of border-defying chaos; but in this narration of chaos one can also find an intricate textual structure, an order of things.




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This order is founded in the author's meticulous design, but transcends it in a complex and expansive web of metaphoric associations and symbols.Chaos and order in the text are not only opposite poles; they are parts of the representation of a reality which challenges the reader with a specific aesthetic simultaneously shedding light on the ruptures and coherences of global migration and economics .


2 The New World Border

2.1 Globalization and Women of Color

In the last decades, the processes of economic globalization have reconfigured the concepts about Asian American identity and of the Latin American community. After initial worries about the new competition abroad, transnational corporations have been taking advantage of Asian economic growth and outsourced parts of their business there. They thus transcended the traditional focus on the nation-state and a national economy. On the other hand, they created and deepened intercontinental links. Not only capital and goods are increasingly mobile, but also human beings, traveling and migrating back and forth. Contemporary Asian American studies try to encompass this new transregional geography by working out new paradigms exceeding mere physical geography. Consequently, Asian American scholars re-appropriate ideas from corporate globalization, like the Asia-Pacific, and fill them with meaning centered on human activity (Lee 1999: 110).

The extension of U.S. corporate power into the Pacific region is mirrored in American economic expansion into Mexico eased by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Here, too, scholars reacted to economic processes by rethinking Latin American studies. From ethnocentric Chicanismo and Indigenismo the focus shifted to transnational Latinidad, meaning the unity of Latin Americans in the U.S. diaspora and in Latin America south of the Rio Grande (Sadowski-Smith 2001: 93).

Corporate globalization has been creating geographies full of inequality and material schisms. Women are essential in this neoliberal drive for economic expansion. In the countries of the First World and in the rising economies in Asia, women are both a cheap and exploitable workforce and a target group for consumer products that other women have produced. Moreover, outsourcing is profitable as Asian emerging nations have lower standards of environmental protection, workers' protection and social security. Goods can be produced in Asia at conditions that would cause public outcries in the U.S.




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In America, too, this logic is applied: to face international competition by cheap products from Asia, wages in the U.S. are kept low by employing preferably immigrant women of color under poor conditions. To increase corporate wins, the work force is racialized and engendered. In this sense, "women's bodies are the means through which new processes of global production and consumption operate." (Sze 2000: 4)

In Karen Tei Yamashita's novel Tropic of Orange1 (1997) the protagonist Rafaela Cortes has to experience the physical repercussions of globalizing processes on the individual subject. After having immigrated, she worked together with her husband Bobby Ngu in his small caretaker company (TO 201). In her spare time, she visited courses on politics and engaged in community action programs. Her increased political awareness made her leave Bobby with their common son Sol. She couldn't see anymore "people like him doing all the work." (TO 79) She hides at Mazatlán in Mexico in the house of Gabriel Balboa, a former employer. Having returned from the U.S., she finds herself increased in status and is able to hire a servant. Thus she realizes that "[someone] was always at the bottom. As long as she was not, did it matter?" (TO 117) She very soon finds out, however, that it does matter. She overhears Hernando, her neighbor's son, talking about organ traffic and the possibility to take a kidney from a two-and-a-half years old child. Rafaela fears for the life of Sol, whom she suspects to be the organ cartel's next possible victim, and flees Mazatlán in a bus heading North, followed by Hernando. When the bus stops on the way, Hernando abducts her and tries to rape her in his car. The situation gets a twist into the magical real when Rafaela transforms into a snake and Hernando into a black jaguar. In the following battle, a "genealogy of colonization" (Sze 2000: 7) and engendered violence is recalled, with memories of

massacred men and women, their bloated and twisted bodies black with blood […] kings and revolutionaries betrayed, hacked to pieces in a Plaza of tears […] And there was the passage of 5,000 women of Cochibamba resisting with tin guns an entire army of Spaniards, […] of La Malinche abandoning her children […] of one hundred mothers pacing day after day the Plaza de Mayo with the photos of their disappeared children (TO 220).

This short history is not only a genealogy of colonization; it is also a memorial of female suffering, martyrdom, activism, and heroism. Rafaela is able to overcome Hernando miraculously (TO 221). In consequence, she also beats a dehumanizing logic that takes advantage of existing categories of race, ethnicity, and gender and their respective valuations, getting herself in line with the Latin American female heroism mentioned above.




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2.2 Technological Identities

Emi is another female main protagonist among Tropic of Orange's cast. She is Japanese American and working at a TV station. Still her ethnicity is not, in her own words, a pattern of identification; she is "so distant from the Asian female stereotype – it was questionable if she even had an identity." (TO 19).

She mockingly denies the possibility of being Asian American when talking with her mother: "Maybe I'm not Japanese American. Maybe I got switched in the hospital." (TO 21) Emi consciously distances herself from the identitarian possibilities of her ethnicity. She tries to live a life outside of stereotypes or preconceived ideas. As a result, she also is, at least at the beginning, outside of the readers' ideas about Japanese American women. In Yamashita's words, she is "an Asian woman who is 'off the chart': she's bad" (Gier/ Tejeda 1998: 7). Her 'badness' lies in her refusal to 'deliver' the expected ethnic identity. Emi is pert, cheeky, and sometimes even naughty. She is independent and defies conventions. She has a very loose relationship with Gabriel Balboa, whom she frequently teases. Her mother criticizes her for her big talk since "no J.A. speaks like that." (TO 21)

In addition, she not only mocks the possibilities of ethnic fulfillment. Another favorite aim of her cynical remarks is Balboa's preference for noir aesthetics and his romanticism. Gabriel tries to express his identity by signifiers like a home at Mazatlán, complete with an altar to Frida Kahlo (TO 67) and where he frequently plants trees actually not fit for the climate; he prefers old-fashioned notebooks over modern organizers; black-and-white film noirs and novels over Hollywood blockbusters; he drives a vintage car with constant breakdowns (TO 58); and he likes "exploring the 'nitty gritty' or noir elements of the city" (Gier/ Tejeda 1998: 3) which give meaning to his work. Emi ridicules these identifiers which seem to have some significance for her friend, but in some way overachieves at the end, seducing her romantic friend into a dramatic liaison with the Internet and modern technologies (TO 245).

Emi's defiance of identities is, however, revealing. For Balboa, Emi's cynicism is only "the surface of a very big heart, the most generous [he] had ever known." (TO 40) But Emi's cynicism not only covers her soft spot; the recurrent defiance of traditionally available identifiers giving meaning to one's actions and the refuting of stereotypes becomes, after some time, in itself a stereotype. The anti-identitarian stance becomes her identifier. It is a signifier referring to a conscious absence; Emi's subjectivity consists in a repeated performance of refusal and a veritable fear of 'falling' into any category.




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One of Emi's performative strategies in the process of non-ethnic identification is an increased interest in modern computer and communication technologies. She works in TV productions where she can satisfy this fascination. Following the News Now van, she is on a constant run for news. An information junkie, she receives her newscasts on a set with several screening boxes, zapping between channels to find the most interesting news (TO 125).

Communicating with Gabriel over a computer is sexual pleasure for her (TO 196). Emi is on a constant chase for excitement and hooked into a flow of information that do not have any meaning for her. Technologies and modern media for her are a kind of prosthesis helping her to act out her non-identitarian identity.

Emi identifies herself through technology to avoid an ethnical identification. Yet the drive leading her to technophilia comes from this very ethnicity or non-ethnicity; as both are only two sides of the same win, referring to and deriving from social determination. She is an "ethnic cyborg" (Rody 2000: 11)2; her behavior is simultaneously deeply invested in paradigms of ethnic ascription and of technological progress.

Emi therefore represents some phenomena which profoundly influence the globalized world, where channels of information connect distant parts of the earth in real time. Consumption of information via mass media has become a part of global consumerism (Jones 1994: 81) – at least at places where people can afford this kind of consumption. The availability of technologically distributed information is a function of social stratification and at the same time creates further social divisions. Emi's link to the global network of information flow is a symbolic activity as is her driving a twin-turbo Toyota, a sign of status and an identifier which sets her apart from people to whom it is not available, like the homeless around her, or whom do not want to use it, like Gabriel in the first parts of the novel. Consequently, the single technologically broadcasted information does not have any value; information is only valuable if it keeps flowing for not the content but the steady flow is the real signifier in this kind of economy. In Tropic of Orange the reception of information turns into a downright process of consumption, keeping alive an industry producing, on a mass-scale, quickly and easily digestible pieces of information which can be replaced and updated effortlessly. Enduring sense, or timeless informational content, is merely secondary in this system. Besides, this form of consumption is always attuned to an ever-changing, steady present; it has neither historical legacies nor future obligations. The stable flow is the principal feature of this market.




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Information technology thus not only affects our perceptions, it creates them. It produces a habit of continuing and flowing excitement. In short, it "colors our values. If something is boring, doesn't have a lot of information, it's a waste of time. Why play tic-tac-toe if you can play global thermonuclear war?" (Jones 1994: 90) Or, in this case, why investigate stories about homeless freeway conductors, like Gabriel does, if one can immerse oneself in an endless flow of stimulation?

Information technology entails a logic that goes along with rhetoric of change in human subjectivity. These technologies, in this line of thought, will globally democratize the accessibility of information by distributing these on a mass scale. They will be a platform for humanist political agendas (Sato 2004: 337). When the homeless cease the abandoned cars on the freeway, they get hold the TV equipment of the News Now van, producing their own program. This seems to be the fulfillment of this utopian promise, but still the homeless get degraded from producers of programs to the content of programs when the TV executives simply decide to let them continue 'seizing' the airwaves (TO 189).

Technological progress cannot change some persistent assumptions; sometimes, it even reproduces them. Computer games, TV broadcasts, and other virtual realities are full of human representations. These are produced by people who have the control over visual reproductions of meaning, information and signifiers, "reinscribing the gendered/ colored signs of the body" (Sato 2004: 338). Modern information technology is not free of ideological content; instead, its potential to distribute contents on a mass scale allows it to spread engendered and racializing categories globally. "Even if the possibilities exist for people to have control over the media, they are also controlled by it" (Gier/ Tejeda 1998: 10), and this is also true for Emi in a most cynical way. When she is shot, her death is recorded and broadcasted by TV. It becomes a media event, repeated again and again. Therefore, it becomes a representation of something that has ceased to live, a representation of absence (TO 251).

It is no wonder that Emi cannot escape ethnic identification by immersing herself into technology. It is only a reflex to ethnicity and these technologies are filled with representations following the logic also creating paradigms of ethnicity in the first place.

Technological information networks are flooded with a multitude of identifiers. One can chose among the representations of various consumer goods on the market.




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This is possible even without the financial background to buy the products advertised; 'conspicuous consumption' in the age of mass media is not an exclusive domain of the leisure class. Not superior quality is the message of most advertising, but emotional attachment and social aspiration. Thus one can even enjoy the advertisements – that means the representations of consumer goods – without actually owning the product, or simply purchase counterfeit goods. Mass media create virtual identity options which seemingly have no reference to the material world or to traditional identities.In the symbolic world of advertisement, ethnic and racial categories are effortlessly deconstructed. In consequence, these media appear to be free of any harming ideological content like racialism (Santa Ana 2004: 19). Still, given the "ideological complicity of technological innovation" (Sato 2004: 338), this form of 'political correctness' can only be an illusion. Producers still fill the airwaves with ethnic and racial representations. For that reason, one can still find Orientalism, racialism, and ethnocentrism in the media. Old stereotypes are still present in the advertising aesthetic, only in new forms. We can find examples in the well-known Benetton campaigns, where children of various ethnic backgrounds perform a symbolic representation of multiethnicity.3 Orientalist categories work over affective associations and are therefore out of cognitive reach. The aesthetic of mass media is founded on emotional categories of affective organization. The logic behind mass media and multinational consumerism, as they are practiced today, is the same as behind exoticist ideologies which in similar ways work with affective states (Santa Ana 2004: 21).

Especially multinational brands which have to sell their products in diverse markets, engage in this global marketing of identifiers. This has significant repercussions for Asian Americans and other minorities. On the one hand, the importance of ethnicity is denied in an egalitarian consumerist world. On the other hand, this world is based on symbolic representations of minorities which stand as signifiers for emotional states and identities. Minority subjects find themselves mediated in the mass culture. This mediation creates a structural contradiction between the realities of racism and discrimination and the public rhetoric of consumerist equality (Santa Ana 2004: 25).

This inconsistency explains why Emi at one point of the novel states that "Cultural diversity is bullshit […] It's a white guy wearing a Nirvana T-shirt and dreds. […] I hate being multicultural." (TO 128) Emi criticizes not the coexistence of diverse human beings living together in one city. Multiculturalism can have diverse meanings, only one of them being "an index of the changing demographics and differences of community in California" (Lowe 2000: 428). What Emi is aiming at instead is a corporate and consumerist multiculturalism, the "way multiculturalism is sold in form of 'United Colors of Benetton' or 'We are the World' Coca Cola" (Gier/ Tejeda 1998: 7), as Yamashita criticizes in an interview.




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Mediated Multiculturalism means the inclusion of ethnic representations under the pretense of marketing, and it is not about social equality. As Emi exclaims in one of her ironic comments, "[it]'s just about money. […] It's about selling things: Reebok, Pepsi, Chevrolet […]. Them that's smart took away the pretense and do the home shopping thing, twenty-four hours. Hey, we're all on board to buy" (TO 126). Emi's comments betray a high amount of frustration, she feels virtually imperceptible: "I'm invisible. We're all invisible. It's just tea, ginger, raw fish, and a credit card." (TO 128) She deems her subjectivity marginalized and her presence reduced to common symbols of Japanese American ethnicity and her financial power. She hates 'being multicultural' because, to her, her identity seems easily to be superposed by ascribed representations of ethnicity, either of popularly mediated commercial symbols of certain brands or of common reductive signifiers of food cultures. This frustration is justified insofar as Emi's subjectivity is indeed weak and easily to be superseded by the images others have of her. She cannot uphold her 'impression management' when faced with televised multiculturalism or consumerism because she receives core ideas of her subjectivity from technology and mass media. Her critical comments about these phenomena are weakened by her very fascination for them. Rafaela or Gabriel do not 'hate being multicultural'. This does not mean that they have more authenticity, the fault lines of these characters simply are at different places. Emi bases her subjectivity on the appeal of modern media and technologies which makes her almost their biological component. This leaves her defenseless against their contents, be it a multinational marketing campaign, the accentuation of consumerism, or abusive ethnic and racial stereotypes. The sushi-bar's guest at whom Emi directs her anger, a woman supporting her hair-do with chopsticks, thus ironically becomes to Emi what she suspects to be for the guest: a blank, impersonal foil to direct one's stereotypes and one's anger on.


3. New Geographies Beneath the Tropic

3.1 Social Concepts

The paradigms of the globalized era in the late twentieth century are reproduced in Tropic of Orange in an elaborate negotiation of spatial concepts. These spaces are, on the one hand, distinguished by social status which is defined by the use of transportation networks and the news media and information technologies.




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Los Angeles is not divided into different spaces by geographical borders. This sprawling metropolis is a result of postwar processes of social and economic modernization and of the ensuing functional and ethnic zoning which bases the cities boundaries on past and present economic processes and on ethnic categories (Haselstein 1999: 291). It is a socially divided metropolis and an "ungenerous home where people are separated by freeways, lifestyles, language; race, ethnicity, and class; and access to homing, safety, transportation, the airwaves, and the Internet." (Rody 2004: 134). These social dividers create a variety of social habitats as a result of recent processes in economy and technology. Los Angeles is the representation of an urbanity which favors the wealthy and is destructing for the poor: "In this city, you have to risk your live; go farther, and pay more to be poor." (TO 175) The negative effects of industrialization, post-Fordist de-industrialization, and global neoliberalism creates, within the borders of L.A., socially engendered and racially codified spaces of those who are on the loosing side of these phenomena. These spaces are to a great part a function of racially encoded economic inequality.

Another distinguishing concept in the novel is ethnic memory. To be more precise, it is ethnic nostalgia. Gabriel Balboa, for instance, is characterized as being on a quest. He identifies himself with a vintage car, with noir fiction, and with a seemingly outdated kind of journalism. In his words, it is the "detective side of the business [of journalism] that gives me a real charge, getting into the grimy crevices of the street and pulling out the real story." (TO 39) Most importantly, he has a domicile in Mazatlán. He bought it in "a spontaneous, sudden passion for the acquisition of land, the sensation of a timeless vacation, the erotic tastes of chili pepper and salty breezes, and for Mexico." (TO 5) The identifying power of this lot of land is enhanced by its position beneath the tropic of cancer. For Gabriel, this place signifies an aspiration for a better, a more authentic life – a life that he obviously misses in his home, L.A. In short, he "dreams his own post-Columbian dreams." (Rauch 1998: 1) Through his grandmother, Balboa has a connection to Pancho Villa and the history of Hispanic community action in Los Angeles (TO 61). His dreams and his imagined identity are about the past. Gabriel is involved in the "revision of homelands through […] immigrant memories and imaginations." (Gier/ Tejeda 1998: 11) Engaging in nostalgia, he creates an imaginary temporal space signifying his desires.

This space, however, is an effect of his assimilation. He graduated from university and can be considered as pretty assimilated; for him, the American Dream of upward mobility became reality. That is why his Mexican Dream "is satirized as hopeless ethnic nostalgia" (Rody 2004: 136).




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His Mexican home features an altar to Frida Kahlo (TO 67), a thing possibly few Mexicans have. Additionally, his Mexican Dream is a space of exoticism; his Mexico is an aspiration full of magic and with only a small amount of realism. Gabriel "thinks he's building a vacation pad but what he's really creating is a hacienda, a ranchero, his own little colony." (Rauch 1998: 1) He is a sentimental colonizer trying to impost his will and his tastes on the land. Every time he comes to Mazatlán, he brings with him trees fit for California, but not for Mexico (TO 21). It is no wonder that the trees have to die. Besides, his colonizing efforts threaten Rafaela's life. Gabriel's nostalgia creates spaces which are as unreal – and as compromising – as Emi's technophilian cyberspace.

It is a vicious turn that Gabriel loses his connection with the nostalgic past only when he gets immersed in virtual reality. Actually, he gets even more caught than Emi; for him, "the net was the ultimate noir." (TO 246) It becomes a dream about future as his Mexican Dream was about the past. And it cuts the threads to reality even more: his first-person voice does not tell anything about Emi's death; towards the end of the novel, it is basically silenced. Obviously, Balboa has lost the connection to reality and to the present totally. Thus he loses his voice and his place in the narrative's structure.


3.2 Magic Realism and the Mediated Real

Tropic of Orange consists not only of representations of virtual realities and cyberspace. A second narrative mode is magic realism. It is mainly connected to two characters, Rafaela Cortes and Arcangel.

The novel opens with a scene of Rafaela sweeping the floor of Gabriel's House in Mazatlán. She does it very carefully to avoid harming the living creatures – insects and snakes – which have crawled into the house. Among the animals she finds this morning is also a crab which is unusual for the house is miles away from the next beach (TO 4). But there are more extraordinary things to come: she gets caught in a shower of raining crabs (TO 70); the wall she lets build on Gabriel's property bends inexplicably (TO 115). But, most notably for the story, she finds on one of Gabriel's displaced trees an orange, out of season and a bit deformed. A nearly invisibly thin line is coming out from it, linking it to the sun and the upcoming summer solstice which means that the sun will be directly above Gabriel's property (TO 11). Rafaela is able to rationalize the orange's existence – an effect of global warming or the activities of Africanized bees – but the line she cannot explain.




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In the following plot, the orange will be a "central conceit" (Rody 2004: 135): it originates from a century-old transcontinental travel of a species, enabled by human explorations and colonizing efforts (Rauch 1998: 1).

The orange "does not merely embody the South, but rather, in its hybrid history, it illustrates the longstanding intricate relations of South and North" (Rody 2004: 135), and, additionally, of East and West. It is a symbol for transcultural linkage, human exchange (be it violent or cooperative), for the past, and for the present. The orange moves magically northward, and takes with it the Tropic of Cancer. And with the tropic, the population of the South is coming and the geography of Los Angeles is transforming. Rafaela fulfills an important function in the text. She is the mother of the orange symbolically and Sol's mother literally. In the course of the novel, she becomes a political symbol, whom one reviewer of the book even ascribes the "promise of salvation" (Li 2004: 152). She embodies the authentic – especially in contrast to Gabriel and Emi – and refers to powerful myths of motherhood and nation; she is a signifier for the history of colonization, for Latin American indigenous struggle and strength, and of transgression (Li 2004: 165). Rafaela's role is codified into the heart of the problematic new world order discussed in Tropic of Orange.

The second protagonist charged with a mode of magic realism is Arcangel. He is an "actor and prankster, mimic and comic, freak, one man circus act." (TO 47) He has been an important figure in Latin American art and politics since ever; he is a prophet predicting a continuous doomsday (TO 51). He is characterized in a fundamentally different way than the other protagonists. His form of speech is poetic; it is separated from the rest of the test by being set in italics. If Rafaela is the symbolic and figurative mother of Latin America and the orange, Arcangel is their companion and father. He picks up the orange after Rafaela has lost it and takes it with him at his northbound travel (TO 71). He takes the bus ride to L.A. together with Rafaela and Sol and serves as interpreter of the changing geography (TO 149). Finally, he leads the masses from the South across the border (TO 200) and, morphing a last time into El Gran Mojado, to the final showdown in the Wrestling fight Contrato con América in the L.A. Pacific Rim Auditorium (TO 262).

Indeed, Arcangel performs so many roles and functions that he apparently loses his own personality. Hence he is a symbolic signifier for the all the various aspirations of the unprivileged to escape their conditions of existence for a better life. He is both a representation of Latin America's past suffering and glory and of its way into the future. He is the promise of normalcy and wholeness in a world of divisions: "What is archaic? What is modern? We are both." (TO 258)




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His death at SUPERNAFTA's, his symbolic antagonist's, missiles in the showdown leaves the way open for the symbolic resolution of the interethnic affiliation between minorites in the form of the transcultural family Rafaela-Bobby-Sol (Li 2004: 156).

Magic Realism defines a highly complex spatial representation in the novel. It "becomes the formal embodiment of boundary crossing, of migration, of the unstoppable flow of people and of the literary imagination across the borders of nations." (Rody 2004: 135).It breaks up causal linearity which sets this narrative mode into analogy with the moving tropic and the transition in geography. Magic Realism in Tropic of Orange works at the side of realist and cyber-realist narratives. Yet it has a privileged epistemological status in the novel. Magic Realism relates to a rich mythical world.

These myths have a significant meaning to those who believe in them. Thus magic realism signifies "the great/ commerce of mankind" (TO 133). It creates a humane space, a space for things to come; this space is not technologic but human – with all human faults. The South's 'invasion' of the North and the magically morphing landscape are desired experiences of wholeness and authenticity but also lead to massive shifts.

The second-hand, virtual – and therefore non-existent – experience of the mediated real, as it is practiced by Emi and Gabriel, cannot compete with it. This is stated very clearly in the text: "The virtually real could not accommodate the magical. Digital memory failed to translate the imaginary memory." (TO 197) This hierarchy of fictional epistemological modes follows an auctorial design. In line with "Yamashita's loyalties, Gabriel's orange changes L.A., not the other way around." (Rauch 1998: 2) It is a spatial representation of events to be due, but intricately linked to past and present.

It is, however, startling that the space of the magical real resembles cyber-reality in some ways. When Rafaela meets Bobby in her dream- vision, the situation and the scenery bear a resemblance to cyberspace in their barren emptiness and the cyber-sexual implications (TO 254). Obviously it is hard to divide between a dream, or a fantasy, created by one's imagination and another created by information technology.





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3.3 Transnation and Locale: the Anthropology of Globalization

The spatial representations in Tropic of Orange are not limited to epistemological and narrative modes. The novel dwells on the regional paradigms of the transnation, a vast geographic space inscribed by mass-scale human activity, and the locale, inscribed by peculiarity and local knowledge.

Already the epigraph by Guillermo Gómez-Peña, the poem "Freefalling Towards a Borderless Future", hints to the geographically transgressive pitch of the novel:

standing on the map of my political desires
I toast to a borderless future
(I raise my glass of wine toward the moon)
with…
our Alaskan hair
our Canadian head
our U.S. torso
our Mexican genitalia
our Central American cojones
our Caribbean sperm
our South American legs
our Patagonian feet
our Arctic nails
jumping borders at ease
jumping borders with pleasure
amen, hey man

Even before the real story starts, the novel already envisions an organically continental and border- defying outlook. This expansive vision gets even more sizeable later on. Arcangel can see the entire U.S.-Mexican border at once, not only geographically, but filled with life (TO 197/198).

Murakami Manzanar, a Japanese American self-appointed freeway conductor who directs the L.A. traffic from a freeway overpass, has this extended vision too. He sees:

The great Pacific stretching along its great rim, brimming over long coastal shores from one hemisphere to the other. And there were the names of places he had never seen, from the southernmost tip of Chile to the Galapagos, skirting the tiny waist of land at Panama, up Baja to Big Sur to Vancouver, around the Aleutians to the Bering Strait. From the North, that peaceful ocean swept from Vladivostok around the Japan isles and the Korean Peninsula, to Shanghai, Taipei, Hoh Chi Minh City, through a thousand islands of the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Micronesia, sweeping about the giant named Australia and her sister, New Zealand. Manzanar looked out on this strange end and beginning: the very last point West, and after that it was all East. (TO 170)




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Manzanar's vision is the Pacific parallel to Arcangel's Trans-American one. In Manzanar's view, L.A. is, however, only "the very last point West". His vision decenters America in the pan-Pacific region. He sketches a new geography and transforms geographic paradigms in line with global political and economic phenomena of the last decades, like the economic rise of Asian countries and the increasing transnational connections (Sadowski-Smith 2001: 100).

Additionally, Manzanar has the ability to see at the same time all layers of what constitutes the city: the geographical-topographical nature, the man-made environment of infrastructure and technical grids, and the social patterns (TO 57). Therefore he can envision simultaneously global and local spaces.

The local vision of the novel is further enhanced by the activity of Buzzworm. He is an African American 'Angel of Mercy' (TO 26) who cares for the people in his inner city neighborhood. Although limited to this locality, his point of view is as inclusive as Arcangel's or Manzanar's. He has a holistic attitude towards his part of the city, in line with the ideas of the environmental justice movement; he sees the "environment as a site where people live, work, and play." (Sze 2000: 2) For him, his inner-city neighborhood which is a crime-ridden, gang-ruled and poor locale in other representations, is his home and the place he puts his loyalties into. He constantly listens to various local radio stations, a fact that mirrors Emi's fascination for the news media; but his activities are guided by idealism and attachment to place. He has worked out a local self-help scheme, called This Old Hood, a "Do-it-yourself gentrification" (TO 83) of community-based action, intended to enhance the neighborhood's sense of self-worth. This scheme should safe the quarter from the commercial interests of real-estate speculators, who are not interested in the inhabitant's lives. He also engages in the Reclaim Our Children-movement (TO 104), a scheme to liberate the children from gang-control. Furthermore, he cooperates with Gabriel in publishing human-interest stories about the life in the inner city beyond the negative stereotype. Buzzworm "wanted desperately to see in print the stories of the life surrounding him, to see the wretched truth, the dignity despite the indignity." (TO 43) He also has a concept of personal time: he wears various watches, each with its separate history and narrative. Thus he codifies the abstract concept of chronology with his personal meaning, his "personal time" (TO 86) which he tries to share.

Arcangel, Manzanar, and especially Buzzworm offer holistic spatial concepts that reconcile the geography with human social life. The inner city, a place usually not described favorably, becomes a site full of human life and possibilities. These protagonists offer an anthropological view on urbanity in relation with the dynamics of global phenomena. As Carolina Rody writes, "Yamashita manages at once a global reach and a rich local specificity." (Rody 2004: 132)




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The novel combines a dynamic micro- and an epochal macrocosm. So massive, however, are the global shifts that these two layers are spatially overlapping.

The text's world not only blurs boundaries between the transregional and the local; it also shows what happens when mental categories, that used to divide the realm of the biological and that of technology, get twisted. The economic logic of the divide between rich and poor, combined with the increasing importance of modern technology, entail that human beings are treated like machinery.Mexican babies are exploited as organic spare parts for the rich North; Arcangel is accompanied by "all the people who do the work of machines:/ human washing machines, / human vacuums, / human garbage disposals" (TO 200). In Tropic of Orange technology is invested with organic and human traits, trucks are the "largest monsters of the animal kingdom" (TO 119). Intelligence is a tool increasingly shifted from the human existence to technological innovation, to the artificial.

This blurring of the boundary between organic life and man-made technology is not only a function of current technological and economic processes. It is additionally influenced by recent fiction and popular imaginations of cyber technology. Fictional discourses on technological progress, like science fiction, cyberpunk, or cyberfeminism, create a feeling that machines can have human characteristics and that human beings are part of larger technological compounds. Computer games and virtual realities are full of representations of living beings. In this logic, however, not only machines get human or intelligent: "The parallels we draw between machines and living things strongly color our understanding of the world." (Jones 1994: 89) If machines are like organic beings, human beings can also be treated like mechanic objects. Tropic of Orange draws, on a narrative level, analogies between technology and the biological and thus blurs the boundaries between these two concepts. The order as well as the chaos in the book can be traced to this negotiation.


4 Structuring the Apocalypse

4.1 The Aesthetic of Global Risk

The wave of migrants from the South "causes mighty shock waves when it reaches L.A." (Rody 2004: 134) These people literally bring with them their own reality. It comes north in the form of geography with Arcangel and Sol.




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This transformation has a massive impact on Tropic of Orange's Los Angeles. These 'shock waves' are too vast to be dealt with individually and demand collective resolutions, like the Ngu-Cortes family reunion.

Generally, the novel's protagonists are affected by global risks and phenomena they cannot control. Several people have to die accidentally because of this: the driver of the convertible which crashes into the semi and Margaritha, a friend of Buzzworm's, have to die as they had eaten the spiked oranges (TO 106). Emi is shot accidentally because she was at the wrong place at the wrong time (TO 236). The chaos in the book is beyond the control for any single individual, it is indeed the result of global phenomena.All the time, these developments loom nebulously in the dark before they happen. The danger is imminent but vague. When Rafaela overhears Hernando talking about the availability of a victim for his organ cartel, she feels threatened, even though she does not have any actual clue that Sol might be this victim (TO 117).

Ursula Heise applies sociologist Ulrich Beck's notion of the Risikogesellschaft to the chaotic story of one of Yamashita's preceding novels, Through the Arc of the Rain Forest. The same idea can be used on Tropic of Orange. According to Beck, people at the present time have to live with dangers of global reach which are the results of human activity in past phases of modernization and industrialization, for instance holes in the ozone layer, toxic waste, or global warming. They are socially produced and distributed along socio-racial categories (Heise 2002: 375). These dangers and risks, and their effects in the forms of cancer, floods, hurricanes or other disasters, are reproduced with the help of modern mass media. Thus, one is confronted with lingering catastrophes and threats which, however, remain obscure as long as they do not happen immediately to one self. The danger is unpredictable; most often, it comes in the form of complicated and interactively woven long-term effects. These indirect risks and dangers, however, also turn around the process of experience. One's common knowledge and common sense about the world are no longer appropriate; instead the world has to be explained by scientific experts, whose knowledge and advice are medially produced and distributed (Heise 2002: 392). The relation between incidents – be they local or global – and oneself is hence always mediated, knowledge does not rely on direct and personal experience but on secondary experiences distributed by mass media.

In accordance with to these ideas, one can never be sure in this narration whether the orange one enjoys is not spiked with smuggled drugs.




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When something like that happens to a few persons, a media machinery, always hungry for exciting news, turns these incidents into a public scare and thus, by the advise of experts, creates a panic to which all orange-related products fall prey (TO 140). This sense of sensationalism and constant awareness feeds an ever present feeling of anxiety, a feeling which comes from the protagonists' experience of limited knowledge – they are quite sure that something catastrophic will happen, but no one knows when it will strike and what will happen exactly.

When the spaces of the global, mediated public and of the local meet, they are able to produce devastating effects on those individuals who are affected. But this fact can turn around every concept of causality: cause and effect are not immediately related which counteracts any common sense.The causes are divided from the effects by space and time. Causality, a privileged paradigm in realistic forms of literature, is fractured and broken up as its chronological and spatial relations are turned around. It hence looses its dominant epistemological status. The "experience of non-experience"4 (Heise 2002: 394) questions the reality of any individual knowledge.

The relation between temporal coordinates of incidents, of cause and effects, are blurred. Any literary effort to reproduce this experiential reality has to cope with this essential paradox. Tropic of Orange confuses temporal paradigms from the beginning, for "what follows may not be about the future, but it is perhaps about the recent past; a past, even as you [the reader] imagine it, happens. Pundits admit it's impossible to predict, to chase such absurdities into the future, but c'est L.A. vie. […] We were all there; we all saw it on TV, screen, and monitor, larger than life." (TO 1) From the onset, the text is elaborately engaging in changes, transformations, and metamorphoses. Reality is always in a flow, constantly morphing, and "ever imminently becoming something else." (Rody 2004: 137)

As a result, the novel combines the aesthetics of cyberpunk and magic realism, it changes the logics of realist representational paradigms to a logic of global risks. The apocalypse constantly is about to happen, up to the showdown in the Pacific Rim auditorium. "Paradigm had definitely shifted" (TO 264) after this fight, as Buzzworm remarks laconically, but this disaster marks only the end of one cycle and the beginning of a new one (TO 262). Empiricism is only an aspiration for the protagonists. Truth and matter are in a flux maintained by global media and global events.

The transforming geography, the rifts that occur while the tropic is wandering north, is one of the expressions of this reality. "Things are shifting" (TO 216) because space and time are shifting.




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At one point, Sol takes the orange "and ran in circles. And everything in that geographic nexus churned around and around and around." (TO 214). The reality of space and time is morphing, so that it is possible for a child to dance briskly with time and space, or to "see the undulating patterns and the changing geography corrupting the sun's shadows, confusing time, so that all events should happen and end at the same time." (TO 206)

The reader of this novel meets a seeming openness of events, a constant and unpredictable change. For the protagonists, this creates a feeling of captivity in time-space compression. This means "a spreading out onto the global terrain of the social relations that determine the meanings and specificities of local places" (Lee 1999: 110). The individuals find their day-to-day common life besieged by forces of a global public attention, resulting in negative and positive consequences.In Through the Arc of the Rain Forest this phenomenon can be seen in the influence on the lives of the inhabitants of the Matacao, a fictional Brazilian region that begins to produce a plastic-like material with a potential use for various organizations from all over the world. The idea of time-space compression can also be applied to Tropic of Orange: the whole history of a Mexican village is put into a database and published in the World Wide Web (TO 195); a community of homeless in L.A. seize cars abandoned after a disaster of international order, broadcast their own TV program (TO 179), and get a visit from politicians (TO 217). In their respective environment, the protagonists are captives of international events they cannot fully understand nor explain. These events cause upheavals in the specific relations of time and space which, all things considered, make out local specificity or local knowledge. Gabriel expresses the emotions created by this: "There was something there to decipher. […] I was under compression." (TO 154) The text sets Los Angeles and its inhabitants captive to a constant metamorphosis and thus to a process of never-ending renegotiation and reconsideration of knowledge and experience.

The characters of the novel have to live with its fractured causality. But so have the readers (Heise 2002: 382). They are confronted with an ordered narrative of risk and danger fixed in a written text. The protagonists have to dwell within this order, without completely understanding their world. The process of reading parallels this. The seeming chaos of a repealed causality is met by the author's intentional order, a meeting which creates a paradox that disrupts any singular time frame. Because of this quintessential contradiction, the text cannot cater to any singular literary genre (Heise 2002: 392).




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It frequently alludes to signifiers of different genres, for instance to science fiction, to noir-fiction, or to Chicano literature, creating expectations tied to these genres. Yet the text breaks with these allusions all the time, abandoning the expectations with it. Tropic of Orange instead is a compendium of varying perspectives and realities.

The reader, being confronted with these ruptures, meets an aesthetic which repeats the sense of global risk the characters are confronted with, too. One feels 'under compression' like Gabriel when reading the text and trying to make sense out of distant events which are steadily morphing but still related. "Tropic of Orange maintains its highly ordered, multicultural chapter structure, giving each major ethnic character the equal respect and attention due to a traditional novelistic hero;" (Rody 2004: 139) that means the text represents the diverging perspectives of seven individuals. These experiential realities are combined into a single textual corpus by a twisted logic of causality which is incomprehensible for the protagonists and hard to understand for the reader.The logic of global risk is thus transcribed into an aesthetic of risk: interpreting the text becomes a risky and altering endeavor. Its structure, always failing to meet the expectations set into the storyline, successively leads into interpretative dead ends and Seemingly firm knowledge or interpretations can become meaningless on the very next page. For readers the novel's geography is a shaky ground, its morphing tectonics constituting a performance of indeterminacy.


4.2 A Strangely Organic Vision

Tropic of Orange is a novel full of representations of media, both high- and low-tech. Additionally, every protagonist is associated with a medium: Buzzworm's medium is definitely the radio; he is constantly listening to diverse stations, even while talking with others (TO 26). Listening to the radio makes him always attuned to the present he meets in his neighborhood. He continuously changes the channels to adjust to momentary situations and feelings (TO 103).

The modern news media are Emi's. She is plugged into the internet and attuned to TV stations all the time. In contrast to Buzzworm' radio listening, Emi's media consumption does not keep her in the present for it is of no personal value. Instead, it propels her into a future-like cyber-reality. It is only logic, then, that her televised death will be repeated again and again into a future which does not exist anymore for her, even if "[in] this sense, she would never die." (TO 250)

Bobby's media are kung-fu movies (TO 13) and the street-wise vernacular orality of the narrating voice. Manzanar Murakami's medium is music and "the residue of sounds in the city" (TO 56).




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Arcangel's, the former "Latino Ronald Reagan['s]" (TO 48) media are performative: publicly staged poems and shows.

Rafaela's medium is imagination. It keeps her in a magic reality, where she can see the tropic and where she can meet Bobby (TO 253).

Gabriel's media are those of an imagined past: the Mexican Dream, noir fiction, and the ethics of investigative newspaper journalism which are seemingly outdated in the world of modern news media in Tropic of Orange. Later in the novel, Gabriel finds himself pushed into cyberspace, where he literally gets lost (TO 249). Thus one or several media are associated with every protagonist, making them an integral part of their respective personality. These associatively personalized media make out the protagonists' personal reality and subjectivity, an association which, however, makes them partially unreal. The more they identify themselves through representations of reality through media, the more they lose of their subjectivity. In the light of the author's evaluative hierarchy among the different form of media, this is especially true for those constituted by information technology. Identifiers reproduced by mass media are available for everyone; they therefore have only small individual value; and, as a content of information technology, they are ideologically charged. In an interview wit Michael Murashige, Yamashita commented on this:

Someone wrote a review complaining that the characters aren't quite real. And it's true, they're not real. But they're not real in the same way that maybe Bart Simpson is not real, in the same way that all of us have ourselves become characters in the sense that we are increasingly defined by the entertainment we choose to surround ourselves with. Embedded in the characters are representations of entertainment because, after all, we're in LA. (Murashige 2000: 339)

The novel's protagonists are involved in representational distribution because 'we're in LA', or because this is simply the logic in the world of Tropic of Orange. Every single character is associated in an elaborate symbolic network, a grid which defines his or her perceptions, relations and communication with others. The relations the protagonists create among themselves and to other phenomena in their respective worlds are, to a great extent, influenced by the media they utilize and they surround themselves with.




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Yamashita thus develops her own fictional Los Angeles, in which distant characters, places, ideas, epistemologies, and ideologies are interconnected. She constructs an own infrastructure with shortcuts and nexuses. More to the point, she includes into this highly ordered structure the possibility of disorder and chaos. These apparent perturbations, however, are calculated, for instance to engage the reader into the aesthetic of a world full of insecurities.

The text is endowed with a network of associations, creating a non-linear kind of narration. The logic of association in Tropic of Orange is an order in which experiences are mediated by analogies, typologies, oppositions, and metaphoric, metonymic, or complementary relationships; information is assembled and recalled by interconnecting it with other clusters of information.

One single code, for instance one of those given in the chapter headlines5 can thus evoke a whole network of other codes, significations, and associations. Experience is thus communicated by the interrelation of various signifiers and the novel can be read in a non-linear or multi-dimensional way..

In her novelistic construction, Yamashita relies on the associative powers of the protagonists and of the reader. The former are characterized by their reflective capabilities.

Gabriel and Emi stay within the realm of their ethnic projections; Gabriel is involved in ethnic nostalgia, while Emi maintains her anti-ethnicity. Both of them stay within the same logic of identification, their experiences center on the two poles of identitarianism and anti-identitarianism. Bobby's, Rafaela's, and Buzzworm's capabilities are headed towards social aspirations. These range from consumerist equality to real social equality reached by politic action; their mental organization centers around their respective social life in the U.S. Arcangel and Manzanar both have an extended vision for global spheres. Arcangel is the personification of the South coming North and of a historical conscience; Manzanar's voice combines music and physiography in a "brutal and yet beautiful" (TO 35) way. The protagonists give meaning to their reality through association: they live in mental landscapes in which one thing mentally leads to another. In the realm of ethnicity, for instance, the protagonists' experiences center around two poles: Manzanar and Mazatlán. Both are two associative codes and signifiers, one describing the injustice of the past in the internment camps and the present project of redress, the other depicting an imagined past and aspirations for the future. One is associated with the Japanese American, the other one with the Hispanic American communities. Both are lacking what the other has, they are imagined opposites. And thus, they are totally in line with the associative logic throughout the novel.




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Relations among different phenomena often enough come in the form of oppositions. Complex categories like 'nationality' are habitually described in their negative, in what they are not. Manzanar is not Mazatlán; Emi, and everything she represents, is unlike Rafaela; the north is not the South, the East not the West. Still another form of associations are complements. Here, oppositions need not conflict with each other. In Tropic of Orange, they are also mediated and they are entailing each other. The West needs the East as negative representation and as a foil to constitute itself. Rafaela is not Bobby, but still they form a family which has to be reunited at the end (Rody 2004: 146).

Manzanar needs Mazatlán, and vice versa; the ethnic reality of abuse needs the ethnic dream as the second needs the first to constitute authentic experience. Gabriel and Emi are unlike and are arguing most of the time, yet they need each other in the book's logic. They are their own associations, because the one has what the other has not. Complements need each other, when one of them vanishes, like Emi, the other one has to vanish, too. Thus Gabriel gets sucked into a cyber-reality. He does not even tell whether he knows about Emi's death or not. The flow of communication between them, though actually broken down with the death of one of them, even goes on beyond Emi's death with Gabriel still receiving electronic messages by his friend (TO 248).

Yamashita interweaves contradictions and opposites; like in Manzanar's "strangely organic vision" (TO 119), L.A. becomes interlaced in a net of associations, like a living and metabolic entity. This organic vision is inscribed into the whole novel. Artificial things, usually divided by their man-made nature from the realm of the organic nature, are related to metabolic beings not only in Manzanar's perspective. The division between machinery and humans gets blurred all through the novel: the giant traffic jam is a "big-time thrombosis. Massive stroke. Heart attack." (TO 218/19) The 'strangely organic vision' is not only Manzanar's but also Yamashita's. Their positions parallel in the creation of an aesthetic compendium out of "the residue of […] the city" (TO 56) or of contemporary life, centering on those usually not visible in fiction. Both have the ability to create "a community, a great society, an entire civilization" (TO 35).

Yamashita creates a comprehensive structure for her book by establishing an amorphous arrangement based on rules of an associative logic. She interconnects the physical geography, the artificial grid of cables, roads, and conduits, and "our most familiar geography [which] appears from the discovery of our own body." (Yamashita/Imafuku 1999: 14).




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Los Angeles in Tropic of Orange is an amorphous meta being – a cyborg city, partly human, partly machine. This form of representation is a part of a wider discourse on cities and of Los Angeles especially. Current Los Angeles, the synonym for urban sprawl, is mostly a result of political, technological, and social processes since about the Second World War. Its freeway-arteries are the result of federal policies in infrastructure and its diverse population the result of national and transnational migration. This city is structured by economic functionality and ethnic zoning. In brief, Los Angles is formed by processes of modernization, ranging from technological progress which enabled individual transportation on a mass scale, to residential separation along ethnic and racial lines (Haselstein 1999: 291).

In artistic representations, Los Angeles has been serving as a mirror image of those modernizing processes which have made this city possible. These depictions always play on a conflict between subjectivity – the survival of the individual in the metropolis – and reifying processes of modernity like functional, ethnic, or racial categorization.6 Simultaneously, Los Angeles, as the topic of literary representations, signifies the gradual dying and reversion of traditional textual discourses of the city. It simply is too vast a phenomenon to be grasped by the common concept of a closely defined entity called 'city' and the narrative modes connected with it. In the words of Andreas Mahler, Los Angeles loses the 'aura' of 'city' in its ever increasing sprawl (Mahler 1999: 36).7 Mahler describes functional categories textual representations of cities can perform; Tropic of Orange's Los Angeles is, in these terms an imaginary city. Its textual status is emphasized and the fact that it is a product of language and a narration is stressed (Mahler 1999: 33). It never hides its man-made nature, or its dependency on its inhabitants' constant maintenance and recreation of the concept of the place they are living in. Gabriel, for example, engages in his noir fictions and derives his vision of Los Angeles from them, among other things. For Emi, the city is an infrastructure – both made of asphalt and concrete and of glass-fiber cables – which allows the fast physical movement in her car and the virtual movement of information. For Buzzworm, the city is, on the one hand, under the threat of disintegration by the inhumane forces of organized crime and the market forces of investment (TO 82). On the other hand, it is also the result of the community's struggles for a better life which is expressed in self-help schemes like the "gente-fication" (TO 83) program called This Old Hood. Los Angeles is the outcome of a successive fictions and constructions in the past8 and in the present. Still, these manifold projections of cities are not aloof fictions, but part of the reality the protagonists surround themselves with.




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The role subjectivity plays in Tropic of Orange's textual city is thus ambiguous. It is a postmodern metropolis with a seemingly endless flight of pictures and city texts. Before she dies, Emi mentions a project which digitizes L.A., creating a cyber space which even could open the possibility of her meeting Balboa in an digital afterlife – annihilating the boundary between life and death, "'Interactive-like.'" (TO 252) Even without this fantasy, Emi will still be present virtually in the 'live' loop broadcasted from the NewsNow van showing her being shot (TO 250). In this image of the city the potential of subjectivity is obliterated and replaced by its mere representation. Other instances hint at the possibility of subjectivitys survival even in the Moloch L.A represents. The descriptions of the city in the novel are, in the terms of Dietrich Hartmann, a combination of maps and 'imaginary tours' (Hartmann 1989: 86).9

The novel's very structure seems to promise a organizing grid leading the reader through the reading experience. On the first pages, even before the narration sets in, one can find a traditional chronological chapter outline – with a numerical order and the chapters' titles – and then a chart called HyperContexts. This chart describes a relation between the seven days of the week during which Tropic of Orange's action takes place and the chapters designated to each of the seven characters. In an interview with Michael S. Murashige, Yamashita tells, "you as a reader are put into the driver's seat. The HyperContext at the beginning is a sort of map of the book. You have a map, you're in LA, and you have to drive." (Yamashita 2000: 339) This map seems to offer orientation, but unlike any real map, or any description of cities classified as map (Hartmann 1989: 85), this one is calibrated to the protagonists, to chronology, and to a set of associative chapter headlines.

While elements of the novel feature elements of a city's description as a map – for instance in Buzzworm's and Manzanar's representations – the perspective is always oriented on respective communities like the Old Hood or the stray sounds created by a temporal community forming the freeway traffic, not on abstract geographical directions or a single urban center which L.A. simply does not have. Tropic of Orange also offers the possibility of reading as a description as imaginary tour through a city. It lacks a unifying point of view with a clear perspective on the city.

Instead, the standpoint changes constantly with every narrator and the reader is accompanied throughout the narrative tour by a voice which offers guidance in the erratic walk, or drive, through the city. The descriptive tour through the city does not lead to a single topographic goal; its aim is rather to emphasize the contrast as well as the similarities between the various places, protagonists, epistemologies, and experiences one encounters on the tour.




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The city text thus closes in a manner which, rather than describing the city exhaustively, projects a difference in status10 between the moment of the novel's beginning – the family Ngu-Cortes separated, Arcangel and the huge masses of the excluded down in the South, Emi alive, Gabriel engaged in nostalgia, etc. – and the end – with a reunited family and a passed apocalypse, among others.11 Yamashita's urban fantasy thus is, in its nature, dependent on a communication with the reader who has to accompany the narrative tour and who has to experience the novel's contrastive denouement.

In Through the Arc of the Rain Forest, Caroline Rody makes out a narrative voice which constructs a performative identity not in the individual, omnipotent voice, but in a communitarian and social situation. This voice comes from a ball which circles around the head of one of the novel's protagonists. It is an enigma because, supposedly not having an identity at all, it is liberated from any racial, gender, or ethnic identifier. Until the end of the novel it is not even revealed of which material this ball is made.

Thus it is the goal of the readers' constant efforts to identify this mysterious voice, to categorize it in their mental concepts. This voice is not really a person, but an embodiment of "desires entrapped in language, whom only readers – not some higher Prospero – can aspire for free." (Rody 2000: 12) Yamashita's end in creating a narrating voice like this, according to Rody, is to initiate a community with the reader. This community is not based on the individual auctorial power, but on common desires and common goals of narrative performance.12

Tropic of Orange further complicates this approach. There is no single narrative voice, but seven. Even if some reviewers single out one of them and give it a central meaning,13 this choice always depends on the theoretical approach. It is true, however, that there is no single voice which could unify the whole novel. Even the extended views of Arcangel and Manzanar cannot balance this lack. The unifying factor behind the novel cannot be one of the narrators. Instead, the reader finds a whole community. This community is not simply established by the fact that they are combined in one novel, but rather by the associative work of the reader. It is the reader who reconstructs the grid given by Yamashita's structuring efforts. In the context of various literary discourses on L.A., this means that the reader is not overwhelmed by a shining world of commercial aesthetics, nor is he captive to a The Crying of Lot 49- like city circuit. Tropic of Orange's share in the literary discussion of modern subjectivity on the example of Los Angeles (Haselstein 1999: 303) consists in the contribution of a sense of community which leaves a guided power of representation to the individual.




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5 Conclusion: The Amorphous and the Grid

Amorphous is usually a synonym for chaotic, for something without a well-defined shape which is one way to describe Tropic of Orange's aesthetic. It taps into an imaginary space which seemingly overflows with metaphoric possibilities. The recipients' minds get literally lost in the chase from one associative turn to the next. In some respect, the novelistic space of Tropic of Orange does not have any boundaries.

One piece of information, one storyline opens up an entire range of new possibilities, all of which still stay interconnected in the novel's symbolic order. The novel obviously has too many threads to be followed. Yamashita's text seems chaotic and without any order exactly because its web of associations maintains a peculiar logic in which numerous incidents and phenomena cohere.

Thus, for instance, the novel combines Buzzworm's local activities with Gabriel's research in Mexico or with Manzanar's extended vision. This logic establishes a text which is open and unlimited, ever 'sprawling out' and therefore receptive to a variety of interpretations.

This oddly amorphous book, however, is not without any order. Yamashita lays down a grid, a map with which to 'drive' in the book. While reading it, it may seem as outdated as the map of gang territories Buzzworm gets from Gabriel (TO 81); like all maps, it may be a proof of possessive power; perhaps it may even be a bit misleading, like many old maps. But this only means that the reader is challenged even more to make sense of the text and its innumerable implications.

Tropic of Orange triggers an enhanced reflective activity on the part of the reader; one has to choose where oneself would draw the boundaries, and what map oneself would sketch for this expansive imaginary geography which includes the reflection of one's position in the new world order and in the complex socio-political geographies the novel projects.

Perhaps the chaos and the order, the apocalypse and the new beginning, and the amorphous and the grid are merely further pairs of complements. To be defined, they need each other. Maybe, unlike Gabriel, one has to let off the thread, like Bobby does in the very last scene of the book:




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So he grabs the two ends. Is he some kind of fool? Maybe so. […] Little by little the slack on the line's gone. Thing's stretching tight. Just Bobby grabbing the two sides. Making the connection. Pretty soon he's sweating it. Lines ripping through the palms. How long can he hold on? Dude's skinny, but he's an Atlas. Hold on 'til his body is split in two. Hold on 'til he dies, famous-like. […] What's he gonna do? Tied fast to these lines. Family out there. Still stuck on the other side. He's gritting his teeth and crying like a fool. What are these goddamn lines anyway? What do they connect? What do they divide? What's he holding on to? What's he holding on to? He gropes forward, inching nearer. Anybody looking sees his arms open wide like he's flying. Like he's flying forward to embrace. Don't nobody know he's hanging on to these invisible bungy cords. That's when he let's go. Lets the lines slither around his wrists, past his palms, through his fingers. Let's go. Go figure. Embrace. That's it. (TO 267, 268)

Be it the thread of a story or of the tropic's orange, maybe sometimes one should embrace it to see what it is; maybe sometimes one should let it go to let another story begin. Los Angeles, according to the textual fragment "Grand Illusion" by Michael Ventura which is featured as one the epigraphs on one of the introductory pages of the novel, is a city of suffering, always close to the apocalyptical.

Yet "its beauty is the beauty of letting things go; letting go of where you came from; letting go of old lessons; letting go of what you want for what you are, or what you are for what you want; letting go of so much – and that is a hard beauty to love." Like Ventura's Los Angeles, Tropic of Orange is a space to 'let things go', be it a story line, a tropic or a lesson already learned.


Bibliography

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Gier, Jean and Tejeda, Carla Alicia (1998): "An Interview with Karen Tei Yamashita." Jouvert University of California, Berkeley 21 May 2005 <http://social.chass.ncsu.edu/jouvert/v2i2/yamashi.htm>.

Hartmann, Dietrich. (1989): "Stadtbeschreibungen: Zur Konzeptualisierung von Makroräumen und städtischer Identität." Christopher Habel, Michael Herweg, and Klaus Rehkämper (eds.) Raumkonzepte in Verstehensprozessen: Interdisziplinäre Beiträge zu Sprache und Raum. Tübingen: Niemeyer. 70-98.




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Haselstein, Ulla (1999): "Bilderflucht Los Angeles." Andreas Mahler (ed.) Stadt- Bilder: Allegorie, Mimesis, Imagination. Heidelberg: C. Winter. 291-304.

Heise, Ursula K. (2002): "Die Zeitlichkeit des Risikos im amerikanischen Roman der Postmoderne." Martin Middeke (ed.) Zeit und Roman: Zeiterfahrung im historischen Wandel und ästhetischer Paradigmenwechsel vom sechzehnten Jahrhundert bis zur Postmoderne. Würzburg: Königshausen und Neumann. 373-394.

Jones, Steve (1994): "Hyper-punk: Cyberpunk and Information Technology." Journal of Popular Culture 28.2: 81-92.

Koshy, Susan (2000): "The Fiction of Asian American Literature." Jean Yu-wen Shen Wu and Min Song (eds.) Asian American Studies: a Reader. New Brunswick/ New Jersey/ London: Rutgers UP. 467-495.

Lee, Rachel (1999): The Americas of Asian Americans: Gendered Fictions of Nation and Transnation. Princeton: Princeton UP.

Li, Florence Hsia-Ching (2004) "Imagining the Mother/ Motherland: Karen Tei Yamashita's Tropic of Orange and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's Dictée." Concentric: Literary and Cultural Studies 30.1: 149-67.

Lowe, Lisa (2000): "Heterogeneity, Hybridity, Multiplicity: Marking Asian American Differences." Jean Yu-wen Shen Wu and Min Song (eds.) Asian American Studies: a Reader. New Brunswick/ New Jersey/ London: Rutgers UP. 423-442.

Mahler, Andreas (1999): "Stadttexte – Textstädte: Formen und Funktionen diskursiver Stadtkonstitution." Andreas Mahler (ed.) Stadt- Bilder: Allegorie, Mimesis, Imagination. Heidelberg: C. Winter. 10-36.

Murashige, Michael S. (2000): "Karen Tei Yamashita." King-Kog Cheung (ed.) Words Matter: Conversations With Asian American Writers. University of Hawai'i Press/ UCLA Asian American Studies Center. 320-342.

Quintana, Alvina E. (2002): "Performing Tricksters: Karen Tei Yamashita and Guillermo Gómez-Peña." Amerasia 28.2: 217-225.




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Rauch, Molly (1998): "Fruit Salad." The Nation 266.7 (3 Feb): 28-30. 3June 2005 Epscohost. Academic Search Premier. Universitätsbibliothek München. 3 June 2005 <http://web32.epnet.com/ >.

Rody, Caroline (2000): "Impossible Voices: Ethnic Postmodern Narration in Toni Morrison's Jazz and Karen Tei Yamashita's Through the Arc of the Rain Forest." Contemporary Literature 41.4: 618-641.

Rody, Caroline (2004): "The Transnational Imagination: Karen Tei Yamashita's Tropic of Orange." Eleanor Ty and Donald C. Goellnicht (eds.) Asian North American Identities Beyond the Hyphen. Indianapolis/ Bloomington: Indiana UP. 130-148.

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Santa Ana, Jeffrey J. (2004): "Affect-Identity: The Emotions of Assimilation, Multiraciality, and Asian American Subjectivity." Eleanor Ty and Donald C. Goellnicht (eds.) Asian North American Identities Beyond the Hyphen. Indianapolis/ Bloomington: Indiana UP. 15-43.

Sato, Kumiko (2004): "How Information Technology Has (Not) Changed Feminism and Japanism: Cyberpunk in the Japanese Context." Comparative Literature Studies 41.3: 335-355.

Sze, Julie (2000): "'Not by Politics Alone': Gender and Environmental Justice in Karen Tei Yamashita's Tropic of Orange." Bucknell Review 44.1: 29-42.

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Yamashita, Karen Tei (1997): Tropic of Orange. Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 1997.


Notes

1 Hereafter TO.




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2 In this case, Rody actually means with "ethnic cyborg" the crystalline and yet human narrator of Yamashitas novel Through the Arc of the Rain Forest (Rody 2000: 11); this description, however, also fits to Emi. Interestingly enough, her relation to Gabriel resembles a recurrent 1990s Japanese (manga) fiction formula: a strong and emotionally cold female cyborg character, only supported by a weaker, nearly effeminate male character (Sato 2004: 347).

3 Yamashita refers specifically to this campaign in her interview with Gier and Tejeda (1998: 7)

4 "Erfahrung der Nichterfahrung" in the original.

5 These range from the profane like "Second Mortgage" or "Coffee Break" to the artistic and essential, for instance, Arcangels cycle "To Wake", "To Wash", "To Eat", "To Labor", "To Dream", "To Perform", and "To Die".

6 Ulla Haselstein describes this line of thought in the dystopic cyber-future of Blade Runner (Haselstein 1999: 293), in noir-fictions like those by Raymond Chandler (Haselstein 1999: 295); in Henry Millers notes on Los Angles which oscillate between the ambiguous impulses of fascination for and dread of popular culture (Haselstein 1999: 299); and in Thomas Pynchons The Crying of Lot 49, the latter describing the projection of a plot, inscribed into the city of San Narcisco, which reifies the city and its inhabitants but relies on the premise of a higher subjectivity controlling this plot and its tool, the city (Haselstein 1999: 301).

7 "Die Stadt wird zum All-Ort und zum Nicht-Ort; sie verliert ihre Prototypik, ihre Semantik, ihre Spezifik, sie wird austauschbar. [...] Die ent-auratisierte, die differenzlose Stadt ist keine 'Stadt'." (Mahler 1999: 35-36)

8 See, for example, the 1972 map which Gabriel gave Buzzworm taken from Quartz City and showing gang territories in LA, whose borders have shifted long ago or whose gangs simply have ceased to exist (TO 81).

9 OT: "Imaginäre Wanderungen" (Hartmann 1989: 87)

10 "Das Ende der räumlichen Bewegung durch die Stadt mittels der imaginären Wanderung wird nicht durch die explizite Markierung eines Ortes als Ziel, sondern durch den Kontrast zwischen den verschiedenen Kategorien räumlicher Objekte mit schlußindizierender Funktion angezeigt." (Hartmann 1989: 87)

11 Linguistically, the text's urban description is ended with the final utterance, "That's it" (TO 268); expressions like this one can operate as a complementary close to descriptions of cities which are focused in most cases on the urban center but do not detail the perimeters (Hartmann 1989: 92).

12 Rody draws the analogy between Yamashita and Toni Morrison's fiction (Rody 2000: 10).

13 For Quintana, Arcangel is the unifying factor (Quintana 2002: 222), for Li, it is Rafaela (Li 2004: 152); Rafaela also has an important role in Sze's view (Sze 2000: 5). Rody centers on the plot of possible or impossible transethnic affiliation between Emi and Buzzworm