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Asian Fetish: Race and the Politics of Fantasy

February 10, 2014 @ 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm

Closely cropped portrait image of Leslie Bow's face; she is wearing a grey shirt

Monday Seminar

Leslie Bow

Senior REI Fellow (2013-2017)

English and Asian American Studies, UW-Madison


If, as psychoanalyst Robert Stoller asserted, “a fetish is a story masquerading as an object,” what is the story underlying racial fetishism? A process of idealization, fetishism illuminates the structures of a collective racial imaginary in which repressed anxiety manifests itself as overestimation. This dynamic has particular relevance for Asian racialization in the U.S.; since the Cold War, Asian Americans have been consistently cast as subjects of national approval. Yet the structure of fetishistic desire, like that of racial typing itself, is inherently ambivalent. This talk explores portrayals of Asian fetishism in projects of social justice envisioned by artists, activists, and academics. How do critical responses to sexual objectification grapple with the frame of liberal multiculturalism predicated on racial visibility, representation, and equal rights? If fantasy serves as a “setting for desire,” what desires reveal themselves in the space between race-based politics and the (sexual) stereotype?


Leslie Bow is the Eccles Professor of English and Asian American Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She is the author of the award-winning, ‘Partly Colored’: Asian Americans and Racial Anomaly in the Segregated South (New York University Press, 2010); Betrayal and Other Acts of Subversion: Feminism, Sexual Politics, Asian American Women’s Literature (Princeton University Press, 2001); and editor of Asian American Feminisms (Routledge, 2012). Her work has appeared in the Utne Reader, the Michigan Quarterly Review, the Southern Review as well as in numerous academic journals and anthologies. Formerly the Director of Asian American Studies at Wisconsin, Leslie was previously on the faculties of Brown University and the University of Miami. She has been named Exceptional Professor, recognized for Excellence in Teaching, and received a UW System Outstanding Women of Color in Education Award, in addition to being nominated for Professor of the Year and Excellence in Mentoring. She served on the advisory boards of American Literature, Contemporary Woman Writers, and the Society for the Study of American Women Writers. Leslie is also a contributor to the Progressive Media Project through which her op-ed columns appear in newspapers across the United States.


February 10, 2014
3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
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University Club, Room 212
432 East Campus Mall
Madison, Wisconsin 53703 United States