PRINT December 2020


Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning

Photo: Brian Green

A well-aimed spear of a book, Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning (Penguin Random House) has as much to say about artistic interpretation as it does about the exhausting arithmetic faced by every human raced as Asian in America. Touching on topics such as credential accumulation, racial divides, and the complexities of ethnicity and transnational movement, this collection of essays quickly, if sometimes unevenly, articulates the pursuit of credibility whose stakes are nothing less than survival. Evoking the just barely suppressed exasperation Adrian Piper displays in her marvelously unsettling 1988 work Cornered, Hong recounts some of the most egregious acts of anti-Asian violence in US history. But it is when she turns her powers of description on the harms inflicted beyond the reach of law, commonly presumed ethics, and even consciousness itself that the book is sharpest. In Hong’s account, being comfortable is practically counterrevolutionary; several moments made me recall the Korean word eoseolpeuda, which defies English translation but encompasses a para-abject mélange of “inadequate,” “clumsy,” “poor,” and “awkward.” Only when we confront this condition of eoseolpeuda—and the perpetual diminutions of self, pride, and even morality—can we begin to resist what Hong implies is the tendency to turn everything into an idea. Hong also makes a compelling case for biography without spectacle or histrionics: Her chapter on the murder of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha powerfully underscores representation as itself a form of life making that operates in parallel with the other experiences art generates. Indeed, Minor Feelings should be read not only for the spaces it helps create for thinking about what happens to “America” via the construct “Asian America,” but also for how urgently it calls on its readers to mind the gap between idea and world. 

Joan Kee is a professor in the History of Art at the University of Michigan and a contributing editor to Artforum. Her latest book is Models of Integrity: Art and Law in Post-Sixties America (University of California Press, 2019).