Soma Text: Living, Writing, and Staging Racial Hybridity

Posted in Books, Canada, Forthcoming Media, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Monographs on 2019-01-07 02:16Z by Steven

Soma Text: Living, Writing, and Staging Racial Hybridity

Wilfrid Laurier University Press
June 2019
295 pages
ISBN13: 978-1-77112-240-5

Michelle La Flamme, Professor of English
University of the Fraser Valley, Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada

Canada’s history is bicultural, Indigenous, and multilingual, and these characteristics have given risen to a number of strategies used by our writers to code racially mixed characters. This book examines contemporary Canadian literature and drama in order to tease out some of those strategies and the social and cultural factors that inform them.

Racially hybrid characters in literature have served a matrix of needs. They are used as shorthand for interracial desire, signifiers of taboo love, images of impurity, symbols of degeneration, and examples of beauty and genetic perfection. Their fates have been used to suggest the futility of marrying across racial lines, or the revelation of their “one drop” signals a climactic downfall. Other narratives suggest mixed-race bodies are foundational to colonization and signify contact between colonial and Indigenous bodies.

Author Michelle LaFlamme approaches racial hybridity with a cross-generic and cross-racial approach, unusual in the field of hybridity studies, by analyzing characters with different racial mixes in autobiographies, fiction, and drama. Her analysis privileges literary texts and the voices of artists rather than sociological explanations of the mixed-race experience. The book suggests that the hyper-visualization of mixed-race bodies in mono-racial contexts creates a scopophilic interest in how those bodies look and perform race.

La Flamme’s term “soma text” draws attention to the constructed, performative aspects of this form of embodiment. The writers she examines witness that living in a racially hybrid and ambiguous body is a complex engagement that involves reading and decoding the body in sophisticated ways, involving both the multiracial body and the racialized gaze of the onlooker.

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Jean Toomer’s ‘Cane’ and the Ambiguity of Identity

Posted in Articles, Biography, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2019-01-04 20:14Z by Steven

Jean Toomer’s ‘Cane’ and the Ambiguity of Identity

NYR Daily
The New York Review of Books
2018-12-28

George Hutchinson, Newton C. Farr Professor of American Culture
Cornell University, Ithaca, New York


A drawing of a sugar cane field in South Carolina, by Edouard Riou, late nineteenth century
Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan, Italy/De Agostini Picture Library/Bridgeman Images

Jean Toomer’s Cane was greeted in 1923 by influential critics as the brilliant beginning of a literary career. Many stressed the “authenticity” of Toomer’s African Americans and the lyrical voice with which he conjured them into being. His treatment of black characters contrasted starkly with both the stereotypes of earlier work by (mostly) white authors and the then current limitations of African-American problem fiction. As Montgomery Gregory pointed out for the new black magazine Opportunity, Toomer had avoided “the pitfalls of propaganda and moralizing on the one hand and the snares of a false and hollow race pride on the other hand.” Waldo Frank wrote, in the foreword to the book, “It is a harbinger of the South’s literary maturity: of its emergence from the obsession put upon its mind by the unending racial crisis—an obsession from which writers have made their indirect escape through sentimentalism, exoticism, polemic, ‘problem’ fiction, and moral melodrama. It marks the dawn of direct and unafraid creation.”

The unusual features and effectiveness of Cane can be attributed to the fact that its author was in rapid transition, vocationally, geographically, socially, and intellectually, between different identities. His unsettled position derived from both a complicated personal history and the unusual cultural moment in which he emerged as an artist. Born just two years after his famous grandfather, P.B.S. Pinchback—a former governor of Louisiana during Reconstruction—had moved from a palatial home in New Orleans to a smaller, though fashionable, house in Washington, Toomer never really knew the father for whom he was originally named. His mother, Nina, gave birth to him just nine months after a wedding of which her father disapproved and then found herself abandoned when Nathan Pinchback Toomer (as Jean was first named) was only a year old. Nina moved back to her autocratic father’s home, on the condition that she change the boy’s surname to Pinchback and his first name to anything other than Nathan (her husband’s name). Eventually, the first name became Eugene, after a godfather; but friends called the boy “Pinchy.” His mother called him Eugene Toomer and his grandparents, Eugene Pinchback. Ambiguity of identity and a strong intuition of the arbitrary nature of social labels came early to Toomer…

Read the entire article here.

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A Century Later, a Novel by an Enigma of the Harlem Renaissance Is Still Relevant

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2019-01-04 19:44Z by Steven

A Century Later, a Novel by an Enigma of the Harlem Renaissance Is Still Relevant

Books of The Times
The New York Times
2018-12-25

Parul Sehgal


Sonny Figueroa/The New York Times

He is American literature’s greatest, most enduring enigma.

In 1923, Jean Toomer — highborn but an orphan and a drifter, a young man with secrets — published the single, slender novel upon which his reputation rests. In bursts of poetry and prose, “Cane” tells of black life in the lethal rural South and in the loveless cities of the North. The narration has a kind of cosmic consciousness, entering the world of the characters, the whispering pine trees, the falling dusk, the soil. It is oracular, delirious and American — rich with the intensities of Melville, the expansiveness of Whitman and Toomer’s own bedeviling preoccupation with color.

Many stories meander through “Cane” (including one autobiographical section featuring a Northern writer in the South), but at its core the book is about six Southern women, including beautiful, chaotic Karintha; Carma, who slays her jealous husband; Becky, white and an outcast, the mother of two black sons. Their lives are brief, vivid, doomed — but each “a wild flash that told the other folks just what it was to live.”

“Cane” sold modestly but exerted a powerful influence over the Harlem Renaissance; it was, according to the sociologist Charles S. Johnson, “the most astonishingly brilliant beginning of any Negro writer of his generation.”…

…A fleeting feeling. Toomer forbade his publisher to mention his race in the marketing for “Cane.” (“My racial composition and my position in the world are realities which I alone may determine.”) Nor would he allow his work to be included in black anthologies, insisting he was part of a new, emergent race, simply called American…

Read the entire article here.

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Alice Walker’s Terrible Anti-Semitic Poem Felt Personal — to Her and to Me

Posted in Articles, Judaism, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Religion, United States on 2018-12-31 01:42Z by Steven

Alice Walker’s Terrible Anti-Semitic Poem Felt Personal — to Her and to Me

Intelligencer
New York Magazine
2018-12-28

Nylah Burton


Photo: Peter Earl McCollough/The New York Times/Redux

When I first read Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, I leaned into every word, inhaling Celie’s tragic and triumphant story. In Celie, I felt the presence and pain of my female family members brought up in rural Alabama. In Walker’s unflinching descriptions of misogyny, domestic violence, homophobia, and incest, I saw an open accounting of issues buried deep within the larger southern black community — and within my own family.

Above all, I was drawn into The Color Purple because it was haunted by ghosts — the ghosts of Alice Walker’s past. Eloquently and bravely, she was able to confront generational trauma by telling a universal tale that still felt faithful to her own story. And it was Walker’s ability to throw open the shutters and allow her ghosts — our ghosts — into her writing that made it so revelatory. It cemented her standing as an acclaimed novelist, a civil-rights icon, and a formidable thought leader in the field of black feminism.

That changed abruptly two weeks ago, after the New York Times invited Walker to list her favorite books in its weekly “By the Book” column. She took the opportunity to promote David Icke’s And the Truth Shall Set You Free, which contains some of the most hateful anti-Semitic lies ever to be printed between covers. As excerpted in the Washington Post, Icke’s book alleged that a “small Jewish clique” had created the Russian Revolution and both World Wars, and “coldly calculated” the Holocaust to boot. Icke has also accused Jews (among others) of being alien lizard people. After a week of criticism, Walker doubled down in her assessment of Icke’s indefensible work, calling him “brave” and dismissing charges of anti-Semitism as an attack on the pro-Palestinian cause…


From left: Mel Leventhal, Rebecca Walker, and Alice Walker, 1970. Photo: CSU Archives/Everett Collection

…In 1967, Alice Walker married a young Jewish civil-rights lawyer named Mel Leventhal. Their interracial marriage — the first such legal union in the state of Mississippi — was still illegal in Walker’s home state of Georgia at the time. Leventhal’s mother was also deeply opposed to the union, and his other family members didn’t allow Alice to attend family events. “Leaving no question about how she felt about her son’s marriage to a shvartse (a pejorative Yiddish term for a black person), Miriam Leventhal sat shiva for her son, mourning him as dead,” Evelyn White writes in Alice Walker: A Life. A source who knows the family told me that Mel preferred to ignore rather than confront his family’s bigotry. This caused Walker to feel increasingly isolated and resentful. The marriage ended in 1976, after the pair had one daughter together, named Rebecca

Read the entire article here.

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Albums of Inclusion: The Photographic Poetics of Caribbean Chinese Visual Kinship

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2018-12-30 01:09Z by Steven

Albums of Inclusion: The Photographic Poetics of Caribbean Chinese Visual Kinship

Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism
Volume 22, Number 2 (56)
2018-07-01
pages 35-56
DOI: 10.1215/07990537-6985666

Tao Leigh Goffe, Assistant Professor/ Faculty Fellow, Social and Cultural Analysis
New York University

Issue Cover

This essay focuses on artwork that centers family photographs and home movies as a point of departure to trouble the conventional family album in order to narrate a story about Caribbean Chinese kinship. In the art examined, personal visual archives are used to respond to the lacuna of Caribbean Chinese familial intimacies from the colonial archive. Engaging shared themes of migration and racialized ideas of reproduction, three contemporary diasporic visual artists—Albert Chong, Richard Fung, and Tomie Arai—mine oral histories and family archives to blend aural and visual narratives. These artists rupture the surface of family images to trouble the bourgeois, heteronormative, and colorist scripts that often police the formation of family. The family album is rearranged and marked up; thus it becomes rendered as flesh inscribed with silent narratives. Through different forms of remixing, they engage with the affect and entanglements of family photography to form a visual vocabulary of diasporic kinship. In doing so, the artwork—collages, documentaries, installations—interrogates the afterlife of the nineteenth-century European colonial experiment of Chinese indenture, designed to install a discreet “buffer race” between the white minority and the black majority in the Caribbean after abolition. The experiment, which depended on the capacity for the Chinese to develop bourgeois domesticity in the Caribbean after abolition, failed because of sexual intimacies between people of African descent and people of Asian descent, beyond the imperial order’s imagining. Another future of familial intimacies in the diaspora is present in the artists’ aesthetic of fragmentation and collage.

Read or purchase the article here.

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Shades of Gray: Writing the New American Multiracialism

Posted in Books, Identity Development/Psychology, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, United States on 2018-12-26 19:54Z by Steven

Shades of Gray: Writing the New American Multiracialism

University of Nebraska Press
December 2018
348 pages, index
Hardcover: 978-0-8032-9681-7

Molly Littlewood McKibbin, Assistant Professor of Instruction
English and Creative Writing Department
Columbia College Chicago

Shades of Gray

In Shades of Gray Molly Littlewood McKibbin offers a social and literary history of multiracialism in the twentieth-century United States. She examines the African American and white racial binary in contemporary multiracial literature to reveal the tensions and struggles of multiracialism in American life through individual consciousness, social perceptions, societal expectations, and subjective struggles with multiracial identity.

McKibbin weaves a rich sociohistorical tapestry around the critically acclaimed works of Danzy Senna, Caucasia (1998); Rebecca Walker, Black White and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self (2001); Emily Raboteau, The Professor’s Daughter (2005); Rachel M. Harper, Brass Ankle Blues (2006); and Heidi Durrow, The Girl Who Fell from the Sky (2010). Taking into account the social history of racial classification and the literary history of depicting mixed race, she argues that these writers are producing new representations of multiracial identity.

Shades of Gray examines the current opportunity to define racial identity after the civil rights, black power, and multiracial movements of the late twentieth century changed the sociopolitical climate of the United States and helped revolutionize the racial consciousness of the nation. McKibbin makes the case that twenty-first-century literature is able to represent multiracial identities for the first time in ways that do not adhere to the dichotomous conceptions of race that have, until now, determined how racial identities could be expressed in the United States.

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Passing for White in THE GREAT GATSBY: A Spectroscopic Analysis of Jordan Baker

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Passing, United States on 2018-12-17 05:03Z by Steven

Passing for White in THE GREAT GATSBY: A Spectroscopic Analysis of Jordan Baker

The Explicator
Volume 76, 2018 – Issue 3
Published online: 2018-11-27
DOI: 10.1080/00144940.2018.1489769

Tom Phillips
New York, New York

“Jordan’s fingers, powdered white over their tan, rested for a moment in mine.”

Early in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, narrator Nick Carraway offers the view that personality is “an unbroken series of successful gestures” (6), an extended performance. Nick’s paramour, the racy golfer Jordan Baker, would certainly agree. She is glamorous and opaque, her “pleasant contemptuous expression” (23) so polished it deflects interpretation and critical analysis. However, a close reading focused on Fitzgerald’s descriptions of Baker indicates she can be seen as central to the novel’s concern with identity. Amid the sexual and racial upheavals of the 1920s, she may be Gatsby’s most successful imposter—a light-skinned, mixed-race person “passing for white.”

Such suspicions were directed at Gatsby himself by Carlyle V. Thompson in a 2000 essay, “Was Gatsby Black?”—an argument quickly dismissed for insufficient textual evidence (Manus). In Jordan’s case evidence runs throughout the text, obscured by her proximity to Gatsby and Daisy, and Fitzgerald’s deceptive style, in which significant detail can “pass” as merely decorative.

Twentieth-century critics typically wrote Baker off as an enigma; Lionel Trilling found her “vaguely guilty, vaguely homosexual” (243). In this century, Maggie Froehlich has taken a closer look. Building on Edward Wasiolek’s case that Nick is a careful homosexual, she concludes that Jordan is one too—that the bond between them is a dissent from sexual norms (Froehlich 83ff; Wasiolek 14-22). This is a reasonable reading; the “hard demands of her Jaunty body” (63) may well go beyond her cool affair with Nick. However, an accumulation of detail marks her also as a person of color, presenting herself as white. In Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel Passing, a lead character describes it as a “frightfully easy thing to do … If one’s the type, all that’s needed is a little nerve” (15). The “type” in this context clearly refers to complexion.

In at least eight passages, Fitzgerald touches on Baker’s complexion; no one else’s skin is mentioned, save one reference to Gatsby as “suntanned” (54). In a novel of “spectroscopic gayety” (49) she occupies an arc of color from yellow…

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Michael Tisserand: “Krazy Kat and the Poetics of Passing” | Talks at Google

Posted in Biography, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Videos on 2018-12-01 03:50Z by Steven

Michael Tisserand: “Krazy Kat and the Poetics of Passing” | Talks at Google

Talks at Google
2018-06-26

Michael discusses his book, “Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White,” winner of the 2017 Eisner Award for best comics-related book, and a finalist in both the National Book Critics Circle Awards for Biography and the PEN America/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography. Krazy was also selected as a Kirkus Best Nonfiction Book of 2016 and as one of Vanity Fair‘s “Must-Read Books of the Holiday Season.”

Tisserand’s previous books include THE KINGDOM OF ZYDECO, an exploration of Louisiana music that received the ASCAP-Deems Taylor award for music writing, and the Hurricane Katrina memoir SUGARCANE ACADEMY. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times. When not writing, he coaches scholastic chess and is a member of The Laissez Boys, a Mardi Gras parading organization.

More information about Tisserand and his work can be found at www.MichaelTisserand.com.

Moderated by Camille Gennaio.

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Mike Reed’s Flesh & Bone

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2018-11-13 03:54Z by Steven

Mike Reed’s Flesh & Bone

BIMHUIS
2018-02-03


©Adrienne-Thomas

Influential bandleader from Chicago presents an evocative mix of music, spoken word and video. ‘With its historical depth and vigorous performance, the music satisfies on its own terms’ (Downbeat).

Mike Reed’s compositions for Flesh & Bone are both deeply personal and brimming with hope, and represent his expressions of feeling about social unrest, racism and resurgent nationalism. On the eponymous album, the Chicago-based musician recollects harrowing memories of a confrontation with far-right protesters on a train journey with his band through Eastern Europe. For this project, this same four-piece band has been expanded to include a cornet player and a bass clarinet player. Poet and performer Marvin Tate plays an important role on the album as well as on stage, where dramatic tales come together with music and moving images.

As a drummer, composer and founder of the Constellation club and the influential Pitchfork Music Festival, Mike Reed is a key figure in the Chicago music scene, where he engages in regular collaborations with a variety of young musicians as well as with veterans such as Roscoe Mitchell and Wadada Leo Smith. His relationship with Amsterdam is particularly special, owing to his Indonesian-Dutch ancestry. In 2013, his band People, Places and Things released the album Second Cities: Volume 1, with pieces by Dutch composers such as Guus Janssen, Sean Bergin and Eric Boeren.

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Racial Passing and Its Transatlantic Contexts

Posted in Literary/Artistic Criticism, Live Events, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2018-11-12 23:30Z by Steven

Racial Passing and Its Transatlantic Contexts

5 University Gardens
Room 101
University of Glasgow
Glasgow, United Kingdom
Tuesday, 2018-11-20, 17:15Z

Janine Bradbury, Senior Lecturer in Literature
York St John University York, United Kingdom

JBradbury170802-Staff-Profile.jpg

The Transatlantic Literary Women are excited to be welcoming Dr. Janine Bradbury to Glasgow to give a paper titled: “Racial Passing and Its Transatlantic Contexts”. The talk takes place in room 101, 5 University Gardens at 5.15pm on Tuesday 20th November with drinks and refreshments available from 5. This is a social, friendly gathering. As always, everyone is welcome. Hope to see you there!

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, an entire literary genre emerged in the United States that revolved around light skinned, mixed race African Americans who ‘fraudulently’ pretended to be or passed for white in order to ‘evade’ racism, prejudice, and segregation. Films like Imitation of Life brought the topic to a national audience and writers as diverse as William Faulkner, Mark Twain, and Langston Hughes featured passing in their works.

Given that the United States has a distinct history of race relations, how do stories about passing ‘work’ beyond these regional and national contexts? And do American stories about passing inspire and hold relevance for writers across the black Atlantic? How is gender and nationhood represented in these works? And what role do women writers play in the history of the passing genre?

This talk explores the phenomenon of ‘passing-for-white’ as represented in the work of transatlantic literary women ranging from Harlem Renaissance writer Nella Larsen to contemporary British writer Helen Oyeyemi and asks why passing continues to inspire women writers across the West.

For more information, click here.

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