- Editor’s Introduction:Spatial and Temporal Intersections of Ethnic Identities
In his influential work The Production of Space (1991), Henri Lefebvre argues that “(Social) space is a (social) product. . . . [and] the space thus produced also serves as a tool of thought and of action; . . . in addition to being a means of production it is also a means of control, and hence of domination, of power” (26). US multiethnic literature often grapples with these characteristics of social spaces, particularly as they affect identity formation. A compelling example is Harriet A. Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861), which demonstrates that intersections of social space and temporality are inevitable as identities are formed and reformed. Katherine McKittrick reads the space of Jacobs’s garret in Incidents as a “terrain of struggle” that “centralizes the terms” by which “she can bring her self into being” (44). McKittrick interprets Jacobs’s “retreat to the garret” as “a geographical tactic” that allows readers “to think about the histories of black women as they are wrapped up in a legacy of unprotected public bodies situated across the logic of traditional spatial arrangements—on slave ships and auction blocks, in garrets, under a white supremacist gaze, in white and nonwhite spaces” (45). Jacobs’s seven years in the garret is also a provocative reminder of the ways in which temporality can play both a productive and debilitating role in identity formation.
The essays in this issue explore social spaces that are subject to a white supremacist gaze and may be coded as specifically nonwhite. In addition, the authors attend to the impact that various forms of temporality have on the construction of ethnic identities. Elisabeth Windle examines the implications of these spatial and temporal intersections in “‘It never really was the same’: Brother to Brother’s Black and White and Queer Nostalgia.” In Rodney Evans’s 2004 film Brother to Brother, a fictionalized version of Richard Bruce Nugent’s final months, present-day scenes featuring the older Nugent mentoring the young artist Perry Williams contrast with black-and-white flashbacks from 1926, the year Nugent published the first and only issue of Fire!!: A Quarterly Devoted to the Younger Negro Artists with Langston Hughes, Wallace Thurman, Aaron Douglas, and Zora Neale Hurston. Windle discusses the film’s nostalgia for the spatiotemporal landscape of 1926. Many flashback scenes take place in Harlem’s Niggeratti [End Page 1] Manor where and his friends lived in the 1920s, a space and time “conjur[ing] a past that . . . offered pleasures, communities, and opportunities inaccessible in the present.” Windle argues that the film’s longing for this past “offers a racially inflected alternative to queer theoretical models of temporality and mainstream gay narratives of progress.”
Lurana Donnels O’Malley’s “The Witch of Endor Slept Here: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Crisis of the George Washington Bicentenary” also analyzes the uses of nostalgia and the ways in which it disrupts social and mythic spaces. O’Malley examines the subversion of the Washington myth in Du Bois’s 1932 play, George Washington and Black Folk: A Pageant for the Bicentenary, 1732-1932, written to commemorate Washington’s bicentenary. Du Bois chooses for his narrator the Witch of Endor from the biblical book of Samuel. O’Malley contends that “This veiled Witch transforms Du Bois’s play from a straightforward recitation of history into an incantatory displacement of the power of George Washington.” Although the play was not performed as part of the bicentennial celebration and “has now been long forgotten,” O’Malley insists that “it is vital to the understanding of what Du Bois prophesied about theater as a tool for the revision of African American history; in a broader sense, the script demonstrates the potential of drama to interrogate patriotic mythologies.”
In another essay examining national mythologies, Brian Trapp’s “Super Sad True Melting Pot: Reimagining the Melting Pot in a Transnational World in Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story” highlights Shteyngart’s reinterpretation and critique of the melting pot within a transnational American space. Through the union of Jewish American Lenny and Korean American Eunice, the...