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Humanities, Volume 8, Issue 4 (December 2019)

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Open AccessArticle
Theorizing Conscious Black Asexuality through Claire Kann’s Let’s Talk about Love
Humanities 2019, 8(4), 165; https://doi.org/10.3390/h8040165 (registering DOI) - 18 Oct 2019
Abstract
Asexuality is often defined as some degree of being void of sexual attraction, interest, or desire. Black asexual people have been made invisible, silent, or pathologized in most fiction, scholarly literature, and mainstream LGBTQ movements. Claire Kann’s 2018 young adult romance novel, Let’s [...] Read more.
Asexuality is often defined as some degree of being void of sexual attraction, interest, or desire. Black asexual people have been made invisible, silent, or pathologized in most fiction, scholarly literature, and mainstream LGBTQ movements. Claire Kann’s 2018 young adult romance novel, Let’s Talk About Love, explores Black asexuality at the intersection of race and (a)sexuality. Through the story of the Black, bi-romantic, asexual, 19 year-old college student Alice Johnston, this text illuminates the diversity of Black sexuality in the Black Diaspora. Using a Black feminist sociological literary analysis to complete a close reading of the novel, I interrogate what Let’s Talk about Love offers for defining a Black asexual politic. To consider Black asexual politics beyond the controlling images of the asexual Mammy figure, and not merely in juxtaposition to the hypersexual Jezebel, calls us to instead center agency and self-definition. This project seeks to answer what Conscious Black Asexuality is, why it is a necessary concept for asexuality studies and the Diaspora, where we locate Black asexuality in Black history, and how Let’s Talk about Love by Claire Kann presents a depiction of Black agentic queerness that reclaims agency and intimacy within one’s sexual politics. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Unsilencing Black Sexuality in the African Diaspora)
Open AccessArticle
Attention, Representation, and Unsettlement in Katherena Vermette’s The Break, or, Teaching and (Re)Learning the Ethics of Reading
Humanities 2019, 8(4), 164; https://doi.org/10.3390/h8040164 - 16 Oct 2019
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Abstract
Theories of literary ethics often emphasize either content or the structural relationship between text and reader, and they tend to bracket pedagogy. This essay advocates instead for an approach that sees literary representation and readerly attention as interanimating and that considers teaching an [...] Read more.
Theories of literary ethics often emphasize either content or the structural relationship between text and reader, and they tend to bracket pedagogy. This essay advocates instead for an approach that sees literary representation and readerly attention as interanimating and that considers teaching an important aspect of an ethics of reading. To support these positions, I turn to Katherena Vermette’s 2016 novel The Break, which both represents the urgent injustice of sexualized violence against Indigenous women and girls and also metafictionally comments on the ethics of witnessing. Describing how I read with my students the novel’s insistent thematization of face-to-face encounters and practices of attention as an invitation to read with Emmanuel Levinas and Simone Weil, I explicate the text’s self-aware commentary on both the need for readers to resist self-enlargement in their encounters with others’ stories and also the danger of generalizing readerly responsibility or losing sight of the material realities the text represents. I source these challenges both in the novel and in my students’ multiple particularities as readers facing the textual other. Ultimately, the essay argues for a more careful attention to which works we bring into our theorizing of literary ethics, and which theoretical frames we bring into classroom conversations. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Ethics and Literary Practice)
Open AccessArticle
To Dwell in Grace: Physical and Spiritual Situatedness in Marilynne Robinson’s Lila
Humanities 2019, 8(4), 163; https://doi.org/10.3390/h8040163 - 16 Oct 2019
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Abstract
This article explores Marilynne Robinson’s use of space in her 2014 novel Lila to illustrate a dynamic relationship between the religious and the secular. The titular character’s movement among a variety of physical spaces raises questions about the possibility of “dwelling” in the [...] Read more.
This article explores Marilynne Robinson’s use of space in her 2014 novel Lila to illustrate a dynamic relationship between the religious and the secular. The titular character’s movement among a variety of physical spaces raises questions about the possibility of “dwelling” in the sense of belonging to a place or community. Characters’ earthly situatedness points to larger questions of spiritual situatedness and identity. Robinson’s novel is posited as a valuable point of reference for postsecular studies, a critical perspective through which the role of the religious in literary studies is being redefined. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Theology of Marilynne Robinson in a Postsecular Age)
Open AccessArticle
Living up to Her “Avant-Guardism”: H.D. and the Senescence of Classical Modernism
Humanities 2019, 8(4), 162; https://doi.org/10.3390/h8040162 - 14 Oct 2019
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Abstract
In a journal entry from 1957, H.D. writes that Adorno’s description of the aging of modernist music might easily apply to the fate of her own work in the post-war period: “Among other fascinating things, he [Adorno] says that Bartók ‘could not quite [...] Read more.
In a journal entry from 1957, H.D. writes that Adorno’s description of the aging of modernist music might easily apply to the fate of her own work in the post-war period: “Among other fascinating things, he [Adorno] says that Bartók ‘could not quite live up to his own avant-guardism’ [sic] […]. I felt the phrase applied, in a way, to myself and my Helen sequence” (H.D. 2015, p. 40). H.D.’s remark refers to her long poem, Helen in Egypt (1960), which, with its engagement with classical sources and epic themes, seemed to some to be a throwback to an earlier modernist period in which Pound, Joyce, Eliot and H.D. herself had looked to ancient models as a means of reinvigorating modern literature. What did it mean for H.D. to feel that her work had outlived its time, to be a first-generation modernist still writing in that mode after many of her peers and their achievements had passed into history? This article explores H.D.’s sense that her practice was at odds with contemporary demands for poetry to answer to immediate historical concerns. It also considers her case against the critics in letters, notes and in Helen in Egypt which contains its own defense of the relevance of classical modernism to the post-war present day. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Modernist Women Poets: Generations, Geographies and Genders)
Open AccessArticle
Re-Framing Hottentot: Liberating Black Female Sexuality from the Mammy/Hottentot Bind
Humanities 2019, 8(4), 161; https://doi.org/10.3390/h8040161 - 14 Oct 2019
Viewed by 109
Abstract
Taking up Michele Wallace’s call to interrogate popular cultural forms and unravel their relationship with the political discourse of the time, this paper begins by examining the popular discourse about Black female sexuality in the USA. White, cis-hetero-patriarchal cultural and visual imagination still [...] Read more.
Taking up Michele Wallace’s call to interrogate popular cultural forms and unravel their relationship with the political discourse of the time, this paper begins by examining the popular discourse about Black female sexuality in the USA. White, cis-hetero-patriarchal cultural and visual imagination still represents Black women either as asexual and maternal mammies or as the deviant ‘Other’ that is as Venus Hottentots or ‘hypersexual’ Jezebels. Maternal and sexual scripts were first naturalized by popular and scientific discourse(s), and then covertly deployed by the dominant white hetero-patriarchal set up to mask the exploitation of Black women, and constrict the opportunities of growth that were available to them even after the emancipation. This paper analyzes how Black women writers like Elizabeth Alexander and Alice Walker, and visual artists such as Renee Cox develop an oppositional gaze, to use Hooks’s phrase, and ‘re-frame’ the Venus Hottentot from their radical and subversive points of view. Building on theoretical insights of Gina Dent, Cornel West, and Audre Lorde, this paper engages with the oft-neglected relationship between pleasure, desire, identity, and Black female sexuality. Thus, Black female sexuality that has been expunged and/or termed ‘deviant’ actually becomes a source of empowerment for Black women. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Unsilencing Black Sexuality in the African Diaspora)
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Open AccessFeature PaperArticle
Affect and Porosity: Ethics and Literature between Teresa Brennan and Hélène Cixous
Humanities 2019, 8(4), 160; https://doi.org/10.3390/h8040160 - 11 Oct 2019
Viewed by 85
Abstract
In her posthumously published work The Transmission of Affect, Teresa Brennan challenges the modern ego’s understanding of itself as self-contained. This illusion, she argues, is supported by what she refers to as the “foundational fantasy”. In explaining what this means, Brennan rejects [...] Read more.
In her posthumously published work The Transmission of Affect, Teresa Brennan challenges the modern ego’s understanding of itself as self-contained. This illusion, she argues, is supported by what she refers to as the “foundational fantasy”. In explaining what this means, Brennan rejects a bounded sense of the self, arguing that affect (both positive and negative) circulates energetically between subjects. In patriarchal cultures, mothers (and “feminine beings”) act as repositories of projected fear, typically carrying the greater burden of the negative affects—anger, aggression, and envy. Importantly, Brennan’s work brings the question of intersubjective boundaries to the fore, arguing that these are open, and that any account of ethical relations between self and other needs to acknowledge this. Drawing on pre-modern sources, she develops a new theory of intersubjective and energetic affectivity and, in a positive vein, offers love—in the form of attention and discernment—as the positive gift of affect that can potentially circulate between bodies, infusing intersubjective relations with life. Brennan’s work on the transmission of affect offers a bold and very political philosophical intervention into early twenty-first century ethical accounts. Her exploration of the intricacies of our relational entanglements with others and the material world challenges our understanding of what it means to be a self in relation to others. In effect, her account of the transmission of affect highlights the other’s vulnerability to my affect, to my hostile projections, even as it accounts for the flow of affect in both directions. In a slightly different way, Hélène Cixous offers us an account of our relations with others that focusses on the self’s openness to the force of the other, the self’s vulnerability to the dangerous other. Here, the other is the focus of a potential threat, a potential undoing of the self. For Cixous, writing is the place of witness to the unfolding of this vulnerability or porosity between two (entre deux). While this essay focuses on Brennan’s philosophical account, and the potentially paradoxical nature of her work to produce a theory of affect, it offers a brief discussion of the ways in which Cixous’s focus on literature and writing provide a different frame for appreciating the challenge that Brennan’s work makes. It explores the important ways in which Cixous extends Brennan’s philosophical concerns to the domains of literature and writing. Throughout her work, Brennan calls for us to invent or reinvent a vocabulary for the exploration of discernment, the protective attitude of thoughtfulness that opens us to the other. Cixous’s work, I argue, embodies this call in hopeful and optimistic ways. As such, it allows us to think of literature and writing as privileged sites for the exploration of our complex intersubjective relations. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Ethics and Literary Practice)
Open AccessFeature PaperArticle
Mediating Climate, Mediating Scale
Humanities 2019, 8(4), 159; https://doi.org/10.3390/h8040159 - 11 Oct 2019
Viewed by 357
Abstract
Climate communication is seemingly stuck in a double bind. The problem of global warming requires inherently trans-scalar modes of engagement, encompassing times and spaces that exceed local frames of experience and meaning. Climate media must therefore negotiate representational extremes that risk overwhelming their [...] Read more.
Climate communication is seemingly stuck in a double bind. The problem of global warming requires inherently trans-scalar modes of engagement, encompassing times and spaces that exceed local frames of experience and meaning. Climate media must therefore negotiate representational extremes that risk overwhelming their audience with the immensity of the problem or rendering it falsely manageable at a local scale. The task of visualizing climate is thus often torn between scales germane to the problem and scales germane to individuals. In this paper I examine how this scalar divide has been negotiated visually, focusing in particular on Ed Hawkins’ 2016 viral climate spiral. To many, the graphic represents a promising union of political and scientific communication in the public sphere. However, formal analysis of the gif’s reception suggest that the spiral was also a site of anxiety and negative emotion for many viewers. I take these conflicting interpretations as cause to rethink current assumptions about best practices and desirable outcomes for scalar mediations of climate and their capacities to mobilize a wide range of reactions and interpretations—some more legibly political and some more complicatedly affective, yet all nevertheless integral to the work of building a holistic response to the climate crisis. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Environmental Humanities Approaches to Climate Change)
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Open AccessComment
Anthropocene Shiftings: Response to Perego, E. and Scopacasa, R. The Agency of the Displaced? Roman Expansion, Environmental Forces, and the Occupation of Marginal Landscapes in Ancient Italy. Humanities 2018, 7, 116
Humanities 2019, 8(4), 158; https://doi.org/10.3390/h8040158 - 10 Oct 2019
Viewed by 152
Abstract
In this response to Elisa Perego and Rafael Scopacasa’s article, I reflect on connections across time and space from an Anthropocenic perspective that is, by urgent necessity, open to the unexpected. In Ancient Italy, and contemporary Tuvalu and Brazil, it is possible to [...] Read more.
In this response to Elisa Perego and Rafael Scopacasa’s article, I reflect on connections across time and space from an Anthropocenic perspective that is, by urgent necessity, open to the unexpected. In Ancient Italy, and contemporary Tuvalu and Brazil, it is possible to find similarly unexpected ends being achieved among populations that move, whose lives are lived on ground that cannot be assumed to be inert: earth has agency, and over time, it shifts, or is flooded, or buries things. When non-elites are moving into marginal places where life is tough, where earthly agency cannot be ignored, such people are also finding themselves at the centre of major turning points in history. Mobility and survival in marginal places can offer a way to live a less colonized life. Full article
Open AccessArticle
In Search of the Iraqi Other: Iraqi Fiction in Diaspora and the Discursive Reenactment of Ethno-Religious Identities
Humanities 2019, 8(4), 157; https://doi.org/10.3390/h8040157 - 06 Oct 2019
Viewed by 170
Abstract
In Iraqi fiction, the prerogative to narrate the experience of marginal identities, particularly ethno-religious ones, appeared only in the post-occupation era. Traditionally, secular Iraqi discourse struggled to openly address “sectarianism” due to the prevalent notion that sectarian identities are mutually exclusive and oppositional [...] Read more.
In Iraqi fiction, the prerogative to narrate the experience of marginal identities, particularly ethno-religious ones, appeared only in the post-occupation era. Traditionally, secular Iraqi discourse struggled to openly address “sectarianism” due to the prevalent notion that sectarian identities are mutually exclusive and oppositional to national identity. It is distinctly in post-2003 Iraq—more precisely, since the sectarian violence of 2006–2007 began to cut across class, civil society, and urban identities—that works which consciously refuse to depict normative Iraqi identities with their mainstream formulations became noticeable. We witness this development first in the Western diaspora, where Iraqi novels exhibit a fascination with the ethno-religious culture of the Iraqi margins or subalterns and impart a message of pluralistic secularism. This paper investigates the origins of the taboo that proscribed articulations of ethno-religious subjectivities in 20th-century Iraqi fiction, and then culls examples of recent diasporic Iraqi novels in which these subjectivities are encoded and amplified in distinct ways. In the diasporic novel, I argue, modern Iraqi intellectuals attain the conceptual and political distance necessary for contending retrospectively with their formative socialization experiences in Iraq. Through a new medium of marginalization—the diasporic experience of the authors themselves—they are equipped with a newfound desire to unmask subcultures in Iraq and to write more effectively about marginal aspects of Iraqi identity inside and outside the country. These new diasporic writings showcase processes of ethnic and religious socialization in the Iraqi public sphere. The result is the deconstruction of mainstream Iraqi identity narratives and the instrumentalization of marginal identities in a nonviolent struggle against sectarian violence. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Arab Diaspora Literature Then and Now)
Open AccessArticle
Mortifying Earthly Desires in Toni Morrison’s Home
Humanities 2019, 8(4), 156; https://doi.org/10.3390/h8040156 - 29 Sep 2019
Viewed by 179
Abstract
As is true of all of Toni Morrison’s texts, Home does not shy away from difficult topics, particularly those related to sexuality. In this instance, her novel reveals the contestation between the societal narrative of Black male sexual depravity and the struggle to [...] Read more.
As is true of all of Toni Morrison’s texts, Home does not shy away from difficult topics, particularly those related to sexuality. In this instance, her novel reveals the contestation between the societal narrative of Black male sexual depravity and the struggle to assert an authentic, strong, good, identity that privileges mutually balanced relationships. While characters falter and make mistakes, Morrison’s text is about redemption and reconciliation to the ideals of a self-created theology steeped in a rich African and African American cultural heritage and tradition. This essay argues that Morrison uses a biblical theme to create a culturally relevant theology that shifts the narrative away from Black male depravity to a place of deliberate, conscientious, mutually beneficial relationships. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Unsilencing Black Sexuality in the African Diaspora)
Open AccessArticle
Reading (with) Hannah Arendt: Aesthetic Representation for an Ethics of Alterity
Humanities 2019, 8(4), 155; https://doi.org/10.3390/h8040155 - 24 Sep 2019
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Abstract
Hannah Arendt’s interest in literature was part of a broader concern, which was inspired by her reading of Kant, with the role played by aesthetic representation in ethical and political judgment. Her rich repertoire of writings about literature deserves to be considered alongside [...] Read more.
Hannah Arendt’s interest in literature was part of a broader concern, which was inspired by her reading of Kant, with the role played by aesthetic representation in ethical and political judgment. Her rich repertoire of writings about literature deserves to be considered alongside the works more commonly associated with the ethical turn in literary studies. Arendt’s unique contribution, I argue here, is a heightened awareness of the assimilative tendencies of aesthetic and cultural representation, coupled with a critique of empathy as potentially illusory or even condescending when confronted with a political judgment that is set up to absorb difference. To recognize alterity requires us, if we follow Arendt, to understand otherness “in acting and speaking,” as she argued in The Human Condition. Much of her philosophical and political work was dedicated to understanding the obstacles facing human togetherness, so that she could suggest ways for us to overcome them. Aesthetic representation, in her view, was one of the most effective strategies for achieving community because it offers a reconstruction of another’s viewpoints that invites both an imaginative projection and a sustained cognitive effort. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Ethics and Literary Practice)
Open AccessArticle
The Rhetoric of Krishna versus the Counter-Rhetoric of Vyas: The Place of Commiseration in the Mahabharat
Humanities 2019, 8(4), 154; https://doi.org/10.3390/h8040154 - 23 Sep 2019
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Abstract
In the context of the mixed perception among scholars whether the Mahabharat is a pacifist or a militant text, this paper analyzes the rhetorical project of the epic to examine its position on violence. Highlighting the existence of two main arguments in the [...] Read more.
In the context of the mixed perception among scholars whether the Mahabharat is a pacifist or a militant text, this paper analyzes the rhetorical project of the epic to examine its position on violence. Highlighting the existence of two main arguments in the Mahabharat, this paper argues that the author has crafted a grand rhetorical project to question the dominant war ideology of the time that Krishna presents as the divine necessity. Historically, the emergence of Krishna—one of the major characters of the epic—as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu in Hindu tradition and the extraction and elevation of the Bhagavad Gita from the epic as an independent text have undermined the complexity of Vyas’ rhetoric. This paper places Krishna’s argument within the broad rhetorical scheme of the epic and demonstrates how Vyas has represented Krishna’s rhetoric of ‘just war’ only to illustrate its pitfalls. By directing his narrative lens to the devastating consequences of the war in the later parts of the epic, Vyas problematizes Krishna’s insistence on the need to suppress human emotions to attain a higher cognitive and ontological condition. What emerges is the difference between how Vyas and Krishna view the status of feeling: the scientist Krishna thinks that human emotions and individual lives are trivial, incidental instances in the cosmic game—something not worthy of a warrior’s concern; Vyas’ rhetoric, this paper argues, restores the significance of ordinary human emotions. It is a war—not human life and feeling—that arises as a futile enterprise in Vyas’ rhetoric. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue War and Literature: Commiserating with the Enemy)
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