Forgeries of Memory and Meaning: Blacks and the Regimes of Race in American Theater and Film before World War II

Forgeries of Memory and Meaning: Blacks and the Regimes of Race in American Theater and Film before World War II

Forgeries of Memory and Meaning: Blacks and the Regimes of Race in American Theater and Film before World War II

Forgeries of Memory and Meaning: Blacks and the Regimes of Race in American Theater and Film before World War II

Synopsis

Cedric J. Robinson offers a new understanding of race in America through his analysis of theater and film of the early twentieth century. He argues that economic, political, and cultural forces present in the eras of silent film and the early "talkies" firmly entrenched limited representations of African Americans. Robinson's analysis marks a new way of approaching the intellectual, political, and media racism present in the beginnings of American narrative cinema.

Excerpt

Since dominance is always incomplete and monopoly imperfect,
the rule of every ruling class is unstable
.

Michael Walzer, Spheres of Justice, 1983

“Truth” is linked in a circular relation with systems of power
which produce and sustain it, and to effects of power which it
induces and which extend it. A “regime” of truth
.

Michel Foucault, “Truth and Power,” 1980

Perhaps the most pronounced tendency in American race studies is to mass around explicit or inferred explanatory models which are derivative of Marx or insinuated from Foucault’s notion that “power establishes a particular regime of truth.” In materialist terms the simplest rendering is that the commercial nexus of the African slave trade and the political apparatus of colonialism, the economies of securing and controlling African bodies, the sinews of patriarchy, and the trade in slave-produced commodities (relations of power) eventuate in the establishment of the Negro and discourses on race (admissible and possible knowledges). And since the historical and cultural African subject has been unimagined, there is no reason to suspect that some of the “imperfections” of domination might originate from the enslaved. Or, alternatively, that the manufacture of the slave might anticipate and absorb the availability of more tractable materials.

In its totality this account of race production is a seductive archaeology, securing revelation, elegance, and precision for the obscurity and chaos which are a constant threat in historical research. However, with it, one is obligated to a kind of unitarianism where all the relations of power collaborate in and cohabit a particular discursive or disciplinary regime. The coexistence of alternative, oppositional, or simply different relations of power are left unexamined or instantiated. The possibility of the coincidence of different relations of power colliding, interfering, or even generating resistance remains a fugitive consideration. Edward Said raised the alarm about this last possibility: “Te disturbing circularity of Foucault’s theory of power is a form of . . .

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