Jacques Rancière and African American Twoness
This chapter invokes the work of Jacques Rancière on the way that sensory experience serves as the space of political existence and uses his arguments to diagnose the current critical situation in American literary and cultural studies—a situation of exhaustion with prevailing modes of ideology critique. But arguments such as Rancière's need to be “illuminated and tested through examples from African American art,” a body or tradition of expression that has always been politically invested but has often been equally invested in formal experimentation and extravagance. The chapter works from the inventive formal features of some recent paintings by Kehinde Wiley—the way they violate and reconfigure certain spatial and ornamental conventions of Western representational painting—to show how they contest certain universalizing norms that have been historically associated with (and instrumental in perpetuating) racial hierarchies. The analysis of Wiley's visual art provides the tools to bring to bear upon some earlier African American literary works, namely, an early and never completed experimental narrative by W. E. B. Du Bois, as well as Of One Blood by Pauline Hopkins and several other fictions by Sutton Griggs and James Corrothers, all of which feature a kind of “aesthetic warping” for which Wiley's paintings provide a retrospective model.
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