Seeing Through Race

Seeing Through Race

W. J. T. Mitchell
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 240
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt2jbq83
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Seeing Through Race
    Book Description:

    According to Mitchell, a “color-blind” post-racial world is neither achievable nor desirable. Against claims that race is an outmoded construct, he contends that race is not simply something to be seen but is a fundamental medium through which we experience human otherness. Race also makes racism visible and is thus our best weapon against it.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-06535-2
    Subjects: Sociology, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. PREFACE
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Part I Teachable Moments
    • [Part I Introduction]
      (pp. 1-6)

      Seeing Through Race consists of three lectures delivered under the title “Teachable Moments in Race, Media, and Visual Culture” at Harvard University as the W. E. B. Du Bois Lectures, April 20–22, 2010. They are accompanied by a supplementary quartet of essays, here entitled “Teachable Objects,” that were written at approximately the same time and which I hope will serve to deepen the themes explored in the lectures, especially insofar as the question of race engages issues of images, media, and the arts—including the art of teaching—in the struggle against racism.

      As its title suggests, “Teachable Moments”...

    • LECTURE 1 THE MOMENT OF THEORY RACE AS MYTH AND MEDIUM
      (pp. 7-40)

      It is a great honor to be invited to give the 2010 Du Bois Lectures, and one which I am quite certain I do not deserve. As Barack Obama observed on being awarded the Nobel Prize in the first year of his presidency, the honor is being conferred more as an act of hope than a recognition of achievement, and I hope that these lectures will come at least part way in fulfilling those hopes. I hardly need to belabor the fact that I am not an expert on race, either as a historical or theoretical issue, and my credentials...

    • LECTURE 2 THE MOMENT OF BLACKNESS
      (pp. 41-62)

      Let us define “the moment of Blackness” in America as literally as possible, as the era that runs from slavery to Jim Crow through the Civil Rights Movement. The moment of “post-Blackness” would then be “our time,” the period signaled by William Julius Wilson’s “declining significance of race,” by Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s suggestion that race-thinking be demoted to the status of “benign neglect,” or even as far back as the development of Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy” of producing political power out of the White backlash against civil rights. It would be signaled at the level of race theory by Anthony...

    • LECTURE 3 THE SEMITIC MOMENT
      (pp. 63-90)

      My first trip to Israel-Palestine, a country that I always feel compelled to designate with a hyphen, was in the spring of 1970. My wife was pregnant with our first child, and we were there to visit her best friend from college, who had married an Israeli and decided to become an Israeli citizen herself. She was filled with idealism about the energetic young country and hopeful that the still-fresh memories of the 1967 War were the harbinger of a new era of peace. “When we say ‘hello,’ here,” she assured us, “we use the word ‘shalom,’ which means peace.”...

  6. Part II Teachable Objects
    • [Part II Introduction]
      (pp. 91-92)

      My emphasis to this point has been on the historical and temporal character of race. The idea of the moment, whether the seemingly trivial, passing, and momentary occurrence like the arrest of the director of the Du Bois Center at Harvard or the momentous event of Barack Obama’s election, has been the main structuring idea. But it is clear that race is a matter of space as well as time, of material things (bodies, buildings, commodities, works of art) as well as actions and events. In the second half of Seeing Through Race my aim is to refocus our attention...

    • CHAPTER 1 GILO’S WALL AND CHRISTO’S GATES
      (pp. 93-109)

      Of all the media and genres of images and objects, landscape is the one that makes the constitutive blindness and invisibility of the visual process most evident. We notice this even in the most common injunction in the presence of a landscape prospect: “look at the view.” What does that mean? How can one look at a view? One looks at objects, figures, faces, bodies, and signs. Our visual system learns to pick out things that have names: this tree, that house, those fence posts. So what are we looking at when we look at the view? Everything and nothing....

    • CHAPTER 2 BINATIONAL ALLEGORY ISRAEL-PALESTINE AND THE ART OF LARRY ABRAMSON
      (pp. 110-125)

      The first time I saw one of Larry Abramson’s paintings, my immediate reaction was: “No. You can’t do that.” I was looking at his 1999 composition, Elyakim Chalakim, which struck me not as a modernist collage but as a collision of disparate elements that refused to synthesize yet insisted on appearing together, as if forced to coexist by a pure act of arbitrary artistic will. And the collisions struck me as not merely iconographic (the abstract black square and the representational figure, a generic emblem of a cutout crescent moon). There were also the flat black-and-white forms against a further...

    • CHAPTER 3 MIGRATION, LAW, AND THE IMAGE BEYOND THE VEIL OF IGNORANCE
      (pp. 126-148)

      The three words of my title demand a convergence of three fields: (1) law, with its entire edifice of judicial practice and political philosophy; (2) migration, as the movement and settlement of living things, especially humans, across the boundaries between distinct habitats; and (3) iconology, the theory of images across the media, including verbal and visual images, metaphors and figures of speech, as well as visual representations.¹ Law and migration engage the realm of images as the location of both the sensuous and the phantasmatic: concrete, realistic representations of actuality, on the one hand, and idealized or demonized fantasies of...

    • CHAPTER 4 IDOLATRY: NIETZSCHE, BLAKE, POUSSIN
      (pp. 149-172)

      What is an essay on idolatry, an issue that would seem to belong properly to religion doing in a book about race? As I have been arguing, religion (or more precisely, the sacred) often becomes the dominant parameter of racial difference, especially for the so-called religions of the book that define the other as a heathen—savage and bestial, sexually hyperactive, and driven by a pagan obsession with images and idols. A key part of the icon of race, in other words, is its tendency to motivate passion and extreme forms of violence. When race becomes an idol, it demands...

  7. CONCLUSION: MONEY AND MASQUERADE
    (pp. 173-182)

    For Poussin, the pious and learned seventeenth-century Christian, the Golden Calf was no doubt an orthodox symbol of idolatry, a combination of religious backsliding (“whoring after strange gods”); a return to Egyptian captivity (the Calf is related to the cult of the fertility god Apis); and a degeneration into the “worship of brutes” that reduces its followers to animals, slaves of sensuality and materialism. This view was probably charged with a degree of anti-Semitism directed not only at “Egyptian” idolatry but also at the supposed Jewish tendency to fall away from the purity of an ascetic monotheism into their role...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 183-214)
  9. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. 215-216)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 217-231)