Skin Acts: Race, Psychoanalysis, and the Black Male Performer
Michelle Ann Stephens is Associate Professor of English and Latino and Hispanic Caribbean Studies at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. She is the author of Black Empire: The Masculine Global Imaginary of Caribbean Intellectuals in the United States, 1914–1962, also published by Duke University Press.
In Skin Acts, Michelle Ann Stephens explores the work of four iconic twentieth-century black male performers—Bert Williams, Paul Robeson, Harry Belafonte, and Bob Marley—to reveal how racial and sexual difference is both marked by and experienced in the skin. She situates each figure within his cultural moment, examining his performance in the context of contemporary race relations and visual regimes. Drawing on Lacanian psychoanalysis and performance theory, Stephens contends that while black skin is subject to what Frantz Fanon called the epidermalizing and hardening effects of the gaze, it is in the flesh that other—intersubjective, pre-discursive, and sensuous—forms of knowing take place between artist and audience. Analyzing a wide range of visual, musical, and textual sources, Stephens shows that black subjectivity and performativity are structured by the tension between skin and flesh, sight and touch, difference and sameness.
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