Science fiction poses particular dilemmas for referential reading practices privileged in ethnic literary studies and African American literature. Because science fiction often requires the reader to discern the governing norms and values of its constructed, alternative world, it questions the traditional contexts and visual cues by which racial difference appears as racial difference at all. In this essay, Jerng first analyzes how race has been read in science fiction. Cataloging the practices of reading race in science fiction tells us a great deal about how we notice race and the underlying rules whereby racial markers are seen as significant or insignificant. Jerng then turns to the work of Samuel R. Delany, in particular his best-selling novel Dhalgren, to suggest how its narrative strategies lie in rewriting the readability of racial difference. By focusing on reading practices, Jerng turns the attention of critical race theory and SF studies toward the problem of how we notice and evaluate race within the social field. Drawing on frameworks from philosophies of imagination and perception, as well as theories of virtuality, the essay highlights the cognitive and perceptual strategies used to structure the appearance of race. In relocating the role of perception in the task of reading race, the observation of a conventional racial marker no longer serves as a starting point, as something already found in literary texts, but as the effect of a problem of world construction that reconfigures subjects and objects.
Research Article| June 01 2011
Mark Chia-Yon Jerng; A World of Difference: Samuel R. Delany's Dhalgren and the Protocols of Racial Reading. American Literature 1 June 2011; 83 (2): 251–278. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-1266054
Download citation file: