- The Practice of Discipline; Disciplinary Practices
A teller in one of Zora Neale Hurston’s works once opined: “My race, but not my taste” (qtd. in Hemenway 170). In light of recent theoretical endeavors studying affect and emotion, especially negative emotion, we are uniquely positioned to ask the rather inappropriate question—in the face of feeling backward, to riff off of Heather Love—what would it mean to feel, publicly, some kind of antipathy toward one’s own kind? Perhaps the next question would be: what constitutes one’s kind? These three texts broaden the spectrum on what kinds of feeling and, in fact, what kinds of literary genealogies we engage as critics. Each of these texts is important by itself, but I will preface my remarks by saying that a common structural binary subtends each project, so I begin by questioning that fundamental opposition. In every instance, the boundary or contestation is defined as white/black vs. mainstream. The opposition assumes, as Ernesto Javier Martinez (On Making Sense: Queer Race Narratives of Intelligibility ) argues, that there are queer practices among people of color that fundamentally differ from mainstream (queer) practices. This contention presumes that we do not share a common world or that our processes of worlding might be so divergent as to create separate spheres of human being, consciousness, and practice. Perhaps this nagging problem cannot be answered in this review. But the outstanding problem articulated in Martinez and Aliyyah I. Abdur-Rahman (Against the Closet: Black Political Longing and the Erotics of Race ) lies in sexuality studies’s insistent and profound ignorance of people of color, even in the twenty-first century. Unlike Martinez and Abdur-Rahman, Biman Basu (The Commerce of Peoples: Sadomasochism and African American Literature ) tries to solve for x by noting the extent to which [End Page 804] black and white bodies depend on one another for the work of sexuality to be complete, making Hurston’s cheeky rejoinder meaningful to the labor at hand. “My race, but not my taste” alludes to the messiness of sexuality and race and to their importance in the construction of that thing called sociality. Hurston’s quirky aphorism reminds us of how knowledge of self and community are acquired and how such knowledges are both experiential and manufactured, collapsing both inside and outside. What these texts do is return us to Hurston’s somewhat thorny rejoinder, asking us what do we know, how do we know it, and when is it real?
Perhaps the best grounding for this project on race and sex is Abdur-Rahman’s. At the outset, she asks: “what would it mean for racial embodiment and experience if . . . race moved inward and operated for the racialized subject primarily from an internal site of instinct, impulse, intuition, longing?” (3). The answer to that question doesn’t necessarily reformulate an always already serious pressure on the ability of the category of blackness to make its own agency. In short, this is a very tall order for blackness to fill as Abdur-Rahman goes even further to offer that “[m]y goal is to harness the insurrectionary potential of an expanded, reformulated queer theory in the service of a radical and collaborative politics of race” (6). Nevertheless, the move to “reformulate” queer theory is an important one and, in that mode, she argues that any sexual landscape, especially one loaded with transgressions like sadomasochism, incest, same sex, or interracial love, is haunted by the racial—a racial landscape whose brief for blackness perhaps repeats well-worn critical patterns. This is an argument that will resonate with other work in queer studies to think through the connection between queer studies’s approach to the autonomy of queer desire and critical race theory’s more engaged look at racial formation.
Abdur-Rahman admits that her study is marked by “an ambitious and...