Date of Award

Spring 2012

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


English and Cultural Studies


Donald Goellnicht


Daniel Coleman



Committee Member

Helene Strauss


This dissertation investigates the traumatic legacies of colonialism, imperialism and authoritarianism in Southeast Asia, the diasporic conditions of Southeast Asian refugees in North America after 1975, and the relationship among literature, ethics, and reconciliation more broadly. Focusing primarily on contemporary novels that intervene in the cultural memory of the Cambodian genocide, the War in Viet Nam, and the World War II Japanese Occupation of Malaysia, my dissertation conceptualizes an intimate politics of reconciliation that routes the study of justice foremost through questions of affect, epistemology and ethics. An intimate politics of reconciliation, I argue, encapsulates a constellation of intimate memorial acts—ritual, testimony, collaboration, gifting, and narrative reconstruction—that operate within and against macro-political and juridical modalities of justice. My research highlights productive scenes of convergence between discourses of post-genocide reconciliation and alternative spiritual cosmologies, between refugee collaborative writing and theories of gifting, and between theories of forgetting and social and psychic reparation. In arguing that Southeast Asian diasporic genealogies paradoxically foreground the necessity of both remembering and forgetting in the collective work of reconciliation, this dissertation engages with and challenges two key theoretical paradigms in Asian American Studies—a politics of social justice premised upon a discourse of “subjectlessness” and a psychoanalytic paradigm of productive melancholia theory.

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