November 26, 2012

Terministic Screens meets Gates

We ended today's class with,

"Is Gates’ critical concept of  “race” simply another example of Burke’s  terministic screen,” or should we call it something else? We were discussing in class that according to Gates, African-Americans have historically felt obligated and restricted to speak as Anglo-African writers. “Ironically, Anglo-African writing arose as a response to allegations of its absence" (Gates 11). But does one have to know their race to write about it?

This is a difficult idea to work through. In one aspect, yes, a piece of work and text that includes a certain race can be taken more seriously if the author is of that race. The author has lived and grown up with experiences that characters and voices can express. An author that isn't of that race must research and fictionalize those experiences and that race. I mean, that is the whole point of fiction, but does it affect the power of the text if the author isn't of that race?

So how does this go with terministic screens? Well, people take on a screen to identify themselves; there is hipster, nerd, African-American, Arab, Jew, etc. Gates' discusses how people expect one voice from a black author, so the black author takes that screen. The black author takes on a screen that might not actually be who he is, but will take it because it is what is expected of him.


ca depend said...

I'd like to think identification takes a life of its own.. we relate and interpret through our "descriptive eyes" and the ids we relate to "collectively" become and individualized "I".

tgraban said...

Laura and ca depend, you have inspired me to jump in to the conversation. I'd like to push further that idea of "identification tak[ing on] a life of its own." This resonates strongly with Karlyn Campbell's argument about historical agency in "Agency: Promiscuous and Protean." I'll try to explain how I see this connection.

Of the many outcomes of Frances Gage's version of Sojourner Truth's speech, one outcome was that the speech had become itself a dramatized performance -- a historicized text that its various audiences would take up and use to fit with and cause them to empathize with the emancipated woman's plight.

That speech had, in a sense, become an agent.

There are many historical agents involved in reading a text like Truth's speech, but the idea that the text itself takes on agency -- is always in a state of becoming -- strikes me as having some real critical potential, just like the idea of an identification being something that is alive and living, evolving, and not just the right or wrong representation of someone or something.

As Gates says, and as ca depend alludes, part of this evolving identification results in a collectivization of traits, that then become powerful enough to describe or define a whole population of individual "I"s. Whether the traits are accurate or not isn't the only issue. I think it is possible to recognize that this phenomenon occurs, separately of the fact that a particular writer is of the same race s/he tries to represent.

In sum, maybe what I'm discovering here is that representation isn't only a problem caused by our inabilities to accurately represent someone else without otherizing. It is also a problem caused by our reliance on the idea of "accuracy of the subject" at all, when it comes to historical identification. If we know that it is not possible to "accurately" represent a subject (person/group) whom we are trying to represent, then perhaps a better thing to spend our time on is witnessing how, in all the problems and complexities of trying to represent others, the texts and audiences take on agency instead.

But then again, it's no secret that I'm always pushing for the more complicated and complex view, so if you don't want to go there, then stop reading.


-Dr. Graban

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