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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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Bookmarks for the current paper

I must clean up this browser.

On Charles V, African slavery.
Impact of the slave trade on Africa.
Bhabha: race, time, modernity.
Literary whiteness.
New research on 1518 voyages.
Popes, the Catholic church, and the 1518 voyages.
Slavery in the New Netherlands.
The Iberian slave trade.
From plantation to corporation.
Caitlin Rosenthal.
Slave narratives from Dutch colonization in Indonesia.
Slavery timeline 15th century.
Sugar and slavery in Indonesia.

Other topic, but related.
Raúl Bopp.


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Evoke and elide / the denial of difference

Denial of difference. This was one of my original insights on the problem I am trying to work out. Creole rhetoric after independence needs black characters to serve as mediators for white ones, works to bring everyone into what Piedra calls “literary whiteness”–you can be black and write, but you have to write race-neutral. And the project of national literatures is to posit a Creole otherness against the empire, but at the same time that Creole otherness follows the logic of Hispanidad. Piedra:

“With vicious circularity, texts embedded in literary whiteness mounted a rhetorical defense of black characters, who were used as the fictional mediators for ideas too daring for whites, such as surrendering to suppressed factual differences. The “rhetorical defense” placed black characters between fact and fiction, a convenient limbo to which newcomers were often confined by the dictates of the Old World. In the New World, the black mediators eventually emerged from their textual limbo to aid other Hispanics in a common adventure: as interpreters of the nature, language, and work orders of the conquerors for the native American terra incognita.”

The enlightened New World: conservatives = Spanish models and liberals = French ones, so, if you were for progress, you placed Hispanism lower on a hierarchy while also still offering everyone opportunities to whiten by joining the linguistic unity. LANGUAGE IS RACE (Unamuno) and this does NOT mean there is not race or that language has no color: it’s white or tends that way. Even all the racial labels are linguistic recruitment into the nation, because they give you a place in its racial system. Identification as “moreno” or some middle term was encouraged to encourage assimilation to whiteness — albeit a differentiated whiteness.

All of this is somehow why race as fact and as issue must be raised and also elided. It is assimilation in hierarchy, so that racial resistance can be neutralized. You are not supposed to claim difference, but support whiteness.

I have to work these things out more still.


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Texts I do not have

…not available in Vichy State’s JSTOR.


Denise Ferreira da Silva
Critical Ethnic Studies
Vol. 1, No. 1 (Spring 2015), pp. 33-38
DOI: 10.5749/jcritethnstud.1.1.0033

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How did I say it then

El otro elusivo: la teoría racial de Denise Ferreira da Silva

Abstracto original

This paper will discuss some implications of Denise Ferreira da Silva’s work for the analysis of discourses of mestizaje and exceptionalism in modern Latin American literature, focusing on her concepts of transcendental poesis and the scene of engulfment in Toward a global theory of race (2007). In the modern period mestizaje became a key justification of cultural exceptionalism in Latin America, as well as a foundational myth serving to limit the analysis of race and racisms. Da Silva shows how mestizaje produces the recognizable, yet subordinate racial other on whose ground the modern subject is sustained. Transcendental poesis is the process whereby the spectre of race or radical alterity is at once evoked and elided; the mestizo is produced as the authentic subject while recognition of deeper-hued others is interdicted, or driven underground. This moment of evocation and elision, the scene of engulfment, is dramatized repeatedly in nineteenth and twentieth century Latin American writing. Da Silva’s work elucidates these narrative thickets in a new and theoretically rigorous way. Its insistence on the racial system as a global one enables a new look at race and racisms in Latin America, ­allowing for specificity but not confusing specificity and exceptionalism. The paper will also aim to engage its audience on the question of possible limits to the universalizing claims of da Silva’s theory. Are there aspects of the emergence of race it does not explain?­

Abstracto nuevo

This presentation will discuss some implications of Brazilian critical race theorist Denise Ferreira da Silva’s analysis of discourses on race in Latin America. In Toward a global theory of race (2007) Da Silva argues that racialization is implicit in the construction of modernity and the modern subject. This model enables a new look at race and racisms in Latin America, allowing for specificity but not confusing specificity and exceptionalism. “Transcendental poesis” is the process whereby the spectre of race or radical alterity is at once evoked and elided; the mestizo is produced as the authentic Latin American subject while recognition of deeper-hued others is interdicted. This moment of simultaneous evocation and elision, the “scene of engulfment,” is dramatized repeatedly in modern writing. The paper will consider the value of da Silva’s global paradigm for the local interpretation of racism and racial meaning, and also critique some philosophical bases of da Silva’s theory.

Abstracto en español 1—Usar este

En este trabajo consideraremos algunas implicaciones del trabajo de la teórica Denise Ferreira da Silva para el análisis del discurso racial en América Latina. En Toward a global theory of race (2007) propone da Silva que la racialización está implícita en la construcción de la modernidad y del sujeto moderno. Este modelo ofrece una perspectiva nueva sobre raza y racismo en el continente, teniendo en cuenta situaciones específicas sin justificar lecturas excepcionalistas. La “poesis trascendental” es el proceso en que la raza, o la alteridad racial se evoca y se esquiva simultaneamente; se produce al mestizo como el sujeto auténtico y se ocultan los rastros de otros más oscuros. Este momento de evocación y elusión, “la escena de engullición”, se dramatiza de manera repetitiva en la escritura moderna. Analizaremos el valor del paradigma global de da Silva, y de sus bases filosóficas, para la interpretación local del racismo y los modos de signifación racial.

Abstracto en español 2

El trabajo considerará algunas implicaciones del trabajo de la teórica Denise Ferreira da Silva para el análisis del discurso sobre mestizaje y excepcionalismo en América Latina, enfocándose en los conceptos depoesis trascendental” y “escena de engullición” elucidados en Toward a global theory of race (2007). En el período moderno ha servido el mestizaje como justficación del excepcionalismo cultural y como mito fundacional que encubre la persistencia del racismo. Da Silva muestra cómo en realidad produce el otro racial en el que se sostiene el sujeto moderno. El espectro de la raza, o de la alteridad radical se evoca y esquiva al mismo tiempo; se produce al mestizo como sujeto auténtico y se oculta la faz del otro más oscuro.

Puntos: what I said then, but will this order work?

0. Numerous 19th century texts (e.g. Ma., C.V.) raise, and do not resolve, questions of race.
These don’t get “solved” until Vasconcelos, Freyre, “color cubano,” etc.

1. Como han señalado Angel Rama, Jean Franco, Doris Sommer y muchos otros, desde principios del siglo XIX han intervenido los letrados para legitimizar narrativas ejemplares de la formación e integración nacionales. Al mismo tiempo han trabajado para forjar las nuevas naciones como entidades constituidas por discursos, símbolos, imágenes y ritos (aquí parafraseo a Arias, 703).

2. Uno de estos discursos es el mestizaje, término con múltiples significados e implicaciones, pero que ha servido como discurso nacional y continental, sobre todo a partir de los años 1920 y 1930 (con la obra de Vasconcelos, Freyre y otros). Ha funcionado la idea del mestizaje como herramienta ideológica para la unión nacional, como arma de combate contra la hegemonía norteamericana, y como rechazo al racismo. Sabido es, sin embargo, que mestizaje y racismo también coexisten (de la Cadena, Portocarrero, otros). Como mito fundacional, el mestizaje también ha servido para limitar el análisis de raza y racismo, y para justificar el excepcionalismo cultural.

3. Este trabajo comenta algunas implicaciones del trabajo de Denise Ferreira da Silva en Toward a Global Theory of Race para el análisis de la representación de la racialización y jerarquización racial en ciertos textos literarios claves (“ficciones fundacionales”) latinoamericanos.

4. Trabajo con Ferreira. da S. porque necesito una base teórica para un proyecto mayor que es secuela a

Foundational Fictions de D. S. [Explain what Sommer’s book is; it has has conciliatory view]

5. Lo que noto en novelas como Maria y CV es que retratan (tienen como tema) la diferencia racial y dan todos los elementos para analizarlo, pero luego esquivan el tema: matan personajes, mudan la familia a la ciudad, etc. Sommer ve esta literatura como conciliatoria, mestiza, nation-building pero yo lo que veo es desgarre, violencia, etc. o sea la no-resolución. En parte, quieren forjar patria SIN resolver el problema racial y en parte es que están yuxtaponiendo diferentes discursos de la época, y no han tomado una decision

6. Lo que sí hacen es proponer, forjar sujeto mestizo latinoamericano, latinoamericano como entre-lugar, y/o latinoamericano como sujeto cruzado por conflictos raciales. Este sujeto existe en un contexto en que la problemática racial se evoca y se esquiva, se plantea y se reprime o se silencia;

ello no es solamente (como alguna vez dijo M. de la Candena) porque raza en A.L. es cultura (por lo cual la discriminación se justifica en términos culturales y lo racial se define por prácticas culturales, sino porque se está intentando definir el entre-lugar del sujeto de las nuevas naciones (filosofías subalternas, etc.)

7. Por eso es que son interesantes e iluminadores las ideas de transcental poesis y scene of engulfment en Da Silva, porque describen ese momento de formación.

8. Da Silva: teoría; teoría global; idea de lo global que incluye A.L., BIEN. Ahora: el problema segun ella es la modernidad/colonialidad y el sujeto cartesiano u occidental. Es una lectura posmodernista del sujeto (y he tenido dudas porque creo que esa lectura descontextualiza un poco y culpa un poco demasiado, pero bueno).

9. Poesis trascendental: el proceso en que la raza, o la alteridad racial se evoca y se esquiva simultaneamente; se produce el mestizo como el sujeto auténtico y se ocultan los rastros de otros más oscuros. ES la creación del yo trascendental (y es inestable porque el yo trascendental latinoamericano se compara al europeo) [EJEMPLO]

10. Scene of engulfment: momento de evocación y elusión. El otro tiene que estar allí pero tiene que estar subordinado. [EJEMPLO]

A. Hay 2 aplicaciones:
1. el proceso de formación del sujeto (como sujeto mestizo, sujeto élite masculino entre-lugar), y 2. el hecho de que los textos sugieren que este hecho es problemático pero postergan un enfrentamiento directo con el problema. (El otro tiene que aparecer y desaparecer—y la dificultad de este proceso tiene que hacerse visible y luego ya no)
B. Soluciones: hay otros mestizos y otros híbridos, no solamente este mestizo élite; y otras formas de identidad/subjetividad no trascendentales.

Obras citadas

Arias, Arturo (2016). Article on Jean Franco, PMLA 131.3.



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This book

The blurb: Rejecting the view that social categories of difference such as race and culture operate solely as principles of exclusion, Denise Ferreira da Silva presents a critique of modern thought that shows how racial knowledge and power produce global space. Silva proposes that the notion of racial difference governs the global power configuration because it institutes moral regions not covered by post-Enlightenment ethical ideals.

[Station break: I am reader 144365 and should call in. The university system is not your friend, nor is the university (necessarily). This is my first self-care day at work in many years.]

Here is a useful review. I would like to be able to read the whole thing but this is useful. And there are my extensive notes. Remember: race is constitutive of modernity and this is why the problem of racism does not go away. Also remember: I understand this book better than I think and it is probably also better than I think.


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Una iluminacioncita

The rhetorical and narrative move I have been referring to, to myself, as “evoke and elide” all this time, is also, or is parallel to another which is “assimilate and erase.”


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