Skin, race and space: the clash of bodily schemas in Frantz Fanon's Black Skins, White Masks and Nella Larsen's Passing.
Cultural Geographies, 18(1) pp. 25–41.
Nella Larsen’s novel Passing offers the opportunity to reconsider the relationship between race and space. The novel provides an account of space that is highly racialized. It describes 1920s Chicago as having heavily proscribed white and black spaces. However, race itself is far more uncertain. The novel’s two main characters, Irene and Clare, though black by blood in US American racial schematics, are both able to pass as white. Their skin colour renders their race ultimately unknowable: they can easily cross the borders between the white and the black world. By using Frantz Fanon’s notions of corporeal schemas and epidermal schemas, and by focusing on skin itself, it is possible to open up another way of seeing race and space in the novel. The paper argues that these bodily schemas ultimately clash, and come to grief, in the novel. Even so, this clash of bodily schemas enables a possible resolution to the problem of seeing the body either through black/white grids of signification and power, or through their aggregation into phenotypes or races. In this view, bodily schemas may come to define race and space, but never exclusively in one way or another.
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