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The Sovereignty of Quiet

The Sovereignty of Quiet: Beyond Resistance in Black Culture

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 204
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  • Book Info
    The Sovereignty of Quiet
    Book Description:

    African American culture is often considered expressive, dramatic, and even defiant. InThe Sovereignty of Quiet, Kevin Quashie explores quiet as a different kind of expressiveness, one which characterizes a person's desires, ambitions, hungers, vulnerabilities, and fears. Quiet is a metaphor for the inner life, and as such, enables a more nuanced understanding of black culture.The book revisits such iconic moments as Tommie Smith and John Carlos's protest at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics and Elizabeth Alexander's reading at the 2009 inauguration of Barack Obama. Quashie also examines such landmark texts as Gwendolyn Brooks'sMaud Martha, James Baldwin'sThe Fire Next Time, and Toni Morrison'sSulato move beyond the emphasis on resistance, and to suggest that concepts like surrender, dreaming, and waiting can remind us of the wealth of black humanity.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-5311-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Introduction: WHY QUIET
    (pp. 1-10)

    The story of this moment has been told many times: It is the 1968 Olympics in a volatile Mexico City, and two male athletes, both black Americans, make an emblematic gesture during the medal ceremony for the 200-meter race. One of them, Tommie Smith, has won the race while the other, John Carlos, placed third. As the U.S. national anthem plays, both men punctuate the space above their heads with their black-gloved fists, Smith raising his right hand, Carlos his left. Their salute is a black power sign that protests racism and poverty, and counters the anthem and its embracing...

  4. CHAPTER 1 Publicness, Silence, and the Sovereignty of the Interior
    (pp. 11-26)

    Look again at that image of Tommie Smith and John Carlos from the Mexico City Olympics: Part of what limits our capacity to see their fuller humanity is a general concept of blackness that privileges public expressiveness and resistance. More specifically, in most regards, black culture is overidentified with an idea of expressiveness that is geared toward a social audience and that has political aim; such expressiveness is the essence of black resistance. That public expressiveness and resistance are definitive of black culture is an effect of the role the public sphere has played in making, marking, and policing racial...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Not Double Consciousness but the Consciousness of Surrender
    (pp. 27-46)

    In an 1892 essay, Anna Julia Cooper noted that black people “are the great American fact, the one objective reality on which scholars sharpened their wits, at which orators and statesmen fired their eloquence” (136).¹ At the heart of Cooper’s comment is the idea of black publicness, the reality of race as a concept formed and sustained in public discourse. Black people can be “the great American fact” because their presence as racial subjects influences and reflects the country’s ambition; as a group, black people are essential figures in the national narrative. This equation of blackness and publicness shapes our...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Maud Martha and the Practice of Paying Attention
    (pp. 47-72)

    Marita Bonner’s essay “On Being Young—a Woman—and Colored” helps us to think about quiet as a consciousness that gets beyond conflict with the expectations of the outer world. This consciousness is achieved through surrender to the interior, and it represents the deep value in studying and knowing one’s self. But Bonner’s essay is too brief to represent what it is to live through quiet in the everyday. How does interiority inform interactions with other people? How does the quiet subject negotiate moments of subjection and power? What is the action that quiet motivates, or how does it shape...

  7. CHAPTER 4 Quiet, Vulnerability, and Nationalism
    (pp. 73-102)

    So far the discussion of quiet has focused on examples of individuality, on the ways that one person negotiates her inner life, racialization, and her sense of humanity. This has been the case with Marita Bonner’s essay and Gwendolyn Brooks’s novel, and it has been useful for introducing the notion of quiet. But it is inevitable to ask this: Does the concept of quiet have the capacity to speak to black collectivity? What could quiet mean to how we think about and represent blackness as a communal identity? Part of what makes these questions necessary is the vital role that...

  8. CHAPTER 5 The Capacities of Waiting, the Expressiveness of Prayer
    (pp. 103-118)

    If we go back to the image of Smith and Carlos on the podium in 1968, it is evident that quiet is a call to rethink expressiveness. That is, rather than imagine expressiveness as public and dramatic, the argument for quiet asks about expressiveness that is shaped by the vagaries of the inner life. Such expressiveness is not necessarily articulate—it isn’t always publicly legible, and can be random and multiple in ways that makes it hard to codify singularly. And yet reconsidering expressiveness is important, given the high premium that publicness carries in black culture. So, what can a...

  9. Conclusion: TO BE ONE
    (pp. 119-134)

    Quiet is the subjectivity of the “one.”

    The concept of oneness is often used to characterize human essence, the energy of the inner life that constitutes a person’s being. This idea is distinct from the notion of the individual, which is a modern classification based on the ideals of liberal humanism—for example democracy, mobility within the public sphere, access to property and human rights; as a term “individual” describes a person in relationship to political and social institutions. And oneness is also different from the idiom “the self,” which often reflects subjectivity shaped by the awareness of another. Though...

  10. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 135-136)
  11. Permissions
    (pp. 137-138)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 139-168)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 169-186)
  14. Index
    (pp. 187-194)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 195-196)