Inscribed Bodies: Fragmented Musings on Colonialism, Discourse and Bodies

What’s the Difference Between shooting Bambi and shooting Fido?

Let me preface this by saying that I am the daughter of a hunter. My views on how animals are valued and my views on gun ownership are colored by this fact.

Dogs are domesticated and thus have a special status, whereas deer are generally considered “wild.” Generally, domesticated animals occupy a certain status in Western discourse on “nature.” They are out of nature, in the domestic sphere. The last statement also implies that nature has no place in the domestic sphere. (This was also the basis of arguments against according Blacks suffrage in the US, post-Civil War. Former slaves, in spite of their new juridical status as freemen, were still constructed in terms of racial difference, which justified their debasement and exploitation.) The binary distinction between “nature” and “culture” in Western discourse is the basis of many constructed differences, justifications for colonialism. In my term paper for Political Theory, I talk about how Sarah Baartman was situated in Western discourses, in the distinction between “nature” and “culture,” and I illustrated it by noting the common pairing of images of the “Hottentot Venus” and domesticated dogs, wherein they share public space.

Classification and Valuation

Differentiation and otherization are both based on classification. To be Other is to be marked- raced/gendered/(dis)abled/etc bodies. And to be Default is to be unmarked in the same context. E.G. Whiteness/maleness/able-bodied-ness is largely unmarked, and simultaneously made default. Biopower, or biopolitical administration is the codification of these classifications. In my last blogpost, I defined biopower as “the construction of quantitative and qualitative metrics of the ‘normality’ of human bodies within public health and other arenas where juridical power was previously not easily exercised.” Juridical subjects become the bodies that are classified, counted and policed. They are the vehicles and avenues of power’s exercise.

Colonialism, Discourse and Bodies

Colonialism was and is discursively mediated in and through the bodies of women. The base assumption of Western discourse on colonialism was a distinction between “nature” and “culture.” Claims of superiority were constructed upon constituted difference, wherein The Other was defined as “nature” devoid of culture- an isolation which proved the superiority of Western modes of being and doing. Women as Other, woman as “nature” can be traced to scientistic constructions of women on the basis of their bodies, their physiognomy. Woman as constructed in relation and opposition to man, woman as “deformed” man. It was Aristotle who referred to women as “natural deformities.”

However, we see that European women, and later, White women, were, like domesticated animals, discursively taken out of nature and placed into the domestic sphere. This change in status simultaneously was constituted in opposition and in relation to the Othering of colonial subjects in the “3rd World.” The “Noble Savage” and the “3rd World Woman” are constructed in the discursive fields of Indigeneity and Subalternity. Indigeneity is defined as a field of discourse in which cultural identity, both ascribed and performed, is constructed through the “appropriation and modification of imperial influences.”[i] Subalternity refers to a situatedness, a discursive marginality. In A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Past, Gayartri Chakravorty Spivak writes: “for the (gender unspecified) “true” subaltern group, whose identity is its difference, there is no unrepresentable subaltern subject that can know and speak itself…”

[i] Steven Frye. Constructing Indigeneity: Postcolonial Dynamics in Charles Brockden Brown’s Monthly Magazine and American Review. American Studies, 39:3 (Fall 1998), p. 69

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