Unwatchable Scenes, Unhappy Spectators: A New Imperative of Representation
A Special Issue of Asian Diasporic Visual Cultures and the Americas
Edited by J. Reid Miller, Richard T. Rodriguez and Celine Parreñas Shimizu
The historical moment of whiteness is totally unwatchable. This special issue aims to capture the new relations of ethics and pleasure between people of color that this unbearability incites. We wish to explore other ways of connecting with figures of racial others not dependent upon an inextricable linkage to whiteness. Yet we are also intent on considering how “positive” images or claims to self-representation do not always solve the problem of whiteness’s seemingly indelible imprint or the messiness of spectatorial visual pleasure. Thus, how can we theorize bad aesthetics as outwardly unwatchable while theorizing representations that are inwardly impossible to watch due to the political traumas they induce and inadequate satisfaction they supply? How is the refusal of whiteness crucial yet hardly a guarantee for alternative representations that channel our politics and desires and enable versatile and “happier” spectatorial positions? Might the category “people of color” be used as more than a mere placeholder and serve instead as the enticement of non-white interracial fantasies embracing cultural politics, cross-identifications, and sexual desires beyond the ostensibly prevailing force of white mediation? How might we revise Kobena Mercer’s classic assessment of “the burden of representation” that obligates our search for affirmative images of our own race—even those that occasionally leave us unmoved and discontented—with a more expansive conception of that burden as spun out across racial affinities? With this special issue, we hope to formulate a practice of the unwatchable that turns away from the screen but does not turn away from the new opportunities for resistance, critique, and desire in this new era of looking relations.
J. Reid Miller is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Comparative Literature at Haverford College and author of the book Stain Removal: Ethics and Race (Oxford University Press, 2016). He specializes in ethics, poststructuralism and the philosophy of race.
Richard T. Rodríguez is Associate Professor of Media and Cultural Studies and English at the University of California, Riverside. The author of Next of Kin: The Family in Chicano/a Cultural Politics (Duke University Press, 2009), which won the 2011 National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies Book Award, he specializes in Latina/o literary and cultural studies, film and visual culture, and queer studies with additional interests in transnational cultural studies, popular music studies, and comparative ethnic studies.
Celine Parreñas Shimizu is Professor of Cinema Studies at San Francisco State University and specializes in Film and Performance Theory and Production, Sexuality and Race and Social Theories of Power and Inequality. Her books are The Feminist Porn Book (2013), Straitjacket Sexualities (2012) and The Hypersexuality of Race (2007), winner of the Cultural Studies Book Award from the Association for Asian American Studies. Her award-winning films are distributed by Progressive Films and Third World Newsreel.