Self-Fashioning and Performative Gestures

Over the past few days as I continue to edit my Garvey article, I try to always take a look back at my thesis and see how the theory “sits” with the rest of the paper.  I had recently listened to a section of a lecture by Judith Butler where she in passing mentioned Stephen Greenblatt’s self-fashioning in reference to Michel Foucault (around 14:00).

I was especially interested in this term because I wanted to talk about the way Garvey dressed as an affirmative part of his politics. Stephen Greenblatt’s term of self-fashioning not only “suggests representation of one’s nature or intention in speech and actions” but “crosses the boundaries between the creation of literary characters, the shaping of one’s own identity, the experience of being molded by forces outside one’s control, the attempt to fashion other selves” (3). Colin Grant had made such a reference in his book Negro with a Hat:

There was no tradition in their culture that black people could return to, no chevaliers of the Legion of Honour, no Victoria Crosses. Garvey was working in the dark and his imagination led him to established models; he borrowed from royal Anglo-Saxon pageantry, from the Prince Hall freemasons and from Caribbean carnival, and he fashioned something new. The newspapers might scoff at their efforts as a risible circus show or pathetic imitation but amid all the pomp and ceremony the convention was underpinned by serious intent. As far as Garvey and his delegates were concerned, they were participating in a parliament of Negroes (270).

But I wanted to be clear in attaching self-fashioning to political performative gestures. As I looked to avowal, I found that I could fill in a bit of space between the avowal and performativity by bringing in self-fashioning. Admittedly I am worried about what this means in terms of leaning heavily on theory but I’m hoping I can show the place of considering Foucault’s concept of avowal and ways that it works in the practice of the United States and how race affect the law and idea of the crime. Specifically, I’m concerned with the change that Foucault sees in the 19th century in which one no longer had to avow oneself but how courts arrived at speaking for the subject without the subject. This matters in my work because you see the ways that Americans developed this technique of “hetero-veridiction”–the development of the suspect and the investigation–through new laws that came to effect in the 20th century. I do not mean that hetero-veridiction was new in the 20th century but that each new law that defined criminality went through, often in rapid succession, the search for the criminal that would avow guilt, to the belief of guilt in a suspect, to the prosecution of the guilty suspect. Or to put it another way, if there has been a belief in “innocent until proven guilty,” it has been perhaps more obvious that in terms of racist logics, one had to be a suspect assumed to be guilty.

 

 

 

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