An Eye on Race: Perspectives from Theater in Imperial Spain

An Eye on Race: Perspectives from Theater in Imperial Spain

An Eye on Race: Perspectives from Theater in Imperial Spain

An Eye on Race: Perspectives from Theater in Imperial Spain

Synopsis

Racism in the modern nation state is based on a Continental and an American model. In the Continental model, the racist differentiates the raced individual by religion. Because this raced individual is indistinguishable from the racist, a narrative is written to see that individual. In turn, in the American model the racist differentiates the raced individual based on skin color. Because the sign of difference is obvious, no story is written to justify racist thinking. By 1550, both models form part of imperial thinking in the Iberian world system. An Eye on Race: Perspectives from Theater in Imperial Spain describes these models at work in imperial Spanish theater. The study reveals how the display of blood in drama serves the Continental model and how the display of skin color serves the American model. It also elucidates how Miguel de Cervantes celebrates a subaltern aesthetic as he discards both racial paradigms. John Beusterien is Associate Professor of Spanish at Texas Tech University.

Excerpt

The pond had the shape of a blue eye
In which the Black man was the pupil.

Imagine the eye on this man in the way that ibn khafacha does in this poem from eleventh-century Spain. Some critics have read these words with an eye on skin color. Antonio Olliz-Boyd and Gabriel Asoanab Abudu argue that the poem reflects a moment in which prejudice attached to dark skin in Arabic Spain shifts. the poem represents a black-is-beautiful literary moment because Ibn Khafacha celebrates a particular person, the warrior chief Yusuf, the new Black Almoravid leader whose forces swept Spain in 1086 reducing the native Andalusian Spanish civilization to a provincial status within a larger African empire (1993, 286). While their reading establishes a historical context for the image of this eye, I wonder about the eye in a slightly different way, a way that incorporates the past, but also the present. the man in the pond is swimming and the eye moves. This eye moves through time from my blue ones to my reader’s. in my case, vision through this eye reminds me of—and also displaces me from—the present and its categories assigned to me, such as “White male” and “Detroit native.”

I may figuratively see through a new eye for a moment, but what exactly is “seeing”? in antiquity, Plato wrote that the objects that we see are only imperfect reflections of ideal forms and, in contrast, Aristotle wrote that after seeing many individual objects we can form a general idea of the category of that object. in the first instance, we know, or see, a concept and recognize individual objects based on the idea that we already have. in the second, we see the object and later form a concept based on the experience of having seen many similar objects. Conceptual or Platonic seeing can be called narrativized vision since objects are only recognized following an ideal or, in the terms of this study, a mental narrative that already exists in one’s mind. Self-evident or Aristotelian vision can be called denarrativized vision since objects are recognized without the baggage of a narrative.

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