Wan-Chuan Kao
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White dorsality
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This chapter examines the imbrication of whiteness, racialisation and conversion in the Middle English romance The King of Tars. The scopic regime of Christianity operates like a facial recognition system, whose limitations reflect ideological biases: faith determines whether an animate assemblage is a formless lump of flesh or an enfaced human body. Racialisation and conversion are somatechnologisations of the human, in which the figure of the turn enacts the interpellation of the white Christian subject. But the turn towards whiteness necessitates a backward turn – a dorsal turn – to the flesh, before the production of the body. It is a public secret whose revelation is only possible through the defacement of whiteness that has become normalised and social. Moreover, racialisation materialises as a double inscription of violence: first, on the flesh, then the body. Both articulations leave behind ineradicable hieroglyphics of brutality upon the material surface. Conversion imposes a white body upon the flesh, yet in medieval medicine, the natural colour of flesh is conceived as white. The white of the flesh therefore stands before the whiteness of the racialised and converted body. Whiteness as racial property defines the white melancholic subject, whose self-impoverishment is indistinguishable from their act of self-fashioning. The drive to fabricate and possess a white, racialised and Christian identity is the compulsion of habeas album: the production of the white melancholic body as thing and property. But before the making of property, the dorsality of whiteness is the structure of flesh behind the contours of the body.

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