Sensory Acts

On Asian Racialization and the Politics of Futurism

Sensory Acts responds to the outpouring of cultural productions and scholarship on Afrofuturism, indigenous futurism, and other ethnofuturisms that assert the reclamation of the future as an urgent political project for minoritized subjects who have and continue to be denied access to livable futures. I argue that narratives of Asian futurity challenge such endeavors because of how Asianness gets aligned with futures of labor, capital, and empire. This spectacular racialization transforms Asian-raced subjects and spaces into spectacles for consumption, at once desirable, threatening, and other in ways that elide the heterogeneity of Asia and Asian Americans. In a contemporary moment marked by both the celebratory display of Asian capital, evidenced in popular cultural productions like Crazy Rich Asians and Bling Empire, and heightened violence against Asian people as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, this project investigates the conditions and processes of racialization through which “the future” and thus our understanding of politics and possibility are produced. In doing so, it presses us to trouble enduring associations between sight, futurity, and progress that can be traced back to colonial discourses of Enlightenment reason which posit sight as the privileged sense for scientific observation and knowledge acquisition. My book disrupts these sensory hierarchies by thinking alongside multisensory speculative fictions that invite us to practice “taking time to travel through time,” “furtive listening,” and “mourning what’s missing.” By following these largely illegible and subjugated modes of knowing, relationality, and being-in-the-world, I aim to elaborate other ways forward for Asian Americanist critique and to explore how foregrounding the sensory reanimates the stakes of the humanities from the lived knowledges of those subjects who have been historically excluded from the category of the “human” because of their sensual, embodied differences.

Photo by ractapopulous on Pixabay.