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Chesnutt, DuBois and Lacan

Presentation for Comp Hum 250

Michael Drexler

on 19 January 2017

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Transcript of Chesnutt, DuBois and Lacan

What accounts for the extraordinary depth of thought and feeling in DuBois' Souls of Black Folk?
Du Bois, Chesnutt, and Lacan
Michael J. Drexler
Comparative Humanities 250
5 October 2011
Antecedents: Regionalism
and Racialism
Printer on Georgia
Uncle Remus stories appear in 1880
Ethnography or Exploitation
Joel Chandler Harris and I were raised in the same town, although nearly 100 years apart. As far as I'm concerned, he stole a good part of my heritage. How did he steal it? By making me feel ashamed of it. In creating Uncle Remus, he placed an effective barrier between me and the stories that meant so much to me, the stories that could have meant so much to all of our children, the stories that they would have heard from us and not from Walt Disney.

Alice Walker, "Uncle Remus, No Friend of Mine" (1981)
Harris as amanuensis
transcribing African-American folklore
for a white audience
Many slave narratives were
transcribed by white abolitionists
putting into question who had
authority over the text
Is Joel Chandler Harris taking credit (and money) for
fiction that is "stolen?"
Does it promote nostalgia for
Southern plantation life?
Charles Chesnutt
Social Forces
After the Civil War--Nationalization and the South
The 14th and 15th Amendment to the Constitution
Reconstruction, Segregation,
and Jim Crow
American Regionalists
Mark Twain
Sarah Orne Jewett
Robert Frost
Kate Chopin
Zora Neale Hurston
Local color
Character types
Customs and Traditions
Regional writers dominant
at moment of delocalization?
"these stories were published in nationally circulating journals for the highly literate like the Atlantic Monthly and Harper's Monthly, and were certainly not written for the consumption of rustics or yokels. So instead of merely grieving for lost local cultures, this genre might be understood to have performed a mental rehearsal of the new order's triumph over the local, whose ways it fondly records, even celebrates, but also subjugates to its privileged point of view."
Richard Brodhead
Goophered Grapevine
Dave's Neckliss
Wife as witness
Julius -- Story-telling as deflection and manipulation
Narrator is savvy reader, who sees what his wife does not
Wife sees what Julius sees (naive credulity), and sees
what her husband does not see (humane empathy)
Semblance of normative family life shattered
Educated slave comes to learn that under slavery he is nothing
more than a piece of meat
Hanging scene recalls not only the desperation of slaves, but also
a commentary on the continuation of racism under Jim Crow and
wave of lynching across the south.

Narrator has a sociological or ethnographic interest in Julius. He sees
that Julius preserves the trauma of slavery in his stories, but he also views
Julius (ala Jefferson) as incapable of art and deep feeling

By contrast, Anne is moved by Julius' story.
Frame Narrative
Yankees coming south after the war
to rebuild the plantations under
Julius tries to warn off narrator by
taking over the story-telling and trying to deflect interest in buying
the plantation
Internal Narrative
Accomodation of the slaveholders and free blacks--McAdoo has to make a deal
with Aunt Peggy

She Goophers the grapes so the slaves won't steal

New hand, Henry, gets goophered, but also negotiates with Peggy to overcome
the goophering

Henry and the grapes
McAdoo takes advantage by selling Henry when he's old and buying him back when he's young.

Hires a northern capitalist to increase his yield, implying another accommodation, here of North and South

But here, new-fangled northern intervention (read Narrator) spoils the plantation

Henry dies when the vines die

McAdoo abandons plantation

John not dissuaded but hires Julius, yet another accommodation
W.E.B. DuBois,
"The Souls of
Black Folk" (1903)

Mode of Address
The Forethought

Herein lie buried many things which if read with patience may show the strange meaning of being black here at the dawning of the Twentieth Century. This meaning is not without interest to you, Gentle Reader; for the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line. I pray you, then, receive my little book in all charity, studying my words with me, forgiving mistake and foible for sake of the faith and passion that is in me, and seeking the grain of truth hidden there.

I have sought here to sketch, in vague, uncertain outline, the spiritual world in which ten thousand thousand Americans live and strive...Leaving, then, the white world, I have stepped within the Veil, raising it that you may view faintly its deeper recesses,—the meaning of its religion, the passion of its human sorrow, and the struggle of its greater souls. All this I have ended with a tale twice told but seldom written, and a chapter of song.

...Before each chapter, as now printed, stands a bar of the Sorrow Songs,—some echo of haunting melody from the only American music which welled up from black souls in the dark past. And, finally, need I add that I who speak here am bone of the bone and flesh of the flesh of them that live within the Veil?

W.E.B Du B.
ATLANTA, GA., FEB. 1, 1903.
The Veil
Traditional African trope

Western metaphysical trope
Then it dawned upon me with a certain suddenness that I was different from the others; or like, mayhap, in heart and life and longing, but shut out from their world by a vast veil. I had thereafter no desire to tear down that veil, to creep through; I held all beyond it in common contempt, and lived above it in a region of blue sky and great wandering shadows. That sky was bluest when I could beat my mates at examination-time, or beat them at a foot-race, or even beat their stringy heads.
After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world, -- a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness, -- an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.
Du Bois' usage as barrier
> The Interpretation Of Dreams (1900)

> On Dreams (1901)

> The Psychopathology Of Everyday Life (1901)
The split subject: conscious/unconscious
Can the subject speak?
"You never look at me from the place from which I see you"
The Dilemma
In those sombre forests of his striving his own soul rose before him, and he saw himself, -- darkly as through a veil; and yet he saw in himself some faint revelation of his power, of his mission. He began to have a dim feeling that, to attain his place in the world, he must be himself, and not another. For the first time he sought to analyze the burden he bore upon his back, that dead-weight of social degradation partially masked behind a half-named Negro problem. He felt his poverty; without a cent, without a home, without land, tools, or savings, he had entered into competition with rich, landed, skilled neighbors. To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships. He felt the weight of his ignorance, -- not simply of letters, but of life, of business, of the humanities; the accumulated sloth and shirking and awkwardness of decades and centuries shackled his hands and feet. Nor was his burden all poverty and ignorance. The red stain of bastardy, which two centuries of systematic legal defilement of Negro women had stamped upon his race, meant not only the loss of ancient African chastity, but also the hereditary weight of a mass of corruption from white adulterers, threatening almost the obliteration of the Negro home.
The double-aimed struggle of the black artisan -- on the one hand to escape white contempt for a nation of mere hewers of wood and drawers of water, and on the other hand to plough and nail and dig for a poverty-stricken horde -- could only result in making him a poor craftsman, for he had but half a heart in either cause. By the poverty and ignorance of his people, the Negro minister or doctor was tempted toward quackery and demagogy; and by the criticism of the other world, toward ideals that made him ashamed of his lowly tasks. The would-be black savant was confronted by the paradox that the knowledge his people needed was a twice-told tale to his white neighbors, while the knowledge which would teach the white world was Greek to his own flesh and blood. The innate love of harmony and beauty that set the ruder souls of his people a-dancing and a-singing raised but confusion and doubt in the soul of the black artist; for the beauty revealed to him was the soul-beauty of a race which his larger audience despised, and he could not articulate the message of another people. This waste of double aims, this seeking to satisfy two unreconciled ideals, has wrought sad havoc with the courage and faith and deeds of ten thousand thousand people, -- has sent them often wooing false gods and invoking false means of salvation, and at times has even seemed about to make them ashamed of themselves.
two warring ideals
born with a veil
second sight
this American world
shut out by a veil
Our experience of selfhood is created in
mirroring the an other--we are constitutively
alienated from ourselves--"I is another"
this begins around 6 mos, when a baby begins to enjoy her image in a mirror or see herself reflected in other children of her same age

The mirror image presents the child with an Imaginary wholeness which delights

The imaginary, however, is not restricted to childhood, but reoccurs throughout life each time an other (outside the self) operates as an ideal image for the ego

For Lacan, alienation is constitutive of the human subject. That is, alienation is not something caused by an accident and can be transcended
Based on the idea that the social world is structured by certain laws governing kinship relations and the exchange of gifts--intersubjectivity: the gift and the exchange

The most basic form of exchange is communication--the exchange of words, the gift of language

The Symbolic is the order of the signifier--a concept makes sense only in relation to other concepts.

For Lacan, the Symbolic is the unconscious and thus his famous dictum: "The unconscious is structured like a language"
That which resists symbolization; or, that which cannot be said

Experienced often as trauma

Not equivalent to material or biological reality, but inclusive of them

Associated with hallucination and dreams.
In Dubois
Two warring ideals, the Negro and the American
The symbolization of race in law, social practices, and relational (metonymic) associations
"Jim Crow" laws
In America in 1903, Black may be grouped with perjorative signifiers: brute, criminal, hyper-sexual, ignorant
DuBois address to the America reader: we can now appreciate the challenge he set for himself
the facing of so vast a prejudice could not but bring the inevitable self-questioning, self-disparagement, and lowering of ideals which ever accompany repression and breed in an atmosphere of contempt and hate. Whisperings and portents came home upon the four winds: Lo! we are diseased and dying, cried the dark hosts; we cannot write, our voting is vain; what need of education, since we must always cook and serve? And the Nation echoed and enforced this self-criticism, saying: Be content to be servants, and nothing more; what need of higher culture for half-men? Away with the black man's ballot, by force or fraud,—and behold the suicide of a race! Nevertheless, out of the evil came something of good,—the more careful adjustment of education to real life, the clearer perception of the Negroes' social responsibilities, and the sobering realization of the meaning of progress.

So dawned the time of Sturm und Drang: storm and stress to-day rocks our little boat on the mad waters of the world-sea; there is within and without the sound of conflict, the burning of body and rending of soul; inspiration strives with doubt, and faith with vain questionings. The bright ideals of the past,—physical freedom, political power, the training of brains and the training of hands,—all these in turn have waxed and waned, until even the last grows dim and overcast. Are they all wrong,—all false? No, not that, but each alone was over-simple and incomplete,—the dreams of a credulous race-childhood, or the fond imaginings of the other world which does not know and does not want to know our power. To be really true, all these ideals must be melted and welded into one.
Big Question
Not only are two hundred men and women put to death annually, on the average, in this country by mobs, but these lives are taken with the greatest publicity. In many instances the leading citizens aid and abet by their presence when they do not participate, and the leading journals inflame the public mind to the lynching point with scare-head articles and offers of rewards. Whenever a burning is advertised to take place, the railroads run excursions, photographs are taken, and the same jubilee is indulged in that characterized the public hangings of one hundred years ago. There is, however, this difference: in those old days the multitude that stood by was permitted only to guy or jeer. The nineteenth century lynching mob cuts off ears, toes, and fingers, strips off flesh, and distributes portions of the body as souvenirs among the crowd. If the leaders of the mob are so minded, coal-oil is poured over the body and the victim is then roasted to death. This has been done in Texarkana and Paris, Tex., in Bardswell, Ky., and in Newman, Ga. In Paris the officers of the law delivered the prisoner to the mob. The mayor gave the school children a holiday and the railroads ran excursion trains so that the people might see a human being burned to death. In Texarkana, the year before, men and boys amused themselves by cutting off strips of flesh and thrusting knives into their helpless victim. At Newman, Ga., of the present year, the mob tried every conceivable torture to compel the victim to cry out and confess, before they set fire to the faggots that burned him. But their trouble was all in vain--he never uttered a cry, and they could not make him confess.
Ida B. Wells, "Lynch Law in America" (1900)
Ida B. Wells-Barnett, "Lynch Law in America," The Arena 23.1
(January 1900): 15-24.
Two Types of Enjoyment
Julius steals a little
piece from the Master
lessening the other's supposed
Joel Chandler Harris:
The Elvis Presley of the
Plantation South
National corporations
§ Rockefeller (oil)
§ Carnegie (steel)
§ Vanderbilt (rail)
§ Morgan (investment banking)
National transportation--railroads
National Communication--Telegraph and Telephone
The Fool and the Knave
The Knave
This isn't racist. It's not like he tried to deep fry the rabbit...
Sorry Uncle Remus but You cant use your ebt card to purchase hennessey you Dumb NIGGER! NO SUHHHHHHH!!
How would this be racist? That's my question. A black dude talking to a rabbit, so what. Doesn't mean it has to do with slavery or anything, that's just your sick minds at work. Doesn't make the clip itself racist.
Goophered Grapvine
Black Artist
This is a piece of American History...Slaves told stories as way to calm down through out the night..So Many stories were passed down from Generation to Generation...This isnt Racist But an realistic vision of Black American Culture during the 1800.......Dumb ass people I swear
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