In her reading of detective fiction and passing narratives from the end of the nineteenth century forward, Jinny Huh investigates anxieties about race and detection. Adopting an interdisciplinary and comparative approach, she examines the racial formations of African Americans and Asian Americans not only in detective fiction (from Sherlock Holmes and Charlie Chan to the works of Pauline Hopkins) but also in narratives centered on detection itself (such as Winnifred Eaton’s rhetoric of undetection in her Japanese romances). In explicating the literary depictions of race-detection anxiety, Huh demonstrates how cultural, legal, and scientific discourses across diverse racial groups were also struggling with demands for racial decipherability. Anxieties of detection and undetection, she concludes, are not mutually exclusive but mutually dependent on each other's construction and formation in American history and culture.
The Arresting Eye is a compelling study of twentieth-century American literary and cultural production that traces the intertwined relationship between the modes and representations of racial passing and detection. In bringing together the genres of the detective story and the passing narrative under the rubric of ‘racial detection,’ Huh makes a lucid and persuasive case as to how hegemonic constructions of ‘racial knowledge’ are always plagued by uncertainty and anxiety that, in turn, require ongoing scrutiny and negotiation.
Jinny Huh is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Vermont.