Talk Title

“But I am a Nut No More”: “Revolutionary Romanticism” in H.T. Tsiang’s The Hanging on Union Square

Abstract

Rejected by publishers, scorned by critics, and almost lost to history, H.T. Tsiang’s audacious novel, The Hanging On Union Square (1935), epitomizes early Asian American literature’s tenuous relationship to American Modernism. In this brief talk, I consider how Tsiang’s text not only reveals the fruitful intersections between these two traditions, but also how this avant-garde novel stands as a foundational example of a hereto unrecognized genre we might call “Asian American Modernism.”

 

Derived from new archival findings, this presentation first examines Tsiang’s experimentation with narrative form and his decision to blend the tenets of radical leftist drama with the novel. Attending to the period’s now defunct leftist theatre publications, I then investigate Tsiang’s enigmatic reference to “Revolutionary Romanticism” on Hanging’s first edition frontmatter. While recent critical studies have suggested Tsiang’s mysterious mention of “Revolutionary Romanticism” is nothing more than an “invented nonsensical descriptor,” I take the author’s paradoxical methodology as an essential clue left to elucidate his wild novel’s imbrications with leftist theatre and its ambition to exceed the mimetic limitations of the dramatic form. To conclude, I explore Hanging’s final act in which Tsiang deftly leverages Revolutionary Romantic expression to render a moment of “democratic epiphany,” an impassioned instant in which social revolution sparks into flame.

Bio

Christopher Seiji Berardino is a Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of English at the University of California, Riverside. He received his Ph.D. in English Literature from Cornell University in 2021. His monograph-in-progress, Multitude Modernism: “Democratic Epiphany” in Asian American and African American Interwar Literature, maps the ways in which Modernists of color leverage textual experimentation to express collective potentiality and interracial solidarity. In addition to his scholarship, Berardino is also a creative writer. He received his MFA in Fiction from Cornell University in 2018. His short story, “Dog Bait,” is the winner of the Breakwater Review’s 2021 Fiction Contest.

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  • Christopher Seiji Berardino

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