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Double Consciousness

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Jeff Clapp

on 15 February 2017

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Transcript of Double Consciousness

Double Consciousness
Carrie Mae Weems,
The Kitchen Table

The United States fought a civil war from 1861-1865.

The North--where slavery was illegal--fought the South.

The North won, and required the South to free its slaves.

But freedom did not result in anything like equality; instead, many parts of the country instituted "segregation" laws defining who could use what, go where, be who . . .

The process of "desegregation" or "integration," is ongoing today, as will be very obvious when we read Claudia Rankine next week.
W. E. B. Du Bois (1868-1963)
The Question

The question in Du Bois'
The Souls of Black Folk
is how to explain why equality has not been achieved. One answer is

The shades of the prison-house closed round about us all: walls strait and stubborn to the whitest, but relentlessly narrow, tall, and unscalable to sons of night who must plod darkly on in resignation, or beat unavailing palms against the stone, or steadily, half hopelessly, watch the streak of blue above. (p. 2)

Du Bois is evoking the substantive and concrete barriers to equality. But he is hesitant to identify these with, for example, segregation laws. All this is metaphors.

In fact, his title --
--suggests that he is most interested in the psychological factors that have prevented people from accomplishing everything they wanted to do. And this has been a central, or even the central preoccupation, of African-American literature.

The Answer

The basic answer is the theory of "double-consciousness":

"...[the] world 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
, 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."

The experience of double-consciousness is described here as a "war." It is a form of suffering, and Du Bois's first idea about this experience is that it should be transcended, and that black Americans in general want to

"attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self."

Once this happens, the bad consequences in the rest of the essay--the sense of having two aims or goals or audiences-- would become avoidable.

The Complexity
But just as soon as Du Bois presents "merging" as his ideal, he begins to back away from the ideal of "oneness":

"In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world."
At one level double consciousness is simply the other (him; society) controlling the self (I). But at the same time there are further forms of doubling, including, in particular, the experience of being an American who is also not quite an American--and who does not want to become one, because the American is the enemy.
Here we encounter a very important idea:

...for the words I longed for, and all their dazzling opportunities, were theirs, not mine.
The Revision

, Du Bois did note an explicitly positive component to double consciousness:

"gifted with second sight."

Darkwater:Voices from Beyond the Veil
, published in 1920, Du Bois revises "double consciousness," making it much more positive, much more powerful, and much less about suffering, or desiring to merge. Now double consciousness is a nearly a superpower:

"High in the tower, where I sit above the loud complaining of the human sea, I know many souls that toss and whirl and pass, but none there are that intrigue me more than the Souls of White Folk.

Of them I am singularly
. I see in and through them. I view them from unusual points of vantage. Not as a foreigner do I come, for I am native, not foreign, bone of their thought and flesh of their language. Mine is not the knowledge of the traveler . . . Rather I see these souls undressed and from the back and side. I see the working of their entrails. I know their thoughts and they know that I know."

The Great James Baldwin
Let's begin by listening. (until 5:25)
As you watch this, ask yourself whether and how Baldwin's conceptualization has changed since Du Bois, 60 years earlier.
"Sonny's Blues" (1957)
Let's begin by seeing this story as a rewriting or revision
of Poe's "The Man of the Crowd."
So, this in common:

- the narrator as an engaged observer

- the narrator's ignorance becomes a theme when confronted with another person who seems to both challenge and fascinate the narrator

- in both cases, that person is associated with crime; with crowds; with a certain "unknowability"
Kennedy's Multitude
His essays sustained me, particularly "Circles" and "Self-Reliance." To believe
in your thought, to believe that what is true for you in your own thought
is true for all men, that is genius. . . . Trust thyself; every heart vibrates to
that iron string.
In this reference to Emerson, I think the general contrast with
"double consciousness"
is quite clear:
People Who Led to My Plays
(1987) is an answer to a basic question from college students:

"Who influenced you to write in such a nonlinear manner?" (p. 3).

But the answer to this question expands into a complete, year-by-year
It's nice, for our purposes, that Kennedy cites no fewer than FIVE of the people we have already read:
Emerson, Poe, Plath,
Du Bois, and Baldwin.
The format of this autobiography deserves our attention,
because it is so unusual,
and because it suggests a theory of the self that fits so profoundly with what we see in Kennedy's plays and other writings.
So the first questions for today are these:

1) What kind of self is implied by this form of self/life/writing?

2) What relations to other authors on this course leap out at you?
I need your answers to these questions, on a midsize piece of paper, with your name, for today's attendance.
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then . . . . I contradict myself;
I am large . . . . I contain

I concentrate toward them that are nigh . . . . I wait on the door-slab.

Who has done his day's work and will soonest be through with his supper?
Who wishes to walk with me?

Will you speak before I am gone? Will you prove already too late?

for me, Kennedy's self seems most like Whitman's...
but how about this, as well?
Back there: the library, walled
with green Britannicas
Looking again
in Durer's Complete Works
for MELANCOLIA, the baffled woman

the crocodiles in Herodotus
Book of the Dead
Trial of Jeanne d'Arc
, so blue
I think, It is her color

and they take the book away
because I dream of her too often

from "The Burning of Paper..." (Rich, p. 1)
This is one word that Kennedy consistently uses to summarize her development as a writer in
People Who Led to My Plays
After I saw
at the Museum of Modern Art, the concept of placing
my characters in a dream domain seemed more and more real to me.

Jackson Pollock:
After seeing his work at the Museum of Modern Art, I thought continually
of how to write (was it possible?) without a linear narrative.
So, finally, some literary terminology.
The term "hypotaxis" (adj. hypotactic) technically refers to the use of subordination with conjunctions:
We went ashore
we wanted to know
he was there.
Whereas the term "parataxis" (adj. paratactic) technically refers to the use of coordination with conjunctions:
We went to dinner
we went to get coffee
we went to bed.
But in literary studies

these terms have acquired a more general usage:
: a kind of writing in which the parts are all explicitly connected, whether by grammatical, narrative, or logical elements
: a kind of writing in which the relations between parts are implied, missing, or nonexistent
Walt Whitman is the ultimate master of parataxis in English literature
The smoke of my own breath,
Echos, ripples, and buzzed whispers . . . . loveroot, silkthread, crotch and vine,
My respiration and inspiration . . . . the beating of my heart . . . . the passing of blood
and air through my lungs,
The sniff of green leaves and dry leaves, and of the shore and darkcolored sea-
rocks, and of hay in the barn,
The sound of the belched words of my voice . . . . words loosed to the eddies of
the wind....
Kennedy's Piano Player
And we can follow Kennedy in seeing linear, hypotactic writing as

Lorca (again):
After I read and saw
Blood Wedding
, I changed my ideas about what a play
was. Ibsen, Chekhov, O'Neill and even Williams fell away. Never again
would I try to set a play in a "living room," never again would I be afraid
to have my characters talk in a
way, and I would abandon the
set for a greater dream setting. It was a turning point.

whereas nonlinear, paratactic writing tends to be
The juxtaposition of "Sonny's Blues" and "Because of the King of France" gives us a kind of natural experiment.

We hold these variables steady:

-the relation of distance and misunderstanding between the narrator and the subject of the story
-the subject who goes away, and then "returns"
-the subject as piano player
-the figure of the musician as idealistic, passionate, and insightful precisely because of their suffering
So, what varies? If "Sonny's Blues" is linear, hypotactic, and realistic, then what features of "Because of the King of France" are


More Little Paper Ideas
Assess how imagery of walls, rooms, prisons, traps, and ghettos is used in this week's texts.
Watch the film
Now, Voyager
and assess how
the allusions to that film shape
People Who Led to My Plays.
The voyage:
As the Duchess of Hapsburg had haunted my mind, so would Queen Victoria come to do the same. The statue we saw of Victoria in front of Buckingham Palace was the single most dramatic, startling statue I'd seen. Here was a woman who had dominated an age. In my play I would soon have the heroine, Sarah, talk to a replica of this statue. Finally the dialogue with a statue would be explicit and concrete. And the statue would reply; the statue would inform my character of her inner thoughts. The statue would reveal my character's secrets to herself.
Oxford Dictionary of Biography

At a time when other African American playwrights were making profound assertions of black pride in their works, and a sort of nationalist movement in African American theater was afoot, Kennedy created African American female protagonists in
Funnyhouse of a Negro
The Owl Answers
...who were clearly confounded by their multiethnic origins.
So the first question would seem to be: why Victoria?
And the second question: why a
of Victoria?
And the third question:
why does a statute of Victoria know Sarah's secrets?
Reflect on the difference between
"a stark fortress against recognition of myself (Kennedy, p. 14)
"maintain recognition against myself" (Kennedy, p. 19).
In what ways is
Funnyhouse of a Negro
? Or, more specifically: should we say that this is a represetation of sheer madness, or of a deep truth?
? Or, more specifically: what should we make of "I try to give myself a logical relationship but that too is a lie....I clung loyally to the lie of relationships, trying again and again seeking to establish a connection between my characters" (p. 15)?
? Or, more specifically, what is the relationship between the nonlinear logic of the play's writing, and Sarah's obession with her "line" of descent?
Nonrealistic: the story juxtaposes historical figures who cannot possibly have met or interacted.

Nonlinear: The text is arbitraily broken in half into the part which is narrated by the narrator and Sidney's letter; no return to the narrator ends the text.

Paratactic: Does not offer a connection between its basic parts.
Baldwin's Nigger
(1969) dir. Horace Ové
I made the Kitchen Tables series in 1990, and it remains one of my favourite pieces....I realised that I could use one simple setting – a kitchen table – to explore a range of attitudes and questions about the idea of family . . . I milked that terrain. I brought a variety of people into that same room to act out scenes that questioned what it meant to be a woman, the relationship between men and women, women and children, and women and their girlfriends.

I wasn’t interested in the act of performing before I made this series, I just thought of myself as the most convenient subject. I only came to understand later that
I could be a kind of an interlocutor between the self, the constructed self, and the audience.
There was something very important about using my own skin and body to work through these difficult issues around notions of family, monogamy, relationships, blackness, and how it could all be negotiated within a political and social context.
The International Version
What Du Bois is to the U.S.,
Frantz Fanon's
Black Skin White Masks
is to the colonization of Africa.
And what is revised?
We can't really understand this story unless we look at how Baldwin draws the contrast between his two characters.
So let's start with this: the narrator is a math teacher, and Sonny is a musician. What is the significance of this contrast?
And then? What else?
What is a crowd?

How can one contact others?

How does the story end?
Double Consciousness in Baldwin's story
"I'd known this avenue all my life, but it seemed to me me again...filled with a hidden menace which was its very breath of life." (129)
Our ultimate question today is whether and how "double consciousness," as Du Bois describes it, is a good explanation for the "menace" and "suffering" described so frequently in "Sonny's Blues."
Take a look at a passage from pages 128-9. Sonny and his brother are sharing a cab, after Sonny has been released from detox/jail....

Most of the houses in which we had grown up had vanished, as had the stores from which we had stolen, the basements in which we first tried sex, the rooftops from which we had hurled tin cans and bricks. But houses exactly like the houses of our past yet dominated the landscape, boys exactly like the boys we once had been found themselves smothering in these houses, came down into the streets for light and air and found themselves encircled by disaster. Some escaped the trap, most didn't. Those who got out always left something of themselves behind, as some animals amputate a leg and leave it in the trap . . . it came to me that what we both were seeking through our separate cab windows was that part of ourselves which had been left behind.
Can we put this in dialogue with statements in Du Bois?

What are
thinking about now,
in response to Weems' photo,
Du Bois' text,
and this film clip?


On today's Facebook event page,
write a few sentences.
1865: Emancipation, end of the Civil War
1903: Du Bois:
1957: Baldwin, "Sonny's Blues"
2014: Rankine,
New Forms
Then they all
around Sonny and Sonny played. Every now and again one of them seemed to say, amen. Sonny's fingers filled the air with life, his life. But that life contained so many others . . . Freedom lurked around us and I understood, at last, that he could help us be free if we would
, that he would never be free until we did. (148)
The climax of Baldwin's story consisted of people gathering together and listening to one another, in being heard. Baldwin presents Sonny's art as offering a "new way of making us listen."

Much is new about Rankine's text. Does it "make us listen"?
Listen to what?
From Civil Rights to Microaggression
In the post-civil rights era, many societies have all but eliminated explicitly discriminatory laws, spaces, and practices.

Yet these same societies continue to experience pervasive racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of inequality and discrimination. One major way these patterns persist is through
Microaggressions are the slights, insults, or other demeaning events experienced during
life by people who are marginalized within a given society.

Microaggressions are usually unconscious, instantaneous expressions of individual bias that emerge in
situations which are not explicitly "about" race, gender, sexuality, religion, or other group identities.

Microaggressions have been understood by psychologists and sociologists, beginning in the 1970s, as the fundamental way that discriminatory attitudes, actions, and practices have persisted, despite civil rights movements that have identified or removed
barriers to social participation.

Because microaggressions tend to be brief, relatively unimportant, and frequent, their victims frequently feel that asserting their sense of wrong or injustice is not worth the

Moreover, victims of microaggression can experience feelings of
or even paranoia, because mistakes and everyday rudeness can be impossible to distinguish from discriminatory and derogatory actions.

The combination of actual microaggressions,with the self-doubt around perceived microaggressions, is described as a debilitating, draining, and

Nadal 2013,
That's So Gay!: Microaggressions and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community
(book in EdU library)

Robinson-Wood et al, 2016, "Worse than Blatant Racism" (article PDF available through EdU iSearch).

Claudia Rankine
There are three earlier books, but these two have had a powerful influence on 21st century poetry, particularly in the United States.

So how can we describe this work? If it offers a "new way to make us listen," what is that "way" all about?

-a hybrid and multiple form,

-containing not only lineated verse, but also prose and even essays, creating a rough and uneven texture,

-all of which is combined with dialogues with other texts, including images and even others' artworks,

-and which concludes, like an academic essay, with a references page.
on Serena

from the invisible to the
For so long you thought the ambition of racist language was to denigrate and
you as a person. After considering [the philosopher Judith] Butler's remarks, you being to understand yourself rendered
in the fact of such language acts. Language that feels hurtful is intended to exploit all the ways that you are present. Your alertness, your openness, and your desire to engage actually demand your
, your looking up, your talking back, and, as insane as it is, saying please.

page 49
[There is an] anger built up through experience and the quotidian struggles against dehumanization every brown or black person lives simply because of skin color. This other kind of anger in time can prevent, rather than sponsor, the production of anything except loneliness.

You begin to think, maybe erroneously, that this other type of anger is
really a type of knowledge
: the type that both clarifies and disappoints. It responds to insult and attempted erasure simply by asserting presence, and the
required to present, to react, to assert is accompanied by visceral disappointment: a disappointment in the sense that no amount of visibility will alter the ways in which one is perceived.

[W]itnessing the expression of this more ordinary and daily anger might make the witness believe the person is "insane."

And insane is what you think, one Sunday afternoon . . . watching the 2009 Women's US Open final, when brought to full attention by the suddenly explosive behavior of Serena Williams. Serena in HD before your eyes becomes overcome by a rage you recognize and have been taught to hold at a distance for your own good. Serena's behavior, on this particular Sunday afternoon, suggest that all the injustice she has played through all the years of her illustrious career flashes before her and she decides finally to respond to all of it with a string of invectives.


Yes, and
the body has memory. The physical carriage hauls more than its weight. The body is the threshhold across which each objectionable call passes into consciousness--all the unintimidated, unblinking, and unflappable resilience does not erase the moment we lived through, even as we are eternally stupid or everlastingly optimistic, so ready to be inside, among, a part of the games.

Now Serena's reaction is read as insane. And her punishment for this moment of
is the threatened point penalty resulting in the loss of the match, an $82,500 [642,790HKD] fine, plus a two-year probationary period by the Grand Slam Committee.

Again Serena's frustrations, her disappointments, exist within a system
you understand not to try to understand
in any fair-minded way because to do so is to understand the erasure of the self as systemic, as ordinary. For Serena, the daily diminishment is a low flame, a constant drip. Every look, every comment, every bad call blossoms out of history, through her, onto you.

Now that we have this complex account of racialized microaggresion,
let's see how Rankine puts it to work in a poem:
[Some years there exists a wanting to escape...]

I've broken the poem up into sections with many questions and comments. I want to move through it section-by-section, following some analysis and contemplation by you in groups.
This poem plays out everything we've been talking about at the level of the pronoun, and particularly the pronoun "
cites "The Slave Ship" by JMW Turner, 1840.
Why is this the last page of Rankine's book?
Either respond to my question
about Turner's painting, or answer the following more general question:

What do you think of Rankine's hybrid and mixed form? What does it remind you of, or what effects does it have on you?

How might her form be connected to her themes?

Post to FB.
So let's begin spending some time with the book's first part.

This part of the book seems to be a kind of
: a overtly paratactic form. Rankine has called it a "series."

Since nobody signed up to do discussion leadership this class, you can take this part as an example of the kind of thing you might plan in your week.
So, some literary terminology.
The term "hypotaxis" (adj. hypotactic) technically refers to the use of subordination with conjunctions:
We went ashore
we wanted to know
he was there.
Whereas the term "parataxis" (adj. paratactic) technically refers to the use of coordination with conjunctions:
We went to dinner
we went to get coffee
we went to bed.
But in literary studies

these terms have acquired a more general usage:
: a kind of writing in which the parts are coherently connected, whether by grammatical, narrative, or logical elements
: a kind of writing in which the relations between parts are implied, missing, or nonexistent


contemporary literature

represents a move
from hypotactic
to paratactic

What is "new"?
-in time
-in form
-in source
The key concept of contemporary literature is that it should represent something, or someone, previously unrepresented.
-not beauty
-not pleasure
-not education
-not imagination
(although all of those as well)
The concept of “representation” is democratic.

But the representation that happens in a political system of stating preferences is simpler than representing experiences or individuals in all their complexity.
In fact it is possible that styles of representation,
or habits of representation, or the places that things might be represented,
might not really allow for certain things or people to be represented.

Or even: perhaps some things cannot be represented.
by Robert Morris
Not just the opportunities, but the words:

this is
access to representation
Let's begin by reminding ourselves of some basic elements of literary technique, and in particular the plot form first described by Gustav Freytag.
And then let's get familiar with this story. Conveniently, Baldwin has divided it into parts for us with spaces in the text. There are six parts:
Six Parts

1. 122-126: Hears about Sonny; the friend

2. 126-133: Sonny’s letter; coming home from prison; father’s brother; mother’s warning

3. 133-137: At the funeral; wanting to be a musician; “Be serious"

4. 137-139: The piano at Isabel’s; away to war

5. 139-145: Return to the present: living with
Sonny; singing in the street; the conversation

6. 145-148: To the club; Sonny plays; cup of trembling

"Sonny's Blues" (1957)
Next, let's look at two of the story's major themes:

Take this as an opportunity to remember how to do literary analysis. The primary technique is the identification of moments of
, both of which create
and ultimately
On 124 and 125: smiling that is youth

On 130 and 131:

"when the old folks were talking . . . about what's going to happen to
123: The whistling boy
125-6: The dancing barmaid
132: The crushed guitar
133: “I’m going to be a musician"
But What Music Exactly?
On page 134 and 135 one of text's most intense moments of conflict comes over the differences between two different jazz/blues musicians: Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker.

We can learn a lot about this story by looking into the difference between the two.
"Sonny's Blues" and New Literatures
As we saw above, this story has a kind of double climax: the scene in which the narrator listens to Sonny speak, and the scene in which the narrator listens to him play.

The latter scene contains a detailed argument for the power of the new:

"He and his boys up there were keeping it new, at the risk of ruin, destruction, madness, and death, in order to find new ways to make us listen." (147)
The climax of this story articulates at least three different kinds of representation:

-the individual (Sonny's Blues)

-the community (the band, the family, the nation, the generation)

-the listener's own experiences (and by implication, then, everybody's representation)
Miles Davis once said, 'You can tell the history of jazz in four words: Louis Armstrong. Charlie Parker.'
Imitation exercises teach you things about texts that you might not notice otherwise. Let's try to learn about how Rankine uses the
second person

to talk about experiences of invisibility.
1. In your group, talk about a time when somebody has been made to feel
. This might be for the kinds of reasons Rankine is writing about, or for other reasons. Choose one of these anecdotes for your imitation exercise.

2. Open
to page 12, and then to page 17. Compare these two anecdotes, and decide which to imitate with your own writing.

3. Open a Word document on your computer and write your anecdote into the form Rankine has established. Follow her quite closely, sentence by sentence, but if you need to change her form, feel free to do so.

4. Post your anecdote to today's FB event page.
Example 1
Below is an imitation of the anecdote on page 13 of

Your family is sitting around the table after lunch. You are visiting for Christmas. Everybody is eating ice-cream because Christmas weather is still hot where you live. Though everybody is enjoying the ice-cream, this isn't a joyful experience because your parents suddenly ask you when you are planning to get a job in your own country. They ask you about some friends of yours with unusual names that they pretend to have difficulty pronouncing--how do you say that again? Yes, you confirm, that person did get a job in your own country. You aren't sure if you are supposed to try to justify why that person got a job in your country and you didn't. This exchange, in effect, ends the lunch. The ice-cream melts.
After you have completed this exercise: what did you learn about the anecdote you imitated?

Why do you think this text is framed using
the second person?
Your family is sitting around the table after lunch. You are visiting for Christmas. Everybody is eating ice-cream because Christmas weather is still hot where you live. Though everybody is enjoying the ice-cream, this isn't a joyful experience because your parents suddenly ask you when you are planning to get a job in your own country. They ask you about some friends of yours with unusual names that they pretend to have difficulty pronouncing--how do you say that again? Yes, you confirm, that person did get a job in your own country. You aren't sure if you are supposed to try to justify why that person got a job in your country and you didn't. This exchange, in effect, ends the lunch. Your mother serves more ice-cream.
Here is a very similar version with a different final sentence, one more in keeping with Rankine's. Why is this version superior?
Example 2
Below is an imitation of the anecdote on page 12 of

Because you live on the top floor of your building, you are already in the elevator when the mother pulls her tiny child through the sliding doors. Without seeming to look at you the mother leans down to talk to the child, who is staring up at you. Say good morning, says the mother, and the child says nothing. Say good morning, says the mother. Speak English, she says. The child says nothing. The mother gives up, and they get off the elevator without saying anything to you at all.

You are reminded of a conversation you had recently, comparing the merits of sentences constructed implicitly with "yes, and" rather than "yes, but." You are your friend decided that "yes, and" attested to a life with no turn-off, no alternative routes: you pull yourself to standing, soon enough the blouse is rinsed, it's another week, the blouse beneath your sweater, against your skin, and
you smell good
Given this more elaborate account,
then we will need to consider carefully
whether literature is well-grounded
on the idea of

"representing someone or something previously unrepresented"
(to quote myself)

or on the idea of
"giving voice to the marginalized"
(to quote an acquaintance).

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