Check out Emily's final project in the form of Digital Story. A reflection on anger and indigenous subjectivity.
In advance of my presentation in class on Thursday, I ask that everyone (try to) watch the two below music videos from Blood Orange and FKA twigs. While the visuals are definitely important to note, I invite all of us to especially pay attention to the sounds in the song. Starting with the sounds, I make my argument in the longer version of the paper about the extent to which queerness and the sonic inform black diasporic formations.
“Violence and Torture in U.S.-Mexico Border Horror: The Spectacle of Migrant Pain in Undocumented” by Lucia Palmer
In this paper, I use a performance lens to examine issues of spectatorship of violence and torture in the independent horror film Undocumented (directed by Chris Peckover, 2010). I argue that this film performs a complex scenario of U.S. nation building built on colonialism, migrant labor exploitation, and the abjection of Mexican bodies. I draw primarily from Saidiya Hartman’s work on the violence of empathy, Achille Mbembe’s necropolitics, and Jacqueline Goldsby’s ideas on spectacular suffering and cultural logic.
Please watch the following preview for the film:
Issues I’d like to address as I write:
1) I’m worried about conflating violence against black bodies with violence against Mexican migrant bodies, and would appreciate feedback on this issue.
2) I’m also worried that I’m trying to do too much and use too many ideas/theorists from class. I’d like feedback on how to narrow my focus, and which elements of the paper are the most salient.
By Timothy Piper and Nick Bestor
As our first (and only) novel this semester, we thought it would be helpful to use this space to provide some context for Dangarembga’s narrative by exploring her personal background, and in doing so, touch on a brief historical overview of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).
In 1959, Tsitsi Dangarembga was born in Rhodesia, a nation that was colonized in the mid-nineteenth Century by British groups migrating North from South Africa; the country’s name was itself adopted in deference to Cecil Rhodes of the British South Africa Company. (Rhodes is also the namesake for the Rhodes Scholarship, apt given the novel’s attitude toward education.) Dangarembga moved with her parents to England from 1961-1965, a period during which Rhodesia's white-minority government declared independence from the UK in order to stave growing political and civil demands from the majority black population. Returning in 1965 to finish her primary school education in Rhodesia, Dangarembga enrolled at Hartzell High School, a Methodist missionary school at which her father was headmaster and her mother was a teacher.
In the video below, Dangarembga interviews her mother, Susan, in 2012 about their family history and the education at Hartzell High. Note especially the attention to Hartzell as a torchbearing institution, and how that comes through in Dangarembga’s novel. The school is named after Joseph Crane Hartzell, an American missionary who received support from Rhodes’ British South Africa Company in establishing a mission in Umtali.
In 1977, Dangarembga went back to England to study medicine at Cambridge, but returned to Rhodesia in 1980, shortly after the white supremacist government consented to hold multiracial elections. Robert Mugabe won the presidency in a landslide election that year, and Rhodesia formally declared its independence under the name Zimbabwe on 17 April, 1980. While women’s groups were integral to the broader success of the Zimbabwean revolution, their struggles yet persisted as the patriarchal postcolonial order continued to dictate and legislate the role of women. We recommend perusing this collection of oral testimonies from Zimbabwean women speaking about life during the revolution. In particular, check out the sections on “The Children of War”, “The Resilience of Women During the War”, and “The Women Look Forward (and Back)”.
In the early 1980s, Dangarembga was studying psychology at the University of Zimbabwe, but upon enrolling in a drama group, found her calling in the humanities and creative arts. With a concern for the lack of stories and plays about black African women, Dangarembga sought to focus her writing on expanding these roles. Nervous Conditions was her first book, which, despite being written in 1985, was not published until 1988 when Dangarembga solicited a women's publishing house in the UK.
Here, Dangarembga offers her thoughts on postcolonial Zimbabwe, which we found to be a succinct articulation of her views on the dynamic intersections of gender, race, and (post)colonialism. For our discussion of Nervous Conditions, her remarks on existential neuroses and the insatiable desire for “the not-I” (beginning at 6:34) are particularly salient.
The book’s title comes from Jean-Paul Sartre’s preface to Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth. The 2004 translation renders the phrase “neurosis,” but the original 1961 version of the preface can be found at the following link. We highly recommend everyone take a look before class on Thursday.
For our seminar discussion, we want to consider Dangarembga’s novel in relation to several of the texts/theories/concepts from earlier this semester. As such, we encourage everyone to re-familiarize yourselves with the following authors and themes:
Stuart Hall, “The Spectacle of the Other”; Willis, Venus 2010
Considering the novel in relation to representation; e.g., contesting regimes of representation, making legible invisible hegemonic power structures, and agency of the oppressed in constructing their own representation
Sharpe, Monstrous Intimacies
Thinking through the ways that Tambu struggles to understand and confront “the everyday horrors that aren’t acknowledged to be horrors” (Sharpe 3). In what ways do the characters (Tambu, Nyasha, Maiguru, Ma’Shingayi, Babamukuru) struggle against Sharpe’s monstrous intimacies, and are forced “to be witness to, participant in, and be silent about scenes of subjection that we rewrite as freedom” (Sharpe 23).
Fanon, Wretched of the Earth and Black Skin, White Mask; Mbembe, On the Postcolony
Considering the question of the psychology and its inadequacy to reckon with the colonial/postcolonial subject. Fanon makes a point of complicating and problematizing the terms and assumptions of psychoanalysis, writing “Whenever I have read a psychoanalytic work … I have been struck by the disparity between the corresponding schemas and the reality that the Negro presents.” (BSWM 150). Also think about Mbembe’s time of entanglement, which he describes “not [as] a series but an interlocking of presents, pasts, and futures that retain their depths of other pasts, presents, and future, each age bearing, altering, and maintaining the previous ones” (Mbembe 16).
Miller-Young, A Taste for Brown Sugar; de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life
Thinking about how Dangarembga’s characters each participate in the circulation of tactics: in what ways do the characters use everyday practices to de-concretize the borders and boundaries constructed around them; how do they change the space and how does it change them; are the characters engaging in resistive action, or demonstrating their capacity to suffer and endure, and whether this is presented in the novel as a rigid dichotomy?
On Dr. Mireille Miller-Young’s A Taste for Brown Sugar and Dr. Cathy J. Cohen’s “Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens”
By Julia Detchon and Dora Santana
The following video gives us a glimpse of Dr. Miller-Young's take on her work, the relation to other women of color in her theorizing, as well as her emphasis on the need of discussing race in porn studies:
6.9 Questions with Dr Mireille Miller-Young
In the introductory few minutes of the following video with Cohen, she recalls her discussion on the issues around queer politics and its failure to take into account race, this time, through the focus on the “obsession with gay marriage” and the demonization of black people during the passing of Proposition 8.
Beyond Bullying, Marriage, and Military: Race, Radicalism and Queer Politics - Cathy Cohen
A Taste for Brown Sugar acknowledges the specter and spirit of Josephine Baker, a woman who managed to “harness erotic capital” and understood her body, as many of the women in the book do, “as containing dynamic possibilities for reinterpretation and re-creation through performance” (13). Baker embodies Miller-Young’s definition of illicit eroticism, a term that underpins her critical analysis throughout the book of the tactics and appropriations through which black women can “convert [their] sexuality into a usable resource in the face of a number of compelling forces and constraints” (18).
Baker, who performed her famous Danse Sauvage wearing a skirt made only of bananas and was often accompanied on stage by her pet cheetah, worked within conditions of exploitation and reductive stereotypes of the Jazz Age. Her “skillful nude performances, which built upon a long tradition of black burlesque, invited white spectators to take pleasure in black women’s sexuality, to see them as newly desirable, and to explore their own erotic identification with blacks” (46). From within these sorts of racist roles, however, Baker garnered enormous fame and success as well as serious and starring roles in films, musicals, operas and even politics.
And, in the below video, we can see her eye-rolling and cross-eye skills, an example of the facial stunting discussed in Chapter 1:
Miller-Young reads these gestures as parodies of musical theater and silent film that express teasing amusement and acknowledge (or refuse?) the “penetrative gaze.” Having seen Baker perform, how can we think about her as an icon or symbol for model black female performance culture and her relationship to the performers in Brown Sugar?
More broadly, how can we think about Josephine Baker and historical depictions of black female bodies as containing dynamic possibilities for reinterpretation and recreation through performance? How can sex work within overdetermined constructions of black gender and sexuality also, as Baker did, reach toward financial success, glamor, mobility, autonomy, and sexual rebellion?
Along the lines of black women representation through performance and media, we foreground Miller-Young’s discussion on Hip Hop. She argues that Hip Hop has not only shaped perceptions of blackness but also impacted the images of black womanhood within that context through the trope of the “ho.” According to the author “the ‘ho,’ the updated black vernacular hip hop version of the super-sexual Jezebel or whorish ‘naughty woman,’ is a slur that becomes almost synonymous with black working-class or sexual nonconformist womanhood” (144). In this sense, the “ho,” as already a pornographic perception of black womanhood, would not only refer to the sex workers foregrounded by Miller-Young but also to a range of other “demonized” and “stigmatized” sexualities of individuals discussed by Cohen as “underclass” such as black “single mothers, teen mothers, and, primarily, poor women of color dependent on state assistance” (p.40). Given those relations, can we articulate the “illicit erotic” and “ho theory” as an analytic discussed by Miller-Young and the concept of “nonnormative sexual behavior” presented by Cohen as within the same realm of “shared marginal relationship to power”? In which ways are the experiences discussed by these authors strategies of confronting and/or strategies of engaging with “linked yet varied sites of power” through the troubling image of the heterosexual black woman?