Monday, February 28, 2011

Ann Anlin Cheng, The Melancholy of Race: Psychoanalysis, Assimilation and Hidden Grief

Summary: Through pausing on the important psychoanalytical distinction between grief and grievance, Anne Anlin Cheng proposes a vocabulary for the re-theorizing of the terms through which race is represented as well as experienced.

Passage for Close Reading:

The World of theatrical performance is the dynamic struggle between performance and performativity (59).

This passage occurs in the second chapter and has a high resonance of theatricality, staging, and acting out. The latter is carried out in this sentence and throughout the text on a stage characterized by frictions.
Though the structure of the sentence is simple (subject, verb, complement), the complement, “dynamic struggle between performance and performativity,” seems to point to the complex nature of its subject. The subject of the sentence “the world of theatrical performance” points to a stage, which the adjective “dynamic” qualifies as a place where the two objects of the complement of the sentence, performance and performativity, friction. This friction is played at the semantic constitution of performance and performativity. The word “performance”, which, points to the actuality of acting, distances itself from its derivative, performativity, by its embedding in the subject of the sentence and its intrusion in the theatrical world. The repetition or rehearsal of performance as an object complement creates a tension that revives performativity and projects it as it acts out a particular performance. Therefore, perform[ativity] appropriates the action embodied by performance and reclaims it in a way that it echo an activity. The latter is stressed by the double suffix [ati-vity], which points to a state of transformation and becoming. As such, perform[ativity] becomes a narrative activity that was once performance and performative.

In embedding theatrical performance in a stage of narrative where performance and performativity change the place of acting out to a place of acting through, the sentence scenario of articulation indicates that there is not a spatial disjunction between performance and performativity. The friction between performance and performativity creates a visible fissure on the stage of theatrical performance. The fissure causes one to project itself into the other so as to avoid fading in the crack created by the friction. Hence the site of acting out is a site of displacement of narratives, which generates a site of hybridity where different narratives intersect to form a new meaning.

Cheng performs this intersection by performatively reviving Freud so as to articulate the performative act of reading Freudian performance. Cheng’s theory is built on the stage of Freud’s performance; throughout the text she seizes Freud’s character or ghost to perform what looks like a ritual of self-possession. As a piece of performance staged in the theatrical world of Psychoanalysis, Cheng enacts Freud’s theory on mourning and melancholia to enable herself to stage racial fantasy into identification. To increase the degree of frictions, Cheng perforates Freud theory with Louis Althusser’s notion of identification as that which combines the individual (psyche) with the social (ideological state apparatus). Locating racial fantasy as the bridge between individual and state allows Cheng to supplement Althusser's theory of interpellation with a needed accommodation of the specificity of racialization.

Cheng is apt in acting out because her performance is frictional, that is her reading or masquerading and parading of Freud, Butler, Spivak, and Bhabha’s theories resist any idea of delineation or boundary making. She examines the various intersections between these works and hers closely, and avoids simply listing them. What is evident, especially in the moments when the space of theatrical performance is implicitly linked to racial subjection, is that Cheng is not merely applying psychoanalysis to perform her own intellectual prowess. Cheng sincerely wants psychoanalytic performance to accommodate any racialized experience.

1 comment:

  1. First observation is that you need to copy the sentence accurately: there's no capitalization on World, but there is italicization on "is".

    Your reading is more attentive to what observations we can make about the sentence, more attentive to the sentence's surface, initially, but then you take the reading to a much more metaphorical level. One thing that your reading could make more of is the italicization of the verb--what does that do to the organization of the sentence, tonally speaking? How does the fact that this is a "to be" sentence--and therefore, there is no object, only an equivalence between two different terms--factor into your interpretation? Try to stay on the surface of the sentence even more.