By Ian Morris
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As an example of such outrageous disrespect for boundaries, both discursive and national, I turn to two disparate genres—black ﬁlm and anthropological theory—to launch a critique about the relationship among the dead, black subjects, and the nation. An old saying contends that you can tell the strength of a nation by the way it treats its poor; today, one can also ascertain this relative strength by examining the way a nation treats its dead. At the global level the dead appear before the public eye as a sign of another 18 Raising the Dead Covers from Time magazine: May 16, 1994 (left) and August 1, 1994 (right).
For archdeacon and critic Michael Perry this new location is aggravated by the unique intersection of place and purpose. ’’31 Because obscenity denotes aggressive and unruly behavior, death—and the dead, which are its consort—again becomes the entity the nation is unable to tame. Obscenity, whether vocalized or practiced, is also aligned with sexual mores and attitudes; discourse around death often ﬁnds itself coupled with sexual expression. Western concepts of death depict the event as a ﬁssure of the living and the dead; as Arie`s asserts, ‘‘like the sexual act, death [beginning in the eighteenth century] was henceforth thought of as a transgression which tears man from his daily life, from rational society’’ (57).
Our job is not just to say that stereotypes of black women are perpetuated by (white) feminist readings but to discover those mechanisms that hold such conventions in place. For that inquiry we need an adequate past to dismantle. Beginning just such an inquiry in her earlier work, Hortense Spillers outlines a theory of the liminality of black women: Slavery did not transform the black female into an embodiment of carnality at all, as the myth of the black woman would tend to convince 42 Raising the Dead us, nor, alone, the primary receptacle of a highly-rewarding generative act.