A literary historian might very well characterize the eighties as the period when race, class, and gender became the holy trinity of literary criticism. Critical Inquiry’s contribution to this shift in critical paradigms took the form of two special issues, ”Writing and Sexual Difference,” and “‘Race,’ Writing and Difference.” In the 1990s, however, “race,” “class,” and “gender” threaten to become the regnant clichés of our critical discourse. Our object in this special issue is to help disrupt the cliché-ridden discourse of identity by exploring the formation of identities and the problem of subjectivity.
Scholars in a variety of disciplines have begun to address what we might call the politics of identity. Their work expands on the evolving, anti-essentialist critiques of ethnic, sexual, national, and racial identities, particularly the work of those post-structuralist theorists who have articulated concepts of difference. The calls for a “post-essentialist” reconception of notions of identity have become increasingly common. The powerful resurgence of nationalisms in Eastern Europe provides just one example of the catalysts for such theorizing.
Kwame Anthony Appiah, author of Assertion and Conditionals (1985), Truth in Semantics (1986), and Necessary Questions (1989), has also published a novel, Avenging Angel (1990), and a collection of essays, In My Father’s House (1992). His most recent contribution to Critical Inquiry was “Is the Post- in Postmodernism the Post- in Postcolonial?” (Winter 1991). Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is coeditor of Transition, a quarterly review, and the author of Figures in Black (1987), The Signifying Monkey (1988), and Loose Canons (1992). His latest contribution to Critical Inquiry was “Critical Fanonism” (Spring 1991).
I have recently completed a work entitled The Apotheosis of Captain Cook: European Mythmaking in the Pacific.1 In it I present an alternative view of the events leading to the apotheosis of James Cook by the Hawaiians in 1779 when he first landed there, in effect making the case that the supposed deification of the white civilizer is a Western myth model foisted on the Hawaiians and having a long run in European culture and consciousness. As a result of reading the extensive logs and journals of Cook’s voyages, I have become interested in the manner in which “cannibalism” got defined in these voyages. My reading of these texts suggests that statements about cannibalism reveal more about the relations between Europeans and Savages during early and late contact than, as ethnographic statements, about the nature of Savage anthropophagy.
· 1. See Gananath Obeyesekere, The Apotheosis of Captain Cook: European Mythmaking in the Pacific (Princeton, N.J., forthcoming).
Gananath Obeyesekere teaches anthropology at Princeton University. He is the author of The Apotheosis of Captain Cook: European Mythmaking in the Pacific (forthcoming).
Our sense of culture is characteristically meant to displace race, but part of the argument of this essay has been that culture has turned out to be a way of continuing rather than repudiating racial thought. It is only the appeal to race that makes culture an object of affect and that gives notions like losing our culture, preserving it, stealing someone else’s culture, restoring people’s culture to them, and so on, their pathos. Our race identifies the culture to which we have a right, a right that may be violated or defended, repudiated or recovered. Race transforms people who learn to do what we do into the thieves of our culture and people who teach us to do what they do into the destroyers of our culture; it makes assimilation into a kind of betrayal and the refusal to assimilate into a form of heroism. Without race, losing our culture can mean no more than doing things differently from the way we now do them and preserving our culture can mean no more than doing things the same—the melodrama of assimilation disappears.41 If, of course, doing things differently turns out to mean doing them worse, then the change will seem regrettable. But it’s not the loss of our culture that will make it regrettable; it’s the fact that the culture that will then be ours will be worse than the culture that used to be ours. It is, of course, always possible and often likely that things will get worse; abandoning our idea of culture, however, will not make them worse.
Walter Benn Michaels is professor of English and the humanities at The Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of The Gold Standard and the Logic of Naturalism (1987) and of a monograph on American literature in the Progressive period, forthcoming in the Cambridge History of American Literature. His previous contributions to Critical Inquiry include “Against Theory” and ”Against Theory 2,” both written in collaboration with Steven Knapp.
In the years since its introduction, Edward Said’s celebrated study Orientalism has acquired a near-paradigmatic status as a model of the relationships between Western and non-Western cultures. Said seeks to show how Western imperialist images of its colonial others—images that, of course, are inevitably and sharply at odds with the self-understanding of the indigenous non-Western cultures they purport to represent—not only govern the West’s hegemonic policies, but were imported into the West’s political and cultural colonies where they affected native points of view and thus served as instruments of domination themselves. Said’s focus is on the Near East, but his critics and supporters alike have extended his model far beyond the confines of that part of the world. Despite the popularity of Said’s model, however, comparatists and sinologists have yet to make extensive use of it in their attempts to define China’s self-image or the nature of the Sino-Western social, cultural, and political relationships.
Xiaomei Chen is assistant professor of Chinese and comparative literature at Ohio State University. She has recently completed a book on the politics of cross-cultural “misunderstanding” in modern China and the West, and is now working on a cultural study of post-Mao Chinese theater.
Women's fashion photography, and the industries of mass clothing production and commercial advertising it supports, all presume and indeed participate in the construction of a heterosexual viewing subject. This “photographic contract,” like the “cinematic contract,” appears to operate as a cultural mechanism for producing and securing a female subject who desires to be desired by men—the ideal, fully oedipalized, heterosexual woman. Playing on the considerable social significance attributed to a woman's value on the heterosexual marketplace, women's fashion photography scopophilically poses its models as sexually irresistible subjects, inviting its female viewers to consume the product by (over)identifying with the image. But this 'concealed' ideological project—to fashion female viewers into properly heterosexualized women—stands in direct tension with (and appears to work against) its own surface formalist structure and mode of address, which together present eroticized images of the female body for the explicit appreciation and consumption by a female audience. In fact, the entire fashion industry operates as one of the few institutionalized spaces where women can look at other women with cultural impunity. It provides a socially sanctioned structure in which women are encouraged to consume, in voyeuristic if not vampiristic fashion, the images of other women, frequently represented in classically exhibitionist and sexually provocative poses. To look straight at women, it appears, straight women must look as lesbians.
Diana Fuss is assistant professor of English at Princeton University.
She is the author of Essentially Speaking: Feminism, Nature and Difference
(1989) and editor of Inside/Out: Lesbian Theories, Gay Theories (1991).
The migration of black people to cities outside of the Secessionist states of the South in the first half of the twentieth century transformed America socially, politically, and culturally. Of course, the migration of black people is not a twentieth-century phenomenon. In the antebellum period the underground railroad was the primary conduit out of the slaveholding states; in the late 1870s there wass significant black migration to Kansas and in the 1880s to Oklahoma. Before 1910 there were major changes in the distribution of the black population between rural and urban areas within the South. The proportion of black people in southern cities more than doubled between 1870 and1910 and, consequently, the proportion of the black population that continued to live in rural areas decreased significantly from 81 to 70 percent.1 Historians and demographers seem to agree that what is now called the Great Migration needs to be viewed in the context of these earlier migratory patterns and in light of the fact that black people were becoming increasingly urbanized before they left for northern cities.
· 1. See Daniel M. Johnson and Rex R. Campbell, Black Migration in America: A Social Demographic History (Durham, N. C., 1981).
Hazel V. Carby, professor of English and African-American studies at Yale University, is the author of Reconstructing Womanhood: The Emergence of the African-American Woman Novelist (1987). This essay is part of a larger work entitled Women, Migration, and the Formation of a Blues Culture (forthcoming).
Given the current climate of rampant and gleeful anti-intellectualism that has overtaken the mass media at the present time, both literary and cultural interpretive practitioners have more than ample reason to reassess, to reexamine, and to reassert those theoretical concerns that constitute or question the identity of each putatively marginal group. There are dreary reiterations that must be made, and even more dreary navigations between the Scylla and Charybdis so easily identified in journalism as a conflict between the “thought police” on the one hand and the proponents of “multiculturalism” on the other. As readers of mass culture, let us note by way of example the astonishing attention that the media has accorded the academy: the Gulf War took up three months of their time, whereas we have been granted over a year of headlines and glossy magazine newsworthiness. Is our anathema, then, more pervasive than that of Saddam Hussein? In what fashion is the academy now to be read as one of the greatest sources of sedition against the new world order? The moment demands urgent consideration of how the outsideness of cultural criticism is being translated into that most tedious dichotomy that pits the “academy” against the “real world.” While I am somewhat embarrassed by the prospect of having to contemplate such a simplistic binarism, this essay seeks to question its own cultural parameters by situating both its knowledge and its ignorance in relation to the devastating rhetoric of “us and them” that beleaguers issues of identity formation today. Grant me the luxury, then, of not having to supply quotation marks around several of the terms employed, and—since the time of life is short—an acknowledgement that the “we” to which I am forced to take recourse is indeed very, very wee.
Sara Suleri teaches English at Yale University. She is the author of Meatless Days (1989) and The Rhetoric of English India (1992).
I think one of the major motifs of Fantasia is a medition on the possibility that to achieve autobiography in the double bind of the practice of the conqueror's writing is to learn to be taken seriously by the gendered subaltern who has not mastered that practice. And therefore, hidden in the many-sectioned third part of the book, there is the single episode where the narrator speaks in the ethical singularity of the tu-toi to Zohra, an eighty-year-old rural mujahida [female freedom fighter] who has been devestated both by her participation in the Nationalist struggle and by the neglect of women's claims in decolonized Algeria.1 The achievement of the autobiographer-in-fiction is to be fully fledged as a storyteller for this intimate interlocutor: to tell not one's own story, but the animation of the story of two nineteenth-century Algerian prostitutes, Fatma and Meriem, included in Eugène Fromentin's Un Été au Sahara. And to succeed, for Zohra's curiosity flares up, “'And Fatma? And Meriem?' Lla Zhora interrupted, catching herself following the story as if it were a legend recounded by a bard. 'Where did you hear this story?' she went on, impatiently.” The “I” (now as last articulated because related and responsible to “you”) replies simply: “'I read it!' I retorted. 'An eye-witness told it to a friend who wrote it down'” (F, p. 166).
· 1. For a discussion of the singular tu-toi in Hélène Cixous, see Gayatri Chakravort Spivak, “French Feminism Revisited: Ethics and Politics,” in Feminists Theorize the Political, ed. Judith Butler and Joan Scott (New York, 1992).
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak is professor of English and comparative literature and adjunct professor at Columbia University. She is the translator of Jacques Derrida's Of Grammatology (1976) and author of In Other Worlds (1987). Her two forthcoming volumes are Outside in the Teaching Machine and Identity Talk.
The serenity and majesty of the Thames as it is described at the beginning of Heart of Darkness are only too appropriate for this waterway down which had sailed, long before Joseph Conrad's time, vessels carrying with them the seeds of the British Empire. Conrad's Thames flows in remarkable contrast to Nile that rages through al-Tayyib Salih's Season of Migration to the North (1969). Far from resting in “tranquil dignity,” the Nile and the people inhabiting its banks are shown undergoing violent transfigurations. If Heart of Darkness narrates the history of modern British imperialism from a position deep within its metropolitan center, Season of Migration presents itself as the counternarrative of the same bitter history. Just as Conrad's novel was bound up with Britain's imperial project, Salih's participates (in an oppositional way) in the afterlife of the same project today, by “writing back” to the colonial power that once ruled the Sudan.
· 1. This is especially the case in the Levant. In North Africa, much of which came under direct rule earlier than the areas to the east, European empires often imposed their ideologies by force, as when the French tried to introduce private property in Algeria by forcibly breaking up and expropriating family-run farmland in 1873. This policy, according to one French deputy, was “but crowning touch to an edifice well-founded on a whole series of ordinances, edicts, laws and decrees of the Senate which together and severally have as the same object: the establishment of private property among the Arabs” (quoted in Rosa Luxemburg, The Accumulation of Capital, trans. Agnes Schwarzschild [London, 1951], p. 380).
Saree S. Makdisi is a doctoral candidate in the literature program at Duke University. He is currently completing his dissertation on representations of nature and the British Empire in English romanticism.
In recent years, the concept of identity has had its corset removed and hangs loosely and precariously in the domain of culture and politics. This is largely a result of a gradual realization in theoretical work in these subjects that local contexts of study determine our individuation of cultural phenomena quite variously, and that it is much too tidy and distorting to demand, or proceed as if there were, stricter criteria for their identification. The point cannot be dismissed as some arcane, postmodern development in the theory of culture. It accurately captures the experience of individuals and communities. I recall that some years ago in India, almost to my surprise, I heard the words “I am a Muslim” on my lips. It is not just to meet a theoretical demand that I had better specify the context. I was looking for paying-guest accomodation in a neighborhood with a predominantly lower-middle-class Hindu population, hostile to Muslims. A landlorn who was interviewing me asked me what my religion was. It seemed hardly to matter that I found Islamic theological doctrine wholly noncredible, that I had grown up in a home dominated by the views of an irreligious father, and that I had then for some years adopted the customary aggressive secular stance of those with communist leanings. It still seemed the only self-respecting thing to say in that context. It was clear to me that I was, without strain or artificiality, a Muslim for about five minutes.1 That is how negotiable the concept of identity can be.
· 1. No suggestion here that my commitment to being a Muslim has not been more than five minutes long. There are several other contexts, and many more sustained contexts, in which someone with that background and those antitheological views could identify himself or herself as a Muslim. There is no particular list of types of such contexts for identification. If there were, it would undermine the very idea of locality since it would allow us to formulate the very sort of generalizations that stricter criteria of identity demand. Someone with no theological commitments might feel a sense of identity with Islam in contexts as diverse asL when he feels shame at the actions of Muslims—as say, the Muslim response to the publication of Rushdie's The Satanic Verses; when he feels concern about the future of Muslims in some hostile area—as say, in parts of India or England; or quite simply by an intellectual inheritance of public-mindedness from the fact that his family has been involved in Muslim politics for a very long time. There is no interesting common thread running through these different contexts.
Akeel Bilgrami is associate professor of philosophy at Columbia University. His Belief and Meaning was published in 1991, and he is currently working on a book on the subject of self-knowledge.
During a wave of Norwegian patriotism in the 1880s, Lillehammer dentist Anders Sandvig began, on annual dental tours of duty through the surrounding region, to collect folkloric artifacts and became concerned that ancient buildings were being demolished or were falling into disrepair. By 1904, when (amidst the rising nationalism that a year later would secure Norway's independence from Sweden) the Mailhaugen Open Air Museum was opened in Lillehammer to house Sandvig's collection, it included a manor house, parish church, and six whole farm buildings rescued and reassembled from various sites throughout the area. Only the museum itself, however, gave cumulative meaning to Sandvig's isolated acts of surgical extraction and architectural restoration: traversing regional distance, freezing historical time, reconciling political and class divisions, the museum created a bounded, timeless Norwegian folk community, and a new kind of nationalist rhetoric.
Katie Trumpener is assistant professor in the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures at the University of Chicago. She is currently writing a book on British romanticism in relation to internal colonialism and literary nationalism, and another on Central Europe as a transnational area.