The Read-In Series is a collaboration between the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art and the Willem de Kooning Academy, for its Critical Studies minor. The central theme for the 2016–2017 academic year is identity politics, with texts by Simone de Beauvoir and Lucy Lippard as departure points and examples for familiarising participants with feminist philosophy and colonial and post-colonial studies.
The list’s ‘other voices’ derive from several authors’ writings about identity and troubles. The perspectives include being a queer female philosopher writing about identity and language and ‘gender trouble’ (Judith Butler), and a black man’s views on severe, commonplace racism and how people seem to internalise white preferences, thus suppressing their identity behind a ‘white mask’ (Frantz Fanon), to name just two. The four selected authors articulate, in their vital styles, reflections on identity – first, second, and third thoughts that invite us to question our considerations, identities, attitudes, and actions.
Is being a woman, gay, a person of colour, or a person in between sexes and/or religions, or a combination of these and other variations that are present within in our classrooms really unproblematic for everyone? To continue or reclaim the discussion, we firstly need to look back and discuss various questions and ideas about specific concepts and troubles of identity.
Bodily Inscriptions, Performative Subversions2
Using ‘the female body’ as a reference, this chapter confronts us with troubles concerning feminist writers like Simone de Beauvoir. By defining others and ourselves, Butler explores the language and categories we use in this distinction. In doing so, she also criticises and questions the (feminist) idea of ‘women’ as a stable concept. Is there something essentially female about the female body, or is this body, any body, its gender, and its sex always culturally and politically shaped by external sources not intrinsic to this ‘body’? From where do genders emerge? What do we mean with ‘real’ and ‘natural’ when we apply this to gender, sex, or race? What is cause, and what is effect? Referencing various philosophers, Butler delves deeper into these questions and the consequences of their answers for what we call identity, the other, and otherness.
The lived experience of the black man3
What it means to be the 'Other' is described in this text from the perspective of the author as a man being called a ‘Negro’. Fanon writes about his experiences of being seen as a black body through the white, colonial gaze. He calls this experience ‘the image of one’s own body in the third person’. The kind of identity derived from this is one that is internalised via the other who directly addresses and identifies using terms such as ‘a black person’ or even ‘a negro’ or ‘nigger’. This also leads to an internalised white gaze: the mask. In his personal, literary, and moving style, Fanon lays bare the consequences of such processes.
Age, Race, Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference4
In this urgent essay, the Afro-American poet Audre Lorde addresses her contemporaries to redefine feminism: what are women doing together and to what extent are they doing it together? She articulates the problems within the feminist project through the many differences undermining its necessary solidarity. Lorde stresses the white, heterosexual, and elitist norms that dominate the discourse and field of feminism and the built-in white privilege of which many women are unaware. Since numerous ‘sisters’ remain outsiders for reasons of race or class, she calls for a more inclusive kind of feminism.
Happy Objects in the Affect Theory Reader5
After years of investigating bad feelings, Ahmed analyses and redefines what happiness is and does. How it is related to affect (being touched by something), intention (it is about something), and to even judgment. How feelings participate in ‘making things good’. And how language plays an important role in this process of affective politics by deliberately articulating good feelings as a starting point. In this essay, the concept of ‘identity’ replaces shared affects. Happiness puts us into contact with things and in doing so we come to realise how we shape the world around us.