Chinatown, china/town, there’s an interesting syntax in the name that contains a vast country into the small parameters of a town. As a more or less self-sustaining entity thriving amidst an alien environment, Chinatown does seem to contain and maintain a concentrated aura of “China”, whether this be a self-propogated caricature of itself offered up to tourists or an authentic extension of the sights, smells, scents of the “real”, geographical China, located half a globe away.

I’m interested in Chinatown for sentimental reasons, for its irresistible nostalgia, for the overwhelming affect it has on me when I enter that area. Affect is defined by Theresa Brennan as a material, physiological change that accompanies judgement and evaluation, a bodily response that precedes emotion. But it’s not so simple or binary as the environment that invades the individual, or the individual projecting onto the environment, because individuals have affective histories that incline them towards certain affects. As my childhood in China draws me to Chinatown.

But I’m also interested in the concept of boundaries, which Theresa Brennan describes as the denial of the transmission of affect. The differences between the modern Western fixation with personal boundaries, “securing a private fortress”, and the unique boundaries Chinatown forms within itself, and the boundaries it forms with the rest of the city. Boundaries that invoke the idea of Bennett’s vibrant media, objects with recalcitrance and resistance to their contexts.The dilapidated buildings, the fish whose heads are cut off in front of you in the market. All things with their own vitality, their own inertia of presence. For what is Chinatown but resistant to geographical difference, doggedly itself, imbued with its own thriving agency. (Or at least one would think so, but this too must be modified in the context of the current real estate market and gentrification, which, again, just reinstates the agency of other forces, other objects, and the mutual interactions and interdependences Bennett would also call assemblages). How far can the transmission of affect be denied, can Chinatown exist as an assemblage itself but also as part of the assemblage of the city, and of the world?

Patricia Lin


~ by Pat on September 22, 2015.

4 Responses to “china/town”

  1. 3. This post is the strongest for me.

    I think there is a big strength in the way that this post just draws me in at immediate interaction. It’s short, it’s condensed, but packed with powerful thoughts and the questions and thought flow so well for me as a reader.

    I like the descriptive factors that add to your description of vitality: the fish heads, talking about the real estate market, and “securing a private fortress”. It’s powerful imagery that moves me, especially as I bring my history of being Chinese American, I believe I’m drawn to your post the way you’re drawn to chinatown.

  2. I found yours both most well-composed and strongest. It’s hard to describe why your post connected with me most, but I thought the way you composed your post really showed that this was a place that you connected with emotionally. I think the genuine interest, the introspective tone and the way you apply the reading to the imageries of Chinatown really make sense together– and perhaps I am biased as well, since I also connect with this ecology emotionally and I am curious to see how your project will progress.

  3. Hi Patricia,

    I believe your post was composed very well. I love how you juxtapose the concepts of authenticity and caricature when you describe Chinatown and how it can be both of those things. It really made me think about how Chinatown is like a whole different world inside of NYC. And your descriptions really showed how each individual thing that can be seen in Chinatown is what contributes to “its own thriving agency.” Great post!


  4. The style of this post stuck out to me. First, because of the title “china/town” as I have never seen it written like this before. Although the post is short and sweet, it is extremely dense with imagery such as “the dilapidated buildings, the fish whose heads are cut off in front of you in the market.” I really enjoyed the composition of this post as the writing flows very well and yet the points you trying to make are clear and sophisticated.

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