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Contesting Imagined Communities: Minor Feelings, Opacity, and Spectrality in Ling Ma’s "Severance"

Christine Marks

Pages 489 - 502



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This article foregrounds pandemic fiction’s subversive and visionary potential through the example of Ling Ma’s dystopian pandemic novel "Severance" (2018). Emphasizing fiction’s capacity for symbolic intervention in a pandemic era, I argue that the text undermines tropes of nation-building through strategic employment of minor feelings, opacity, and spectral liminality. My analysis focuses on the Chinese American protagonist’s conflicted relationship with imagined communities forged in the conventional “outbreak narrative” (Wald) as her unhomely positionality places her at odds with unifying ideological responses to the catastrophic upheaval of the pandemic. At the intersection of pandemic and diasporic literature, Ma’s novel constitutes a narrative countersite that defies U.S.-American ideologies of linear progression, exceptionalism, and transparency, unsettling foundational tenets of national belonging. Drawing on Kandice Chuh’s transnational rearticulations of Asian American studies, Cathy Park Hong’s "Minor Feelings", Édouard Glissant’s notion of opacity, and theorizations of spectrality, I demonstrate how Ma’s novel offsets such American Enlightenment master narratives with counterimaginaries that reconstitute the world beyond teleological determinacy.

Key Words:Asian American literature; diaspora; pandemic imaginaries; minor feelings

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