Category Archives: Essays

Patrick Bateman’s Ice Pick: Charlie Hebdo, Mohammad, and Speech Acts

In Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, Patrick Bateman uses an ice pick to carve words into the backs of women, and the fact that he carves words into their backs is notable because their reaction (screaming and pain) is not in response to the words he writes but rather the act of dragging the ice pick across their skin. Inasmuch as Patrick Bateman may perceive himself as engaged in an act of speech (writing words with an ice pick), for the woman who becomes his parchment there is no act of speech but only a particular physical act inducing a physical reaction. This scene serves to illustrate an important difference between speech acts that are a function of representational meaning versus speech acts that are a function only of the features of their form in which meaning is somehow inherent in the object that comprises the representation rather than the thing to which that object refers. Put another way, Ellis’s scene shows us what it means to regard the object as meaningful in itself rather than the object as a signifier of a non-present referent.

Read more

Django Unchained and the Mask of American Race

After tackling World War II anti-Semitism with Inglorious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino has now tackled the issue of American chattel slavery with Django Unchained. Specifically Tarantino is concerned with whether slavery was good or bad. And just in case anyone has forgotten, slavery was bad. It was like very, very bad. And say what you will about Quentin Tarantino—“He’s a bloviating shitbag, but he makes great movies”—at least he stands firmly on the side of morality when it comes to the issue of American slavery, which comes as a relief because there was a definite undercurrent in American society that had begun to suggest that 19th century American chattel slavery perhaps wasn’t so bad and we should maybe reconsider its abolishment.

Read more

The Trouble with The Help: How Kathryn Stockett’s Antiracism Reproduces Jim Crow’s Races

Recently on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Sheryl Sandberg’s name was mentioned during a panel discussion on the issue of powerful women in the workplace. Sandberg was touted as a prime example of the sort of women who have penetrated the glass ceiling to occupy traditionally male positions of power and secure tremendous (in Sandberg’s case overwhelming) financial prosperity.

Read more

The Glass Colored Boy: Race and Theater in the Age of Obama

In recent years, American plays written for all-white casts have found new life in productions with all-black casts. Intended by their producers and directors to demonstrate the universality of their texts, these productions have in mind a project whereby the physical composition of the actors will articulate a heretofore unrealized meaning within a given text. In particular, audience members who are understood to share the important physical characteristics of the actors (in this case their skin color) are perceived as being rewarded with a new connection to a text that was previously reserved for an ostensibly all-white audience.

Read more