Wan-Chuan Kao
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In the lap of whiteness
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This chapter turns to the convergence of whiteness, periodisation and racialisation. Modernity, as Fred Moten and Stefano Harney theorise, is sutured by the hold of the slave ship that generates a new kind of ‘feel and feeling’. The hold might appear to give birth to modern colonialism, capitalism and liberalism; yet by the fact of its emergence and its terrible cargo, the hold is already troubled by multiple temporalities. That is, the hold is a racialising and periodising technology. This chapter considers the premodern hold and asks, firstly, what forms it takes; secondly, what bodies it traffics; and thirdly, what racialised affective communities it produces. Whereas emotion works through historicisation to pin down a precise subject identity, affect deploys abstraction to construct a timeless truth about bodily intensity. I take Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale as my axiomatic example, where Canacee’s lappe is a magical object that recognises and enfolds racialised whiteness, in the form of a courtly female falcon, through empathy. Empathy, the act of feeling into a strange aesthetic object, person or situation, characterises the affective similitude interposed between Canacee and the falcon. Canacee’s empathic lap is one figuration of the premodern hold that attempts to contain and erase difference. Empathy as an approach to history and race is deeply problematic. Medieval romance – because of its insistence on historicity rather than history, periodicity rather than period and racialicity rather than race – is one crucial hold that figures affective abstraction and emotional historicisation as entangled modes of premodern racialisation and periodisation.

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