Academic journal article CLIO

"Imbodies, and Imbrutes": Constructing Whiteness in Milton's a Maske Presented at Ludlow Castle

Academic journal article CLIO

"Imbodies, and Imbrutes": Constructing Whiteness in Milton's a Maske Presented at Ludlow Castle

Article excerpt

The modern effectuation of racial whiteness requires a materialist and essentialist perspective, which is usually singular. Some postmodern ontologies, expressed by works of art as well as criticism, knowingly critique and seek to transcend such a modernist perspective. For instance, bell hooks explains, in "Postmodern Blackness," how her artistic and critical work expresses and forms a "radical postmodernist thinking ... reflected in habits of being, including styles of writing as well as chosen subject matter." (1) One humanizing consequence of such a propitious condition, hooks further explains, "is that many other groups now share with black folks a sense of deep alienation, uncertainty, loss of a sense of grounding, even if it is not informed by shared circumstances" (8). Racial whiteness, in such a culture, loses its previously supposed material status as its constructed, discursive qualities are articulated and critiqued.

While such critiques of whiteness are generally recognized as contributing to progressive forms of postmodernity, such critiques are less appreciated as obtaining in the early modern period. This is not to say that analyses and expositions of whiteness and its constitutive other, blackness, have not been written. Indeed, several remarkable studies have exposed many dynamics of the inchoate, early modern construction of race and whiteness. Exploring how writers reflect an early modern attempt to address classically inscribed ideas of the humoral inferiority of peoples residing in northern climes, for instance, Mary Floyd-Wilson elaborates "the counterintuitive notions of ethnicity and 'race' that the now-dominant narrative of oppression aimed to erase: the representations of northern 'whiteness' and English identity as barbaric, marginalized, and mutable, and the long-neglected perceptions of 'blackness' as a sign of wisdom, spirituality, and resolution." (2) Understanding that "race" becomes modern over the course of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries in England, and interested in articulating "what the racing and unracing of African women was made to mean" over this period, Joyce Green MacDonald simultaneously employs and critically adapts African-Americanist method and black feminist social science in order, first, to understand the multiple effects both implied by the works she interprets and realized by those who consumed the works and, second, "to repudiate inaccurately majoritarian or absolutist formulations of knowledge" currently foreclosing the study of modern race before the period of fully formed colonial or imperial hegemony. (3) Like Floyd-Wilson and MacDonald, Kim F. Hall balances contemporary perceptions and critiques of race, whiteness, and blackness with an appreciation of important differences in the early modern period as well as manifestations of incipient cultural patterns that become constitutive of modern economies of race and gender. Distinctively, Hall documents how tropes of whiteness and blackness are discursively transformed from pre-modern, mostly religious, senses, into early modern, mostly secular and increasingly materialist and essentialist, tropes. (4) Hall's work provides many rich foundations and methods for averting "the critical gaze from the racial object to the racial subject" of early modern English culture, (5) but centrally, for the present study, the elaboration of the poetics of color or a color complex and the linkage of this poetics to "aristocratic identity" (6) provide crucial discursive context for apprehending the "'multiform production of relations of domination'" informing the whiteness of Milton's Ludlow entertainment. (7)

In addition to Floyd-Wilson, MacDonald, and Hall, there are many valuable contributions to the comprehension of the cultural currents informing nascent forms of modern racialist thought, erotics, and politics over the early modern period. (8) Like Floyd-Wilson, MacDonald, and Hall, most of the work achieves recognition of various contributions to the incipient discourse of racialized whiteness and blackness by those who either knowingly or unwittingly participate in the proto-economy. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.