This article examines the vibrant city infrastructures of Karen Tei Yamashita's 1997 novel Tropic of Orange in order to highlight interdependency as political and aesthetic value. The novel's emphasis on urban support systems—the oft-unnoticed roads, pipes, wires, and labor networks that allow the city to function—positions infrastructure as itself a critical lens, one that can reassess the relationship of ethnic American literature and subjectivity to the values of self-ownership, protest, and independence. By amplifying the overlooked support networks that underpin fictions of self-sufficiency, Yamashita's Tropic of Orange diverges from the narrative of self-ownership as liberatory endpoint. Instead, it recuperates the much-maligned category of dependency, positioning dependency as a vital site of aesthetic and political possibility within anti-racist and anti-capitalist struggle. This recuperation proves particularly significant in light of pernicious and persistent dependency mythologies, such as the “illegal immigrant,” that frame racialized subjects as drains on the public. Infrastructure, as an often unseen entity nonetheless central to the operation of cities and the global distribution of resources, represents a key vehicle in Tropic of Orange for thinking about contemporary ecologies of assistance, power, and provision, and for mapping the global imbalances of power that render certain dependencies hypervisible while erasing others.
© MELUS: The Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States 2020. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States. All rights reserved.
Kim, Jina B., "Toward an Infrastructural Sublime: Narrating Interdependency in Karen Tei Yamashita’s Los Angeles" (2020). English Language and Literature: Faculty Publications, Smith College, Northampton, MA.