Courtney R. Baker, “The Art of Reading: Postcolonial Bodies and Strategic Illegibility,” paper delivered at Louisiana State University conference, unpublished, 2000.
This paper seeks to explicate a practice of reading (loosely defined to include a practice of viewing) that would yield a non-essentialist interpretation of postcolonial subjectivities. The practice (as opposed to the concept) of reading appears to me to be one of the only methods of approaching certain objects. The objects with which I am generally concerned, and which will serve as points of analysis in this paper, are elaborately constructed, complexly arranged visual images that border on artifice. They are artifice to the extent that they are artificially contrived, manipulated, deliberate expressions that announce themselves as having a complicated relationship with the real. I would argue, however, that these objects are less artifice than artifacts in the sense that they are theoretical signposts of meaning. They are the products of self-conscious creative and intellectual production. In a sense, I am attempting simply to figure out how to read art, not in a disinterested Kantian mode, but from a deeply politically interested position. The works that serve as my analytic objects here are concerned with race and gender as devalued bodily markings. These markings are not abstract symbols, but politically charged codes.
The objects, then, do not permit the reader or viewer an objective distance or a disinterested perspective. In fact, through a juxtaposition of these and other visual codes, organized or explicated in such a way as to deny a linear or coherent narrative of the postcolonial subject, these objects, by appealing to the visual sense, disrupt the ostensibly natural practice of reading. These visual scenes are jarring and unsettling for this reason. I am privileging the visual scene in these objects because the visual here actively denies a linear narrative organization of information.
I would like to take a moment to define certain terms as this project is as much about the potential fluidity of signs as it is about the myriad meanings conveyed by those signs ( … )