Black Women, Identity, and Cultural Theory: (Un)becoming the Subject

Black Women, Identity, and Cultural Theory: (Un)becoming the Subject

Black Women, Identity, and Cultural Theory: (Un)becoming the Subject

Black Women, Identity, and Cultural Theory: (Un)becoming the Subject

Synopsis

In Black Women, Identity, and Cultural Theory, Kevin Everod Quashie explores the metaphor of the "girl-friend" as a new way of understanding three central concepts of cultural studies: self, memory, and language. He considers how the work of writers such as Toni Morrison, Ama Ara Aidoo, Dionne Brand, photographer Lorna Simpson, and many others, inform debates over the concept of identity. Quashie argues that these authors and artists replace the notion of a stable, singular identity with the concept of the self developing in a process both communal and perpetually fluid, a relationship that functions in much the same way that an adult woman negotiates with her girlfriend(s). He suggests that memory itself is corporeal, a literal body that is crucial to the process of becoming. Quashie also explores the problem language poses for the black woman artist and her commitment to a mastery that neither colonizes nor excludes. The analysis throughout interacts with schools of thought such as psychoanalysis, postmodernism, and post-colonialism, but ultimately moves beyond these to propose a new cultural aesthetic, one that ultimately aims to center black women and their philosophies.

Excerpt

At the center of girlfriend selfhood is a coalitioned subject with a ravenous, wide-spreading, boundary-less disposition, a subject inclined toward and respectful of the communal. But the contradiction between the subject's willful centeredness and her multiplicity reveals one of the unabiding trials of collectivity: despite other intentions, communities are often hegemonic and are characterized by order, stability, and familiarity as well as imperatives for reliability and acquiescence, even selflessness. These qualities are intensified when the community of note has been or is currently oppressed, for oppression magnifies the necessity of unity. Hence, while community sustains as well as is the result of the coalition of selves that constitute girlfriend subjecthood, such a coalition in its self-centeredness is both threatening to and threatened by community's functional schema.

This paradox of community is a defining tension of girlfriend selfhood. Often, the girlfriend subject who embraces herself as other does so in isolation—she is a subject marginalized and outside, imperiled and in jeopardy. She is scarred like Alice Walker before her dancing reverie; undereducated and discarded like Celie; outside the human welfare of triumph and freedom. She, this Black woman, is the subject named other who is the center of (the) community but whose centrality is her otherness, her being othered in the imaginations of those who are potentially her an/other. She functions as their mirror, reflecting the fear and anxieties they do not speak nor can hardly remember. Her outsiderness is tempered by her usefulness as a barometer of normality as well as by the gifted insight her marginality and ubiquity come to symbolize.

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