Monthly Archives: November 2008

The Presidential Election and Literary Interpretation (unofficial post)

Our readings for Monday’s class and again for class tomorrow have focused largely on race, the way we conceptualize groups, and understand literature and, ultimately, humanity. In light of the historic presidential election results announced earlier tonight and our readings and discussions, what role do you think race, or, more accurately, our conceptualization of race, played in the election? I heard one of the reporters commenting that voters had acted as though they were “colorblind.” Is this accurate or even possible given the ways our brains organize? What further connections, if any, can you draw between the readings for Wednesday and ethnic identity in this election in particular and America in general?

Personally, I thought Gilroy’s early concepts of an ever-blending black culture and identity were relevant to the way Americans understood Barack Obama. Early in his campaign, members of the media and opponents sought to narrowly classify him as African or American or African-American; white, black or biracial; Muslim or Christian; a capitalist or a socialist; etc. While some of these claims aren’t grounded in fact, at least in terms of ethnicity and origin, Obama seems to be “both inside and outside the West” (972) as a result of his diverse background. For me, that very synthesis of cultural perspectives is at least some part of his appeal. (Of course, many of Gilroy’s other conclusions are based upon African-Americans reacting against the expectations of slavery (eg, focusing on creativity rather than labor), which one may argue don’t apply to Obama as he was not descended from slaves.)

What do you guys think about the perspectives of race we have read in relation to what we’ve witnessed in the past, what this election might imply, and where we hope to go in American racial/ethnic understanding?

Paper 3

In case you missed it, or lose yours, I’ve posted the paper 3 assignment on the syllabus, and will also link it here. Do come see me if you have any questions — and don’t forget your research question for Wednesday.

Racial difference, The colony, and Orientalism

That the Orient is a social construction, something completely man-made is really interesting to me, although not necessarily new. For me, what I’ve been thinking about lately is what Said references at the end when he cites Raymond Williams–that by recognizing that certain things are socially constructed, hopefully people can progress in the “unlearning” of “the inherent dominative mode” (28). I realize that we were only able to read the Intro from Orientalism, and that perhaps Said addresses this in the rest of his text, but how do y’all think we can “unlearn” the modes in which we were taught? I think it’s a good starting point to know that what we’ve been taught as objective is actually socially constructed, but what I struggle with personally is moving beyond this–how does one move past simple awareness and begin to see things from a new perspective if he/she has seen a certain subject from a specific view point for so long? How does one throw off the colonization of language?

Also, I’m not quite sure how to connect this thought with the previous thought, but I think the idea of intersectionality is really interesting–that one cannot talk about ethnicity without addressing gender and sexuality is something I find to be very true. What do y’all think of this and how do you think intersectionality affects how we read? Do people ever rank the importance/relevance of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, religion, ability or other examples of diversity when they are reading? How does our (mis)understanding of one of these aspects of identity affect how we understand a person as an individual? How does it affect our understanding of a group of people?


Said’s idea of Occidental culture setting up Oriental culture as a foil, a sort of other with which to affirm Occidental identity reminded me of a Chinua Achebe essay on Heart of Darkness called An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, which makes a similar claim about Western images of Africa as the inferior “other” for comparison. The article is at:

Time to Comment?

Just thought I’d start off the conversation about when to comment on the red notebook. How does 7-8 tomorrow sound to people?