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.
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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.
Celine Parrenas Shimizu