Thursday, March 1, 2007

Maillard on Memory and Interracial Intimacy in U.S. History

Kevin Noble Maillard, Syracuse, has posted an abstract for Ph.D. dissertation on SSRN. This rich project, The T'aint of Taint: Memory and the Denial of Mixed Race in the U.S., takes readers from Nietzsche to Faulkner to Pocahontas to Strom Thurmond in the course of a cross-disciplinary exploration of interracial intimacy and memory. The manuscript is not on-line, but Prof. Maillard's contact info is here. Here's the abstract:
Since the United States Supreme Court ruled antimiscegenation law unconstitutional in Loving v. Virginia (1967), commentators have heralded the onset of the “biracial baby boom.” This type of law and thought, productive as it may be, treats mixed race as a new phenomenon, as if interracial intimacy had not occurred before then. This dissertation analyzes contemporary and historical cases of interracial denial that refer to this seemingly nonexistent past. Working from Nietzsche's conception of active forgetting and Lyotard's construction of the differend, I critique the construction of American collective memory that omits mixed race relationships. I do so by using a range of approaches, which include political, theoretical, legal, historical, and literary analysis. I turn to William Faulkner's Absalom! Absalom! and Charles Chesnutt's Marrow of Tradition to interrogate anachronistic interpretations of a mixed racial past. I also examine historical and current legal conflicts of miscegenation, including a testamentary dispute in antebellum South Carolina, and the interracial pasts of iconic American statesmen (Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Strom Thurmond). Additional chapters focus on the legal and mythical romance of Pocahontas, and membership struggles in the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma. I claim that dominant conceptions of mixed race incorrectly rely upon present recollections of the past as seen through the eyes of law, specifically the antimiscegenist regime that preceded Loving. Thus, anachronistic interpretations of history that are informed or justified by law favor the skeptics and discredit the believers of assertions of mixed race. Despite discourse that explores the suppression of such pasts, boundaries remain that attest to a collective memory that fears and ignores their elimination.

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