Following queer crip theorists like Sami Schalk, Aurora Levins Morales, and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, this piece roots genealogies and origin stories of Disability Studies and Mad Studies in women of color feminist scholarship-activism. I offer an analysis of Maxine Hong Kingston's enactment of a Mad Asian American modality in The Woman Warrior to locate examples of how women of color feminisms shift conceptual, methodological, pedagogical, and activist frameworks on Madness/disability. By thinking together Nirmala Erevelles' historical materialist perspective on haunting with Yen Li Loh's conceptualization of The Woman Warrior's Mad women as "inhuman ghosts" (2018, 231), I assert that Kingston's Mad Asian American modality blurs distinctions between human/nonhuman, past/present/future, and discourse/matter. Through the stories of Maxine and her family, Kingston engages in what I read as a form of Mad/crip of color critique, calling attention to the failure of whitestream Mad/Disability Studies to examine the entanglement of race, gender, and Madness/disability under the white supremacist settler colonial state. Kingston's method of blurring reveals that the radical potential of Madness/disability lies in the ways that marginalized bodymind difference generatively confuses binary categories of eurowestern worldview and creates alternative modalities for living, being, and relating outside of white supremacist colonial cisheteropatriarchy.

Content Notes: This piece includes discussions of sanist/ableist discrimination and violence; suicide and suicidality; and anti-Asian racism.

"Chinese-Americans, when you try to understand what things in you are Chinese, how do you separate what is peculiar to childhood, to poverty, to insanities, one family, your mother who marked your growing with stories, from what is Chinese? What is Chinese tradition and what is the movies?"

—Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior (1989 [1976], 6)

"I thought every house had to have its crazy woman or crazy girl, every village its idiot. Who would be It at our house? Probably me."

—Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior (1989 [1976], 6)

"And I don't want to listen to any more of your stories; they have no logic. They scramble me up. You lie with stories. You won't tell me a story and then say, 'This is a true story,' or 'This is just a story.' I can't tell the difference. I don't even know what your real names are. I can't tell what's real and what you make up."

—Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior (1989 [1976], 202)

Rooting Mad/Disability Studies 1 Genealogies in Women of Colour Feminisms

My introduction to the idea of Madness as political, as a theorizable aspect of identity, embodiment, and positionality, came from reading Gloria Anzaldúa's Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. It was an Anzaldúan analytic that enabled me to see my own experiences as a Mad person as political and politicizable. It was an Anzaldúan analytic that elucidated Madness as an experiential thread that connects me to many different people whose bodymindspirits, communities, and lived experiences vary widely—including from my own—and yet this connecting thread nurtures empathy, mutual aid, and activist impulse. 2

The impetus for this piece is a desire to grapple with and pursue the radical potential of Madness/disability for collective struggle and revolution, some of the clearest roadmaps for which can be found in the works of women of colour feminists. Mad/Disability Studies has begun to give more recognition to women of colour feminist scholar-artist-activists such as Audre Lorde and Gloria Anzaldúa (Pickens 2011; Schalk 2018; Khan 2020), yet their works often remain peripheral in discussions of Mad/Disability Studies "canon," which is reflected in scholarship, syllabi, and conference CFPs alike. As editors Sony Coráñez Bolton, Kelsey Henry, Leon J. Hilton, and Anna LaQuawn Hinton point out in this special issue's call for papers, the whitestream tendency to position Mad/Disability Studies as "new" fields of scholar-activist inquiry marginalizes women of colour feminisms as potential "theoretical referents," particularly by framing them as dealing with gender and race but not disability (Bolton, et al. 2021). 3

In their piece "Sweet Dark Places: Letters to Gloria Anzaldúa on Creativity, Disability, and the Coatlicue State," Mad/crip scholar-poets Aurora Levins Morales, Qwo-Li Driskill, and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha write to Anzaldúa as a disabled ancestor of colour whose work facilitates their own theorizations of disability, race, immigration, and gender (2012). They bear witness to ongoing histories in which whiteness polices the legibility of disabled bodyminds, even as violent racialization produces Madness/disability disproportionately among Black, Brown, and Indigenous people and queer and trans people of colour. Their work anticipates the conversations of this special issue: whitestream Mad/Disability Studies is simply inadequate to the urgent task of dismantling sanist/ableist systems of oppression that target queer and disabled racialized people for violence and "reduced life chances" (Cohen 1997; Spade 2015). Following these conversations, I argue that turning to women of colour feminist works as "alternative origin stories" shifts Mad/Disability Studies away from imaginally limited/limiting and racist eurowestern models of Madness/disability. Women of colour feminists incite me to interrogate assumptions of Madness/disability as the "objects" of Mad/Disability Studies, as well as assumptions of "humanization" as a primary aim of disabled scholarship-activism.

As a genderqueer Mad and disabled white settler and independent scholar who lives and works on stolen lands and benefits from the anti-Black colonialism that structures life in the US settler state, I am continually grappling with what it means to engage the necessary work of growing and enacting radical imagination responsibly and relationally. I look for clear invitations into aspects of this work, as when Anzaldúa calls upon all of us to "now let us shift." Shifting to women of colour feminisms as genealogical roots implicates Mad/Disability Studies in ongoing US white supremacist capitalist cisheteropatriarchal settler colonialism 4 and exhorts Mad/disabled scholar-activists to address and intervene on interlocking systems of oppression. Women of colour feminisms reveal that the radical potential of Madness/disability lies in the ways that othered and marginalized bodymind difference generatively confuses binary categories of eurowestern worldview and creates alternative modalities for living, being, and relating outside of white supremacist colonial cisheteropatriarchal normativity.

Mad Black scholar La Marr Jurelle Bruce identifies Madness as a site of radical potentiality that—when contextualized via entangled histories of Madness/disability as racialized and race as Maddened/disabled—can nurture radical imagination and coalition building for (Mad) Black liberation (2021). In pursuit of this potentiality, I think through Madness/disability as modalities and spacetimes from which to generate radical solidarities across non-normative expressions of bodymindspirit difference towards more just futures. My pursuit is guided and enabled by women of colour feminist approaches to justice that are rooted in anti-racism and specifically interrogate the ideological and material structures of anti-Blackness and settler colonialism. If it sounds crazy to say that working towards Native Sovereignty and Black Liberation will bring an end to the settler state—then maybe it is. If so, then what Bruce calls Mad methodologies can be variously and collectively enacted in struggles for justice. In consonance with Bruce's engagement of Lorde's work as a source of Mad/disabled epistemology and theorization, I shift to the scholarship-activism of women of colour feminists—particularly Audre Lorde, Gloria Anzaldúa, and Maxine Hong Kingston—as genealogical roots of Mad/Disability Studies that enact Mad methods and methodologies. Women of colour feminist scholarship-activism contains numerous examples of, and implications for, methodologies rooted in Madness/disability, not only in understanding the mutual constitution of sanism/ableism with other interlocking systems of oppression but for resisting and uprooting their hegemonic power.

Through a Mad reading of Kingston's memoir The Woman Warrior: A Girlhood Among Ghosts, I analyze her enactment of what I read as a Mad Asian American modality. I unpack the practical and theoretical significance of two methods she generates through this modality—blurring and confusion—for Mad Studies and Disability Studies. My aim is to respond to the ways women of colour feminist scholarship-art-activism incites radical imagination and social transformation, as well as to unpack the implications of these practices and modalities for Mad/disabled community-building and Mad/Disability Studies. In particular, Kingston's enactment of blurring and confusion as Mad methods forces me to radically reimagine who/what counts as "human."

Madness/disability haunts The Woman Warrior in multiple ghostly forms. In this piece, I trace two particular hauntings—that of No Name Woman and Moon Orchid—in Kingston's memoir to think through the "spectral presence of disability" (Erevelles 2019, 594), the possibilities opened by Madness-as-kinship, and how such presences shift our perception of the multiple and overlapping realities around which Kingston talks-story. In this analysis, I turn to transnational feminist disability studies scholar Nirmala Erevelles' conceptual framework of disabled haunting as a "spectral presence" by which disability both materially and discursively reveals the workings of oppressive and often disabling forces like white supremacy, racist and xenomisic pathologization, and transnational capitalism, which leave their traces on everyone and everything but concentrate most harmfully at the intersections of multiple marginalization (2019).

Below I respond to Erevelles' call for "looking queerly" at these spectral presences (you can't always see them if you look straight at them) to feel out their capacity to blur lines between assumed categories. I demonstrate how this blurring, in turn, opens critical interventions into the eurowestern artifice of "the human." "The human" (or "Human") is the conceptual foundation upon which "humanizing" approaches to Madness/disability are based (e.g., humanizing Mad/disabled people will bring them fully into the fabric of social life). Such perspectives continue to hold influence in (especially whitestream) Mad/Disability Studies, limiting the radical potentiality of Madness/disability by presuming that the problem of humanization simply requires folding in everyone currently categorized as "nonhuman" who rightfully belongs within the category of "human," rather than interrogating the human as an inherently anti-Black, ableist concept. While the human or humanness sometimes appears in the works of feminists of colour, suggesting possibilities of reclamation or remediation, these are not the conceptual forms with which Mad/Disability Studies tends to engage. I argue that the works of women of colour feminists already contain multiple ways to critically interrogate, disengage from, and (re)imagine beyond the human.

Introducing Confusion

Although Maxine Hong Kingston's books continue to be popular, their reception has often been mixed: since its publication in 1976, Kingston's memoir The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts has received both praise and intense criticism. Some of its harshest critics include Asian American reviewers who express feeling betrayed by the "inauthenticity" which they claim marks Kingston's storying of Chinese and Chinese American cultures, accusing her of seeking to "appeal to a white readership" (Hsu 2019). 5 The other side of the coin includes white readers and other outsiders who seem to feel cheated that Kingston's memoir does not fulfill, reveal, or clarify Chinese and Chinese American cultures for them: "Just wasn't my cup of tea," one such vexed reviewer writes in an Amazon customer review (OCallaghan 2014).

Many readers describe the experience of reading The Woman Warrior as a confusing one. "Too much alikeness is shared between the writer and the characters in the story," another reviewer asserts, "and the reader should be aware of who the story is speaking of at all times so as not to get lost in the fiction of the ancient stories" (Nook reviewer 2011). White eurowestern readers seem particularly confused by The Woman Warrior, troubled by its inability to tell a straight or linear narrative, owing to the ways that "the past and the present seem to morph into one story" (ibid). 45 years later, Kingston's ghostly memoir continues to trouble, to confuse, to insist on "Other" stories of reality, race, and Madness/disability.

Born in California in 1940, Kingston was raised within Stockton's emigrant and American-born Chinese community, whose linguistic and cultural influences pervade The Woman Warrior. Kingston and her six American-born siblings, of whom she is the eldest, helped run the family laundry business started by her parents (Lee 2018). They would spend time working in the laundry before school and return at the end of the day after back-to-back sessions of American and Chinese school (Kingston 1989). It was often while working in the laundry that her parents, in particular her mother, would talk-story to her about China, their family's previous life there, and the kin they had left behind—often leaving her to wonder what was "real" and what was "made up."

In her essential overview of Kingston's life and work, Understanding Maxine Hong Kingston, Asian American Studies scholar Julia H. Lee discusses her experiences of teaching Kingston in her undergraduate classes:

Having taught Kingston over the years to legions of undergraduates, I know that the experience of reading her texts can be both exhilarating and confusing. Students almost always struggle initially to understand the plot of the texts, the relationship between characters and what motivates them, as well as the shifts between fact, fiction, and fantasy that so often characterizes Kingston's work. (2018, 8)

Identifying connections between the often-confusing experience of reading Kingston's work and the productive ways in which such confusion troubles the boundaries between assumed categories, Lee continues:

Once [students] have become accustomed to Kingston's elliptical writing style, they begin to appreciate how she questions almost all of the things that they had previously held to be irrefutable or factual: that there is a hard line between fiction and truth, that the history we learn in textbooks is a representative history of the nation, that the United States embraces its status as a nation of immigrants, and that race and gender have no impact on how one is treated or perceived in the United States. To put it simply, Kingston's work is all about breaking down the binaries that govern our lives and rule our interpretations of almost everything. (2018, 8-9)

Both Kingston and The Woman Warrior's narrator Maxine would surely empathize with this experience of confusion, albeit for different reasons. 6 I speculate that Kingston's use of confusion as a literary and theoretical method grows out of her early experiences of confusion as a child attempting to parse the "peculiarities" of her family "from what is Chinese," as she writes in the epigraph above. It is telling that "insanities" are part of such peculiarities and that she does not shy away from naming this. Whereas the young Maxine experiences confusion as a conflicting, mystifying, often frustrating atmosphere that permeates her childhood and especially her interactions with her parents, Kingston's use of confusion as a method suggests a coming to terms with those early perplexing experiences in a way that recuperates the generative potential of confusion to confront and dismantle the "single story" of hegemonic power. The Woman Warrior possibly represents a form of reconciliation with the power of confusion as a modality and method for interrogating and "making sense of" reality, especially the coexistence of multiple truths and realities. Engaging confusion in this way enables Kingston to tell her own story, which at times disagrees with or disobeys familial (instructive) narratives while also honoring her family's and culture's stories. For Maxine, there is an incongruence between her family encouraging her to be obedient and also to speak up, to prepare to be a good wife while also hearing stories from which she gleaned that Chinese girls "failed if we grew up to be but wives or slaves. We could be heroines, swordswomen" (1989, 19). When she grows up, Maxine realizes she "had been in the presence of great power, my mother talking-story" (1989, 19-20). As a writer, Kingston embraces the power of talking-story as a non-linear and entwined personal, familial, and ancestral storytelling technique which manifests on the pages of The Woman Warrior through a blending of writing styles, including lyrical prose, comedic dialogue, and narrative fantasy. Asian American literature scholar Lan Dong asserts that "talking-story" 7 represents Kingston's invention of a cultural form through which she "reshapes the 'talk-stories' based on her mother's tales, the Chinese American community's anecdotes, cultural memory, and her own experience of growing up with a bicultural heritage" (Dong 2011, 201n.3).

For Maxine the narrator, confusion textures her day-to-day life, from taking her parents' "jokes" literally to deducing that an unnamed Chinese holiday is underway because her mother lays a special place setting at the dinner table. Confusion also manifests in the transitions between spacetimes, such as going from American school to Chinese school, each with its different structures and expectations. And confusion mingles with secrets, as when her mother talks-story about certain family topics but not others, omitting specific aspects based on some criteria that remain mysterious to Maxine. As the third epigraph above contextualizes, the young Maxine accuses her parents of "[lying] with stories" (1989, 202); she is confounded by their refusal to confirm for her "what's real and what [they] make up" (ibid). Her parents, especially her mother, give no quarter; somehow Maxine's inability to tell the difference is her own fault. "'You're always believing talk-story'" (1989, 183) her mother accuses her, "'You're always believing what those Ghost Teachers tell you'" (1989, 169). Her parents guilt her for being too gullible, turning her outraged accusations back on her: "Can't you take a joke? You can't even tell a joke from real life. You're not so smart. Can't even tell real from false" (1989, 202).

The frustrations of confusion, of blurriness 8 —between realities, the "past" and "present," what is "fact" and what is "fiction"—are a motif of Kingston's work, as well as a recurrent aspect of her writing style. At various moments in The Woman Warrior, Kingston intersperses the narrator's present in mid-20th century America with stories from ancient China, as well as from the late 1940s and 1950s after the communist takeover. In this way, she combines her "elliptical" stylistic approach with an ancestral storytelling technique through which she writes and talks-story of her kin across spacetime. These stories include one of an intentionally forgotten aunt, No Name Woman, who kills herself after becoming pregnant out of wedlock, thereby bringing great shame down on her family. She is the first of many "crazy women and girls" who haunt The Woman Warrior (1989, 186).

While there are many examples of scholar-activist discussion on the work of Gloria Anzaldúa and Audre Lorde in Disability Studies, there is much less so on Maxine Hong Kingston's work. Two exceptions to this include the scholarship of Michael Bérubé and, while not positioning herself as a Disability Studies scholar, Jeehyun Lim. In The Secret Life of Stories, Bérubé describes noticing a "phenomenon" while rereading The Woman Warrior that he realized shows up in all kinds of media containing (especially intellectually) disabled characters: such characters provoke the "question of a text's struggle, so to speak, to find its narrative relation to characters who [become] increasingly unable to understand narrative" (2016, 30). In the original paper that inspired this longer text, he commentates on a developmentally disabled boy who appears in the final chapter of The Woman Warrior, suggesting that this boy's "damaged mindedness" or "mindlessness" is a "[meditation] on the possibility of narrative representation" (2005, 572); he asserts that it is partly owing to this incoherent character's disturbing presence that Maxine becomes capable of articulate self-representation. Lim's important article "Cutting the Tongue: Language and the Body in Kingston's 'The Woman Warrior'" examines the figure of tongue-cutting as an aspect of (racialized, disabled) embodiment to show how "language cannot be thought of apart from the body" (2006, 51). The cut tongue also resists the racist, misogynist "social standards of assessing language ability [that] always fall short of [Maxine's] actual language ability" (2006, 62). These analyses provoke crucial dialogue about the representation and role of disability and its interactions with other aspects of identity, embodiment, and social relations in The Woman Warrior. I am writing elsewhere about these two particular examples of disability representation in The Woman Warrior, but for the sake of space, this article will focus on Maxine's Mad kinship with her aunts No Name Woman and Moon Orchid. Although how Kingston identifies with Madness as a positionality is blurry, Maxine is named and interpellated as "crazy" throughout The Woman Warrior, especially by her family, and she frames the white supremacist hegemonic culture of the US as crazy-making. Confusion and craziness especially arise where the stories of her emigrant and American-born Chinese community clash with those of eurowestern colonial hegemonic reality.

Disability Studies scholar Mimi Khúc's work offers an exploration of the ways that Mad kinship might serve as a potential site of healing and connection in the wake of interlocking systems of oppression. She attends to the crazy-making impacts of white supremacist colonial hegemony upon Asian Americans, including herself, through a series of love letters (2021). In a letter to her infant daughter, she draws on Eliza Noh and other Asian American scholars to interrogate the self-obfuscating nature of systemic oppression and the intimate, disabling violence of its impacts:

Auntie Eliza writes, "The Asian model minority is not doing well." I am not doing well. I'm writing you this letter because I need you to see the crisis that is Asian American life. The civilizing terror that is model minoritization, the neoliberal American Dream. Madness as the psychic life of living under siege. I'm writing you to tell you the lie of the thing called wellness. My child, the world makes us sick. And then tells us it is our fault. Sickness as individual pathology, a lack of ability or will to "achieve" wellness. The world tells us what wellness looks like, marks it as normal. Like whiteness, wellness as an ideal to strive for, a state of being in constant performance. Invisibilized structures holding up bodies and persons—certain bodies, certain persons. Invisibilized structures tearing apart other bodies, other persons. (2021, 377)

By naming the ways that interlocking systems of oppression work to conceal and invisibilize the workings of hegemonic power, Khúc highlights that confusion is a condition of racialized life in the US. Behind the thin veneer of model minority status, Asian Americans are in crisis—and are systematically gaslit by the "civilizing terror" of this status, which is contingent on their willingness to be silent and accept any failure as their own, to join in pathologizing the inability to conform to standards of "racialized capitalist productivity" (ibid). When associated with such gaslighting, it is no wonder why confusion often feels repulsive or harmful (particularly to pathologized people), why the "sane" person desires clarity and order. But as Khúc points out, wellness and sanity, Madness and pathology are tenuous constructs which must be violently upheld via interlocking systems of oppression to prove their "realness." In The Woman Warrior, Kingston's forays into the realm of confusion offer possibilities of recovering its potential to resist, blur, and radically upset the fragile binaries upon which eurowestern colonial hegemonic reality depends. For the narrator, the potentiality of confusion first manifests at home.

Maxine's craziness is often tangible in moments of confusion in The Woman Warrior, most noticeably arising from the friction between Maxine and her mother, Brave Orchid. Maxine is constantly failing to act "normal" enough by her family's standards, which are often unclear to her. She is encouraged to speak clearly and loudly but is told that if she is not demure, no man will want to marry her. Maxine seems to get her predilection for daydreaming from her mother, whose only opportunity to indulge in her inner world is while starching shirts at the laundry when most of the kids are away. As soon as Maxine interrupts her mother's daydreaming, suddenly Brave Orchid wants Maxine to be silent: "I can't stand this whispering…Senseless gabbings every night. I wish you would stop. Go away and work. Whispering, whispering, making no sense. Madness. I don't feel like hearing your craziness" (1989, 200). Being called crazy, especially by her family, is a regular occurrence for the young Maxine. However, I turn to Kingston's work not because she clearly positions herself (via the narrator) as Mad/disabled but because her writing confuses (categories, definitions of) disability.

By "confuse," from the Latin "confundere" (mingle together), I mean in the 1550s sense of the word to "mix or mingle things or ideas so as to render the elements indistinguishable" (Etymonline 2019). I read Kingston's references to and discussions of disability in The Woman Warrior not as attempts to clarify and categorize who is disabled and who is abled but as ways of confusing such definitions, categorizations, pathologizations. Specifically regarding her writing on/around disability, this "confusion" may be unintentional on her part, but it is in keeping with her tactic of confusing other boundaries, distinctions, and meanings throughout The Woman Warrior. Confusing categories of dis/ability gives readers pause; many who find themselves relating to Maxine may find themselves wondering about their own sanity: Does that make me crazy, too? Kingston playfully distorts the rubrics by which sanity and ability are measured, challenging white supremacist psy science attempts to neatly diagnose and distinguish between "rational" and "pathological." This confusion also prompts questions about relationality, for once a reader recognizes the possibility that they may be—or go—"crazy," possibilities of relational connection and kinship are no longer limited to those demarcated by white supremacist settler colonialism.

Maxine is made kin through blood to the crazy women and girls of her extended family, and through Madness she is kin to all outcast, scorned, and abandoned women across China and the Chinese diaspora. These kin include living and dead relatives, such as her mother and her aunts No Name Woman and Moon Orchid; Mad/disabled neighbors like Crazy Mary, "whose family were Christian converts" (1989, 186), and the witch Pee-A-Nah, who chases Maxine's little sister so that she "[has] to be chanted out of her screaming" (1989, 189); and ancient heroines like Fa Mu Lan. It is to their willfully forgotten stories that Maxine so often turns in talking-story about her own life, sensing their similarities, even when she does not want to admit it. "I thought every house had to have its crazy woman or crazy girl," she reflects in the epigraph above, dreading that she is "It" in her own family's household. Perhaps being "It" is the source of her ability to speculate on the fate of her aunt No Name Woman or to live the story of Fa Mu Lan from far across spacetime. With this depersonalized third-person pronoun, Kingston acknowledges that Mad/disabled people in her community, particularly crazy women and girls, dwell in a space of gendered (sometimes agender) and dehumanized ambiguity; at the same time, their strange relationality is singled out, as the capitalization of "It" suggests.

Confusion and Blurring (and) Perception in The Woman Warrior

Maxine's mother sings and talks-story to her as a little girl, inspiring her with heroic tales of a woman warrior. These tales are based on the legend of Fa Mu Lan, a brave young woman in ancient China who disguises herself as a man and takes her aging father's place when he is drafted for war. The legend of this woman warrior is thought to have first appeared in China between the fourth and sixth centuries in the form of song, later written down in narrative poetry as the "Ballad of Mulan" during the 13th century (Dong 2010, 2). Joining her own version of Fa Mu Lan's tale with those sung to her by her mother, Kingston participates in a long tradition of storying Mu Lan as an "ideal heroine," "transform[ing] the folk heroine into a Chinese American woman warrior and avenger whose image is enriched through a bicultural legacy and a conscious search for female empowerment" (ibid, 3). Mu Lan represents an aspirational figure for Maxine: a woman who is talented, independent, sure of herself, who leaves home to develop herself and returns to be honored by her family.

In the second chapter of The Woman Warrior, "White Tigers," a bird leads the child Fa Mu Lan away from her village and into the mountains, where she meets two ancient and magical entities in the guise of an old man and an old woman. They train her to become an exceptional warrior who will seek justice for the common folk of China, who have been neglected by the emperor. After fifteen years, she returns to her village and recruits an army to confront the emperor with the people's grievances. So begins the many adventures and military victories of Fa Mu Lan, a woman warrior honored by her family, her village, and all of China.

Maxine's story could not be more different: "My American life has been such a disappointment," she says (1989, 45). Unlike Mu Lan, who is cherished by her family and honored by her soldiers for both her "feminine" and "masculine" qualities, Maxine often expresses feelings of anger, alienation, and confusion about being what she extrapolates is variously "too much" or "not enough" of something, stemming from often conflicting expectations from mainland Chinese, Chinese diasporic, and whitestream American cultures. On the one hand, her parents expect to her to become someone (though who, exactly, seems to hard to pinpoint from Maxine's perspective); on the other, her relatives seem innately disappointed simply by Maxine's being a girl. "From afar I can believe my family loves me fundamentally," she explains, "They only say, 'When fishing for treasures in the flood, be careful not to pull in girls,' because that is what one says about daughters. But I watched such words come out of my own mother's and father's mouths" (1989, 52). Although she eventually becomes a successful writer in adulthood who "wrap[s her] American successes around [her] like a private shawl" (1989, 52), as a child and teen she can only hope to escape what she perceives as her parents' disappointment, "to grow up a woman warrior" (1989, 20). She seeks escapism from her day-to-day through her imagination and what she refers to as "mind-movies" (1989, 203). "[T]here were adventurous people inside my head to whom I talked," she reveals, pondering if this makes her the "crazy girl" of the family, even as she searches for an omen like the bird that leads Fa Mu Lan to her heroic destiny.

Maxine recounts a day when she momentarily believes she has encountered such a miracle: "I've looked for the bird…Once at a beach after a long hike I saw a seagull, tiny as an insect. But when I jumped up to tell what miracle I saw, before I could get the words out I understood that the bird was insect-size because it was far away. My brain had momentarily lost its depth perception. I was that eager to find an unusual bird" (1989, 49). Maxine seems to will the miraculous into existence by shifting her perception—or rather, by allowing her perception to be shifted or confused. The sudden loss of depth perception seems deceptive and yet enables a different way of perceiving, one capable of bringing different realities into focus, even the magical or the miraculous. As different depths of realities move in and out of focus, blending and blurring (with) one another, alternative ways of "seeing" open up.

In my analysis of two characters whose spectral presence haunts her memoir, No Name Woman and Moon Orchid, I feel for the blurred edges between my own Mad reading and the Mad(dening) reading experience Kingston offers in The Woman Warrior to examine the ways in which she generatively confuses supposedly stable eurowestern categories of meaning, particularly categorizations and meanings of Madness/disability. 9 My intention here is not to pin down what is "real" and what is "fantasy" in Kingston's writing but to shift my perception—to allow her work to blur my perception—in order to engage the spectral presence of disability with/in her memoir. Kingston alludes to a modality/method of confusion in the first epigraph above. Her enactment of a Mad Asian American modality holds in tension multiple realities/possibilities. Holding ancestral ghost stories in tension with the hegemonic reality of the US, Maxine, like her American-born peers, strives to understand how she and her community "[fit] in solid America" (1989, 6). Confusing the boundaries between "[w]hat is Chinese tradition and what is the movies" disrupts racist eurowestern hegemonic stories about "authenticity" and by extension "reality." Kingston enacts "confusion" as a Mad Asian American modality through which to perceive multiple realities simultaneously and to subvert "the enemy" (1989, 48): white supremacy, eurowestern imperialism, transnational capitalism, and other interlocking systems of oppression, "business-suited in their modern American executive guise" (ibid). It is not a coincidence that her description of "the enemy" lines up with the white supremacist colonial rubric for "the human."

While the young narrator of The Woman Warrior repeatedly expresses frustration with her family's evasive talk-story traditions, Kingston must have come around to her parents' ways of thinking, for she engages this ancestral storytelling technique of blurring the boundary between "the real" and "the imaginal." As mentioned above, some critics have accused her of lacking authenticity or not telling the "truth" about Chinese culture by including these blurrings or by not making it clear what is truth versus fiction. I read the use of this technique as a choice she makes to unsettle singular or fixed concepts of meaning, authenticity, and truth. In an interview with Kingston, journalist Bill Moyers asks her, "Isn't there a danger that your reader doesn't know if your stories are true or not, that we are required to decide whether the story…is fact or fiction?" (Kingston 1990, 16:03) Kingston replies, "Of course I should put burdens [on] readers, and I should give them challenges. Readers already have this burden. Say they're not even readers. All human beings have this burden of life to constantly figure out what's true, what's authentic, what's meaningful, and what's dross, what's a hallucination, what's a figment, and what's madness" (ibid, 16:15).

From a white supremacist colonial standpoint, it is easy (and in fact necessary) to draw a line between truth and authenticity on the one hand, and hallucination and madness on the other. The Woman Warrior refutes such a clear delineation; even as Maxine calls her parents' stories "lies," she also values them and continually ponders and pursues their meanings for her own life. The mad and the meaningful are frequently blurred together, entangled. The Woman Warrior is evidence that Kingston values the meanings and even the disturbances that gendered and racialized madnesses create, as her memoir revolves around the stories of crazy emigrant and American-born Chinese women and girls, the challenges that they pose to her own meaning-making. Kingston identifies "this burden of life" as a necessary one that all people must acknowledge, and an aspect of her "challenge" in The Woman Warrior is to force readers out of the comfort of clear and stable meaning or "truth," to share Maxine's dis/quiet and confusion. Perhaps most of all, Kingston wants to disturb White Ghosts, about whom her parents offer this guidance:

Lie to Americans. Tell them you were born during the San Francisco earthquake. Tell them your birth certificate and your parents were burned up in the fire. Don't report crimes; tell them we have no crimes and no poverty. Give a new name every time you get arrested; the ghosts won't recognize you. Pay the new immigrants twenty-five cents an hour and say we have no unemployment. And, of course, tell them we're against Communism. Ghosts have no memory anyway and poor eyesight. (1976, 185)

With this advice, Maxine's parents succinctly describe the interactions of anti-Asian racist, xenomisic, and anti-immigrant surveillance and policing; the façade of capitalist abundance and the American dream; and the willful forgetting of the settler whitestream. 10 White Ghost readers can rebuff such descriptions of untrustworthiness all they want, but the effectiveness of her parents' and community's strategies remain.

While her parents' goal in talking-story in a blurry or elusive manner may have been to evade ghosts and agents of the US settler state, Kingston's goal is not necessarily to appear evasive or elusive but rather to direct attention to the elusiveness of stable categories of meaning. As I discuss below, her Mad(dened) ancestral storytelling throws into question the stability and separateness of the categories of space and time, fact and fiction, fantasy and reality, self and Other. At the same time, this matters materially because discourse impacts matter: Kingston says that part of her reason for developing a peculiar writing style for The Woman Warrior arose from the need to protect the identities of undocumented people in her Chinese emigrant community (Ng and Kingston 2019). Further, by drawing attention to cracks in "Reality's" facade—causing us to realize that there is not only one reality—Kingston motivates readers to take action to change material reality. In other words, this is not a one-way causal relationship; matter can affect discourse and discourse can affect matter. In an interview with Alexis Cheung, Kingston clarifies the power of art and other forms of discourse to transform collective reality, particularly in the wake of Trump's rise:

[A]ll the reviews [of The Woman Warrior] were like "What is this? Is this fiction or nonfiction?" But I like that question. I really enjoy answering it because the latest edition of The Woman Warrior, on the front cover it says, "Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction," and then you turn the book over and on the back it says "Fiction." It shows that there isn't a wall between fiction and nonfiction — that the borders and the margins are very wide — and that we could live in that wide border, that wide margin. I'm for making the borders very wide in art. I hope it could happen politically, thinking about immigration and building the wall, too. (2016, np)

Kingston's confusions of eurowestern colonial hegemonic reality empower interventions on several harmful concepts underpinning that reality, such as the hard line drawn between truth and fiction, denoted by Colonial Studies scholar Walter Mignolo as "Truth without parenthesis" (2011, 70). Her questioning and confusing of stable categories of being and relation in turn enable interrogation of the Human, the category upon which the ongoing projects of settler colonialism and imperialism are based. The process of drawing lines between "human and non-human" is a deeply racialized project. As Black Studies scholars have argued, "humanness" is frequently constructed against Blackness under white supremacist settler colonialism (Spillers 1987; Wilderson III 2010; Wynter 2003). Sylvia Wynter explains how "the human" and "Man" came to be conflated via eurowestern Enlightenment in the 16th and 17th centuries (2003). Colonial genocide in the Americas and the establishment of capitalism through the transatlantic slave trade guided the development of legal and scientific construction of "the human" as the antithesis of Blackness (King 2019; Warren 2018). I find the work of Black Studies scholar Zakiyyah Iman Jackson especially instructive, as she troubles the neat delineation between whiteness/Humanness and Blackness/animalness in ways that resonate with Kingston's insistence on blurriness. When it is religiously, politically, legally, or economically expedient to do so, white supremacist colonizers "plasticize" Blackness, variably forcing Black people to become Human or animal (or even neither or both at once), depending on what is needed to achieve white settler domination (Jackson 2020). The racialization of Humannessis further enmeshed with anti-immigrant and eugenicist ideologies, the goal of which was and is the solidification of the US as a white ethnostate (Ordover 2003). For example, the exclusion and stigmatization of East Asian women immigrants in the wake of the Page Law (which preceded the Chinese Exclusion Act by seven years) in 1875 was fueled in part by eugenicist desires to maintain white racial purity (Luibhéid 2002). The rubrics for the desirable immigrant and the ideal citizen have historically developed in tandem with the rubric for "the human."

Destabilizing the category of the Human calls into question the desire to "humanize" disabled people commonly expressed by disability rights groups for whom the full and equitable inclusion of disabled people in everyday (read: normative) life is the primary objective. 11 In other words, their goal is integrating disabled people into social life and its structures—schooling, religious practice, work, marriage and family, electoral politics—rather than questioning the white supremacist settler colonialism through which those structures are constituted. After all, as Tanya Titchkosky explains, "[t]he human becomes those who not only interpret the edges of humanity but can also participate in drawing the line of division between human and non-human," which the very project of attempting to bring disabled people (or any group of people) under the rubric of "humanness" enacts (2014, 128). Walter Mignolo discusses the distinction between "human" and "non-" or "not-quite-human" in terms of "humanitas" and "anthropos," in which humanitas (the eurowest) exert their "managerial authority to assert themselves by disqualifying those who…are classified as deficient, rationally and ontologically," presenting anthropos (the non- or not-quite-human) with two choices: "to assimilate or to be cast out" (2011, 82). The distinction between humanitas and anthropos—as defined by humanitas, themselves—is intrinsically racialized, because "[r]ational classification meant racial classification" (2011, 83). Anthropos constitutes humanitas' literal difference and refers not only to "native barbarians" but also to "the communist, the terrorist, all those who can be placed in the axis of evil, and those who are friends with the Devil," including "illegal immigrants" and queer people (2011, 85). To this excluded list I add disabled people, particularly given that disability is intrinsically racialized within the context of the Middle Passage and the eurowestern invasion of and genocide against Indigenous peoples in the Americas (Erevelles 2011; Erevelles 2019).

The process of drawing lines between "human and non-human" to which Titchkosky and Mignolo speak is a deeply racialized project. As Black Studies scholars have argued, "humanness" is constructed against Blackness under white supremacist settler colonialism (Spillers 1987; Wilderson III 2010; Wynter 2003). Sylvia Wynter explains how "the human" and "Man"—meaning white cis-masculine—came to be conflated via eurowestern Enlightenment in the 16th and 17th centuries (2003). Sabrina Strings historicizes this conflation, describing the evolution of eurowestern understandings of and investments in whiteness, which occurred in part by expanding upon existing racial categories, scientifically investigating and codifying them, and instilling them with value-laden assessments (2019). 12 The imperative to imagine beyond inclusion via normative modes of "being human" resides in interrogating the racist and sanist/ableist nature of the eurowestern construction of "the human." Along with other women of colour feminist scholarship, Kingston's work urges me to imagine beyond neoliberal, whitestream frameworks of "inclusion" that perceive Mad/disabled people as part of the social order only to the degree that we can meet normative standards of family, productivity, sociality/collegiality, and so on.

Kingston points to the uses of discourse in upsetting universal categories of meaning, such as "truth" and "authenticity," and I argue that this importantly extends to "the human"—and at the same time she is pointing out the limits of discourse. Erevelles argues that "discursive interventions while conceptually powerful are not effective in transforming the real material conditions of those who live under oppressive social, political, and economic conditions at the intersections of difference" (2019, 599). Kingston hints at the limits of discourse when she explains that her "confusing" writing style in The Woman Warrior is in part motivated by a desire to protect the identities of undocumented immigrants in her community (Ng and Kingston 2019)—that is, discourse might bring these stories into a white/mainstream American imagination, but this does not necessarily translate to material benefits; in fact, there are obvious material consequences (e.g., surveillance, incarceration, deportation) from which Kingston tries to shield the real people in The Woman Warrior. She enacts this protective move discursively, such as by changing names or omitting dates or locations. Below I seek to trouble a clear delineation between "discourse" and "matter" by extrapolating the blurriness of these two categories as demonstrated by Kingston's expression of a Mad Asian American modality in The Woman Warrior.

Kingston's expression of a Mad Asian American modality threatens the assumed cohesion of "the human" by confusing its constituent parts (e.g., rationality, "the self"). By troubling eurowestern conceptualizations of rationality and "the self" as definable features of the human, this modality confuses eurowestern hegemonic meanings of Madness/disability that attach them to individual body/minds. 13 If per this Mad Asian American mode of engaging, Madness/disability is something (a quality, an experience, a modality, a sensation) that exceeds the individual bodymind, then Madness/disability is also interwoven with community; the implications of Mad/disabled scholarship-activism must account for this interconnectivity when addressing the material implications of oppression upon Mad/disabled people. Per its enactment in The Woman Warrior, a Mad Asian American modality demonstrates that individually experienced sanist/ableist oppression cannot be understood or addressed apart from the systems of power in which they are embedded. In this way, Kingston's memoir anticipates the political/relational model of disability theorized by Disability Studies scholar Alison Kafer, in which Madness/disability is defined, experienced, and politicized relationally (e.g., in relation to time, environments, other people) (2013).

I read Kingston's Mad Asian American modality as primarily enacted through her storying of Mad/disabled characters in The Woman Warrior, including Maxine, her relatives, her classmates, and other people in her community. In particular, assumed categories of Madness/disability, humanness, and the self are blurred by the spectral presence of those Kingston identifies as "crazy women and girls" (1989, 186), who manifest as ghostly figures blurring, transgressing, and confusing the bounds between human and "inhuman" (Loh 2018).

Ghosts and the Specter of Madness/Disability: Haunting as a Methodological Framework

My approach to haunting is informed by Nirmala Erevelles' theorization of the ways in which "disability haunts discourses of difference by working with and against memory" (2019, 594). Drawing upon Saidiya Hartman's monograph Scenes of Subjection and Eve Tuck's article "Suspending Damage," Erevelles turns to "that 'terrible spectacle'…of slavery" and colonial genocide to theorize "the spectral presence of disability" at the intersections of multiple marginalization (ibid). Theorizing the ongoing impacts of anti-Blackness, white supremacy, and settler colonialism, she asserts that "both disability/impairment and race are neither merely biological nor wholly discursive, but rather are historical materialist constructs imbricated within the exploitative conditions of transnational capitalism" (2019, 602). From this historical materialist perspective, she pushes back on the "search [for] more empowering narratives that nevertheless recreate limiting theorizations of the human/posthuman that being discursive do little to transform the material conditions for those living at the intersections of difference" (ibid). Although I do not take up her use of Hartman's "scenes of subjection," which is highly specific to ongoing histories of slavery and anti-Black violence, I join her in turning towards the specter of disability, in this case where Mad/disabled specters appear in The Woman Warrior. Erevelles warns against a metaphorical approach to framing disability and powerfully argues for a historical material approach to theorizing its radical potential, asserting that movements for disabled liberation and Disability Justice should be seeking and enacting transformative practices that have a meaningful impact on the material realities of disabled people (2019, 605).

While I read Erevelles as taking ghosts and hauntings seriously, she primarily engages them in a metaphorical sense. Following Kingston's blurry approach to discourse—and by extension, ghosts—as concept not entirely separable from materiality, I look for metaphors in the ghosts that haunt The Woman Warrior and also extend my analysis of the spectral to the literal, for both literal and metaphorical ghosts are present in her memoirs—and in fact, they are often both at the same time, or otherwise blur the distinction between the literal and metaphorical. This interpretation of ghosts draws from literary scholar Yen Li Loh's theorization of Maxine's aunts No Name Woman and Moon Orchid as Mad feminine inhabitants of the "inhuman," which she articulates as a liminal space between (rational) humanness and (Mad) ghostliness (2010). She argues that their presence in The Woman Warrior marks critiques of human exceptionalism at the intersections of race, gender, and immigration, wherein "inhuman, ghostly figures can productively create a nonhuman framework that expands notions of Asian Americanist political and ethical belonging by blurring the boundaries between rationality and madness, the human and the ghostly" (2018, 210, emphasis mine). Loh's analysis of these "blurrings" is instructive for understanding the ways ghostliness, in/humanness, and Madness/disability are interacting in Kingston's enactment of a Mad Asian American modality in The Woman Warrior. In grappling with both metaphorical and literal meanings of ghosts and their entanglement with gendered and racialized Madness, I think Erevelles' historical materialist perspective on haunting together with Loh's conceptualization of The Woman Warrior's Mad women as "inhuman ghosts" whose presence enacts "a critique of the systemic inequalities on both sides of the pond: of the legal exclusion of the Chinese by the American state, and of the Chinese patriarchal kinship structure that placed the burden of household labor on women" (2018, 231). This lens of inhuman ghostliness resonates with Kingston's Mad Asian American modality in that it confuses the rubric of "the human" prescribed by eurowestern worldview, blurring (the lines between) the assumed categories of the ghostly/the material, discourse/matter, self/Other, human/nonhuman.

Madness and/as Haunting: Moon Orchid and No Name Woman

Ghosts abound in Kingston's work, especially in The Woman Warrior, for whose presence we are primed with the subtitle Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts. Existing on both sides of the Pacific and throughout time, the ghosts narrated by the young Maxine take on mysterious form and function. Sometimes ghosts are sad and pitiful, such as Wall Ghosts, whose "real state" is "weak and sad humanity" (1989, 72). Some ghosts are angry and vengeful, like No Name Woman, Maxine's aunt whose name is expunged from familial memory, or the Sitting Ghost who Brave Orchid exorcizes from the women's dorm at midwifery school (1989, 75).

Ghosts are not always the spirits of the dead but can take the form of the ghostly living whose souls get frightened out of their bodyminds and cannot be chanted back, as happens with Crazy Mary and Moon Orchid, both of whom end up permanently "locked up in the crazyhouse" (1989, 187). Most Americans are ghosts, identified by their occupation (Suitcase Inspector Ghost; Meter Reader Ghost; Delivery Ghost) or other characteristics: Brave Orchid writes "Noisy Red-Mouth Ghost" on the laundry package of a particularly rude American Ghost, "marking its clothes with its name" (1989, 105). Sometimes Maxine's family specifies "White Ghosts," "Black Ghosts," "Mexican Ghosts" among the nameless rabble of ghosts hanging around California.

In this section, I examine Kingston's storying of No Name Woman and Moon Orchid as ghostly presences who embody "the specter of disability"—specifically Madness—in The Woman Warrior to analyze Kingston's formulation of Madness-as-kinship across spacetime. No Name Woman and Moon Orchid are Maxine's paternal and maternal aunts, respectively. Whereas Moon Orchid lives with Maxine's family for a time, Maxine is denied the chance to meet No Name Woman except as a ghost. When the narrator is young, her mother tells her the story of a forgotten paternal aunt back in mainland China, who becomes pregnant from an affair with another man while her husband is away. The shame of her transgression is so great that even her name is effaced from familial memory. The narrator stories her mother's purpose in telling her American-born daughters this story:

Whenever she had to warn us about life, my mother told stories that ran like this one, a story to grow up on. She tested our strength to establish realities. Those in the emigrant generations who could not reassert brute survival died young and far from home. Those of us in the first American generations have had to figure out how the invisible world the emigrants built around our childhoods fits in solid America. (1989, 5)

Brave Orchid's talk-story about No Name Woman apparently serves a protective function for her daughters, but Maxine seems to relate to her aunt not as a warning so much as Mad kin—No Name Woman represents another crazy girl in their family. Of her ghostly presence Kingston writes,

My aunt haunts me—her ghost drawn to me because now, after fifty years of neglect, I alone devote pages of paper to her, though not origamied into houses and clothes. I do not think she always means me well. I am telling on her, and she was a spite suicide, drowning herself in the drinking water. The Chinese are always very frightened of the drowned one, whose weeping ghost, wet hair hanging and skin bloated, waits silently by the water to pull down a substitute. (1989, 16).

No Name Woman is crazy in the context of her Chinese village, which views her affair and subsequent illegitimate pregnancy as deeply violating of Chinese cisheteropatriarchal norms. The villagers, "probably men and women [they] knew well" (1989, 4), come to their family's house the night No Name Woman gives birth. Disguised in masks or hiding their faces behind their hair, they destroy Maxine's family's crops, slaughter their animals, tear their rice in the fields, and smash their household belongings, particularly those of No Name Woman. Filled with shame, No Name Woman throws herself, along with her newborn, into the family well, where she is found the next morning by her sister-in-law, the narrator's mother (1989, 5).

Though she recognizes there is a danger in "telling on" her aunt, Maxine's transgression of secrecy also suggests that there is power and perhaps healing in storying the relationality of Madness-as-kinship across spacetime. Unlike her mother, Maxine does not make No Name Woman into "a story to grow up on" (1989, 5), but empathizes with her by expanding on Brave Orchid's version of events. It may be that she feels some responsibility or even entitlement to talk-story about No Name Woman, whom she calls her "forerunner" (1989, 8). No Name Woman's extramarital pregnancy "cursed the year, the family, the village, and herself" (1989, 10). She imagines several possibilities that could have created the circumstances of No Name Woman's pregnancy: perhaps she was a victim of rape by someone in her village, or perhaps she was in love. Imagining No Name Woman as an impassioned sexual agent "doesn't fit," according to Maxine. She explains, "I don't know any women like that, or men either. Unless I see [No Name Woman's] life branching into mine, she gives me no ancestral help" (1989, 8). Even so, she tries to imagine this possibility, and the implications of No Name Woman enjoying the attention she received, even if it resulted in "a reputation for eccentricity" (1989, 9): "At the mirror my aunt combed individuality into her bob" (ibid). In this way, Maxine tries not to story her aunt's life as pure tragedy; she imagines the fleeting joy and closeness that No Name Woman experiences with her newborn, even as she realizes that neither of them has a future. Maxine knows what happens next; anticipating the listener who condemns No Name Woman for taking her child with her, Maxine says, "[c]arrying the baby to the well shows loving" (1989, 15).

Through her imagination, Maxine forms a kind of relationship with her aunt and at the same time contextualizes No Name Woman's death within forces of misogyny, filial piety, and heteropatriarchal expectations. These imaginings reveal that it was not some individual madness that drove No Name Woman to drown herself and her child in the family well but the alienating and quite possibly violent circumstances of No Name Woman's relationship with the father of her child, who is himself unnamed in The Woman Warrior. Kingston's relational storying of No Name Woman's ghostly presence makes salient the necessity of embedding Mad "individuals" (or their "mad choices") within relationships to family, community, and forces of systemic power. While the forces of systemic power working in Maxine's family's ancestral village are very different from those working in her American hometown of Stockton, her stories relationally trace crazy women to show how their spectral presence reveals the workings of power at different points in spacetime. Madness-as-kinship sustains Maxine as a young Chinese American girl who experiences intense disappointment about her american life and its attendant experiences of oppression at the intersections of race, gender, Madness, language, and nationality.

Maxine's relationship with her aunt Moon Orchid, Brave Orchid's sister, is very different from that with No Name Woman; they have the chance to be in each other's presence, to share meals and talk-story. This ability to share spacetime is made possibility through immigration but immigrating to the US also seems to trigger the series of events that madden Moon Orchid. Yen Li Loh discusses the ways that Chinese emigrant women in the US are subject to dehumanizing eurowestern colonial exoticization, marginalization, and (legal, social) exclusion arising from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and broader histories of Asian immigrant exclusion in the US (2018). These histories draw attention to how notions of citizenship and legible humanity are entangled in white supremacist settler colonialism, as well as to "notions of human exceptionalism that have defined racial Others as lacking the language, law, and rationality deemed necessary for national belonging" (2018, 210). Along with the more personal aspects of her family's treatment of her as a kind of Other—especially Brave Orchid's attempts to reform Moon Orchid in light of her "failed" marriage—these broader racialized and gendered notions of humanity also shape Moon Orchid's experiences of Madness as a Chinese emigrant woman.

Brave Orchid helps Moon Orchid immigrate to the US so that she can live with her daughter, who has married a Chinese American man. However, Brave Orchid has an ulterior motive: she wants Moon Orchid to confront her husband, whom Brave Orchid perceives has abandoned her. Moon Orchid's husband has been living in the US for thirty years already, sending money back to his wife and daughter in China for "all the food and clothes and servants [they have] ever wanted," even sending their daughter to college (1989, 125). Meanwhile, he has started a second family in the US, where he has another daughter and two sons. All Moon Orchid wants is to see her daughter and her grandchildren, but Brave Orchid is insistent that she try to take what is hers by right as Big Wife (i.e., first wife). Moon Orchid pleads to drop the subject, and so Brave Orchid acquiesces for a time, letting her sister stay with her family while trying to "toughen [Moon Orchid] up" (ibid, 127).

During this time, Maxine and her siblings get to know their "eccentric" aunt, especially in terms of the differences between mainland and diasporic Chinese cultures. However, their aunt's eccentricities are also peculiar to her; she is soft and fragile, which Brave Orchid seems to interpret as an outcome of Moon Orchid not having to work, let alone struggle. Rather than casting out her husband's second wife, Moon Orchid entertains the possibility that they could become friends, prompting Brave Orchid to think "her sister wasn't very bright, and she had not gotten any smarter in the last thirty years" (ibid, 130). This fragility proves to be the undoing of Moon Orchid's American life, whose access to consensual reality already seems tenuous. When Brave Orchid takes her sister along to the family laundry, Moon Orchid cannot complete any of the tasks she is given, seemingly overwhelmed by new things—her "savage" nieces and nephews, direct and unmannered (1989, 140); the hard work of the laundry; the strangeness of Gold Mountain (1989, 137). Moon Orchid follows the kids around the house, tugging at them and watching over their shoulder, hovering while they study or cook, until they tell each other, "'She's driving me nuts!'" (1989, 141).

Finally, midway through the summer, Brave Orchid persuades her sister to go see her husband in Los Angeles; Brave Orchid's son (who is now a young man and old enough to feel the humiliation of the situation) drives them to the skyscraper where the husband's brain surgery clinic is. He tries repeatedly to warn her against this idea, but she says only, "You can't understand business begun in China. Just do what I say" (1989, 151). She forces him to go and fetch the husband under the guise of needing medical assistance for his aunt. He returns with Moon Orchid's husband, who finds the two sisters laying in wait for him in the car. Far from the angry, righteous confrontation Brave Orchid has imagined, both sisters find themselves muted, as if "a spell of old age had been cast" on them (1989, 152). Seeing her much younger-looking husband, Moon Orchid realizes that to him "she must look like a ghost from China" and that by coming to the US—the land of ghosts—"they had become ghosts" (1989, 153). After taking them to lunch, his only appeasement, he sends them away.

The realization of her "ghostliness" seems to produce an irreparable breakage in Moon Orchid. She tries briefly to live with her daughter but eventually requests her own apartment, owing to her fear of the "Mexican ghosts plotting on her life" (1989, 155). She isolates herself from her daughter and stops communicating with her sister. When Brave Orchid finds out about her sister's paranoia, she sends for Moon Orchid to stay with her again: "This fear is an illness…I will cure her," she says (ibid). Brave Orchid's diagnosis should not be taken as a correlate of the pathologizing approaches to embodied difference utilized by white supremacist settler colonialism; rather, her understandings of health and wellbeing are rooted in ancestral and communal knowledge about ghosts and her training as a nurse in China. Unlike the detached, depersonalized empiricism that is a hallmark of the Medical Industrial Complex, Brave Orchid's training grounds her approach to treatment in connection and kinship. Being Moon Orchid's sister uniquely positions her to offer help, in addition to her prior experience exorcising harmful ghosts. Feeling guilty for the stress she has put her sister under, Brave Orchid tries everything she knows to call her sister's spirit back into her body, watching over her every night. but Moon Orchid's spirit ("her 'attention'") is "scattered all over the world" (1989, 157), and "each day Moon Orchid slip[s] further away" (ibid). Eventually, Brave Orchid must admit to herself that she has failed to anchor her sister to their mutual reality:

Brave Orchid saw that all variety had gone from her sister. She was indeed mad. "The difference between mad people and sane people," Brave Orchid explained to the children, "is that sane people have variety when they talk-story. Mad people have only one story that they talk over and over." Every morning Moon Orchid stood by the front door whispering, whispering. "Don't go. The planes. Ashes. Washington, D.C. Ashes." Then, when a child managed to leave, she said, "That's the last time we'll see him again. They'll get him. They'll turn him into ashes." And so Brave Orchid gave up. She was housing a mad sister who cursed the mornings for her children…Perhaps Moon Orchid had already left this mad old body, and it was a ghost bad-mouthing her children. (159)

Brave Orchid figures madness not as the absence of rational reason but of imagination, or the capacity to hold multiple stories at the same time. While this definition runs counter to eurowestern interpretations of madness as "mental illness" (i.e., a biological fact), it is not necessarily less sanist/ableist, as it still gives Brave Orchid cause to "put Moon Orchid in a California state mental asylum" (ibid). Although she loves her sister very much, Brave Orchid seems to feel that it is bad luck to have a ghost in the house. She visits Moon Orchid in the asylum twice and is surprised to find her sister seems happier and that she has "made up a new story" (1989, 160). Moon Orchid delights, "I am so happy here. No one ever leaves. Isn't that wonderful? We are all women here" (ibid). Moon Orchid introduces the young women of the ward to Brave Orchid as her daughters, telling her sister, "We speak the same language, the very same. They understand me, and I understand them" (ibid). The breakage in Moon Orchid caused by multiple abandonments seems to have been healed in part by these women, institutionalized for reasons that are never revealed, who offer Moon Orchid a form of Mad kinship. But Maxine tempers her perspective on Moon Orchid's fate: "She had a new story, and yet she slipped entirely away, not waking up one morning" (ibid). Comparing Kingston's ghostly representations of her aunts, Loh asserts that "No Name Woman's ghost is the inhuman figure that allows us to question the boundary between madness and rationality because she is neither alive nor dead," whereas "Moon Orchid's character is physically alive and is not a literal ghost, but she is nevertheless excluded from her community and her institutionalization is a form of social death" (2018, 213). Both figures transit the liminal spacetimes between in/sanity and life/death, revealing the murkiness of such in-between states: being a ghost does not always equate to being dead and being alive does not exclude the possibility of being a ghost. Social death, too, generates ghosts, particularly at the intersections of race, gender, and Madness/disability where the pressure of oppressive forces is most intense. Loh's interpretations of these two forms of ghostliness suggest that although they are maddened in different ways, both No Name Woman and Moon Orchid's experiences of madness/ghostliness are generated out of exclusion—especially from collective stories. Talking-story about her aunts is an expression of love and of Madness-as-kinship that enables Maxine to return a semblance of dignity to them, so that the stories of humiliation, exclusion, and death are not the only stories told about them.

The significance of Moon Orchid's presence for the young Maxine lies in the ways that Moon Orchid's story is also her own, both in the sense that they are sharing consensual realities and that they have ancestral connections to Madness that link them across spacetime to their marginalized ancestors who also experienced maddening gendered and/or racialized oppression. All the crazy women and girls in her memoir are made Mad kin in this way, mirroring the ways that Moon Orchid finds kinship with the women with whom she is institutionalized. Further, Kingston's representation of Madness through talk-story of No Name Woman, Moon Orchid, and other crazy women characters does not attempt to redeem Madness but suggests it as another way of seeing. At the same time, she does not diminish the material impacts (e.g., pain, separation from family and society) that can accompany Madness. She does not downplay Moon Orchid's suffering, such as her anguish over her nieces and nephews leaving the house or her deep paranoia of "outsiders"—but nor does she frame her aunt's life (and end) as only suffering.

Kingston's storying of Brave Orchid's relationship with her sister raises the differences between their experiences as Chinese women in China and the US, while also pointing to interconnected experiences of heteropatriarchal, xenomisic, and racist oppression. Brave Orchid seems to find ways to survive, despite Gold Mountain's attempts to get rid of her, such as by tearing down the family laundry under the excuse of urban renewal; she knows how to reconcile or at least hold in balance her own stories with American "ghost stories." Perhaps by "test[ing their] strength to establish realities" (1989, 5), she tries to pass this survival skill along to her children so that they can go beyond balancing realities and create their own. This survival skill in part relies on an understanding of "the self" as a form of fiction, one which Brave Orchid refutes through her relationship to the entwined collectives of Chinese culture and her family.

I follow Loh in thinking through the ways that Kingston's talking-story of No Name Woman and Moon Orchid works against exclusions not by resorting to but instead "destabiliz[ing]" a human exceptionalist framework (2018, 210). Specifically, Loh examines the racialized and gendered madnesses of No Name Woman and Moon Orchid to understand how "the nonhuman" functions "as a rubric for disrupting the logic of human exceptionalism" (ibid). Loh asserts that Kingston is dismantling the self/Other binary by blurring the boundaries between them through this experience the eurowest calls "madness," revealing the deep, culturally-inflected interconnectedness of "individuals" and "collectivity" (2018). She explains that in the context of mainland and diasporic Chinese cultures, women carry a responsibility to preserve (familial, communal) collectivity, particularly by "perpetuat[ing] patrilineage" and "safeguard[ing] against the threat of familial fragmentation" (2018, 212); failure to uphold these prescribed responsibilities could result in "[being] deemed insane" (ibid). While No Name Woman and Moon Orchid's "failures" make them "crazy," this does not preclude from all pleasure or joy: Loh interprets their joy in pregnancy as the establishment of an "aesthetic connection of the lived, physical (pregnant) body to a feminine, collective social body" (2018, 220). However, I would add that this "aesthetic connection" to a feminine collective is also specifically inflected by Madness in The Woman Warrior, and that part of No Name Woman and Moon Orchid's Madness arises from the incoherence or illegitimacy of their gendered expressions (e.g., having a child out of wedlock; "allowing" her husband to abandon her in China). Loh gestures to this by noting that both Moon Orchid and No Name Woman are recognizable as crazy in part because they do not fulfill cisheteronormative expectations. That is, sometimes Madness emerges because its gendered and racialized difference is thrown up against a normative background of gendered, linguistic, and cultural coherency.

For the "straight" (or abled, white) reader, The Woman Warrior can be read as Maxine's confrontation with the fear of silence-as-mindlessness (the silent/unspeaking person, especially girl, as less than human or even nonhuman)—a progress narrative in which she moves from silence to speech as she grows up. As I have argued, Kingston's Mad Asian American modality suggests queerer readings, some of which reveal that manifestations of silence show up in different places in the text with different functions. At times, Maxine chooses silence and enjoys it. Elsewhere, she transgresses it, such as when she breaks the silence of her aunt's death by putting No Name Woman's story down on paper "after fifty years of neglect" (1989, 16). Her fluctuating relationship to silence and speech blurs the two categories, disrupting any meaningful "progression." If the path of progress is not marked with more and more words, then the speech/silence binary, too, becomes blurry; I understand a Mad Asian American modality as extending this blurriness to other binaries that the Enlightenment maps onto speech/silence, including abled/disabled, self/Other, and human/nonhuman. Via such blurring, this modality confuses the Enlightenment rubric of humanness that is defined against the exclusion of those who fail to assimilate, including cognitively disabled people.


I was an undergraduate freshman when I first read The Woman Warrior; it was unlike any other book I'd been assigned in my schooling. While I was grateful to be introduced to literature beyond the masculinist white "canonical" texts that typically dominated our syllabus, I most assuredly did not have the creative maturity to understand The Woman Warrior's power. In this case, I am referencing Kingston's ideas about "maturity," which Bill Moyers paraphrases during an interview with her: "Growing up means gaining the ability to carry ideas forth into the world" (Kingston 1990a). I now strive for the humility necessary to enter the realms of transformative imagination that Kingston opens like portals in The Woman Warrior, recognizing that many of them are not open to me as a white settler and that I must take my cues from conversations initiated or led by scholar-activists of colour. Most white settler readers (me included) need our egos trimmed, and while Madness/disability may have encouraged our resistance to some white supremacist norms, the ways we profit from sanist/ableist white supremacy mean that we often choose not to. Per my Intro to LGBTQ students, women of colour feminisms matter "because people are dying," egos be damned.

As I have argued in this piece, the power of Kingston's Mad Asian American modality lies in the confusion, blurring, and interrogation of stable categories of meaning around disability, embodiment, humanness, and personhood. Such interrogation is necessary for scholars and activists thinking and organizing around Madness/disability because if we remain reliant on eurowestern Enlightenment definitions of what it means to be human (e.g., self-awareness, rationality, self-representation), then the project of Mad/disabled liberation will always be liberal and rights-based, since the assumption is that the end goal is to become a human (and by extension a democratic citizen). As Mad/Disability Studies scholar-activists, our radical imaginations are extremely limited by this view. A Mad/Disability Studies which is traced through women of colour feminisms must practice the flexibility for confusion and blurriness that Kingston's Mad Asian American modality achieves. As works like The Woman Warrior gesture to, "the Human" must be subject to as much interrogation as the fragile binaries of wellness/pathology, sanity/Madness.

At the nexus of racialized and gendered oppressive forces, Madness/disability seem to represent the "unlivable" in the sanist/ableist whitestream imaginary. On the surface, the Othering, violence, and oppression experienced by the Mad/disabled characters of The Woman Warrior seem to reify this. However, Kingston's storying of Madness/disability reframes these "individual" experiences within collective, interdependent, and ongoing Mad/disabled stories, specifically showing the ways that a Mad Asian American modality realizes the simultaneity of multiple truths and realities. Further, this modality affirms that racialized and gendered Madness/disability is not reduceable to abjection but rather brings into question the rubrics by which humanness on the one hand and abjected non-humanness on the other are constructed. The Mad/disabled characters of The Woman Warrior reveal possibilities of holding onto multiple realities at the same time: if confusion is allowed to reveal the cracks in eurowestern colonial hegemonic reality and its definition of what constitutes "a life worth living," then the possibility of going Mad is much less scary. Instead, such modalities are another way of perceiving (alter-)realities and another way of storytelling.


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  1. While I respect the ways that contributors positioning themselves within each of these fields discuss unique frameworks and areas of concern for Mad and disabled communities, I am also interested in the ways Mad Studies and Disability Studies not only mutually inform each other but generate non-normative spacetimes of intimate overlap and possibilities for what Black feminist Cathy Cohen calls "radical coalition work" (1997, 453). When referring to commonalities or overlap of both fields, I write them together as Mad/Disability Studies. Joining them in this way also creates a blurriness that is useful for disrupting the neatness of disciplinary boundaries that the colonial academy is invested in maintaining. At times, I let one or both fields float to the surface by naming them separately.
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  2. Examples of Mad/crip of colour mutual aid include Miss Major's monthly fundraising circle and Aurora Levins Morales' Patreon. Mad/crip of colour critique has been theorized by Jina B. Kim and Liat Ben-Moshe to name "an alliance" between "women-of-color / queer-of-color feminist and disability theorizing" (Kim 2017, np; see also Ben-Moshe 2020).
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  3. Queer theorist Roderick Ferguson argues how a similar phenomenon has occurred in whitestream queer theory, in which women of colour feminisms are neglected as genealogical roots and white scholars are named as the "founders" of queer theory (2005).
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  4. Below, I primarily use "white supremacist settler colonialism" as shorthand for "US white supremacist capitalist cisheteropatriarchal settler colonialism."
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  5. See Edward Iwata's article "Is it a clash over writing…" (1990) for more context for criticism of The Woman Warrior, especially writer and literary critic Frank Chin's perception of and relationship to Maxine Hong Kingston.
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  6. When the narrator of Kingston's memoir is speaking, I will refer to her as Maxine to mark places where Kingston is writing from a child's or young adult's point of view. Although Kingston draws extensively on her own and her community's lived experiences for the content of The Woman Warrior, she does not entirely conflate herself with Maxine, as when she refers to Maxine in the third person as "the narrator" (Kingston 2016).
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  7. A reflection of the fact that Kingston wrote The Woman Warrior while living in Hawai'i, Dong notes that Kingston's use of "talk-story" as a form "combines the Chinese folk genre of storytelling and the Hawaiian pidgin phrase in street language" (2011, 201n.3).
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  8. As I discuss below, my conceptualization of "blurriness" extends from literary scholar Yen Li Loh's observation that Maxine's aunts, No Name Woman and Moon Orchid, blur categorical distinctions between the criterion used to define the human (e.g., rationality) against "inhumanness" (e.g., insanity or "ghostliness") (2018).
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  9. Yen Li Loh also notes that previous scholarship argues for reading The Woman Warrior as Kingston's subversion of "notions of cultural stability and purity" (2018, 211), such that Kingston's blurring of Madness/disability cannot be read separately from her blurrings of "authenticity" and "reality" in regard to Chinese and Chinese American cultures.
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  10. My understanding of "willful forgetting" comes from Native feminist Paula Gunn Allen, who asserts that "Indians think it is important to remember, while Americans believe it is important to forget" (1992 [1986], 210). For more about willful forgetting, see the work of Charles Mills (1999) and Sharene Razack (1999).
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  11. For example, the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) names as its goal the "[promotion of] equal opportunity, economic power, independent living, and political participation" for disabled Americans—excuse me, Americans with disabilities (AAPD 2021). For further discussion on the uses of humanization discourse in relation to disability rights and the "humanity" of disabled people, see Tanya Titchkosky's chapter "Monitoring Disability: The Question of the 'Human' in Human Rights Project" (2014).
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  12. For instance, Strings examines how eurowestern armchair anthropologists like Bernier and Diderot developed racial classification systems to rationalize the superiority of some (read: white) races over others (2019). Through their scientific and social processes, Blackness came to be conflated with stupidity, laziness, gluttony, and other negative traits and whiteness with intelligence, rationality, and energetic productiveness.
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  13. Here I use a slash mark to indicate the separation of body from mind in Cartesian duality.
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