We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

American Pietàs

Visions of Race, Death, and the Maternal

Ruby C. Tapia

Publication Year: 2011

In American Pietàs, Ruby C. Tapia reveals how visual representations of racialized motherhood shape and reflect national citizenship. By means of a sustained engagement with Roland Barthes’s suturing of race, death, and the maternal in Camera Lucida, Tapia contends that the contradictory essence of the photograph is both as a signifier of death and a guarantor of resurrection.

Tapia explores the implications of this argument for racialized productions of death and the maternal in the context of specific cultural moments: the commemoration of Princess Diana in U.S. magazines; the intertext of Toni Morrison’s and Hollywood’s Beloved; the social and cultural death in teen pregnancy, imaged and regulated in California’s Partnership for Responsible Parenting campaigns; and popular constructions of the “Widows of 9/11” in print and televisual journalism.

Taken together, these various visual media texts function in American Pietàs as cultural artifacts and as visual nodes in a larger network of racialized productions of maternal bodies in contexts of national death and remembering. To engage this network is to ask how and toward what end the racial project of the nation imbues some maternal bodies with resurrecting power and leaves others for dead. In the spaces between these different maternities, says Tapia, U.S. citizen-subjects are born—and reborn.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press

Series: Critical American Studies

Title Page, Copyright Page

pdf iconDownload PDF (72.7 KB)
pp. 2-5


pdf iconDownload PDF (81.7 KB)
pp. v-vi

read more

Introduction: Race, Death, and the Maternal in American Visual Culture

pdf iconDownload PDF (489.1 KB)
pp. 1-28

On September 11, 2001, Roman Catholic priest and New York Fire Department chaplain Mychal Judge emerged from the World Trade Center’s Ground Zero as the first recorded victim of the terror attacks. Reuters photographer Shannon Stapleton was on site to capture the vision that began immediately circulating the world as an “American Pietà.”1 ...

read more

1. Maternal Visions, Racial Seeing: Theories of the Photographic in Barthes’s Camera Lucida

pdf iconDownload PDF (140.9 KB)
pp. 29-42

Since its publication in 1980, Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida has been somewhere present in almost every critical treatment of photography. His raw, personal reflections on how certain photographs have no profound effect on him at the same time that others touch him deeply offer us an indispensable way ...

read more

2. Commemorating Whiteness: The Ghost of Diana in the U.S. Popular Press

pdf iconDownload PDF (603.3 KB)
pp. 43-66

Immediately following the automobile accident that caused the death of both Diana Spencer and Dodi Al-Fayed on August 31, 1997, newspaper headlines around the globe began announcing a “World in Grief ” over the loss of “The People’s Princess.” Television, radio, and print media everywhere crowned her the “Queen of Our Hearts,” ...

read more

3. Beloved Therapies: Oprah and the Hollywood Production of Maternal Horror

pdf iconDownload PDF (194.7 KB)
pp. 67-90

With the 1998 release of the motion picture Beloved, the monsters of Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel were vividly translated into filmic images, and the “disremembered and unaccounted for” nature of modern racism’s ever-present materiality was, yet again, confirmed.1 ...

read more

4. Prodigal (Non)Citizens: Teen Pregnancy and Public Health at the Border

pdf iconDownload PDF (451.1 KB)
pp. 91-108

Many cultural theorists have established that the “epidemic” of teen pregnancy in the United States is a socially constructed phenomenon, one that arose with the national economic and cultural anxieties of the 1970s. Until the “Adolescent and Family Life Act” was introduced in 1978, ...

read more

5. Breeding Patriotism: The Widows of 9/11 and the Prime-time Wombs of National Memory

pdf iconDownload PDF (675.7 KB)
pp. 109-130

In the weeks following the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, Oprah Winfrey’s television talk show featured pregnant survivors who had lost their spouses. In February 2002, thirty new mothers—all widowed in the attacks of 9/11—graced the cover of People Weekly magazine, each one cradling an infant. ...

read more

Conclusion: Vivid Defacements

pdf iconDownload PDF (548.9 KB)
pp. 131-152

In Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved, a fleshed-out girl ghost poses a desperate question: How can I say things that are pictures?1 The agony of history and the haunting of the real have produced too many unspeakable things unspoken. Only image-memories testify. ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (54.8 KB)
pp. 153-154

My work on this project began many years—many lives, it seems—ago, and I have many individuals and communities to thank for the support they lent to it and to me. But first, those at the University of Minnesota Press who spent their faith, time, and ink to literally make the book: ...


pdf iconDownload PDF (264.4 KB)
pp. 155-192


pdf iconDownload PDF (750.6 KB)
pp. 193-202

E-ISBN-13: 9780816676590
E-ISBN-10: 0816676593
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816653119

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Critical American Studies