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VOLUME 5, NUMBER 2       BACK TO VOLUMES

Racial Etiquette: Nella Larsen’s Passing and the Rhinelander Case
Miriam Thaggert

“Fashionable Bodies” examines the 1925 Rhinelander annulment trial, in which a mixed-race woman displayed her naked body to prove that her white husband knew her racial identity, and the significance of the trial to Nella Larsen’s Passing. The novel and the trial illustrate the violence of the gaze that attempts to determine the ontology of black femininity. Larsen’s use of letters encourages us to read her character’s body as an unreadable text, in contrast to the trial’s use of letter and in contrast to a history of reading the accessible, “legible” black woman’s body.

 

Shifting Contexts, Shaping Experiences: Child Abuse Survivorships
Marie Lovrod

Focusing on several texts spanning the early nineteenth century to the contemporary moment, this paper engages accounts of childhood trauma from several different writing communities in a study of child sexual abuse as a marker of power systems, not only in families but also as part of the politics of slavery, colonization, class construction, lesbo- and homophobia and globalization. By calling upon contemporary feminist and trauma theory to bring the idea of “survivor” to contexts where the term may or may not have currency, this paper draws selected texts into strategic proximity around experiences of abuse. The goal is to counter and complicate a western trend toward medicalized, isolating, and yet curiously universalizing, constructions of survival, affirming the interventions in history that each text performs, singly and when read together. This move emphasizes the targeting of particular children’s bodies for differential development as “educable subjects” based on race, class and gender, and suggests that childhood vulnerabilities can be produced by nationalist and global education projects, based on differential treatment of living children in relation to the idealized or devalued “child” as subject of literature, culture and educational policy.

 

Transnational Feminism as Critical Practice: A Reading of Feminist Discourse in Pakistan
Amina Jamal

This paper attempts to situate Pakistani feminist discourses in the latest world order in which Western democracy and culturally specific notions of universal human rights have become the major discursive constructs in a conflict of “Western civilization” versus “Islamic obscurantism.” I argue that we can neither exonerate these modernist constructions from their tendency to univeralise, essentialise or construct abstract subjects nor deny the appeal and strategic importance to feminists in Muslim societies of the universal rights and equalitarian impulses of modernity. I therefore attempt to theoretically re-position feminist rhetorical practices in Pakistan through Gayatri Spivak’s notion of catachresis as a creative misuse of a term that opens a space for new possibilities. I suggest that Pakistani feminists’ context-specific engagement with modernity marks a potentially transformative moment with possibilities for construction of new subject positions.

 

A Praxis of Parataxis: Epistemology and Dissonance in Lucha Corpi’s Detective Fiction
Donna Bickford

Chicana novelist Lucha Corpi has been made invisible by much of the academic literary establishment and thus ignored by the broader readership. Corpi’s novels challenge conventional portrayals of “the detective” and of the detective novel. I draw on the concept of epistemological parataxis and Chela Sandoval’s formulation of differential consciousness to examine the actions of Corpi’s protagonist, Gloria Damasco. The author explores the ways in which Corpi’s work offers productive models of living in a world filled with multiple cultures and consciousnesses through two examples: racism within the criminal justice system and the instability of notions of scientific objectivity.
Corpi’s novels provide models and methodologies for disenfranchised cultures and must also be understood as significant for those who own privilege through socially dominant identities. Damasco exemplifies a praxis that places equality and justice as the touchstone of one’s life – an accomplishment for which Corpi should be recognized.

 

Keeping up appearances, letting one's self go: The performance of strength among African American women
Tamara Beaubouef-Lafontant

Because gender is a social construction that we perform, gaps exist between who we are as individuals and what we do as masculine and feminine members of society. As feminist theory and research posits, White women often embody their protests against their gender roles through eating problems, depression, and anxiety. In this paper, I center on the construction of Black women as strong. Drawing on interviews and focus group discussions with twelve Black women of varied weights, I illustrate how the self gets written out of the performance of Black womanhood and how through overeating some women attempt to give voice to the needs, frustrations, vulnerabilities, and exhaustion deemed inconsistent with this dominant construction Black womanhood. I maintain that fuller understandings of Black womanhood emerge when the performance of strength is placed in the center of inquiries and analyses.

 

Transracial Adoption Narratives: Prospects and Perspectives
Helena Grice

This article explores the connected phenomena of the increase in international, transracial adoption in the 1990s and beyond, and the proliferation of US narratives addressing the experience of transracial adoption and associated issues. It argues that adoption in China in particular is an especially gendered phenomenon, since it is a direct consequence of China’s one-child policy, which has led to an epidemic of abandonment of female babies in China. This in turn has created a gender-specific group of adoptees in the United States, who are confronted with a unique and unprecedented range of cross-cultural, but gender-specific concerns and hurdles. Ultimately, the increase in transracial adoption and the appearance of a genre of transracial adoption narratives represents a new perspective upon transglobal relations, and the meeting and connecting of cultures.

 

Coyotes, Comadres, y Colegas: Theorizing the Personal in Ruth Behar’s Translated Woman: Crossing the Border with Esperanza’s Story
Susana S. Martìnez

In this paper, I position Translated Woman: Crossing the Border with Esperanza’s Story by the Cuban-American anthropologist Ruth Behar as an exercise in dialogue across differences. Since its publication in 1993, this book has provoked heated reactions among scholars because of the author’s insistence in weaving her own voice and personal experiences into the life story of her Mexican informant Esperanza Hernandez. By situating the text as a departure from the Latin American testimonio where the mediator purposefully hides his or her voice in the textual margins in order to give voice to the disenfranchised, we see that Behar’s text takes a significant step beyond this politicized Latin American genre and sets the groundwork for the collective project of Latina testimonios. In effect, Behar takes us behind the scenes of the testimonial process thus enabling the reader to view the problematic relationship of power and privilege between the eyewitness of the events and the editor of her words. Although the experiences of personal pain and motherhood bind Ruth Behar and Esperanza Hernandez together, the privilege of writing and the demands of academic production highlight Behar’s journey from coyote to comadre and ultimately to colleague, thus obligating us to scrutinize the processes of producing differences.