[Content note: brief discussion and accompanying imagery of racialized propaganda.]
The bodily injury caused by nuclear warfare constitutes a massively collective form of modern suffering. However, for many in the West, it also represents a markedly “foreign” pain, inflicted on distant bodies in other lands. The only instances (thus far) of nuclear weapons being deliberately utilized in combat are the US deployment of the “Little Boy” A-bomb in Hiroshima and the “Fat Man” in Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945 respectively. The 100,000 immediate deaths and ensuing agonies of radiation poisoning were borne primarily by Japanese soldiers and civilians and Korean slave laborers––who were, for many midcentury British and American citizens, unimaginably “foreign” bodies, caricatured and dehumanized in Allied war propaganda throughout the 1940s (fig. 1).
Contemporary archival (The National Memorial for Peace and Justice), medical (Janice Sabin, “How we fail black patients in pain”), and political (BLM) practices continue to depend on the legibility of Black pain, where pain’s visibility is assumed to make it politically transformative. Rather than an obviously valuable experience, however, Black pain requires political validation by an American whiteness all too often unable or unwilling to recognize or respond to that pain. Miranda Fricker’s “testimonial injustice” describes this ethical failing, which “occurs when prejudice causes a hearer to give a deflated level of credibility to a speaker's word,” producing an “epistemic dysfunction in the exchange.”
[Content note: this article contains graphic images of lynching.]
For a work that is pivotal to scholarship on Jim Crow racial violence, the phrase “Jim Crow” is conspicuously absent in Ida B. Wells’s The Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynching in the United States. Instead, she calls the epoch “nineteenth-century civilization,” a deceptively toothless choice of words until one begins to understand its full import.
It was 1:14pm central standard time on a Friday. There was a meme on reddit. An image of what looked like knights around a stone table. They held their swords out, guiding them in coalition, not, in this meme, in “brotherhood,” facing the center of the table. A redditor annotated each sword: one sword labeled “gamers,” another “college students.” The remaining three swords, the swords in the middle of this phalanx, were labeled “trans women,” “trans men,” and “nonbinaries.” Each of these coalitional swords that are not, and refuse, brotherhood point to the table’s center which the redditor also annotated: “wearing oversized hoodies.”
Modernism has proliferated.
In overturning Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court has rejected the notion that Americans have a constitutional right to privacy, opening the door to states’ policing of the bodies of women and others who can become pregnant. While it has been widely noted that the rolling back of reproductive rights will affect Black and Brown women disproportionately, less attention has been paid to what this means for their experience of privacy. As some scholars have suggested, privacy feels definitionally impossible for women of color, insofar as racial visibility in public spaces leads often to surveillance and harm.
In the urgency of what sounds initially like an auteur’s command, the fictional “Director” of Adrienne Kennedy’s 1973 play-within-a-play, An Evening with Dead Essex, discloses the unnegotiable terms of his own captivity before the phantasmal image.
It is in the frequent repetition of a one-word imperative from the Director—to “flash”—that its operational binding (as the instruction by which to advance photographic images in a slide projector) can be perceived to shred. The demand is at once a managerial spur for his actors to make headway in grasping their subject matter, and an abyssal first step in the momentum of the collective going-under necessitated by its deepest realization.
Alice Mitchell’s 1892 murder of her lover Freda Ward rocked their well-to-do Memphis community and scandalized the nation. The masculine Mitchell slashed Ward’s throat in broad daylight when Ward decided not to marry Mitchell. Lisa Duggan has provided the richest account of the murder to date and has exhaustively detailed the way that it was sensationalized in the period press as “a Very Unnatural Crime,” representing “a new narrative-in-formation—a cultural marker of the emergence of a partially cross-gender-identified lesbian.”
In Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (1993), Toni Morrison calls for “studies of the technical ways in which an Africanist character is used to limn out and enforce the invention and implications of whiteness. . . . Such studies,” she continues, “will reveal the process of establishing others in order to know them, to display knowledge of the other so as to ease and to order external and internal chaos.” In demonstrating the reflexive role that Africanist personae play in white American literature—the manner by which white people construct blackness as a screen for the projections that enable, through simultaneous disavowal and enforcement, their identifications as white—“Such studies will reveal the process by which it is made possible to explore and penetrate one’s own body in the guise of the sexuality, vulnerability, and anarchy of the other” (Morrison, Playing, 53).
Denis Côté’s 2017 film Ta peau si lisse opens on the domestic routines of bodybuilders. One man (bald, bearded, tanned) spreads moisturizer on his thighs, calves, and pectoral muscles before putting on jeans and selecting from an array of nearly identical, bright-colored T-shirts and running shoes. Another man (younger, paler, and sporting a buzzcut) weighs, then microwaves, portions of ground beef and white rice. In the next scene, he lifts weights in a basement.