Sunday, November 20, 2011

Identification and Re/Presentation

In this re/presentation unit, Cooper and Butler seem to me to specifically challenge McCloud’s assertions about universal representation in cartoon images. McCloud specifically argues that it is the simplicity of cartoon images that allows them to appeal to a large number of people. A simpler image represents more people and allows for more people to "identify" with the cartoon character. However, Cooper and Butler address the problems of overly simplified representation and complicate for me McCloud's theory.

Anna Julia Cooper’s piece causes me to question the limits of McCloud’s theory of the universality of cartoon imagery. Cooper writes that she feels writers have not accurately represented black men and women. I wish that McCloud had taken up the complications that race and gender bring to his theory. When he introduces the idea of simplification for amplification and identification, his examples of faces, except for the very last, the most simplified, are all clearly white males. I am curious whether the simplified white male face can cause the same level of identification in the reader who is not male or not white. I suppose I am questioning, can a person be represented by an image that does not reflect him- or herself?

Cooper questions universal re/presentation: while she does not have cartoon images in mind, she does question the ability of a writer to represent accurately and with complexity a group he or she isn’t part of. Cooper writes that the black person as a free citizen hasn’t yet been portrayed. “It is my opinion that the canvas awaits the brush of the colored man himself” (382). She also writes that Caucasian barristers cannot put themselves in the place of Black men, who in turn cannot represent the voice of the Black woman. Cooper argues that one of these demographics cannot represent the voice of the other. A Black person as the subject of a re/presentation is best represented by someone of the same gender and race, who also has the correct literary intentions. A person of a different race/gender may possible re/present well, but it is tough.

In “Gender Trouble,” Butler addresses the problems that arise when representation is too universal – that is, one label or characteristic is assume to represent or to foster identification between large numbers of people. Women do not necessarily identify with other women because of their shared gender. “Woman” does not invoke a solidarity of identity (Butler 8). Re/presentation of the subject of feminism (women) as universal has caused false identification or reductive identification. Butler might take issue with Cooper’s assertion about the need for genders and races to represent themselves. If someone does not identify with others of his/her race or gender, can the re/presentation be accurate or nuanced?

The question of who can represent who, and how faithfully, is one that is linked to identification. I am much more comfortable being represented by a group or a person with whom I identify than by a group/person with whom I do not identify. Reading Cooper and Butler together would seem to suggest that the best re/presentation comes from an understanding of the subject, or perhaps from identification between the subject and the re/presenter.


  1. Bringing McLoud into the picture is an interesting tactic in discussing universal representation. I agree with many of your points, and this comment will give me a much needed rest from Burke and his terministic screens. In terms of identity, the question of who can represent who is a decent question that casts agency into an awkward light. Cooper and Butler both have a problem with a gender or race being constructed or represented in a way that does not (and seemingly cannot) capture the identity of an entire population of similar people. But I feel that this pitfall comes from both the social and cultural constructions of race and gender, as well as the individuality complex of all human beings. Grouping and categorizations are based on broad associations, not individual identity. Your post made me truly question whether or not "universal representation" can exist, because it brings about another paradox that is tied closely to identity, and that is mis/representation (see my last post!).

    Can a presenter universally group together and capture identity, or is their construction of such an identity undermine their efforts. I think that this is where Butler is coming from when she states that, citing Luce Irigary, "women constitute a paradox, if not a contradiction, within the discourse of identity itself...within a language pervasively masculinist...women constitute the unrepresentable" (Butler 13).

  2. Your question about "who can represent who" is an important one. It addresses the issue of what makes us different, testing the boundaries of the line between gender and race.
    One of Cooper's passages that caught my eye was when she said, "What I hope to see before i die is a black man honestly and appreciatively portraying both the Negro as he is, and the white man, occasionally, as seen from the Negro's standpoint" (383).

    I see Cooper's essay as an encouragement to create new representations. After this essay I got the feeling that Cooper's exigency is the reality that an entire portrait of a race has been distorted. "They forget that underneath the black man's form and behavior there is the great bed-rock of humanity..." (382). This points to not only the misrepresentation of black people in art and literature, but also to the "they" as a separate kind. Cooper brings up the art of "thinking one's self imaginatively into the experiences of others" (382). To me this suggests an openness of mind and pursuit of disenchantment from our stereotyped world.

    With the first statement, it's like she's saying, if black people have been put in this portrait, wait til you see how blacks perceive white people. From Cooper we can understand how difficult it is to represent the other, but also how it must inevitably happen in literature.


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