BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Cultural scholar Cynthia Wu has spent years studying Chang and Eng Bunker, a pair of Asian-born, co-joined, entrepreneurial, self-promoting "human marvels." "The Bunker twins," she says, "have served for more than 100 years as metaphors for the paradox that while 'individualism' is what makes Americans stand apart from Europeans, unity is equally valued."
Wu, PhD, assistant professor of American studies at the University at Buffalo, says much has been written about the twins' unusual talents, intelligence, fame, far-flung travels and precocity. But her interest lies in the fact that in literature, cultural studies and art the twins have been used to represent the quintessential American struggle between otherness and sameness, unity and diversity, exoticism and normalcy -- concepts that historically play out in the very bodies of major popular culture icons. Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga are just two contemporary examples.
A specialist in disability studies and comparative ethnic studies, Wu focuses on this embodiment in her upcoming book "National Conjoinments: The Siamese Twins in American Literature and Culture," due out in 2012 from Temple University Press.
"The Bunkers represented more than who and what they were as actual people," she says, "They were 'symbols' for many like Mark Twain and 19th century cartoonist Thomas Nast, who used them to work out the tricky difference between difference and unity in national culture.
"The twins came to represent unity from difference for many reasons," she says, "one of which is that even though they shared a body, they were far from identical individuals.
"Each of them possessed many discrete traits that opposed those in the other in important ways," she says.
"Chang Bunker was friendly, outgoing, alcoholic, shorter in stature and had a temper; for instance, while Eng was a quiet, withdrawn teetotaler with wider intellectual interests. One body, two individuals," Wu says,
|Contact: Patricia Donovan|
University at Buffalo