Aesthetics and Politics I
Sensibility and Subjectivity
2003 NEMLA Meeting
Boston, MA
07 March

Scott DeShong
Quinebaug Valley Community College

Articulating the Seams: Race as Aesthetic, Race as Political

Do not cite without permission of the author.

Treating race as an intersubjective construct, this paper heuristically divides the semiotics of race into two areas: social meaning, conceived as the political dimension, and sensibility, the aesthetic. In the history of race in the West, whiteness has emerged both as universalized humanity and as an exclusive category; the force of this contradiction has persisted even as the strategic racism that founded it has been widely repudiated. Blackness in the United States context (as derived from W. E. B. DuBois, for example) involves a performative subjectivity that is improvised on a seam of simultaneous exclusion from and inclusion within Western naturalized humanity. Such aesthetic performativity entails negotiation with the politics of racial meaning, as the putatively sensible features of blackness and whiteness (or the latter's lack of features) tend to derive from political signification, rather than vice-versa. As the paper examines the political effects and aesthetic functions involved in the development of race's junctures and divisions, it develops a critique of its own conception of the political/aesthetic seam.