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Sunday, January 13, 2013

"Remarkably impressive.... Bernstein surprises us with fractures that we know."

Sometimes a review takes your breath away. Kathryn Bond Stockton's, which just came out in Modern Drama, is one such review of Racial Innocence.

The review begins:

So much depends upon dolls in pain. Do they feel their beatings at the hands of children? What’s at stake in thinking a doll can feel distress?

This is a drama. The liquid idea or crystallized tactility of such a possible sensation for a doll, for a black doll – the sense that it could recoil, with tenderness or sorrow, if you were to hit it – tells us volumes about the race of childhood, from the time of slavery up to Civil Rights. Childhood, which enthrones innocence, which shapes race (and rights that start in childhood), hangs upon pain – doll pain, in part. Expertly, persuasively, and often brilliantly, Bernstein tells us why.

With her inventiveness, thoroughness, and carefulness always in evidence, always remarkably impressive and required, always surfacing in apt formulations, she makes her focus on dolls indispensable to grasping racial cruelty in the nineteenth century and even beyond. That is to say, in this conspicuously well-researched study, Bernstein surprises us with fractures that we know. Pain as a possible, meaningful sensation – a feeling we attribute to others, even dolls – marks specific borders, especially between enslaved and free, but also between childhood innocence and something like juvenile inuredness to hurt. Who feels suffering and so needs shielding from it? Who, in other words, has racial innocence, a sensitivity to possible harm? Children rehearse these relations with their dolls. And adults rehearse them by watching children play – and by watching dramas or reading certain novels that induce beliefs surrounding human pain.

I want to include all of the review, but I can't for copyright reasons. It's on Project Muse, for those of you who have access to that database.

Kathryn Bond Stockton is the author of three books, including, most recently, The Queer Child, or Growing Sideways in the Twentieth Century and Beautiful Bottom, Beautiful Shame: Where "Black" Meets "Queer"--books I admire keenly. I'm honored that Kathryn Bond Stockton reviewed my book, and I deeply appreciate this lyrical, compelling engagement.

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