The Cultural Politics of Unfeeling: The Disaffections and Counter-intimacies of Unsympathetic Blackness and Oriental Inscrutability
The Centre for the Americas at Queen's University Belfast and the Irish Association for American Studies are delighted to inaugurate their new annual lecture series with 'The Cultural Politics of Unfeeling', a talk by Dr Xine Yao.
About the speaker:
Dr Xine Yao is Lecturer in American Literature to 1900 at University College London. Her first book is Disaffected: The Cultural Politics of Unfeeling in Nineteenth-Century America ,which won the Duke University Press Scholars of Color First Book Award and is forthcoming October 2021 from DUP in the Perverse Modernities series. Her articles have appeared in J19, Occasion, and American Quarterly, the last of which was a finalist for the Constance M. Rourke Prize for best essay. Her honours include the American Studies Association’s Yasuo Sakakibara Essay Prize and her research has been supported by grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. She is a BBC Radio 3/AHRC New Generation Thinker and the co-host of PhDivas Podcast.
About her book:
In Disaffected, Xine Yao explores the racial and sexual politics of unfeeling—affects that are not recognised as feeling—as a means of survival and refusal in nineteenth-century America. She positions unfeeling beyond sentimentalism's paradigm of universal feeling. Yao traces how works by Herman Melville, Martin Delany, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, and Sui Sin Far engaged major sociopolitical issues in ways that resisted the weaponisation of white sentimentalism against the lives of people of colour. Exploring variously pathologised, racialised, queer, and gendered affective modes like unsympathetic Blackness, queer female frigidity, and Oriental inscrutability, these authors departed from the values that undergird the politics of recognition and the liberal project of inclusion. By theorising feeling otherwise as an antisocial affect, form of dissent, and mode of care, Yao suggests that unfeeling can serve as a contemporary political strategy for people of colour to survive in the face of continuing racism and white fragility.
About the talk:
In this talk, Dr Yao will discuss Blake; or the Huts of America (1859, 1861-2) by Martin R. Delany and the writings of Edith Maude Eaton aka Sui Sin Far, the first Asian North American woman writer. The talk centres unsympathetic Blackness and Oriental inscrutability as two such queer, racialised genealogies that disrupt the colonial order of affectability. "Oriental inscrutability" is a recognisable phrase that suggests how that mode of East Asian unfeeling persists as a concept in the cultural imagination. Nonetheless, its relative legibility and aestheticisation as opacity compares to the illegitimacy of any articulation of Black expression or inexpression which can be rendered as illegitimate, unfeeling as the opposition to universal feeling. Still, through Delany's imagining of revolutionary counter-intimacies between Black, Indigenous, and even Chinese peoples against Sui Sin Far's antinationalist antisociality, Yao thinks through how these modes of turning away from what Lisa Lowe calls the intimacies of four continents may converge precisely through their disaffection enabling counter-intimacies to allow insurgent structures of feeling to arise.