Muñoz, José Esteban. “Feeling Brown: Ethnicity and Affect in Ricardo Bracho’s The Sweetest Hangover (and Other STDs).” Theatre Journal 52.1 (March 2000): 67-79. Project Muse. Web. 18 June 2013.

Ethnicity, Affect, and Performance:

The term Latino fails to capture the embodied experience of the different cultural/social subjects the term supposedly names. While certain names, Chicano or Nuyorican have worked in naming a Political group, the umbrella term Latino has failed. The term “Latino” fails to account for different countries, religions, races, classes, sexual orientations, so is there any commonality with the term?

Muñoz wants to differentiate between self-identified Latino/as and the US census designation of “Hispanic.” By rejecting the label “Hispanic,” Latinos are not constituting a political movement, but the “linguistic maneuver is the germ of a self-imaging of Latino as, following the path-breaking work of Chicana feminist Norma Alacrón, an ‘identity-in-difference’” (67)—identity-in-difference structures subjectivity from the point of view other than the anglo-feminist one; an oppositional consciousness in response to the ethnocentric, mono-identity provided by feminism. Muñoz states that “To be cognizant of one’s status as an identity-in-difference is to know that one falls of majoritarian maps of the public sphere, that one is exiled from paradigms of communicative reason and a larger culture of consent” (68). The Latino subject is in exile/displaced, which causes the Latino subject form political ontology.

The essay’s thesis states normativity “is assessed in the majoritarian public sphere through the affective performance of ethnic and racial normativity” (68). Minorities face problems attempting to perform whiteness (this thesis is much too general and sweeping); the essay states that “acting white has everything to do with the performance of a particular affect” in order to perform normativity. The wording is confusing, but I understand Munoz as saying that minorities must act/perform in a certain manner for whites in order to be considered normative, but by acting white, Latinos (minorities) lose their own political ontology).

Muñoz wants to use Raymond Williams’ idea of “structure of feeling” that connects working class groups and combine it with Alacrón’s “identity-in-difference” to think about affect as a way to group together Latino experience: “What unites and consolidates oppositional groups is not simply the fact of identity but the way in which they perform affect, especially in realtion to an official ‘national affect’ that is aligned with the hegemonic class” (68). Identity built around feeling instead of being (but feeling is a state of being). Muñoz goes on to clarify, “I am interested in plotting the way in which Latina/o performance theatricalizes a certain mode of ‘feeling brown’ in a world painted white, organized by cultural mandates to ‘feel white’” (68). This idea is interesting, expecially for Junot Diaz, as Oscar is brown but immersed in white culture—as he says, what is more sc-fi than the DR. Sc-fi captures that “brown” feeling by telling stories of diaspora and exile, about attempting to fit in even in a strange land.

Muñoz wants to examine how immigrants struggle with performing the “national affect.” He suggests that Latina/o works symbolically act on difference and insist on ethnic affect within the dominant national affect. He states “. . . this ‘official’ national affect, a mode of being in the world primarily associated with white middle-class subjectivity, reads ethnic affect as inappropriate” (69). Whiteness positions itself as Law; therefore, minorities must conform and perform whiteness, “or at least mimic certain affective rhythms that have been preordained as acceptable” (69). The national affect (white-ness) deems Latina/o affects as over the top, spicy, and exotic. Hegemonic society stereotypes Latina/o affects in order to simplify and contain these ethnic differences. This idea of marginalizing ethnic performances reflects Maximo’s position. However, I disagree that white, middle-class culture reads ethnic portrayals as inappropriate (not always), rather that Anglos posit a stereotype for ethnic groups to inhabit. Hence the popularity of Desi Arnez, of Maximo playing domino in Miami.

Popular media (hegemonic protocols of North American affective comportment) categorize Latina/o affect as over the top: “affective excess” (70). Muñoz argues that Latina/o affect is not excessive, rather that Anglo affect is minimalist, “to the point of emotional impoverishment” (70). Muñoz suggest positioning white affect as lack. Also, he believes Latinos should embrace the stereotype of ethnic affect as excess “. . . and redirect it in the service of liberationist politics” (70). The essay suggests that Latina/o affect challenges white affect as impoverished.

Muñoz wants to move beyond a fixed definition of ethnicity and look at it as performance—Heidegger already suggest looking at identity as performance in his own way. For Heidegger, identity is not a fixed “being” rather an in-the-world-towards-death Dasien who always-already is thrown in the world and takes up its possibilities and is affected by its environment, culture, history, and furture possibilities.

Munoz suggest looking at ethnicity as historical formation, beyond merely cultural differences, he attempts to look at ethnicity as “affective difference” –that is, how groups “feel” differently and are “in-the-world” in different emotional registers. (70).

Looking at Sartre who says consciousness is knowing what one thinks, and emotion, an extension of consciousness is, what Muñoz calls “performed manifestation of consciousness”—but can we really control emotion in such a manner? We can react to the way we are feeling in certain ways, but we can’t help from feeling those feelings. Satre, borrowing much from Heidegger, views life as this existentially, phenomenological world where we set up goals for our lives, but many obstacles get in the way of those goals; when we get overwhelmed by obstacles and barriers, we have emotions. For Sartre, and what Muñoz takes from Sartre, emotions are the way humans negotiate within their social and cultural and historical world—emotions are emotions, separate from humans. Rather emotions are something humans encounter when dealing with the world.

Satre is second hand Heidegger—Munoz has reservations about using Sartre because Sartre thinks of two different ways of being in the world. One way is the same as Heidegger’s ready-at-hand (you pick up a hammer and use it without thinking about using it; you walk out the door without thinking about the door)—the second way of being is Heidegger’s present-at-hand: when the hammer breaks and suddenly, to use Muñoz’s reading of Sartre (reading of Heidegger) “the organized matrix of utensils is no longer perceivable as such and one becomes overwhelmed” (71)—for Heidegger, one doesn’t become “overwhelmed” rather one steps back and begins to theorize the hammer; it becomes an object of contemplation rather than a lived thing in the world. —For Sartre, emotions are the second, present-at-hand way of being; “something we regress into when under duress” (71). This thinking falls into men as better (stronger) suited for the world of tools and women—as well as feminine men—as weaker and not well suited for tools. Women and weak men regress into the magical relation with the world (for Sartre, emotions are equated as magical state of being)—and the discussion of magical resonates with minority cultures who are viewed as primitive.

Muñoz thinks Sartre’s ideas of emotion because emotions surface during moments of distress when one loses the distance/relation to the world of objects and people. For Muñoz “Because stigmatized people are presented with significantly more obstacles and blockages than privileged citizen-subjects, minoritarian subject often have difficulty maintaining distance from the very material and felt obstacles that suddenly surface in their own affective mapping of the world” (72). Munoz believes that this thinking of emotion, in a world that is not ideologically neutral, that organizes material reality around capitalist interest, can help minority subjects gain critical distance and help explain emotions. As he puts it, “The phenomenological aspect of Sartre’s inquiry demystifies the magic of emotion and this in and of itself is an important contribution to a theory of the affective nature of ethnicity” (72).

Muñoz then turn to Walter Benjamin, who sees technology as alienating affect. He wants to amend Sartre’s ideas with Benjamin who sees certain technologies, like cinema, as returning or utopia for affect. Muñoz sees Latino’a drama as having the potential for political intervention. While the term Latino/a has problems, the term has helped organize people under the generic label. The practice of performing “Latino/a-ness” undermines the normative “national affect” by asserting ontological difference and affective difference (72). Muñoz uses the plays of Maria Irene Fornes to state that her plays use “ethnic feeling within a hegemonic order”—her plays stand out because her characters’ motivation are hard to decipher; the narrative arcs, also, defy normative modes of being, which Muñoz argues reflect a Latina/o “manera de ser”—not avant garde (only), but also reflective of a different culture.

Muñoz then turns to The Sweetest Hangover to argue that the play’s affect differs from mainstream/ national affect: a Latino affect. The play creates an affective performance that “rejects the protocols of (white) normativity” (74). The play presents an other way of being in the world, an other way of “feeling” the world. (74)—The play groups people together by political affect or affective belonging and not by culture or race. The play groups together different people, and this grouping illustrates a different way to reach utopian ideas of unity through affective identity rather than racial ones. –basically, the play connects people through an affective belonging. Even in the drug use and homosexual relationships: “The major conflict in the play between Octavio and his lover Samson is not Octavio’s drug problem, but Ocatavio’s refusal to conform to a drug-free monogamous ideal that Samson desires” (77). This ideal is an affective normative one. However, then Muñoz suggest that this homosexuality and drug use are “modes of being in the world [that] are folded into the rich affective archive of latinidad” (77)-but being gay and using drugs is not a white normative affect; every race and culture has drug users and gay people, so I fail to see the point here?Yet the bigger point of community under affective belonging can be used positively to think about ethnicity and community and belonging. Taking Heidegger’s analysis of Dasein (as being-in-the-world), then a Latino/a’s way of being in the world is different than an Anglos. Both groups, to begin, have different worlds to be in. If we take Heidegger’s idea that all consciousness happens within Language, then the language differences of both groups create a different “way” to be in the world. As the minority group, Brown people will always know their identity as the other to White/majority group, just as Anglos will view Browns as the other. In this manner, Oscar Wao is a different person, just as Maximo Gomez in In Cuba I was—since they both “feel” about the world differently by way of their place in the world.

The essay ends by summarizing: “This analysis has posited ethnicity as “a structure of feeling,” as a way of being in the world, a path that does not conform to the conventions of a majoritarian public sphere and the national affect it sponsors” (79).

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Zizek, Slavoj. “Melancholy and the Act.” Critical Inquiry 26.4 (2000): 657-81.

Zizek begins by stating that the Lacanian Big Other designates explicit symbolic rules and unwritten rules as well. Example of Robert Ebert’s movie rules—in a foreign land, in a car chase, a fruit stand will get run over, the grocery bag rule, etc—the Big other regulates our speech and actions. While not stated outright, disobeying them can be very bad.

One of those rules is mourning and melancholia. The dominant opinion is: “Freud opposed normal mourning (the successful acceptance of a loss) to pathological melancholy (the subject persist in his or her narcissistic identification with the lost object). Against Freud, one should assert the conceptual and ethical primacy of melancholy” (658). In mourning, a remainder occurs that fails integration through mourning, “and the ultimate fidelity is the fidelity to this remainder” (658). Mourning kills the lost object (again), while melancholy stays faithful to the lost object. The melancholic refuses to renounce the attachment to the lost object. (((This point is elaborated on by Derrida—we carry the world of the other; the dialogue continues)). This idea of maintaining attachments to the lost object can be used in multiple ways: from the queer one—gays should maintain attached to the repressed same-sex libidinal economy to the ethnic one: where the ethnic  group might lose their culture as it is subsumed by the capitalist tradition.

“The melancholic link to the lost ethnic Object allows us to claim that we remain faithful to our ethnic roots while fully participating in the global capitalist game” (659).

Anamorphosis- distorted projection or perspective, requiring a specific vantage point. Zizek says ideology works off of anamorphosis, where if we look at the ideology from a certain standpoint, then it makes sense; example, anti-semitism—the Jewish plot is the cause of all our problems. Anamorphosis distorts the idea of subjective and objective reality, since “the subjective distortion is reflected back into the perceived object itself, and, in this precise sense, the gaze itself requires a supposedly objective existence” (659).

This paradox does not hold in the melancholic, who mistakenly asserts that something “resist the symbolic sublation”, and “locate[s] this resistance in a positively existing, although lost, object. ” The melancholic interprets his/her desire as a loss, when it is merely lacking. The melancholic thinks that he/she possessed the object and has now lost it when in reality, he/she never possessed it at all. The melancholic confuses the object as missing, but in reality, it is lacking. That lack causes the object to emerge in the first place. The paradox comes when the melancholic thinks the object loss when in reality it lacks. “The melancholic subject thus elevates the object of his longing into an inconsistent composite of a corporeal absolute; however, since this object is subject to decay, one can possess it unconditionally only insofar as it is lost, in its loss” (660).

Zizek looks to Giorgio Amamben who “emphasized how, in contrast to mourning, melancholy is not only the failure of the work of mourning, the persistence of the attachment to the real object, but also its very opposite: ‘melancholia offers the paradox of an intention to mourn that precedes and anticipates the loss of the object’” (661). The problem is that the melancholic thinks what he possesses is lost—he mourns the object before the object is lost. ((((This problem happens with Maximo, who always wonders while all the stories that begin with Cuban being pure and great turn into something dark—he is suffering from melancholy, and even in Miami, where he possess a Cuban identity, through his food, his wife, and his community—he feels his Cubanness lost; later, he maintains connection to his identity through playing with the Cubans, through old stories, and through his jokes, but feels this abstract object loss, so he suffers the attachment to it—Also, his sadness comes from knowing that his homeland has forgotten him; he is no longer the German Shepherd of Cuba, he is the mutt of America. Having suffered one loss (losing his home), he suffers the loss of his Miami identity, he suffers the loss of his children, his friends—all before any of them are actually lost))))

As Zizek further explains “the mourner mourns the lost object and kills it a second time through symbolizing its loss, while the melancholic is not simply the one who is unable to remounce the object but rather the one who kills the object a second time (treats it as lost) before the object is actually lost” (662).

The manner to explore this paradox comes in the Lacanian distinction between the object and the (object) cause of desire, the feature that has us desiring the desired object. Something that we are usually unaware, “even misperceived as an obstacle.” The melancholic posseses the object but has lost his desire for the object: “. . . the cause that made him desire the object has withdrawn, lost its efficiency” (662). Lacan’s object petit a, is the void in reality around which reality is displaced and centralized. “This object is the sublime object (of ideology), the object elevated to the dignity of a Thing, and simultaneously the anamorphic object (in order to perceive its sublime quality, we have to look at it awry—if looked at straight on, it appears as just another object in a series)” (662).

The void-lack- only works when when it is embodied in an object. The object keeps the gap open. The void of desire embodies itself in an object that serves as a stand in. This void is best embodied in post-sctructuralist, Derridian, deconstructionist ethics: an ethics that calls for the always-already withdrawn negative trace of its own absence. We can never be fully present, accountable, ethical enough in the face of the other. The other is a void around which to build this ethics. Another example happens in Derria’s view on Marxism: we must keep true to the spirit of Marx, not the letter. Derrida’s radicalization means only the theoretical Marx, any actualization of Marx betrays the “spirit.”  As Zizek explains “on account of its very radicalism, the messianic promise forever remains a promise, cannot ever be translated into a set of determinate economic and political measures” (665). We can never be responsible enough to the other, our answer to the other will always lack. This gap between ethical responsibility and action betrays the problem of totalitarianism because the party attempts to fulfill this ethical gap with actions that betray and go against the people.

Democracy works as a perpetual working-ING, a “to-come”: “The to-come (a venir) is thus not simply an additional qualification of democracy but its innermost kernel, what makes democracy democracy. The moment democracy is no longer to come but pretends to be actual—fully actualized—we enter totalitarianism” (665). This democracy to come refers to when one is urgently called to answer the call of the other in the face of injustice. Derrida addresses the gap between ethics and politics, where ethics is the impossible response to the call of the other and politics is the need to act/respond. Ethics is always to-come; politics is a “here/ now”—in politics, in having to make a choice, we risk doing the wrong thing: “The ethical is thus the (back)ground of undecidability, while the political is the domain of the decision(s), of taking the full risk of crossing the hiatus and translating this impossible ethical request for messianic justice into a particular intervention that never lives up to this request, that is always unjust towards (some of the) others” (666). Ethics, then, opens up the condition of possibility for politics, while closing it. When I have to act in politics because of the ethical call, my action my hurt (some) others—will be unethical. The decision to act works on two levels:

First, we open up the gap between the ethical call of the other, and the decision to decide. Zizek elaborates, “the first decision is identified with/as the injunction of the Thing in me to decide [the other’s call/ the other’s decision in me]; it is a decision to decide, and it still remains my (the subject’s) responsibility to translate this decision to decide into a concrete, actual intervention, to invent a new rule out of a singular situation, wehre this intervention has to obey pragmatic and/or strategic considerations and is never at the level of the decision” (668-9).  Zizek wants to say that the Lacanian act is not along the lines of this deconstructionist ethic, where the “other’s decision in me” is not some structuralist view of a decentered subject of abyss of otherness I can never reach; rather, the Lacanian act refers to the subject’s direct identification with the other’s Thing/ injunction to action. The subject becomes the Other-Thing for “a brief, passing moment of, precisely, decision—directly is the Thing” (669).

An ethical act changes the very nature of what we think about ethical acts, the very idea of what is good.

This annotation is of Cheng’s essay published in The Kenyon Review; since then she has published a book. I hope to get to it soon,

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Cheng, Anne Anlin. “The Melancholy of Race.” The Kenyon Review. American Memory/ American Forgetfulness 19.1 (Winter, 1997): 49-61. JSTOR. Web. 15 July 2013.

Cheng begins by asking if we can ever get over race; she answers her question with no: one merely has to look at the way the “race card” gets played in society to see that the answer is no. She examines the idea of a “race card”—of a card that gets played. The implication is that if one holds a full deck, then they do not need to play the special card. The full deck implies an “idealized version of multiple subjectivity” (race, gender, ethnic, etc) (49). One only needs to play a card if one is outside of the game, “for to play the race card is to exercise the value of one’s disadvantage, the liability that is asset” (49-50). Cheng points out the paradox: the one who plays with a full deck does not need to pull out a special card.

[Or is the race card more like a Wild card? The race card is a card that gets played when you do not have the proper “real” card. A card used to try to get an advantage because your hand is short of the proper card]

Cheng looks at Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Women Warrior where the narrator says she feels most at home when she is not at home. The narrator, who is always sick at home, but feels great in America, reveals the effect of affects. A sick body becomes one of hypochondria. That body only feels good when it is not at home, in displacement.

Freud sets up a distinction between mourning and melancholia, where melancholy is the pathological version of mourning; someone who cannot “get over the loss” (Cheng 50), the loss becomes incorporated into the ego. Remembrance becomes part of the self; since melancholy fails to let go, “is denied loss” [Derrida’s I carry the world of the other], Freud says “by incorporating and identifying with the ghost of the lost one, the melancholic takes on the emptiness of that ghostly presence and in this way participates in his/her own self denigration” (Cheng 50).  Cheng turns to Freud and his distinction between mourning and melancholy. Melancholy is the pathological version of mourning because melancholy does not allow the sufferer to “get over” the loss. As she points out “rather, loss is denied as loss and incorporated as part of the ego” (50). The act of remembering (of not forgetting) becomes part of the self. Freud, she says, reminds us that this taking on of the lost one, means that the melancholic “takes on the emptiness of that ghostly presence and in this way participates in his/her own self-denigration” (50). Taking this idea of melancholy, Cheng wants to apply it to race:

“As a model of ego-formation (the incorporation as self of an excluded other), melancholia provides a provocative metaphor for how race in America, or more specifically how the act of racialization, works” (50). America has a history of forming its identity through exclusionary practices (blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Jews, etc), but America also does a good job of forgetting those practices. Since American identity is caught between these axis, the problem becomes how to remember America’s ugly past without slowing down progress? (51). Cheng presents the protagonist of Invisible Man as an example of the “minority as the object of white melancholia” (51). He represents an invisible body that cannot be forgotten. The ghost of that which society killed but the body remains. Mr. Norton represents the idea of progress. He supports black education and builds a monument on the progress of blacks in America off of the work of young black (ghostly) men. Cheng transitions into Toni Morrison’s critique of the American literary canon. The canon is full of books that look back at America’s past, but the canon is full of white people; therefore “the canon is a melancholic corpus because of what it excludes but cannot forget” (51). We have stories about the history of slavery and racism we cannot forget, but we fail to have very many minorities IN the cannon.

Cheng turns her attention to the melancholic minority. First, melancholy resembles what Derrida would term an undecidable: “. . . it designates a condition of identity disorder where subject and object become indistinguishable form one another. The melancholic object, made neither dead nor fully alive, must experience its own subjectivity as suspension, as excess and denigration—and in this way, replicate the melancholic subject” (51). A good cultural melancholic is the one who has a vision of herself without herself (as in the Kingston example). The idea that America is a melting pot is in itself a contradiction between assimilation and making a difference. The minority subject has to deny her/him self in order to inhabit the majority subject, thus suspending the idea of his/her own “minority” subjectivity.

Cheng goes into the example of Flower Drum Song where the minority, a father and daughter, celebrate their minority through illegality. The movie promotes assimilation. The two, illegal aliens, are actually ideal citizens. The father worries about breaking the law, as he is breaking the law. At the end of the movie, the daughter embraces her illegality in order to assimilate—in order to give herself over to citizenship and becoming the ideal citizen. Cheng states “More than a haunting concept in America, the “minority subject” presents a haunted subject. Minority identity reveals an inscription marking the remembrance of absence” (52). The minority subject is the melancholic one who is forced to renounce herself (instead of the lost object—in this case, the lost object is the minority subject, herself).

[this analysis of the minority embracing the illegality in order to become legal is interesting. The illegal has to assimilate, lose him or herself, in order to be legal. But in Cuban narrative, Cuban subject is here (by dry foot law) always legally. Cuban occupy a different space/place within the immigration narrative. The Cuban immigrant is the embodiment of U.S.’s victory over communism—Cuban represent a win for American ideology].

Freud realizes that even in proper mourning, the subject might suffer melancholy. In order to get over “it” the subject needs to already have been, somehow, over “it.” (53). Freud’s mourning entails a forgetting, which only reinstates the death: “Mourning implies the second killing off of the lost object” (53). Cheng makes an interesting connection between mourning and melancholy, stating that the melancholic integrates the lost object while the mourner forgets the lost object, but in both cases, the result ends up the same, with the disappearance of the lost object: “. . .the production of denigration and rejection, however re-introjection is concomitant with the production and survival of “self.” The good mourner turns out to be none other than an ultrasophisticated, and more lethal, melancholic” (53). The two methods are for the benefit of the subject who is dealing with lost—and in both cases, the subject either kills and denigrates the lost object (mourning), or hangs on to, fails to forget the lost object—both cases, in order to move on. In other words, the difference is that the mourner kills (again), in forgetting the lost object; the melancholic replaces the loss object with the very loss. The melancholic forgets the lost object and hangs on to the idea of loss (53).

In terms of racialization, these two methods deal with boundaries and blurring boundaries. Boundaries establish race; one defines the other against self. By identifying as one race, one identifies “other” races. While the issue of ethnicity is one of boundaries, we will never be able to set matters right. We are already conditioned by what society deems abnormal or broken—the language used to discuss and attempt to free those society oppresses is already caught up in and pre-conditioned by society. Cheng connects this problem to Freud: “In the way of Freudian logic, pathology defines health. Racial identity, as a moment of active self-perception, is almost always simultaneous with the racialization of another, an instance of othering” (53-54). Zora Neil Hurston, for instance, says she feels most black when contrasted with a white background. Where white defines black, “each defining the other’s pathology” (54).

The melancholic minority internalizes (assimilates) dominant cultural demands. This internalization is a matter of desire. What does the minority want? [Cuban culture is an exception of this idea of internalization. Cubans playing domino at Domino Park have intergrated their culture into America—not “internalized” the dominant culture. Indeed, the language, food, and general culture of the Cuban community show how little Cubans, at least initially (first wave Cuban immigrants) assimilated; I am not talking about Perez-Firmat’s 1.5ers who have create a new culture out of mixing Cuban/American].

The point is that the act of racialization, of denying and re-assimilating the other, of self-perception, is a melancholic act. The discourse of compensation denies the problem of how the discrimination was put in place, and fails to acknowledge the physical affects of the discrimination. Cheng wants to explore how racialization works through this melancholic heuristic. The ethnic subject attempts, like the melancholic one, to forget (who she is). Cheng asks, “If the melancholic minority is busy forgetting herself, with what is she identifying?” (54). The minority, as has been said, has “internalized dominant cultural demands” – so Cheng asks: what does the minority subject desire? “When it comes to political critique, it seems as if the desire itself may be what the minority has been enjoined to forget” (54). Cheng looks at Madame Butterfly, where Song, disguised as a woman, seduces Gallimard. Song’s desire is never explored; he is either the object of Song’s desire or critique of it. His performance must remain inauthentic if it is to remain a critique. Cultural assimilation requires relinquishment—a disguise.

This notion of cultural assimilation is common in literature. Homi Bhabha explores connection of assimilation and falsehood: mimicry is a colonial discipline that is doomed to failure. Mimicry means that ethnic other acts a little like the dominant culture but not too much. The attempt by the ethnic to “internalize the other” is for Bhabha an authoritive injunction. An example of this injunction to mimic the dominant culture can be seen in the servant Indian dressed as the English (Babar the elephant?). This imitation serves the purpose of showing that the ethnic is playing the game and trying to fit in, while also keeping the distance of never reaching “authenticity.” However, Cheng says that “The concept of melancholic racialization, however, implies that assimilation may be more intimately linked to identity than a mere consequence of the dominant demand for sameness” (55). This melancholic assimilation (passing, acting like dominant culture) is a fait accompli (an action that is done and cannot be changed). The ethnic subject forms an ego through this acting, but the ethnic other is never considered authentic. “Passing” becomes part and parcel of the ego, of the subject.

Cheng looks at Derrida, who also implies that the “disguise” becomes part of the subject’s identity. The very act of “taking in” the culture of the other becomes an act of self-constitution. This act of mimicry works on both the minority and dominant culture. As Cheng’s Invisible Man example illustrates “If he [invisible man] has assimilated only through his invisibility, then he also renders dissimilar and strange the status of their [white-anglo] visibility” (57).  Cheng sees this type of mimicry as a possible way to challenge and subvert assimilation. Assimilation only goes to undermine the culture assimilated.

This essay then falls into the idea laid out by Derrida on immigration and the breakdown of an in/out binary. Cheng focuses on Rinehart from Invisible Man, who is both religious and pimp, runner and gambler and lover, etc.. “Who you are depends on whom you are talking to, which community you are in, and who is watching your performance” (57). Cheng describes how performing becomes the actual thing; Song in M. Butterfly becomes the lover he was only playing—Zizek elaborates this point in stating that the mask we wear is actually who we are.

Cheng’s argument revolves around a Derridain deconstruction of absence/presence and of inside/outside. She says that “American culture is continually confronted by ghost it can neither spit out nor swallow,” and then later she says that the act of configuring authentic American culture is an act of exclusion that pre-conditions what is included: “The act of delineating absence preconditions presence” (58). What Cheng argues is the melancholy of race, is precisely what Zizek says is the problem with tolerance in racial matters. Cheng says that “ You carry the foreigner inside you. This malady of doubleness, I argue, is the melancholy of race, a dis-ease of location and memory, a persistent fantasy of identification that cleaves and cleaves to the marginalized and the master” (60).

What would Levinas think of this idea of carrying the foreigner inside you? If my subjectivity is predicated on the other, then I am by difference with the other, no?


I have been watching Examined Life, which is a documentary that follows around different philosophers and has them discuss something or other. I have also been reading about Soren Kierkegaard (whose grave is posted here).

I have a lot of fragmented thoughts on all of this.

Cornell West is brilliant in this. He, like most philosophers, talks about philosophy being our meditations on death. We are constantly learning, dealing with, making sense of how to die. We do this by being thinkers and examining our lives:

(I wanted to post the Cornell West clip here, but for whatever reason, this isn’t working, so here is the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v1Q6v1xsvcI&feature=related)

This concern about how to live (in preparation for death) is what concerned Soren (from now on shortened to SK). SK thought that philosophy shouldn’t tell us what it knows, philosophy should tell us how to live; what we should do. But that should do becomes tricky because everyone has to choice it very purposefully.

I see much of the same concepts here that Heidegger will pick up later. Both are concerned with subjective moral truths; both reject the easy life of following the crowd. SK was concerned with authentic living and existential dread much before Heidegger, Sartre, or Camus. SK has the idea that existence is something more than what you are born with and says that it is something, rather, that one strives to, which is much like Heidegger talking about Dasien’s possibilities that Dasien takes up.

Just as Dasien is this Being-towards, a being that is thrown ahead of itself in the world, Sk, too, talks about existence as a thrown forward– existence is the choices one makes and lives with wholly.

This brings me to another point which I would like to explore. If Dasien is this Being-towards-others-towards-death, which is to say that being is constituted in context to its culture, society, history, present, future, language, etc, and its project is only completed at death when it no longer has any possibilities to take up, then that is to say that when someone dies, MY (some of my) possibilities end as well.

If part of the structure of Dasien is its possibilities, then when someone dies, those possibilities become less because if my wife of 50 years dies, my best friend from grade school, my family member, or anyone I know dies, then I no longer have the possibility to explore a “towards-others” with that person any longer. Therefore, we must always live towards this death. This is why it is so important to fulfill ethical imperatives because if we do not, a little piece of our own Being dies as well.

This is what the poets, musicians, artist know so well. This is the pain of heartbreak, of mourning, of loss– because our possibilities that we can take up become more limited when someone close to us dies. The melancholy that follows these events is that melancholy that Zizek talks about, in a way. Zizek describes the melancholic as the person who is frustrated because he has acquired the object of his desire but has lost his desire for it. I am interested in his later description of what is going on with the melancholic:

In this precise sense, melancholy (disappointment with all positive, empirical objects, none of which satisfy our desire) is the beginning of philosophy. A person who, all his life, has been used to living in a certain city and is finally compelled to move elsewhere is of course saddened by the prospect of being thrown into a new environment–but what is it that makes him sad? It is not the prospect of leaving the place that was for years his home, but the much more subtle fear of losing his attachment to this place. What makes me sad is my creeping awareness that, sooner or later–sooner than i am ready to admit– I will integrate myself into a new community, forgetting and forgotten by the place that now means so much to me. in short, what makes me sad is the awareness that I will lose my desire for (what is now) my home (Slavoj Zizek. How to Read Lacan 68)

When we look at this language, this explanation, isn’t this what is going on in mourning an other? When we are separated from a close other (family, dear friend, lover, etc), the sinking heart feeling we get when we know that the relationship with our girlfriend is changed (heartbreak), when we know that we will never see a loved one (death)– all of these events is, as Zizek describes “..the subtle fear of losing his attachment to this place,” where this place can be the same exact physical place, only changed by the lack of the person you shared the space with.

This is the melancholy of having less possibilities to take up (in Heideggerian terms). It is also the reminder of death, of how things can change, of how things will change, of being forgotten after death, of forgetting when someone else dies. As I sometimes forget I had a father because it has been so long since he was a part of my environment, and then I become melancholic when that comes back to me. It is these mixed feelings of guilt and nostalgia. A desire to return to something better, but knowing that maybe it wasn’t “better” but just different.

I have to go back to Heidegger and Lacan and Zizek and explore this idea of the melancholy being a result of Dasien’s possibilities being narrowed, and I would like to explore the ethical implications of the ethical life in the face of this Being-towards-others that feels melancholy when there is one less other to be towards. I wonder if this is what Nancy explores?

Well, I leave this fragment to try to go read more…

I make everything into an object of study. I am constantly in Heidegger’s present-at-hand, always scrutinizing things…

As I drove south, a certain feeling lingered over me. Everything had gone great, for the most part, but now this feeling: melancholy.

My melancholy comes and goes. As I watched Paper Heart, staring Charlyne Yi and Michael Cera, a certain melancholy struck me. The movie made me feel the on-screen’s couple’s melancholy. It was on Michael Cera’s happy face. Under his subtle jokes, which he is so good at, under his smiling happiness with a girl whose company he enjoys, the hint of melancholy was there. It is the phenomenologically same feeling after I have had leaving girls I cared for. This melancholy makes me think of Derrida in his “Rams” essay. He speaks about the melancholy (in a way):

“Mingled with the gratitude and affection that have for so long characterized this feeling. I sense, somewhat obscurely, an ageless melancholy” (135).

The melancholy is one that arises in the knowledge that after this meeting, after this dialogue I share with this person, one of us will eventually not be here anymore: “Death will no doubt have changed this melancholy—and infinitely aggravated it. Death will have sealed it. Forever” (155). Derrida goes on to explain how the melancholy is there, from the first interruption, and he explains how any dialogue is an interruption, a caesura. What happens then is that we continue an “interior dialogue” with the person… and he says a lot of stuff that basically mean that when someone close to me dies, I carry the world of the other. The memory of the other lives on in me, and I am then obligated (though I guess obligated is the wrong word; rather, how can I possibly not) carry the world of the other.

But what if the other is not gone(dead) , but rather just gone? What happens in heartbreak, or in the caesura of people separated in physical distance, not by death? Yes, Derrida says that death “changes” this melancholy (which means the melancholy is there, lingering, even before death), but I get the feeling that the melancholy is there because there is this underlying notion, this awareness, that eventually, one of you will not be there and that one of you will be left to carry the world of the other. But what happens when I don’t need to carry the world of the other who is still carrying his/her own world? What happens when the ceasura is brought about because one of the people does not want to mingle worlds, does not want to have anymore dialogue?

So when I leave an other (not dead, just leave), or when I feel a melancholy even in the midst of a wonderful moment being enjoyed with the other; I think there is a melancholy there, not of having to carry the world of the other that has passed, but in not being able to not carry the world of the other that is alive and just not here in dialogue. That is, the melancholy in Cera’s face, in having lunch with a person I cared so much for in the past (and suddenly desired her to desire me to care for her and vice versa, again), in the caesura of traveling away from dialogue with one I care for, comes in knowing that the dialogue has been interrupted.

While there is this melancholy of an interrupted dialogue, I think there is also a joy in knowing the other is not gone and that the dialogue can go on. And these feelings (melancholy and happiness) that vacillate during lunch with someone special, for instance, is one like waiting (link on waiting), it is the vacillation of Heidegger’s present-at-hand, it is the melancholy of knowing that this relationship can possibly come to an end (especially when you know for sure that it is coming to an end—that you are leaving on a plane, driving away in a car in just a couple of hours); it is a melancholy in thinking that maybe the next melancholy you feel will be the one Derrida talks about, but there is also the joy in knowing that the possibility for the dialogue to begin again is there (and here I need to really read “Rams” again, because I am sure Derrida must talk about this interruption, no?)

This is my fragment, my rough draft, my start before my caesura… I think Lacan has something to say about this too. There is an aspect of desire here that needs to be explored.

Desire, Derrida says, can never be fulfilled. Following the trace, if desire is ever fulfilled, then it is no longer desire. For something to properly be desire, it must never be reached.

Lacan talks about desire as being the desire to be desired… Also, Lacan talks about melancholy, and melancholy is the feeling not of sadness for loss, but the sadness that you will no longer desire the thing you desire, the melancholy that comes from the future possibility of getting over the thing you wanted most…

More to come soon, but it is dinner time, I don’t have my books in front of me, and I’m tired…. this is why I called this thing fragments…