Friday, January 29, 2010

There It Is

When, perchance, one falls to reading, one must always keep a pen and paper to hand in order to note down passages that catch one's fancy.

Yes, I actually copy out passages from books like someone from days of yore. And I don't do it using a cyborgian ihand controlled via the silent but deadly power of my Jedi mind vibrations, either. I actually use my very own meaty digits. Yes, I fully understand that photocopying has been invented. It's just that copying quotes out by hand seems to impress them more fully into my consciousness. Of course, you can't copy down every word. That would take forever. Just take down those lines that are particularly brilliant.

Which makes it very difficult for me to make much headway into Thomas DiPiero's White Men Aren't. Almost every sentence sends my hand patting desperately for the pen while my eyes fix on the page like a startled goldfish. Or just a regular fish...

In any case, DiPiero's work, while concentrated on the construction of whiteness, articulates a lot of what I am starting to believe about the construction of grotesqueness. For example, when it comes to the issue of defining what a "white male" is, DiPiero argues that one finds what one expects to find:

"It is devastatingly simple merely to point to someone who appears to be both white and male and say, "There he is." But the apparent simplicity of that operation is part of the problem. Like LeVay's confidence that he will find what he's looking for because he knows in advance what the answer will be, it turns out that we need to know what a white guy is before we can see him" (10).

DiPiero then explains a bit about the impossibility of actually finding a 'pure' white person who isn't descended from 'non-white' peoples at any point in their ancestry, and the further complexity caused by the fact that the group 'white' has included different peoples at different times in history (for example, sometimes Irish immigrants in America were 'white' and sometimes they weren't).

He then comments:

"Thus it is not simply the case that we can unproblematically - or even reliably - identify who white males are [...] if it were simply the case that any person who appeared to be a white male simply was a white male, the identity would have no problematic political or ideological dimension since there would be no question of a legitimacy to which some people were not entitled. That is why we cannot simply and unproblematically point to the person who seems to be both white and male: you have to know what he looks like before you can actually see him" (10-11).

You must know what something is before you identify it. Now, consider this in terms of the grotesque... Consider that before we can point to something and say "that is grotesque" we must first know exactly what grotesqueness looks like. In just the same way as DiPiero's white male, definitions of "the grotesque" have changed constantly over the centuries and been a source of disagreement and debate.

This is one of the most disturbing elements of academic analysis, the realisation that the writer's preexisting beliefs regarding the nature of her topic will inevitably be expressed in what she 'discovers' about it. I'm hoping that judicious text choices will ameliorate the situation, not to mention tackling it face-on, as DiPiero does.

Incidentally, all going well I should be submitting my thesis before the end of this year. Please, don't ask what I'm doing after that... the answer should be obvious:

That won't actually be happening.

[Fishy pic via / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

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