Let There Be Peace on Earth and Let It Begin With Us

In Reading Autobiography, the section on embodiment includes a description of a sociopolitical body. Smith and Watson define this sociopolitical body as “a set of cultural attitudes and discourses encoding the public meanings of bodies that have for centuries underwritten relationships of power” (RA 50). In examining this type of social and political embodiment in Claudia Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely, an interesting pattern of observation and agency emerges. Following a haunting epigraph quote from Aime Cesaire that warns readers “of assuming the sterile attitude of the spectator,” Rankine seems to fall into this attitude in light of political moments within the text. Between moments reflection or experience, Rankine includes very current, controversial pieces like President Bush’s errant recollection of the brutal death of a black man in Texas (21), the death of Princess Diana (39), the execution of Timothy McVeigh (47), the police harassment of Abner Louima (56), the police shooting death of Amadou Diallo (57), and the knighting of Rudi Giuliani (81), just to name a few. Between the pages of the white noise televisions, these political moments appear as if they are evening headlines flashing before readers. As the writer, Rankine seems to have a subdued or weak reaction to these events. In her most expressive commentary on one of these issues, she merely finds herself “talking to the television screen: You don’t know because you don’t care.” (21). Here, Rankine does seem like the “spectator” that Cesaire cautions against. She has no agency, just quiet reactions. Perhaps it is this embodiment as the subdued, helpless spectator in the face of swirling social and political chaos and emptiness that compels Rankine to urge readers to find agency in the “Here.” (130). It is in the embodiment of togetherness, in spite of one’s hopeless American sociopolitical body, that “both recognizes and demands recognition,” instead of just muttering depressions at a screen as the stories flash by. In a culture whose politics are absurd and whose social world is anti-social, a defiance of the cultural loneliness lends one the agency to transfer a thought, instead of subduing it under the white noise.

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