history, Uncategorized, women and gender studies

Book Review: Francoise Vergès, Monsters and Revolutionaries: Colonial Family Romance and Métissage (Duke University Press, 1999), Pp. 394.

 

Verges.jpgFrancoise Verges takes a different approach to discussing the political history of a non-inhabited space—well not until t the French brought slaves to the island of Réunion. Verges monograph entitled, Monsters and Revolutionaries: Colonial Family Romance and Métissage, discusses how the history of one Island, Réunion, was the “creation of a colonial act” (xiii). The history of Réunion starts as an island with no inhabitants whatsoever. By the seventeenth-century not only was their inhabitants but there was colonialism. The motivation to inhabit the small Indian Ocean Island was for potential possibilities of sugar plantations.

Verges ultimately wants to examine the differences of this locale but also points out the “emancipatory discourses disciplined there” (xi). Verges gives warning to the reader that this narrative focuses on male identities and citizenship, and is not about female history or even entirely non-fiction.This becomes the biggest problem of this book. The back and forth narrative of fiction and non-fiction could confuse readers. Especially readers that are not well versed in history but captivated by the title. I think this is a huge failing of this monograph. For the sake of this book review I will focus on the non-fiction narrative Verges offers.

The main themes that come out of this history of Réunion is the creation of class and race out of the sugar plantation industry. Until 1848 the way of life for colonial subjects was slavery (xiv).

So why is nostalgia of the days of French colonialism so prevalent to the history of Réunion? It is not uncommon for colonial spaces to have nostalgic thought and feeling. But the nostalgia in Réunion’s history is not only of  “fantasy” of colonial success but that of resistance and anti-colonialism. How verges tackles these abstract notions in colonial history is by relying on what he notes as the “family of romance” narratives. Verges notes the two different manifestations of this kind of narrative. The first is the “‘cololinial family romance’” which relied on this notion of “imaginary parents” and the ties to French empire (3). Second, “‘métissage was a term that spoke of the cultural and social matrix of diversity born of colonization and assimilation” (8).  This is another key attribute, the métis was the signifier of rebellion,  categories like these personified what kind of a person you represented in society. What ultimately came out of this category was fear of rebellion (by colonizers) but also that of hope for resistance. Verges discusses the “discourses of emancipation” that came out of Réunion and the nuances as well as the mimicry of Enlightenment discourse in France. After 1848, the abolition of slavery, the discourse had a new word that would come to mean so many different things—freedom.

This resistance and work towards emancipation was now the new fraternity, becoming a sort of new citizenship between colony and metropole. Another example of colonial contradictions, that Verges highlights,  is demonstrated through “blood politics” (Chapter 3). Verges calls upon Laura Ann Stoler to elaborate on this notion stating, “the ‘symbolics of blood’ and its reoccupation with legitimacy, madness, and pure blood,” was at the heart of the next step of colonial forces—the medical establishment (97). Unfortunately,  this history fails to meet certain nuances in providing an equitable narrative for women and men. Although that was not the project Verges set out to do, I feel the historical narrative falls flat, and leaves the reader wanting much more.  I would recommend this monograph to historians,  women and gender studies majors, as well as others who want to complicate their own historical knowledge of colonized and colonizer. Great book for book groups that can discuss the abstract concepts in these pages.

7/10

 

 

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american feminist literature, american literature, feminism, feminist studies, feminist theory, herstory, history, humanism, lgbtq, philosophy, politics, science and technology, sex reassignment, Uncategorized, women and gender studies

Judith Butler, “Doing Justice to Someone: Sex Reassignment and Allegories of Transsexuality,” in GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 7.4 (North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2001), 621-636.

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(photo credits: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judith_Butler)

Bodies and their artistic nature of gender, sex identity and expression is a complicated notion. In the essay entitled “Doing Justice to Someone: Sex Reassignment and Allegories of Transsexuality,” Judith Butler discusses these complications in discussing the social construction of bodies, sex, and gender. Butler uses a Foucauldian framework to talk about body politics and the “regulatory regime” of medicine on bodies (621). Butler does this by specifically focusing on one individual in particular identified as “the case of Joan/John” (625).

The case of Joan/John is not a uncommon story but is an example of the ways in which the medical establishment constructs bodies that are “viable” and are coherent for the nation-state. In short the case of Joan/Joan is a story of an infant that goes through a botched circumcision, in which the doctor convinces the parents it will be better for the child to grow up with no penis and assume the identity of a female then to grow up with a deformed penis (622). The narrative gets more complicated as Joan/John grows up and ends up identifying more as a male than his produced female more identity (623). Through this case study, Butler identifies the debate between social and biological arguments for sex/gender (623) More important, this essay offers a theoretical framework for discussing the forced construction of gender on individuals and their bodies. Butler’s thesis states, “in recounting this story and its appropriation for the purposes of gender theory.…I hope to underscore here is the disciplinary framework in which Joan/ John develops a discourse of self-reporting and self-understanding…by which his own humanness is both questioned and asserted” (628-629).

Lasting thoughts from this piece are productive invitations to discuss the body and nation. Asking academics and intellects alike the question of what ultimately constitutes humanness?  Butler asserts there is  major “limits to the discourse of intelligibility [coherent/identification/taxonomy]” (635). If that is so, Butler’s contributions challenge the constructed categories of the nation-state and binary body politics. This essay highlights the nation-states perceived need for these categories to propel nationalism and its citizenship. I would recommend this essay to academics, intellectuals, and social activists. This is a perfect essay to sit down and discuss with like-minded thinkers. I guarantee you will engage in an exciting and stimulating conversation reading this and discuss it with peers or colleagues! 

10/10

feminism, feminist studies, feminist theory, postcolonial theory, world history

Book Review: Inderpal Grewal, Transnational America: Feminisms, Diasporas, Neolieralisms (North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2005), Pp.281.

 

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Ways in which we perceive  nationalism, citizenship and consumerism can be understood through many different lenses. Those lenses mold our ideas and set standards in our day to day lives. Investigating what or where the lens is coming from can reveal  a great deal on the nation states’ intentions and motives. Inderpal Grewal calls these types of ideas into question by exploring transnationalism through a specific icon in a her text entitled, Transnational America. Grewal’s objective states, “this book is about the 1990s, when a new phase of neoliberalism brought together market logics with concerns for reducing welfare and poverty, and in the process rearticulated feminist and postcolonial subjects out of longer colonial histories and epistemologies” (15).

Grewal analyses specifically focuses on the methods of production, consumption and the process in which transnationalism takes place. The author notes the specific manifestations in American national ideals. Grewal states, “the American dream was a discourse of both whiteness and racism, in which a white identity coexisted in an unstable and changing relationship with heterogeneous notions of being American, within as well as being outside the United States” (7). Grewal brings up an important term that can be derived out of this understanding of American nationalism and its discourse— transnationalism.  Grewal articulates further on this term stating, “transnational practices incorporated struggles for liberal democratic rights as they inserted themselves into consumer culture” (9). This crucial point that Grewal discusses in the monograph becomes a signifier to the consumer culture as a thriving vehicle of nationalism. Grewal speaks to this important feature of nationalism and its ability to shift for more power stating, “nationalism’s ability to move, change, spread across different kinds of boundaries suggests that it remained a powerful imaginary which developed in tandem with changing modes of citizenship and consumer culture” (13). The significance of consumer culture and nationalism go hand in hand, creating power, and act as a power tool to implement more ideology that circulates national discourse.

Grewal discusses this further by looking at the Barbie doll. Grewal acknowledges why she uses Barbie and why it was essential to her text. Grewal states, “I use Barbie as the entry point into understanding the transnationalization of gender through consumer culture and thus to the ways in which multinational corporations participated in altering culture in India through the 1990s” (84). These processes of investigation on how Barbie not only signifies gender but simultaneously is a tool to propel American nationalist regimes. Barbie is used as an icon of the political economy and culture producing notions of citizenship, beauty, gender, and race. These notions of citizenship, in particular, can be traced to nation state values and how transnationsalism has used its ideology to produce commodified emblem of the citizen and consumer. The citizen and consumer become synonymous. Accordingly, Barbie then becomes a symbolic icon of citizenship and political economic function. As Grewal states, “I analyze how a multinational corporation was able to sell an American product and icon in a very different cultural context” (85). Through transnationalism and production, American values were able to be written on to the body of Barbie and on to the body of the consumer.

Barbie then had to attract a certain kind of audience— Barbie had to become transnational.  Hence, Barbie became a symbol of a specific ideology of citizenship and nationalism. Grewal goes on to state, “Barbie’s global marketing practices were linked to America as a symbol of freedom and rights, especially for women. The marketing strategies linked the product to discourses of powerful “Americanness” associated with race, class, and gender hierarchies. Relying on discourses of American nationalism that linked “choice” to “freedom,” Matel used race, gender, and nationalist discourse to sell its product” (98). This imperative statement by Grewal addresses the dangerous realities of these types of cultural appropriation and  production.

In closing, what can be clearly deduced about transnationalism, by Grewal, is the reality of America’s oppressive nationalist discourse. The use of intersection by looking at barbie, gender, nation, and the like places the iconic Barbie in a new light. Grewal closes her text with a invitation for the reader to re-conceptualize the global markets stating, “if we are to rethink consumer citizenship and multiculturalism through dynamic and changing racial and gendered formations we cannot assume that civil society and the state can be seen as separate from each other” (219). Rethinking of these discussions, in particular American discourse, is paramount in deconstruction and illumination of domination. The icon is exposed as something that  is not isolated from the style of nationalist ambition. Accordingly, the critique that America becomes an icon that can use instruments such as consumerism as a vehicle to transport ideology is the main argument of this monograph. This book would be of interest to a wide variety of publics including those who are interested in subjects such as the global economy to women’s studies. Fascinating read!

10/10

 

#feminism, feminism, feminist studies, feminist theory, postcolonial theory, subaltern studies, world history

Book Review: Sumathi Ramaswamy, The Goddess and The Nation: Mapping Mother India (North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2010), Pp. 380.

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Gendered bodies are used to propel and signify national agendas. These bodies are disguised to send blatant messages of what it means to be a citizen. Citizenship, ultimately shows its final loyalty with its permanent act towards the nation-state. This willingness to die for ones country—  the ultimate sacrifice. Sumathi Ramaswamy’s book entitled, The Goddess and The Nation:Mapping Mother India, takes on these themes. Ramaswamy mobilizes the body to illustrate the way nationalism is produced not inherent to any locale. Ramaswamy’s analysis discusses how the female body, specifically, becomes a map in “making” the narrative of the gendered national ideal. Highlighting the use of cartography, Ramaswamy has engendered the use of the female, and how the female ideal propels the male citizenship idea to ultimately die for their “mother” nation. 

The book tracks the importance of a “pictorial history [that] challenges us to dwell dialectically in the overlapping zone between the sayable and the seeable” (233). Ramaswamy’s methodology is identified as an analysis that tracks “the myriad ways in which Mother India has been visualized in painting, print, poster art, and picture, with a view towards developing a key proposition…she is a tangled product of charged encounters between new and old and of a fraught and conflicted modernity that is India’s late colonial and postcolonial experience of history” (2). This study thus highlights the way in which the nation is used to produce ideology of the body. To drive this home Ramaswamy identifies the gendered aspects specific to the map of India’s stating, “the map of India—that proud creation of a self-consciously rational and modern science—is deeply gendered” (7). This is what the author calls the “‘geo-body’” which is the “convergence of the form of the mother/goddess with the mapped form of the nation” (8). Moreover, Ramaswamy identifies the way in which the empire needs notions of gender, race, and sex to be particularized either for colonial or anti-colonial agenda. Ramaswamy asserts, “this study demonstrates the entanglement of the secular sciences of modern cartography and geography in the is dangerous liaison, and its charts the salience of visual productions in the reproduction of the nation’s territory as a deeply gendered, divinized, and affect-laden place” (11).

The book takes on the different manifestations of female divinity and the map of India, but most interestingly identifies the influences of colonialism (notions of modernity and science). This is demonstrated through accounting for the appropriations that  colonialism has deployed onto  anti-colonial body within the nation-state, producing a “graphic politics” of  pictorial regimes (125). For example, the tie between Europe’s class divide is imbedded in the representation of representation through the female Indian body. Ramaswamy states, “ Mother India is one among such female bodies that are emblematic of the bourgeois fetishization of property and propriety in an age that witnessed the transformation of national territories into enclosed objects of possession and protection” (76). The female body become a form of property now for the nation and male militarized bodies, also become constructed through this lens, to protect the female bodies.  The use of feminizing the land genders the space as well as the people. For example Ramaswamy points that “the turn of feminizing India as a once-powerful but now venerable devi (mother goddess) under duress was culturally (and psychologically) enabled by an environment in which new goddesses were emerging and old devis were being revamped…if nationalism had to succeed and the new project of India to gain votaries of its own—to chart a different course of Bharat Mata (India Mother)” (98-99). This creation of national agenda to propel new efforts of modernization lead to the recreation of femininity in India. 

Fraternity is another element of the feminized manifestations of visual production of  the nation. Specifically in sacrificial citizenship, in which Ramaswamy highlights the “creat[ion of] a brotherhood dedicated to living—and dying—for Bharat Mata” (147).  This is one of the most important offering of this narrative—the connection of the visual, citizenship, and sacrifice to empire. Ramaswamy states, “the inanimate geo-body of the nation by the anthropomorphic form of the mother/goddess pictorially converts the citizen-subject from being a detached observer of the cargo-graphed image of India into its worshipful patriot, so that its territory is not just lines and contours on a map but a mother and motherland worth dying for” (176). This notion of sacrifice for empire and the stakes that particularizing the female body play  in protection, lends to a very specific kind of gender project India and British history. And lets not forget the female body has a certain type of patriotism and sacrifice as well. Ramaswamy notes this as “invisibiling of women…women’s lives become entangled with the national movement” (238). While simultaneously the female body is at the center it is reified and flattened into one homogenous group.

In closing, the author ends the monograph with a very similar sentiment as Benedict Anderson, the imagination that forms the idealized nation and its power. Ramaswamy’s last thoughts on the matter state, “she [Bharat Mata] has morphed yet again into another form—perhaps offering a new trajectory for another century” ( 298). Nationalism and the nation-state are once again re-imagined for the interest of the nations powers. Ultimately the nation leaves the bodies that inhabit that space to be called into question, redesigned, and reimagined.