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On the Portability and Meanings of Blackness in Young Jean Lee’s The Shipment (2009)

  • Ilka Saal

    Ilka Saal teaches American literature at the University of Erfurt, Germany. She is the author of New Deal Theater: The Vernacular Tradition in American Political Theater and co-author of Passionate Politics: The Cultural Work of American Melodrama from the Early Republic to the Present. Her essays on 9/11 literature and contemporary American drama have appeared in journals such as Modern Fiction Studies, Arcadia, Journal of American Drama and Theatre, New Theatre Quarterly, and Canadian Review of American Studies. She currently works as a Feodor Lynen Research Fellowship for Experienced Researchers of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation at the University of Toronto.

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Abstract

This essay examines Korean American playwright Young Jean Lee’s provocative interrogation of the meanings of blackness in the Obama age with her 2009 play The Shipment. The play demonstrates how certain notions of blackness travel across time as well as aesthetic praxis and, thus, ironically remain inflexible in their mobility. But Lee also moves beyond such critique of stereotypical conceptions of race. Drawing on Michael Fried’s and Fred Moten’s respective theories of theatricality, this essay discusses the ways in which the playwright situates blackness in a complex force field marked by the nodal points of representation and physiognomy, object and subject, onlooker and performer. It argues that what Lee brings into focus by setting up such a relational force field is not blackness as such but the relationality of its deployment and uses. Ultimately, then Lee’s play is also about whiteness, particularly about white audiences’ continued investment in the privileges of looking and interpellating racial Otherness.

About the author

Ilka Saal

Ilka Saal teaches American literature at the University of Erfurt, Germany. She is the author of New Deal Theater: The Vernacular Tradition in American Political Theater and co-author of Passionate Politics: The Cultural Work of American Melodrama from the Early Republic to the Present. Her essays on 9/11 literature and contemporary American drama have appeared in journals such as Modern Fiction Studies, Arcadia, Journal of American Drama and Theatre, New Theatre Quarterly, and Canadian Review of American Studies. She currently works as a Feodor Lynen Research Fellowship for Experienced Researchers of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation at the University of Toronto.

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Published Online: 2017-4-28
Published in Print: 2017-4-1

© 2017 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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