Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Gukira on Claudia Rankine's *Citizen: An American Lyric* & "microaggressions"

A week ago I posted about two standout examples of literary criticism, a young Barack Obama's super-concise reading of T. S. Eliot's "The Waste Land," and Frank Kermode's extraordinary disquisition on the word and concept of "shudder" in that and other works by Eliot and a range of authors. Neither is exactly a model of traditional literary criticism, which brings me to another stellar example, at Gukira: With(out) Predicates, the brilliant Keguro Macharia's thought-site (to call it a blog barely does it justice).

In his January 19, 2016 post "microaggressions," Keguro shows what another approach to critical writing about literature might look like, exploring Claudia Rankine's highly lauded 2014 collection Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf) with a level of discernment, analytical brio and lyric verve that marks all of his writing. I won't try to summarize the piece's argumentation except to say that it takes one on a journey both into Rankine's book and into the aesthetic, social and political discourse surrounding it. He begins by pointing out that the book "circulates as an aesthetic object that documents microaggressions," and then continues:

The “micro” in microaggressions suggests the low hum of noncatharsis Sianne Ngai taught us to call “ugly feelings.”

Nothing explodes. 

Nothing releases. 

An archive builds. 

We are far from anger, far from rage, far from the demands created by the word racism.
Instead, we are in the world of microaggressions, the world of archive building, the world of opportunities created by the aesthetic object to engage in a dialogue on race or a conversation on race, in which we are encouraged to share our stories of racialization, of being marked by race, singled out, unseen in our particularities and embedded within histories we did not create and do not want to own.

Learning from Fanon, we scream that we are not our histories. 

Frantz Fanon is only one of many figures he thinks with--alongside, to, and through--beginning with Elizabeth Alexander and Barack Obama (whom he also critiques). As importantly, Keguro historicizes and defines the term "microaggression," so ubiquitous these days, in order to show what it means--what meanings emerge--from, around and because of the circulation of an "aesthetic object that documents microaggressions." The (current) aesthetic object that documents microagressions--in American society. Is much of the extant criticism about the book about the book or about the discourse that surrounds it--"the wreck and not the story of the wreck / the thing and not the myth that surrounds it," quoting, as he does Adrienne Rich

As I note above, this essay--in the truest sense of the world,  a trying out of thought, an attempt to think into and through ideas--concludes on a powerful note. I'll quote it:

I conclude this writing a week after Obama’s State of the Union speech, on the Monday designated this year as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I am arrested by the question of lag, caught by the duration of the pause. The “micro” in “microaggressions” might describe the lag that one must overcome—that return to the untime of unmaking, that disembedding from the human that one overcomes but does not overcome. How long is that pause? How is it measured? What happens in that pause? 

Chester Pierce names that pause as where the cumulative takes hold. What accretes in the pause, and how? A model of resilience reaches for the grit in the oyster, the pearl-making potential of adversity. Recall, the much-lauded Citizen is the aesthetic object that documents microaggressions. White space can be a pause. Pauses are cumulative. Something accumulates in the pause. How long is that pause? How is it to be measured? How does one measure pauses as they accumulate? How does one evaluate the pause that is considered an aesthetic object? 

how does one live—how can one breathe—in the pause

This is one dazzling example of how one thinks--in the pause.

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