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Homi K. Bhabha and Claudia Rankine in Conversation

From Spectatorship, Race, and Citizenship

In this syncopated dialogue (Bhabha’s voice always seems twice as fast and twice as loud as Rankine’s) organized by the Journal of Narrative Theory, postcolonial theorist Homi K. Bhabha and poet Claudia Rankine discuss a range of themes related to representation, the refugee crisis, and the possibility of reimagining citizenship in a global culture of surveillance and police brutality. Concepts from Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks (1953), Emmanuel Levinas’s Ethics and Infinity (1985), and Lauren Berlant’s Cruel Optimism (2011) animate the conversation. Of interest to Bhabha in particular are the ways that a Levinasian ethics centered on the face-to-face encounter between subjects might be extended to create a politics of care between citizens. In his view, “To give care in a citizenly fashion is to see yourself as not only as the subject of a situation, but potentially and precariously as the victim of that same situation. This is a larger ethical demand.” Much as she does in her writing, Rankine’s comments concretize Bhabha’s theoretical concerns by grounding them in the bureaucracy and micro-aggressions of everyday life: as she points out, the mass incarceration of black men in America is a technology for producing noncitizens. By labeling men as felons upon their release from prison, it produces subjects who cannot work, cannot vote, and cannot be cared for by society. Throughout, images and imagery from Rankine’s 2014 book, Citizen: An American Lyric, surface, returning the conversation to embodiment and the ways in which the racialized body’s status as a citizen is measured in intimate and everyday moments of erasure, elision, and misrecognition.

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September 12, 2017

JNT: Journal of Narrative Theory

Curated by

Gabrielle Moser