Category Archives: Race book

Ne pas oublier

…at the library, Literary Bondage and those back pages of Poets & Writers, where they list bilingual presses. There is another book that turned out to be there and that I wanted to get, and I have lost my piece of paper. C’était quoi? Something tempting and new that I was going to order from a catalogue and that they turned out to already have.


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And more fascinating files

The intellectual and the state: modernismo and transculturation from below.  Beasley-Murray.

And there is all this interesting work on the Amazon, and the Peruvian avant-garde, and Zevallos-Aguilar has written so much, and I am spread too thin.

(I am going through files, as you can see.)

And Steven White’s article on Afro-Brazilian poetry is on JSTOR, too.

Then there is Brazilwire, which we should link to, support financially, and read daily.


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Fascinating files

Harvest of Empire, that I must watch  — Stuart Hall, Race, the floating signifier

A Georgia sharecropper’s narrative — The Bayou Brief: Petrostate

I saw your face … I felt infinite wonder, infinite pity

Jazz Lives. This is a whole blog I must link to. Look at their Memories of Club Hangover

Afro-Colonial Legislation in the Caribbean

Reinventing a sacred past in contemporary Afro-Brazilian poetry


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Zotero and Endnote, and this pesky paper

I have them both, and keep forgetting passwords and forgetting how to really use them, and I have Evernote, too. I keep using this blog and my other one to take notes, but now I want to use these other sites more.

I am going to give a seminar called Global Lorca, or something close to this. García Lorca and modernism. Algo así.

The Moodle gradebook: to move items, you should check the box far to the right side.

About this paper: point 1 is 1518; point 2 is the middle ages; point 3 is the present: we, nowadays, evoke and elide the question of race in the same way as Latin Americans did in the 19th century and beyond, when we claim to be anti-racist or post-racial in polite company, but then have the mistreatment of migrants, the openly racist politicians, and grossly racist policies.


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Literary bondage

I have to check out and reread this book.


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Race, the floating signifier (1996) — the beginning of a handout for class

It is by Stuart Hall and it is a key text. I find myself caring about structuralism and poststructuralism as never before. But this is a q/d handout for the students.

Floating signifier in Oxford Reference:

A signifier without a specific signified (see sign). Also known as an ‘empty signifier’, it is a signifier that absorbs rather than emits meaning. For example, Fredric Jameson suggests that the shark in the Jaws series of films is an empty signifier because it is susceptible to multiple and even contradictory interpretations, suggesting that it does not have a specific meaning itself, but functions primarily as a vehicle for absorbing meanings that viewers want to impose upon it.

Question by Leslie: is the American flag a floating signifier? Comment by Leslie: signifiers, and floating ones, are working at the level of language. Race is not a thing, it is a relation. Question by Leslie: race can also be (and has been) treated like a keyword (Williams) — a complex/contested concept. Question by Leslie: What is the difference between floating signifiers (Lévi-Strauss ff.) and Williams’ keywords? Possible answer: a keyword has a complex and contested meaning, as may a floating signifier, but Williams is emphasizing history of words and the contexts in which they are used, whereas struturalist and poststructuralist theory emphasizes the working of language itself, the way words lead to other words, not to things).

…[R]ace works like a language. And signifiers refer to systems and concepts of the classification of a culture that structure its practices of making meaning. And terms like race gain their meaning not because of what they contain in their essence, but in shifting relations of difference, which they establish with other concepts and ideas in a signifying field. Their meaning, because it is relational, and not essential, can never be finally fixed, but is subject to the constant processof redefinition and  appropriation. Their meaning is subject to the losing of old meanings, and the appropriation and collection and contracting of new ones, to the endless process of being constantly re-signified, made to mean something different in different cultures, in different historical formations, at different moments of time. The meaning of a signifier can never be finally or trans-historically fixed. That is, it is always, or there is always, a certain sliding of meaning, always a margin not yet encapsulated in language and meaning, always something about race left unsaid, always someone on a constitutive outside, whose very existence the identity of race depends on, and which is absolutely destined to return from its expelled and objected position outside the signifying field to trouble the dreams of those who are comfortable inside.

Classification is necessary to create meaning. It also creates order. But when you combine classification and systems of power you get racism.

Visibility of race: the body as text: visible marker of difference: makes race seem like an essence — but it isn’t, even though racial thinking has concrete results and effects.

Race is not an essence, and cannot be traced to anything concrete. It is more like a language; it is relational and constantly shifting.

How does race, as a principle of classification, operate, how does it produce meaning? For all of society is shaped by that classification . . . race is just one of our ways of classifying.

Race is a cultural system. And race is a signifier because it is a visual marker of difference; it means in relation to other signifiers (this is why it keeps shifting).

Race as discourse: there ARE differences among people, different looks, etc., but it is in language that we ascribe meaning to these differences

The Enlightenment is big on classification … and an example of giving meaning is, you distinguish among groups and you decide which is more “civilized,” more “backward,” and so on. We have tried to locate race via religious, scientific, and anthropological discourse … all of these are efforts to make the differences we’ve marked out seem stable, inevitable, natural

We want visible markers of difference, markers we can see: is this person a slave? or what? We want the body to be readable. Because race is a cultural system we want to operate, operate in; we want visible indicators and want to believe they aren’t arbitrary, but are attached to something “real” … but race is not real in that sense.

So when we oppose racism, we’re opposing something that is contingent, not fixed, not guaranteed to remain stable or even to be a thing. Race is a changing concept, whose existence as such has effects.

Why does this matter for the interpretation of Sab? To answer this question, let’s go back to the Branche piece and see, once again, how he used the floating signifier concept, and then ahead to our 2017 articles on Sab.


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The invention of race in the European Middle Ages. A research post

* Re-find also that Berkeley professor working on history of business, plantation and corporation.

Canonical critical race theory sees race as a modern invention, and often says it came in with the Enlightenment (sometimes moving back to the early modern period, but not earlier. This is not accurate. (See 261-62 for a list of major theorists who make this claim.)

In principle, then, race studies after the mid-20th century, and particularly in the last
three and a half decades, encourage a view of race as a blank that is contingently filled under an infinitely flexible range of historical pressures and occasions. The motility of race, as Ann Stoler puts it, means that racial discourses are always both ‘new and renewed’ through historical time (we think of the Jewish badge in premodernity and modernity), always ‘well-worn’ and ‘innovative’ (such as the type and scale of ‘final solutions’ like expulsion and genocide), and ‘draw on the past’ as they ‘harness themselves to new visions and projects’.
The ability of racial logic to stalk and merge with other hierarchical systems – such as class, gender, or sexuality – also means that race can function as class (so that whiteness is the color of medieval nobility), as ‘ethnicity’ and religion (Tutsis and Hutus in Rwanda, ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Bosnia), or as sexuality (seen in the suggestion raised at the height of AIDS hysteria in the 1980s that gay people should be rounded up, and cordoned off, in the style of Japanese American internment camps in World War II). Indeed, the ‘transformational grammar’ of race through time means that the current masks of race are now overwhelmingly cultural, as witnessed since September 11, 2001.

This applies to the refusal of race generally:

Or, to put it another way: the refusal of race de-stigmatizes the impacts and consequences of certain laws, acts, practices, and institutions in the medieval period, so that we cannot name them for what they are, nor can we bear adequate witness to the full meaning of the manifestations and phenomena they install. The unavailability of race thus often colludes in relegating such manifestations to an epiphenomenal status: enabling omissions that have, among other things, facilitated the entrenchment and reproduction of foundational historiography in the academy and beyond. (266)

Race is always articulated differently and the Brazilian scholars’ insistence on exceptionalism is misguided: of course racial categories are different there, they are different everywhere (and that doesn’t mean white supremacy, or patriarchy, are not what they are, or are not what these categorizations serve).

There is more to be said.


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