Introduction: Race, Death, and the Maternal in American Visual Culture
Introduction: Race, Death, and the Maternal in American Visual Culture
Abstract and Keywords
This introductory chapter begins by considering the September 11 “American Pietà,” a photograph of five rescue workers carrying fatally injured Roman Catholic Priest and New York Fire Department chaplain Mychal Judge taken during the 9/11 terror attacks. These five male uniformed first responders put in the place of the Virgin Mother, mark nationalism’s long-standing possession and appropriation of maternal space and visual maternal discourses in states of war and emergency. This book focuses on late-twentieth-and early-twenty-first-century maternal representations in a variety of visual and textual forms including photography, film, and popular journalism. It reveals the complex relationship between visual intertexts and the sentiments that attend the incorporation and rejection of racialized bodies within contexts of death and remembering.
ON SEPTEMBER 11, 2001, Roman Catholic priest and New York Fire Department chaplain Mychal Judge emerged from the World Trade Center’s Ground Zero as the first recorded victim of the terror attacks. Reuters photographer Shannon Stapleton was on site to capture the vision that began immediately circulating the world as an “American Pietà.”1 Startling for its simultaneous denotations of action and stillness, muscled response and grief, the picture asked for an interpretation, a reconciling frame stable enough to carry an assuaging meaning into a groundshattered national context. The pietà was that frame. True to its longstanding historical role of archetypal inspiration, the shadow-shape of the Virgin Mary holding the dead Christ fluidly enveloped the five cradling men and their fallen, saintly hero. Thus recognized, the “American Pietà” birthed the terror attacks as the crucifixion of the nation, at the same time rendering concrete and prophesized a maternally sanctioned, masculine response.
The apparent ease with which the pietà frame fit the postmortem photograph of Judge had much to do with Father Mychal’s own saintly reputation as a longtime servant to the Catholic church and tireless comforter to the sick and needy. Two book-length biographies, one documentary film, a children’s book, and hundreds of online testimonies published since 9/11 render both the impact of Judge’s spiritual and material gifts to others during his life and the extremity of personal and national loss represented by his death.2 After decades of service as a spiritual leader to fellow New Yorkers, Judge died from a blow to his head that occurred while he was in World Trade Center Tower 1 tending to the injured and performing last rites. Having lived and died in a very public role of religious leadership, Judge’s bodily self-sacrifice was perhaps bound to be figured in the shape of Christ. Indeed, very little of the pietà’s traditional religious contours (p.2)
A nationalism bearing the force of religion lent the American-modified pietà its transposing power to put five men in the symbolic image-space (p.3) of a holy, grieving maternal body. If it was touched and comforted by the pietà’s impressively flexible frame, however, the public at large initially had no knowledge of the degree to which this framing was potentially queer. A fact known to relatively few at the time of his death, Mychal Judge was gay and had for many years served and supported the queer community with his spiritual leadership.5 That his gay identity was largely closeted meant that homophobia had no opportunity to rear its head before Judge was lovingly cast in the Christ position of the pietà or before the pope accepted Judge’s fire helmet on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church.6 Once news of Judge’s gay identity began circulating after his death, however, antigay voices immediately weighed the possibility of Judge’s sainthood against his gayness. In an editorial for Catholic Online, Dennis Lynch, a self-identified longtime friend of Judge, called the gay community’s claiming of Judge as a gay hero a “September 11th hijacking.” Citing only the fact that Judge had never told him he was gay during the ten years in which they’d known each other, Lynch declared that Judge was a “heroic, celibate, faithful Catholic priest” who had been sinisterly misappropriated as a homosexual icon.7 While impressively confused as to the distinction between sexual practice and sexual orientation and identification, Lynch’s outrage clearly indexed how the political stakes of Judge’s symbolism far exceeded a “merely” nationalist or patriotic frame.
With the release in 2006 of Saint of 9/11—a documentary film on Mychal Judge—and later, with the 2008 publication of Judge’s personal journals, Judge’s gay identity became widely known. Those for whom the printed testimonies of Judge’s close friends had not been sufficient evidence now had the words of Judge himself declaring a gay orientation that did not—sources were careful to insist—interfere with his priestly vows of celibacy. Long before this, however, Judge’s symbolic force as a “gay saint” had already done significant work on behalf of gay and lesbian communities.8 In 2002, President George W. Bush signed into law the Mychal Judge Police and Fire Chaplains Public Safety Officers Benefit Act, which amended the 1976 version by adding chaplains to the definition of public safety officers and by making it possible for domestic partners to collect the federal death benefit for such officers killed in the line of duty.9 Thus, with the backing of his symbol’s saintly, national hero status, Judge’s death achieved victories on behalf of the gay community that he arguably could not have achieved in life. As “Victim 0001,” his image managed to queer a piece of national law, if not—ultimately—the white masculinist picture of the nation.10
(p.4) For all of the queer readings that were held out by an image of an allmale group of officers cradling Judge, the September 11th “American Pietà” was also (perhaps just) something far less culturally and politically transgressive. The pietà frame made spiritual the scene of national loss that held Father Mychal at its sacrificed center, simultaneously coding the grievers as stoic maternal and as moving, strong, white, masculine responders. Seen and felt thus, the five-headed male Mary was—in addition to being an apparently trangressively gendered maternal figuration—a sacralized, hypervisible, embodied mark of nationalism’s long-standing possession and appropriation of maternal space and visual maternal discourses in states of war and emergency.
Twenty-First-Century American Pietàs
Twenty-first-century digital image cultures circulated the “American Pietà” globally, reproducing the maternally shaped, timeless justification for the war on terror along with its saintly, centered object(ive) many times over. There were, of course, a wide range of interpretations and active interactions with Judge’s postmortem image, but its life as a maternalized, photographic war memorial is—for the present analysis—the most illuminating. Referencing the picture in a column titled “Why We Should Support This War” on September 22, 2001, gay conservative political writer Andrew Sullivan celebrated the “integrative moment” marked by the hypervisible joining of Father Mychal’s gayness with American heroism. He described the moment as one wherein “gay and lesbian warriors”—a label he applied to gay and lesbian military personnel, as well as to Mychal Judge—could now fully participate in the nation’s battles against the “terrorist monsters.”11 An obvious, overt appropriation of Stapleton’s photograph in the vein of violent patriotism, Sullivan’s engagement with “American Pietà” displayed the “democratic” versatility of twenty-first-century visual nationalism and the apparent fluidity of its maternal figurations in contexts of death and memorialization.12 The digital information age and the imperatives of a global war had rebirthed and revisualized the pietà for an apparently expanding population of spectator-citizens. The universal appeal and would-be increasingly universal address of this new figuring was thus formed at the intersection of its historical status as an icon with which everyone was familiar and its reference to a national body unmoored by terror and the possibilities of digital information. As people around the (p.5) globe “watch[ed] the world change” on September 11, 2001, this iconic and innovative pietà of “Victim 0001” occupied familiar and newly necessary national(ist) structures of feeling.13
Early-and mid-twentieth-century Europe had seen countless plastic art renderings of war memorial pietàs, wherein soldiers replaced Christ and feminized figures stood in for grief-stricken but resilient nations.14 In contrast to the conventionalized, embodied gender scripts of these materially static pietàs, late-twentieth-and early-twenty-first-century digital media technologies produced visual contexts wherein maternally themed memorials could be made from rapidly circulating ephemeral material, unearthing considerably different possibilities for gendered, nationalist signification. In the United States, scenes of the nation’s leveling at the hands of terror produced distinctly “American” pietàs, wherein journalistically photographed firemen occupied the place held traditionally, iconically for the grieving mother. For example, the Pulitzer Prize–winning image that immediately came to symbolize the tragedy of the 1995 bombing at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was a photograph of dying infant Baylee Almon in the arms of firefighter Chris Fields.15 While the photograph itself was powerful as a symbol that encapsulated the nation’s disastrous “loss of innocence,” the association of it with the pietà compelled countless artists to render it in more “solid,” traditional pietà forms. Painterly and sculptured replicas of the firefighter cradling the dying infant abounded, and it was proposed that such a sculpture be adopted as the official memorial for the tragedy.16 Like the photograph of Chris Fields cradling Baylee Almon, the pietà-inflected scene of Stapleton’s 9/11 photograph was one wherein nationalistically inspired visions of the grieving maternal body became overt scenes of masculinist penetration. As official representatives of the nation, as embodied evidence of both its leveling and its hopes for recovery, white male first responders were hypervisibly cited/sighted in a place where before they’d existed only through the ideologically coded female, white maternal body.17 In the case of the 9/11 pietà of Mychal Judge, uniformed officers were framed within a mourning, maternal space, turning the hard, brutal, and necessary response of the racialized global war on terror into a sentimentally sanctioned course of action, an urgent spiritual mission with a seemingly timeless justification.18
In September 2005, a photographer for the Orange County Register submitted his own American pietà photograph to the image repertoire of U.S. national tragedy. Accompanying National Guard search-and-rescue (p.6) workers in the Broadmoor neighborhood of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, Bruce Chambers took a picture of seventy-four-year-old African American Edgar Hollingsworth being removed from his home after having been alone without food or water for sixteen days. The search team found Hollingsworth only as a result of disobeying FEMA’s orders to not break into any homes to look for inaudible or invisible (from the outside) victims. Deciding that the news value of the photograph outweighed its potential risk of being “outside the bounds of taste”—Hollingsworth was emaciated and almost entirely nude—the Orange County Register ran the photograph on its front page, as did twenty other newspapers across the United States.19 Luis Rios, the director of photography for the Miami Herald, explained the paper’s decision to use Hollingsworth’s image and the story of his rescue: “This is one photo that really captured, in a dignified way, someone who lived through Katrina, through the embarrassment of the response, and was carried out.” The San Antonio Express-News photo editor, Rick McFarland, reported that his paper would not have published the image had Hollingsworth died shortly after he was rescued. Hollingsworth was indeed alive when the photograph ran, but he died two days later.20
Bruce Chambers’s statement that his photo immediately reminded him of Michelangelo’s Pietà elides the distinction between the deceased “matter” at the center of the traditional pietà and the fact of Hollingsworth’s living, suffering body. The ascription of pietà status to the immediacy of a photojournalistic snapshot compels viewers to look outside the frame of the image-event to understand the historical matter of long-standing racial social death that is not merely Hollingsworth’s, but Katrina’s, picture. Indeed, Chambers’s projection of the pietà onto a photo of a would-be rescue foreshadows Hollingsworth’s death as the outcome of both the long history of racialized social and economic inequalities in New Orleans and the event of FEMA’s “immediate” nonresponse.21 Like the postmortem photograph of Mychal Judge, the image of Hollingsworth’s rescue contained multiple public servants in the place of the cradling maternal: Specialist Alfred Ramos, a National Guard soldier from a San Diego unit, occupies the centered place of Mary, as he lifts Hollingsworth onto an ambulance gurney. To their left, two New Orleans medics (one of them apparently male, the other hidden from view but for her/his hands) assist with a breathing mask and an IV bag. Another medic on the right helps guide Hollingsworth onto the gurney, her hands cupped under his (p.7) knees. An additional male National Guard soldier stands at the left edge of the frame, head bowed.22
Affirming Chambers’s own interpretation, the multiracial, dual-gendered scene of “rescue” found its way into the left blogosphere as an “American pietà,” where critics in September 2005 referenced the image as an icon of national shame, consistently pointing out that Hollingsworth was a Korean War veteran and that his country had failed miserably to honor him appropriately.23 Such commentary on Chambers’s photograph, however, became a digital archive roughly contiguous with Hollingsworth’s death: there are no blog posts or comments dated after September 2005 on those Internet sites that initially engaged the photograph. In marked contrast, Stapleton’s pietà has continued to generate online conversations and memorializations, unabated since September 2001.24 Applied to Chambers’s photograph, the title “American pietà” could not officially hold (to) the nation the way that Stapleton’s photograph of Mychal Judge could, and does. The 9/11 pietà is and was “American” because its white, male subjects were able to collectively constitute a symbol of the nation itself, a nation whose holy center was wounded by foreign “terrorist monsters.”25 The Katrina pietà is and was “American” because its subject of obscene racial neglect is distinctly national—the subject is, in fact, constitutive of the nation’s history, and perhaps in that way remains unremarkable. As a critique of racism outside the context of any official war, and belonging to what we might call the genre of “protest pietàs,” its nonstatus as a popularly adopted memorial was overdetermined.26
Discussing the history of racial, social death at the country’s shunned center, Henry Giroux considers how the presence and images of dead bodies in the wake of Katrina could not do the same political work that Emmett Till’s open casket did in 1955.27 Till had been tortured, mutilated, and killed by white racists in Mississippi for allegedly whistling at a white woman. His mother, Mamie Till Bradley, insisted that his coffin be kept open so that her son’s destroyed life and body could testify to the obscene racist violence still everywhere present, and everywhere threatening, in a nation that systematically dehumanized African Americans. Although mainstream news organizations at the time did not visually facilitate the powerful social critique that Mamie Till Bradley offered with and through her son’s body, both Jet magazine and the Chicago Defender published photographs of the young Till’s corpse.28 His image, his body, and the brutal facts of his death became flash points for the civil rights movement. (p.8) Photographs of lynched African Americans had been circulating among racist whites for decades, fusing together the public and private formations of whiteness and binding them to black death.29 In contrast, the production and circulation of images of Emmett Till’s body on the part of Mamie Till Bradley and the African American community meant to reveal and combat the racial brutality that had long made blacks the material with which whites constructed a national body in their own image. The blatant nature of racism in 1955 provided a context in which Till’s obscenely violent death could speak through its image to something concrete, to a racism that was present, deliberate, and unchecked in all political and cultural spheres of the moment. The post-civil rights, early-twenty-first-century moment is a considerably different one. Compared to the 1950s, the mechanisms of racial social and material death in the twenty-first century are relatively obscured by “color-blind” institutionalizations of power and privilege.30 What Giroux terms the current “biopolitics of disposability” attending this “postracial” moment therefore produces distinct roles and possibilities for its embodied and imaged evidence.31 He writes:
Emmett Till’s body allowed the racism that destroyed it to be made visible, to speak to the systemic character of American racial injustice. The bodies of the Katrina victims could not speak with the same directness to the state of American racist violence but they did reveal and shatter the conservative fiction of living in a color-blind society. The bodies of the Katrina victims laid bare the racial and class fault lines that mark an increasingly damaged and withering democracy and revealed the emergence of a new kind of politics, one in which entire populations are now considered disposable, an unnecessary burden on state coffers, and consigned to fend for themselves.32
While the contemporary moment and its attendant new “biopolitics of disposability” does indeed produce new images of racial death for new, albeit still racialized, visualities, we must consider closely Giroux’s placement of the onus to testify on the corpses and images of the disenfranchised.33 The photographed bodies of Katrina’s victims, such as the photographed body of Edgar Hollingsworth, unmistakably bear the force of some evidence. But our assumption of their presence and successful political work as the “return of the (racial) repressed” evidences a faith in the (p.9) possibilities of what Ariella Azoulay calls the “Civil Contract of Photography” that we may deem unjustified when we read closely the discrepancies in the power to incite between different images of different deaths. Treating the experiences of Palestinians and women—social bodies to whom only “flawed citizenship” has been granted by the racial and gender politics of their respective national political cultures—Azoulay argues that photographic statements of plight on behalf of these communities may become claims of emergency or calls for protection only if the “addressee” of the photographs recognizes that what these images represent is not something that “she already knows.”34 Without a framing that interrupts this sense of already knowing the crisis being imaged, the always-already-devalued signification of aggrieved subjects’ corporealities makes public emergency an impossible element of/within their images. Framed with this understanding, the post-Katrina photograph of Edgar Hollingsworth’s rescued but dying body could not signify the same degree of official national tragedy or heroism as Shannon Stapleton’s photograph of Mychal Judge. Bruce Chambers’s desire to find a space for Hollingsworth’s image in the iconic space of the pietà, however, indexed a hope that the maternal frame could do for the photograph what the photograph could not do for its twentyfirst-century racialized subject—compel, as it did in the civil rights movement’s maternal offering of Emmett Till’s body, a maternally re-dressed vision of national shame and a racially redressing visuality.35
Revisiting American Pietàs
The address of Chambers’s American pietà was an implicit reference not only to Stapleton’s photograph, but also to a long history both in the United States and globally of political image making that seeks to mark and protest death—along with its material mechanisms and social threats—through images of the maternal. Pietàs have a long history in U.S. public culture as both critiques and visual salves of national crises, and race has always been a materially constitutive element of these works’ manifest and ideological contents. This is as true for those lesser-known pietàs as it is for those that are hypervisible and reproduced many times over.
In 1941, to the chagrin of elite art critics, the inconveniences of World War II forced the Carnegie Institute’s annual international competition to go strictly national in its solicitations and themes. The result was that little-known American muralist Tom Loftin Johnson won first prize in the contest (p.10)
Millard Sheets—the juror who dropped to his metaphorical knees (p.11) to ask for divine intervention on behalf of America’s painterly canvas—encapsulated the reviewers’ central grievance: that an exhibition meant to point to future American “directions” lacked any decipherable common aesthetic or thematic approach. Even worse, the first-prize-winning artist explicitly claimed in postcontest interviews that social justice was a central focus of his work, an orientation to art that, one critic lamented, “tend[s] to obscure pure aesthetic enjoyment.”40 Thankfully, for this same critic, American Pietà’s “line, shape, and color” did not ultimately suffer from the misguidedness of Johnson’s social-realist inspirations. In fact, she concluded that the piece “dispose[d]” its forms “in the rhythm of grandeur which renders so much of Italian painting deservedly ‘sublime.’” She observed: “The forms … begin humanly with the tentative gesture of the haloed pig-tailed pickaninnie squatting in the leftcenter foreground against crimson calico. They move on to the dynamic grief of the father standing against the tree … [and] come to focus in the static figure in the green wheelbarrow.”41
While the political form of Johnson’s painting did indeed begin “humanly,” the “pickaninnie”-inflected humanity that constitutes its cultural and aesthetic premise makes it an uneasy fit within both genres—antilynching art and the pietà—to which it belongs. Johnson was certainly not the first to represent the atrocity of lynching in paintings, but he was, if not the first, then certainly among the first white American painters to garner substantial publicity, however lukewarm or negative, for doing so in the explicit form of the pietà. Following the historical and political path of antilynching artistic protests long articulated in poetry, song, literature, photography, and painting, Johnson—like many other artists who portrayed lynching victims as Christlike—fused religious iconography to an explicitly American trend of racial murder.42 Clearly influenced not only by “deservedly sublime” Italian art, but also by the social-realist imperatives of two prominent antilynching art exhibitions held just six years prior to the Carnegie competition,43 Johnson’s work carved out some national political, social, and artistic “directions” that pointed to the past as well as to the future.
By entering his painting in a contest with an explicitly national theme, Johnson intended it to compel national ownership of the “great race problem of the United States.”44 His critique of this problem was multipronged. In a letter to the acting director of the Department of Fine Arts at the Carnegie Institute about the painting, he wrote that “the half white (p.12) mulatto boy [presumably the crouching figure in the left foreground] is intended to show that all the mischief was not done by the negros.”45 A gloss on the historical prevalence of the rape of black women by white men, the statement, like his painting, reaches toward an indictment of the “race problem” as the great American pity, the great American shame. A sign of the sexual and sexualized “mischief” of racism, the mixed-race boy lays a red shroud (parallel in form and color to that worn by the maternal figure) over the naked sex of, and the sexualized violence against, the lynching victim. This narrative component of American Pietà recalls both the historical fact of bloodily violent castrations that accompanied the lynching of black men and the graphic, heroic presentation of their bodies in painterly representations of lynchings.46
The published reception of Johnson’s painting that ranged from lukewarm to scathing did not, however, compare it to its antilynching painterly predecessors, nor did it take issue with the discordant relationship of its racial stereotypes to its mission of racial justice. Trading in the caricatures of crouching postures, stunned gazes, and bug eyes, the “pickaninnie” presentation of the figures at the perimeter of the painting’s central sorrow highlights the marginal relationship of blackness to any sympathetic presentation of maternity, family, and suffering that is not white. Imbued with no hint of the intentional aesthetic abstraction characteristic of much social-realist art,47 the caricatured figures look upon the austere, “still,” “eternal” ones, wanting entry to its human portrait, indexing the racialized visualities that haunt Johnson’s would-be antiracist vision. Literally and figuratively, the pietà’s expression of sublime maternal sorrow is here punctuated with cartoonish features.
American Pietà’s prize-winning status, however begrudgingly granted and received, predicted some important future social and political directions, as well as some signal artistic and historical pasts, of America itself. The directions Johnson marked are perhaps now best understood as intersections that would long persist on the visual canvas of American tragedy. Looking at Johnson’s 1941 painting from the vantage point of the September 11 and Hurricane Katrina photographs that assumed its title, the “American Pietà” emerges as an understudied genre of U.S. visual culture, a transhistorical, intermedial site where maternal imaginaries harness race and death to picture the nation in both critical and reverential lights.
Bruce Chambers’s photograph of Edgar Hollingsworth references Johnson’s 1941 painting as much as it references Stapleton’s 9/11 image (p.13) of Mychal Judge. More than sixty years after Johnson garnered a lukewarm first prize for his attempt at social-realist and racial critique, Bruce Chambers’s digital photojournalistic pietà of Edgar Hollingsworth used a different realist medium to indict different (still distinctly American) institutions of racial death. Chambers’s photograph circulated widely, initially, and earned him an “Award of Excellence” in the “Pictures of the Year International” competition.48 It continues to exist in archived newspapers and Internet blogs, all dated back to September 2005. The relatively stalled lives of Johnson’s and Chambers’s “American pietàs” compared to that of Stapleton’s photograph of Mychal Judge compels us to consider the possible utilities of refigured pairings of death and the maternal in contexts of national tragedy and the role of race in determining them. Juxtaposed, these pietàs form a constellated vision of a nation’s crises and crimes looking for an image-space of/for articulation, one that refers to the past but is always invested with the hope of (re)generating certain politics, certain futures. Whether these futures are violently patriotic or radically critical, the pietà frame that they share illumines their historical dialogic relationships and sites them, collectively, in a racialized, maternalized space of death.
Death and its images have been rigorously contextualized in both social-scientific and humanistic inquiry, made to occupy historical and theoretical object sets, to tell us specific and crucial stories about particular practices at precise moments. Modern death making, however, has always happened in and through dynamic and relational forms, transhistorically and transnationally rendering bodies disposable according to visual fixations of race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, class, and (non)citizenship status.49 In this framework, the role of images that construct death and their relationships to other images in both national and global contexts are remarkably complex and our theorizations of visual culture must adapt to account for them. Death emerges, and must therefore appear in our analyses of visual culture, between and beyond the material frames of single image-texts or the historical frames of bounded image practices. Indeed, being able to see how we see and know death depends on a rigorous study of bodies in haunting and deathly relation—in relation to other(ed) imaged and material bodies, and in relation to the materialities of national history and memory making.50
In order to comprehend these important relations thoroughly, we require a reworking of André Bazin’s famous formulation in order to conceptualize an ontology of U.S. production and obfuscation of images of (p.14) the dead.51 Scholars have begun to analyze the historical relationships of U.S. visual representations of death and to pursue critical race studies of how images of the dead and visual productions of social death are projected, used, and allegorized across different groups. This work is essential and ongoing, its theoretical and methodological frames developing along many different disciplinary and interdisciplinary lines, including considerations of lynching photographs, familial memorialization practices, postcards and other ephemera, traveling exhibitions, funerary materials, wartime propaganda, civil rights campaigns, photojournalism, avant-gardism, and much more.52 Indeed, if we care to comprehend cultures of death in U.S. history—a history made with and through the material relations of race—we must find frames of understanding appropriate to death’s practices, ways of looking at images that attend, in particular, to their scattered deployment in the name of both racialized monuments and murders. The present study asserts that a cross-media analysis of maternal imagery is one such possible frame. Looking closely at the ideological work of a range of maternal figurations, we witness the imaged chaos of death settle into something affectively assimilable, and we may perhaps take a critical cue—if not comfort—in this, the fact that “the mother” always assuages some thing and that, with an urgent visuality, this thing can be coaxed to appear. That maternal images provide an analytic frame within which to illumine and comprehend death comes clear only through practicing visualities-in-relation, through juxtaposing visual objects in ways that parallel and reveal the ideologies that differentially fix maternal bodies in material and discursive proximity to racialized threats of annihilation and promises of resurrection. This is the work of this book: it might—as it has, historically—begin in any number of places, spaces, bodies, and times.
The Intermedial Spaces of Race, Death, and the Maternal
Focused on the intersection of race, death, and the maternal in U.S. visual cultures at the turn of the twenty-first century, American Pietàs owes much to previous theoretical articulations of death as not only a physical experience, but as a social condition or “threshold that allows for illumination as well as extinction.”53 My analyses of post–Cold War images of death conjoined to pictures of the maternal, however, neither journey into death experiences (im)proper nor venture a subjectivity for the dead, the haunted, (p.15) or the haunting. Rather, I wish to chart the production and negotiation of death imagery as assurance against extinction for the contemporary racialized nation and its chosen subjects. In this sense, the “space of death” that I examine is a relational space of racial reproduction and annihilation, obliteration and restoration.54 In order to frame this space, and thereby to introduce the theoretical and methodological aims of the following chapters, I began with the “American Pietà” as an intermedial image-site that displays the (trans)historical, visual coproduction of race, death, and the maternal in its manifest content.
While the overt theme of the pietà—that subject of Christian art depicting the Virgin Mary holding the body of the dead Christ—is the conjoining of death and the maternal, the presence of race and the mechanics of racialization in this joining are not so obvious in common imaginaries of the work. That the white-marbled, Renaissance subjects of the pietà were phenotypically white may appear to be a most obvious marker of race within its iconography, but this visual property does not in fact index the racializing work of either the pietà or its legacies. Given that the origins of the pietà’s visual imagery have been traced back to at least the thirteenth century—a time when race as we know it did not exist—any attempt to illuminate the specifically racial imperatives it has since served must engage how it has been imported and elaborated in historical and (inter)national contexts wherein race is institutionally formative.55 Whereas reading race and racialization in historical contexts contemporary to the pietà’s initial circulation is difficult, if not impossible, modernity brought with it countless and varied opportunities to do exactly this.56
The affective symbolics of the pietà are indeed profoundly complex and have been articulated in scholarship and criticism ranging from literature to religious studies to art history to psychoanalytic cultural critique. But we may also look critically at the feeling work of the pietà as an iconic object of visual culture itself, one that has variously produced its “universal” subjects—death and the maternal—with and through the powerful and dynamic material of race and nation. Such an approach benefits from illuminating the pietà as a site whose sacredness stems significantly from its display of a physicalized maternal sorrow coupled and coupling with the embodiment of collective salvation.57 From this perspective, our observations about the feeling work of such a profoundly touching image begin to register its more historically and nationally specific invocations. Indeed, the universally recognizable and affectively provocative form of the pietà (p.16) is precisely what both permits and obscures its racializing work on death and the maternal within national(ist) contexts.
Artistic imaginings of Mary’s sorrow at the crucifixion inspired literary texts as early as the ninth century, bequeathing to succeeding generations and to a variety of image genres the quintessential shape of death and the maternal. Drama, poetry, and wood sculpture constituted the pietà’s medieval forms, which appeared during that period in such diverse locations as the Rhineland (Germany), the Low Countries (Belgium), France, and Italy. In 1499, the pietà was prevalent enough in the European artistic imaginary to inspire Michelangelo’s Renaissance masterpiece in precisely this shape: the Virgin Mary cradles the dead Christ, her face beautifully serene, her posture assured. Deathly still, whitely shining, the marbled pair immortalizes the transcendent purpose of maternal sacrifice: the giving over of progeny in the name of collective salvation. Whereas the pietà highlighted the Christian nature and imperatives of this salvation, its symbolism spoke powerfully, also, to peoplehood and to its death and regeneration more generally. The life-sized, three dimensionality of Michelangelo’s sculptural rendition literally materialized the pietà’s affective significance. It was beautifully there, unmistakable, an irrefutable body of feeling.
Whereas the Bible would have been the most likely literary source to figure the pietà, it in fact contains no mention of Mary holding Christ after the crucifixion. The elaboration of Mary’s maternal sacrifice into an immanently visual, embodied offering thus required a semiotics beyond the frame of the New Testament.58 It was with the material of desires that exceeded the strictly scriptured symbolic that Michelangelo—and countless artists before and after him—formed the pietà. This material was social and psychic, aesthetic and political, ethereal and tactile: it was nothing less than the maternal and its promise. Like images of the Madonna and Child, this representation hosted and compelled sentiments that resonated in apparently universal ways, but the resonances of the pietà were significantly distinct in that the held object of these images (the Man-Child) was dead, and that the desired object (the Mother) was grieving. The Mother of the pietà was much more than a body absorbing the most tragic of deaths, however. The feeling she hosted and performed on behalf of all ensured a re-membering, and a resurrection. She was thus an essential presence, marking the magnitude and purpose of this death and the certainty of future life precisely in and through the face of her loss.59
These images and fantasies, these affective constructions of citizenship, look to be some place: they seek out narratives, bodies, and visions within which they can play, be held, let go, and return. In the contemporary national context, these self-stories, these desires, get taken up by and worked through—among other specters and spectacles—the “ghostly imaginings” that animate such abstractions as “global war” and patriotism, family and home, terror and security.64 As the prevalence of pietà imagery from the Middle Ages to the present day affirms, maternal figures that vividly mediate our relationship to life and death are ideal, sentiment-ready (p.19) objects upon and through which to project these imaginings.65 In her own work on Motherhood and Representation, E. Ann Kaplan observes that often, the imaginary mother comes to dominate representations when some threat has emerged through social changes.66 Centered on visual texts produced since the mid-1990s, American Pietàs examines the domination of representations of “the mother” in the contexts of what were and are profound social changes. The racial demographic effects of the 1965 Immigration Act, and the responses to it via the racial hysteria of such state-level measures as California’s Proposition 187 and the racial logics of the Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 were just one index of the social changes needing to be managed in the cultural sphere at the turn of the twenty-first century. Visual representations and regulations of maternal bodies along racial lines were and are, as they have been historically, sites wherein these changes are negotiated, “hosts” for heteronormative anxieties and fears about losing ground to difference.
To examine the visual discourses and imaged intersections of race, death, and the maternal in contexts of national memory, reinscription, and reconstitution is thus to bring to light an intertextual, intermedial, crossracial sphere of maternally inflected image crossings, co-constituted spaces of identity crises and formations compelled by, and then also obscured by, so much apparently natural and transparent feeling. The would-be selfevident nature of a mother’s feeling, a mother’s grief, a mother’s comforting presence is complicated by the racialized facts of womanhood and motherhood themselves. The racialized productions of womanhood and motherhood, and images of the maternal, are essential breeding grounds in the U.S. nation’s attempt to achieve a racially coherent, white “self.”67
As the quintessential image-frame of death and the maternal, the pietà casts a formal shadow—literally, an iconic shape—that hosts social and political investments and struggles as much as, and at the same time that, it hosts religious and spiritual narrative. Just as Italian nationalism inspired an effort to establish Michelangelo’s Pietà as, first and foremost, an Italian masterpiece, the politics of national culture has long located itself in and around images of death and the maternal.68 To put it differently, visual and material embodiments of death and the maternal are often claimed, possessed even, by the politics of national culture. In the context of modern nation-states, and most certainly within the United States, the politics of race and the unsettled materialities of racialization look for a home in the shape of death conjoined to the maternal. The pietà manifests this (p.20) conjoining in one of the most obvious, literal, seemingly timeless forms. Its shape—the shape of a mother or a maternalized figure (as in the case of Stapleton’s and Chambers’s photographs) holding a/her dead child—has historically been filled in with varying material, citing different tragedies and victims, inspiring hopes for different kinds of resurrections and restorations. Although the shape remains, this “different” and differently felt material helps determine for whom its honored and beloved contours are legible.69
In Raising the Dead, Sharon Holland illumines the dark spaces of racialized subjectivity against which full humanity takes shape in modern nations. She urges us to listen to the living dead, to those nonbeings whose histories of enslavement and oppression are simultaneously justified and erased by a national imaginary that has incorporated neither its racial crimes nor its victims.70 As Holland argues, these deeds and victims—disavowed and repudiated—are not without effect: they are the U.S. nation’s constitutive outside, the always-already other that is forever present and against which full subjectivity, full humanity, is differentiated. By expanding the notion of death experiences to include not only the experiences of the deceased and their survivors and grievers, but also the experiences of those relegated by national histories to the space/place of social death,71 we come to understand the essential relationship between death, discourse, and nation building.
Indeed, the exclusion of “other” subjects from national communities and official historical narratives never occurs through clean erasures or absolute disappearances. Rather, these subjects are often the focus of much social and individual hysteria, their absolute difference looming large in the fear spaces of those whose very identity requires cultural propriety. Treating these “ghostly matters,” Avery Gordon applies Ralph Ellison’s observation that “hypervisibility is a persistent alibi for the mechanisms that render one un-visible”72 to examine how “the mediums of public image making and visibility are inextricably wedded to the co-joined mechanisms that systematically render certain groups of people apparently privately poor, uneducated, ill, and disenfranchised.”73 Whereas this incisive discussion of the relationship between publicly hypervisible images and invisible truths takes as its primary objects the images and erasures of marginalized groups, we can extend it to a discussion of hypervisible images of maternal bodies along with their haunting figurations and social consequences. Gordon observes that “to write ghost stories implies that ghosts (p.21) are real, that is to say, that they produce material effects.”74 My analyses of the ghosts bred at the intersection of maternal images assumes that their haunting work cannot be decoded by looking at these images in isolation, or by assuming that the hypervisible “white” properties of some of them—like the 9/11 “American Pietà” of Mychal Judge—are the theoretical point. The dangerous nature of such a visual politics of maternalized reverence is not only that it may make invisible—by taking media and official historical attention away from—“other mothers” or other maternalized figures meant to soothe other tragedies, but also that it seeks to sanctify those ideologies of patriotism and white supremacy that continue to support racialized, global technologies of memory, death, and ghosting.
The Methods and Objects of American Pietàs
Visual representations and productions of death and resurrection have historically appeared not only within and between images of corpses and angels, but also within and between images of mothers, families, citizens, and homes. The “tender violence” of sentimentality in nineteenth-century images of enslaved African American “nursemaids and their charges” and “Americanized” American Indians at boarding schools revealed the kind of ideological death work that “picturing” other bodies has long performed in the United States.75 Following Laura Wexler’s work on the racialized violence of domestic images and the inestimable contributions to theorizing racialized subjectivities and subjections of scholars like Sharon Holland and Saidiya Hartman, one must—if one desires to take seriously questions of race in U.S. visual culture—face directly the issues of racial social death in white self-making. White self-making in the United States is ultimately the object of this book: white self-making through the social death and “obliterations of the other” it entails is its bigger picture.76 The notion of social death that I use derives from Orlando Patterson’s application of the term to enslaved persons, but I use it more broadly to refer to the negation of full humanity of nonwhites in the context of a nation (the United States) that accords humanity through institutionalized productions of racialized citizenship.77 The book’s structure, methods, sites, and arguments depend on the framing of whiteness as it is produced and reproduced in racialized images of the maternal. Focusing on late-twentieth-and early-twenty-first-century maternal representations in a variety of visual and textual forms—including photography, film, and popular (print (p.22) and televisual) journalism—the following chapters examine the racialized coproduction of images that simultaneously “stall” death and “fix” the maternal in the production and revision of U.S. national(ist) narratives of history, memory, and identity. This work goes beyond charting the relationship between fixed notions of race and positive/negative representations of motherhood. Instead, it reveals the complex relationship between visual intertexts and the sentiments that attend the incorporation and rejection of racialized bodies within contexts of death and re-membering.
To engage this constellation of visual maternal discourses is not merely to engage with how dominant ideologies of race structure the differences between “normal” and “deviant” motherhood, between popular understandings of “good” versus “bad” mothers. Indeed, there is something far more complex, more insidious, and more fundamental to racialized visions of the maternal than the crude visual stereotyping that in popular culture makes African American women crack addicts, Latinas hypersexual, and middle-and upper-class white women simply mothers would indicate. Engaging with this network is to move beyond even the crucial acknowledgment of those experiences and representations of history, memory, and maternal experiences that racial atrocities have made fundamentally “different” for marginalized communities. To engage the racialization of history, memory, and the maternal in visual discourse—as both representation and practice—is to begin with the fact long recognized by African American feminist critics such as Hazel Carby, Anne duCille, Hortense Spillers, and Patricia Hill Collins that the very categories of woman and mother do not exist, and have never existed, independently of race.78
Although the universally revered notions of “womanhood” and “motherhood” have been denied outright to African American women since the institution of racialized slavery, the social fact and costs of these denials continued long after abolition. That “the consequences of being a slave woman … haunted the texts of black women throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth”79 is testimony not only to the psychic and cultural residues of racialized slavery and their material manifestation in cultural production, but also to the continued, violent intersections of racial and gender ideologies upon the bodies of African American women and other women of color.80
The historical tropic trinity of race, death, and the maternal in U.S. visual culture may be read in and across a perhaps endless variety of texts, but American Pietàs chooses to focus on their manifestation as millennial (p.23) intertexts, highlighting the ideological work they co-perform to mend and resurrect the U.S. national subject in a particular image during specific moments and events of cultural, social, and political rupture. Via a sustained engagement with Roland Barthes’s suturing of race, death, and the maternal in Camera Lucida, I begin by establishing that, whatever the medium of “her” representation, there is something primarily photographic (with regard to a fixing logic) about not only race and death, but the maternal as well. Although the commentary on racialized visualities within Barthes’s Camera Lucida has yet to be sufficiently decoded, the text indeed shows, even if it does not tell, much about the visual coproductions of race, death, and the maternal. Barthes’s description of the contradictory essence of the photograph as both signifier of death and guarantor of resurrection is particularly instructive, as it suggests a logic that—like the racial logics deployed in white self-making—fixes and creates, reflects and produces. As compounded and compounding cultural elements that share manners of invocation, that have in common the ways in which they are deployed—often simultaneously—to make national histories, memories, and identities, the visual projects of race, death, and the maternal are indeed all bound together by their photographic logics, if not by the many photographs and other media texts in which they have historically, collectively appeared.
I then proceed to explore the implications of this argument for the cultural consumption and critical analyses of racialized productions of death and the maternal in the context of specific visual epistemologies and mediums: the commemoration of Princess Diana in U.S. magazines; the intertext of Toni Morrison’s and Hollywood’s Beloved; the racialized practices of social and cultural death within which “teen pregnancy” is imaged and regulated in California’s Partnership for Responsible Parenting campaigns; and popular constructions of the “Widows of 9/11” in print and televisual journalism, all representational forms that have produced and been deployed to work through this trinity (race, death, and the maternal) at the turn of the twenty-first century.
Acknowledging the complexity of images as material forces, Victor Burgin’s exploration Place and Memory in Visual Culture importantly distinguishes between an analytic approach that examines visual cultural productions within the “separate confines of the supposed ‘specificity’ of their objects” and one that “take[s] its objects as it finds them … in pieces.”81 American Pietàs affirms the co-constitutive and intertextual relationship (p.24) between apparently separate sites of visual production. Images derive part of their force from their relationship to and with other images. Seemingly isolated representations garner the power to persuade and to move viewers toward more (or less) feeling when they work to reinforce one another. Seemingly disparate and unrelated visual media texts all function in this study as cultural artifacts and as visual nodes in a larger network of racialized productions of maternal bodies in contexts of national death and remembering. To engage this network, however, is not merely to interrogate how dominant visual discourses of race structure the difference between those maternal bodies we consume with reverence and those we engage with disdain. Rather, it is (also) to ask how and toward what end the racial project of the nation imbues some maternal bodies with resurrecting power and leaves others for (the) dead. It is in the spaces between these different maternities that U.S. citizen-subjects are born and reborn.
Analyzing Camera Lucida’s incorporation of the maternal in its treatment of the photographic, chapter 1 establishes that Barthes’s reflections on photography teach us something more than how this particular visual technology captures its beloved objects of/for (dis)identification. Barthes’s meditation on the photographic image sutures race and death to the romanticized maternal, giving us a clue as to how maternal visualities themselves deploy race and death in their preservation of a particular (image of) self. Taking a cue from Barthes’s declaration in Camera Lucida that “[he] decided to derive [his] theory from the only photograph which existed for [him] (a photograph of his mother as a child),” this chapter begins its theorizations of maternal visualities with evidence of a pattern, evidence of a tropic trinity—race, death, and the maternal—that appears, again and again, to mediate visual encounters with threats of physical, cultural, and spiritual annihilation. This trinity has historically appeared via a variety of imaging technologies, including (but by no means limited to) photography. Yet it is Barthes’s reflections on photography that illumine the “fixing” logics of racial and maternal ideologies, as well as the fixing relationships between race, death, and maternal that proliferate in all mediums of visual culture in moments of identificatory crises, both large and small.
Chapter 2 analyzes “official” and “commemorative” images of Diana Spencer for how they invoke tropes of charity and sympathy to produce racialized mediations of history, memory, motherhood, and U.S. national identity. Drawing from cultural theory that establishes visual (p.25) technologies of memory and forgetting as material forces, the chapter reads images of Diana appearing in “Collector’s Editions” of such “American” popular magazines as People and Life to illumine the visual scripts of race that demarcate the relative social value(s) of maternity and reproduction. I argue that understanding visual culture as a force that is both structured by and structuring of hierarchies of power enables us to see how the posthumous circulating images of “Our Princess” are indeed not ideologically innocent memorializations. Rather, these images are the physical, embodied material of a (trans)national monument that provides faithful “visitors” an affective connection to historically idealized notions of whiteness, motherhood, and the family. This chapter both identifies the visual production of these ideals and suggests that they are coproduced and reinforced by different media forms and genres, and across/with apparently individual texts. By first illuminating the racialized material of history, memory, and motherhood out of which “The Queen of Our Hearts” (Diana) is posthumously constructed in popular journalism, I set the stage to investigate this material as it is intertextually, dialogically produced with other visual forms.
In chapter 3, I read the visual adaptation of Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved into the 1998 Hollywood film, exploring whether or not it can convey alternative experiences and meanings of the maternal within and despite the racialized discursive terrains within which the construction and reception of its narrative occurs. I treat the maternal media persona of Oprah Winfrey and consider how her publicly granted titles of “America’s psychiatrist” and “The Conscience of Our Times” impact the sentimental racial codes through which the film’s productions of history, memory, and motherhood are read.
Chapter 4 draws upon the work of both critical-race theorists and feminist sociologists to analyze how the California Department of Health Services’ “Partnership for Responsible Parenting” disguises national and local concerns about changing racial demographics and nontraditional family structures within the rhetoric of the “teenage pregnancy” problem. The discourses that mark the maternal bodies of women of color as racialized, sexualized threats to moral and civic “responsibility,” “family values,” and “public health” are not limited to just those visual texts that, for instance, depict an obviously pregnant Latina teen standing in front of a mirror, being asked by a huge, overseeing caption: “are these the kind of curves you want?” Rather, such inductions to publicly healthy (p.26) and morally sound behavior achieve their distinctly racialized character and racializing function through, and because of, their status as one link in a chain of signifiers of deviant sexuality, deficient motherhood, and—because of California’s geographic and imaginary status as a border space—national economic and social threat and burden. By locating the visual print media components of state-authored teen pregnancy prevention initiatives within the same public “screening space” as other U.S. visual (filmic, televisual, journalistic) constructions of maternal bodies, I hope to demonstrates the important relationship between seemingly disparate cultural sites and institutional practices, as well as the imperative for interdisciplinary methodological and theoretical investigations of race, gender, and nation.
The final chapter traces popular representations—in U.S. television specials, popular magazines, and newspapers—of the women who lost spouses and co-parents to the terrorist attacks of September 11 for how these vastly diverse images work together to reproduce a memory of the events in the service of heteronormative formations of family, motherhood, and the nation. Working with and against the tropes traditionally used to render single motherhood in the United States, the sentimental visual discourses that invited sympathy with appropriately maternal widows eventually rendered mothers and widows who developed stances critical of the government irrelevant to any patriotic purpose or objective spurred by September 11. Central to this discussion of those who have been popularly labeled “The Widows of 9/11” is a comparative analysis of the imaging practices used to render these women as, alternately, sympathetic figures in whose name vengeance and war are waged and supported and demonized voices demanding administrative accountability.
In the still-emerging field of visual culture, critical theorists of the image and its social work have begun to extricate their object of study from questions of its production and consumption in and through individual mediums, and to re-place it within its sociohistorical context of simultaneous interlocution with a variety of media forms.82 Adopting this theory behind the method, American Pietàs de-corporealizes the “maternal body” to examine an intermedial body of maternal images, to highlight the diffuse discursive and ideological material out of which it is comprised and the racializing work that it does precisely through its scattered properties. At the same time, my analyses seek to remove this body from the distinct visual theoretical and disciplinary domains within which its meanings have (p.27) thus far been analyzed and understood. My choices of textual objects and analytic approaches to them are thus governed as much by an aspiration to treat visual culture as a discursive field/object-in-itself as they are by an attempt to address specific questions about the relationships between race, death, and the maternal as they are constructed by particular visual genres and technologies.
The racialized maternal is a difficult but crucial concept to analyze, and it becomes all the more so when we grant that it is produced within and across different visual technologies, within and across a variety of cultural and theoretical discourses. Religion and religious studies, art, art history and art criticism, psychology and psychoanalysis, ethnic studies, feminist criticism, and cultural studies: all of these discourses, and many more, offer us ideas about mothers, motherhood, and the maternal. What I explore and assert here about the racialized maternal will likely resonate at different points with a variety of these discourses. Ultimately, I’m concerned with the maternal as something both embodied (fleshed out, visual, visible, although not always whole) and ephemeral (idea, ideology, hauntology) that bears, hosts, and resurrects whiteness on behalf of the nation. This is the maternal we turn to, piece together, hide under, revere, disdain, erect when we want to recuperate our selves as pure and proper citizen-subjects, as well when we want to protest our exclusion from this category. “She” is not a body, but she assumes a multitude of shapes. Barren, fecund, weeping, breeding, sterilized: the American national body needs her in every way. Neither race nor death has ever been very far from her or her ghostly manifestations. Her most sophisticated work is done across and at the interstices of texts, media, and criticism, and we therefore have to probe exactly there to even begin to see it. (p.28)
(1.) Matt Prigge, “Upward Christian Soldier,” Philadelphia Weekly, May 3, 2006.
(2.) Michael Daly, The Book of Mychal: The Surprising Life and Heroic Death of Father Mychal Judge (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2008); Michael Ford, Father Mychal Judge: An Authentic American Hero (Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press, 2002); Glen Holsten, Saint of 9/11: The True Story of Father Mychal Judge, DVD (91 min.) video recording, Arts Alliance America 2006; Kelly Ann Lynch, He Said Yes: The Story of Father Mychal Judge, illustrated by M. Scott Oatman (Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press, 2007); “Saint Mychal Judge: To Encourage Greater Faith, Hope and Love through ‘The Saint of 9/11,’” http://saintmychaljudge.blogspot.com/ (December 15, 2009).
(3.) Neil Graves, “What Really Happened after Father Mike Died,” New York Post, September 9, 2002, 10.
(4.) Historically, there have been a wide variety of less well-known configurations of the pietà, many of which include male bodies as one of the cradling and/ or surrounding figures. For example, whereas Michelangelo’s most famous Pietà (marble sculpture, Rome 1498–99) features just the Virgin Mary cradling the dead Christ, his sixteenth-century sculpture that features Joseph of Arimathea as the centered cradler of Christ—with Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary as flanking supports—has also been described as a pietà, although many argue that it is more properly understood as a Deposition or Lamentation, postcrucifixion scenes that include several mourners. See Antonio Paolucci and Aurelio Amendoa, Michelangelo: The Pietàs-Photographs by Aurelio Amendola (Milan: Skira, 1998), and Frederick Hartt, Michelangelo’s Three Pietàs (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1975). The most widely accepted definition of a pietà, however, stipulates the relationship between the Virgin Mary and Christ as the centered subject.
(5.) Michael Daly, The Book of Mychal: The Surprising Life and Heroic Death of Father Mychal Judge (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2008).
(6.) Bob Adams, “The Pope and Mychal Judge,” The Advocate, December 21, 2001, 16.
(7.) Dennis Lynch, “A September 11th Hijacking,” Catholic Online, June 26, 2002, http://www.catholic.org/featured/headline.php?ID=18 (November 18, 2010).
(9.) http://www.firehero.org/resources/benefits/psobclaimprocess.html, [December 15, 2009]
(10.) Jasbir K. Puar, Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2007).
(11.) Andrew Sullivan, “Why We Should Support This War,” originally published in PlanetOut (September 21, 2001), http://www.indegayforum.org/news/show/26927.html (December 15, 2009). For an incisive reading of notions of citizenship and gay identity that center the white, gay, male, see Roderick Ferguson, “Race-ing Homonormativity: Citizenship, Sociology, and Gay Identity,” in Black Queer Studies: A Critical Anthology, ed. E. Patrick Johnson and Mae G. Henderson (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2005), 52–67.
(12.) Lisa Duggan, “Making It Perfectly Queer,” in Sex Wars: Sexual Dissent and Political Culture, ed. Lisa Duggan and Nan Hunter (New York: Routledge, 2006), 149–63.
(13.) David Friend’s Watching the World Change: The Stories behind the Images of 9/11 (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006), 22.Oprah! (p.157)
(14.) See Jay Winter, “War Memorials and the Mourning Process,” in Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning: The Great War in European Cultural History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 78–118. In an online article titled “The Pietà Revisited?” Father Johann G. Roten, Director of the International Marian Institute, observes: “The Pietà may have been one of the most representative Marian motifs of the twentieth century, not in the least due to two world wars. In fact we find in Western Europe countless representations of the Pietà on marketplaces and in cemeteries. They serve as war memorials commemorating the fallen soldiers of a village, region, or nation … The dead body of Christ is replaced by that of a soldier, and in place of Mary we find a feminine figure symbolizing Germania (Germany) or Marianne (France), meaning the respective fatherland or nation.” The main subject of Roten’s article is whether artist Mark Balma’s 2004 work, titled Pietà, actually “qualifies as a Pietà.” Balma’s painting depicts Jacqueline Kennedy cradling President John F. Kennedy in their limousine, at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, Texas, after his assassination. Ultimately, Roten concludes that “the comparison between Balma’s Pietà and the traditional Pietà remains purely external, a matter of posture and position.” Roten’s article includes an image of Balma’s painting (http://campus.udayton.edu/mary/pieta.html [March 1, 2010]). According to the November 15, 2006, Minnesota Radio story “Minnesotan’s JFK Painting Bound for Vatican,” Balma’s painting was offered to, and refused by, several museums, including the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Smithsonian, but was then displayed at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, Minnesota, as part of a weeklong symposium devoted to examining Kennedy’s assassination. The radio program also reported that Balma planned to present the painting to the pope, who would then include it in the Vatican’s museum collection (http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2006/11/15/jfkpieta/ [March 1, 2010]). In a personal communication on February 25, 2010, Mark Balma’s assistant informed me that the painting had found a home in a private collection.
(15.) John Taylor, “Disaster Tragedy,” in Body Horror: Photojournalism, Catastrophe and War (New York: New York University Press, 1998), 43–68.
(16.) (p.158) Edward T. Linenthal, “‘A Single Chord of Horror’: The Memorial Vocabulary of American Culture,” in The Unfinished Bombing: Oklahoma City in American Memory (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 109–74.
(17.) Our Mothers’ War: American Women at the Front and at Home in World War II (New York: Free Press, 2004)
(19.) Daryl Lang, “Graphic Rescue Photo Becomes a Symbol of New Orleans,” Editor and Publisher (September 15, 2001).
(21.) Robert D. Bullard, “Differential Vulnerabilities: Environmental and Economic Inequality and Government Response to Unnatural Disasters,” Social Research 75.3 (2008): 753–84.
(22.) I have chosen not to reproduce Chambers’s photograph of Hollingsworth here because, while I wish to juxtapose the nature of its intent and digital circulation as a pietà to that of Stapleton’s photograph of Judge, my purpose here is not to rectify any “absence” of images of African American corpses in representations of Katrina nor to provide an example of photographic evidence of the institutional racial neglect that precipitated and defined the disaster. As Henry Giroux establishes (in “Reading Katrina: Race, Class and the Biopolitics of Disposability,” College Literature 33.3 ), no such absence exists. Although the image of Hollingsworth’s dying body worked as testimony to racial neglect for many who saw and wrote about it, my point is not to offer it here, again, as testimony. Rather, I wish to discuss the differently politicized ascriptions of maternal properties to these very different snapshots of national crises, and I believe it is possible to do so without reproducing the photograph of Hollingsworth’s “rescue.” The photograph may be viewed in Lang, “Graphic Rescue Photo Becomes laSymbol of New Orleans.”
(23.) “American Shame: The Edgar (p.159) Hollingsworth Story,” by RobertInWisconsin on The Daily Kos, http://www.dailykos.com/story/2005/9/14/12516/3649. (December 1, 2009).
(24.) Claudia Schippert, “Saint Mychal: A Virtual Saint,” Journal of Media and Religion 6.2 (2007): 109–32.
(25.) Sullivan, “Why We Should Support This War.”
(26.) Historically, politicized maternal concern, grief, and rage at the loss of and threat to the livelihoods of children and other sentimentalized national subjects has played a significant role in indicting institutionalized discrimination, terror, and death in countless national and international contexts. The body of scholarship in this regard is large, much of it treating Latin American contexts, and would require inordinate space to document here. A few key texts include Rosa Linda Fregoso, ed., Lourdes Portillo: The Devil Never Sleeps and Other Films (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2001); Nikki Craske, Women and Politics in Latin America (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1999); Mary S. Pardo, “Madres del Este de Los Angeles, Santa Isabel (MELA-SI),” in Mexican American Women Activists: Identity and Resistance in Two Los Angeles Communities (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998), 136–41; Alexis Jetter, Annelise Orleck, and Diana Taylor, eds., The Politics of Motherhood: Activist Voices from Left to Right (Hanover, N.J.: University Press of editorNew England, 1997); Diana Taylor, “Trapped in Bad Scripts: The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo,” in Disappearing Acts: Spectacles of Gender and Nationalism in Argentina’s “Dirty War” (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1997), 183–222; Marguerite Guzman Bouvard, Revolutionizing Motherhood: The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo (Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, 1994); Marysa Navarro, “The Personal Is Political: Las Madres de Plaza de Mayo,” in Power and Popular Protest: Latin American Social Movements, ed. Susan Eckstein (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989); Patricia Chuchryk, “Subversive Mothers: The Women’s Opposition to the Military Regime in Chile,” in Women, the State, and Development, ed. Sue Ellen Charlton, Jana Everett, and Kathleen Staudt (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989); Xiolan Bao, “Politicizing Motherhood: Chinese Garment Workers’ Campaign for Daycare Centers in New York City, 1977–1982,” in Asian/Pacific Islander American Women: A Historical Anthology, ed. Shirley Hune and Gail M. Nomura (New York: New York University Press, 2003), 286–300; Melissa Wright, “Pardoxes, Protests, and the Mujeres de Negro of Northern Mexico, in Terrorizing Women: Feminicide in the Americas, ed. Rosa Linda Regoso and Cynthia Bejarano (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2010), 277–92.
(27.) Giroux, “Reading Katrina.”
(28.) See Christopher Metress, ed., The Lynching of Emmett Till: A Documentary Narrative (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2002); Michael Randolph Oby, “Black Press Coverage of the Emmett Till Lynching as a Catalyst to the Civil Rights Movement,” Communication Theses (2007), Paper 20; Shaila Dewan, “How Photos Became Icon of Civil Rights Movement,” New York Times, August 28, 2005, 12.
(29.) See Amy Louise Wood, Lynching and Spectacle: Witnessing Racial Violence in America, 1890–1940 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009); Dora Apel and Shawn Michelle Smith, Lynching Photographs (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008); Dora Apel, Imagery of Lynching: Black Men, White Women, and the Mob (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2004); James Allen, Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America (Santa Fe, N.M.: Twin Palms Publishers, 2000); Leigh Raiford, “The Consumption of Lynching Images,” in Only Skin Deep, ed. Coco Fusco and Brian Wallis (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2003), 267–73; Jacqueline Goldsby, A Spectacular Secret: Lynching in American Life and Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006).
(30.) George Lipsitz, The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit from Identity Politics (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998).
(31.) Ian Haney Lopez, “Colorblind White Dominance,” in White by Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 2006), 143–61.
(32.) Giroux, “Reading Katrina,” 174.
(33.) Treating these issues with regard to moving images, Elizabeth Alexander considers African American spectatorship of George Holliday’s eighty-one-second videotape of Los Angeles police violently beating resident Rodney King and the murder trial of O. J. Simpson in 1993 within this continuous history of spectacularizing “black bodies in pain for public consumption” in “‘Can You Be black and Look at This?’: Reading the Rodney King Video(s),” Public Culture 7 (1994): 78.
(34.) Ariella Azoulay, The Civil Contract of Photography (New York: Zone Books, 2008), 201. For additional discussions of the politics and ethics of circulating photographs of atrocity, pain, and torture, see Ariella Azoulay, Death’s Showcase: The Power of Image in Contemporary Democracy (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001); Mark Reinhardt, Holly Edwards, and Erina Duganne, eds., Beautiful Suffering: Photography and the Traffic in Pain (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007); Taylor, Body Horror; Barbie Zelizer, Remembering to Forget: Holocaust Memory through the Camera’s Eye (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998); Andrea Liss, Trespassing through Shadows: Memory, Photography, and the Holocaust (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998); Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others (p.161) (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003); Susan A. Crane, “Choosing Not to Look: Representation, Repatriation, and Holocaust Atrocity Photography,” History and Theory 47 (October 2008): 309–30.
(35.) See Saidiya Hartman, “Redressing the Pained Body: Toward a Theory of Practice,” in Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 49–78. For a lucid reading of the racial and gendered construction of Mamie Till Bradley’s sympathetic, maternal authority to imbue images of her son’s body with political import, see Ruth Feldstein, “‘I Wanted the Whole World to See’: Constructions of Motherhood in the Death of Emmett Till,” in Motherhood in Black and White: Race and Sex in American Liberalism, 1930–1965 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2000), 86–110. See also Koritha Mitchell, “Mamie Bradley’s Unbearable Burden: Sexual and Aesthetic Politics in Bebe Moore Campbell’s Your Blues Ain’t like Mine,” Callaloo 13.4 (2008): 1048–67; and Fred Moten, “Visible Music,” in In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003), 171–231, for his discussion of the “phonic substance” of the published photographs of Emmett Till’s tortured body, a “substance” made possible by his mother’s decision to have it performed.
(36.) The son of the former mayor of Denver (Henry V. Johnson, mayor from 1899 to 1901), Tom Loftin Johnson was forty-one years old in 1941. He graduated from Yale’s School of Fine Arts in 1923 and lived in Bedford Hills, New York, at the time of the Directions in American Painting Exhibition.” His most public works to this point were murals he installed at West Point and Governor’s Island. See Arthur Miller, “Native Artists Dig into Earth Again,” Los Angeles Times, November 2, 1941, C7; “Brave Show,” Bulletin Index, October 31, 1941, 15.
(37.) Miller, “Native Artists Dig into Earth Again.”
(38.) Edward Alden Jewell, “Tom Johnson Wins $1,000 Art Prize,” New York Times, October 24, 1941, 25; John Selby, “Florida Artist Wins Prize,” Los Angeles Herald Express, October 24, 1941; Jeanette Jena, “New York Artists Win Five Carnegie Show Awards,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 24, 1941, 21; Penelope Redd, “Carnegie Judges Award Seven Art Prizes,” Sun-Telegraph, October 24, 1941; “Art Show Winner,” Los Angeles Evening Herald Express, October 24, 1941; W. Peter MacDonald, “Carnegie Art Award Winner Built Bedford Home by Hand,” White Plains Reporter Dispatch, October 25, 1941; John Selby, “Painting of Negro Tragedy Wins Art Exhibition Prize,” Philadelphia Inquirer, October 25, 1941; Carlyle Burrows, “‘Directions’ Shown in Pittsburgh,” New York Herald Tribune, October 26, 1941, 8; Grace V. Kelly, “Finds Best Paintings at Pittsburgh Exhibition Art Left out of Prize Awards,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, October 26, 1941, 13B; Edward Alden Jewell, “In the Realm of Art: Pittsburgh Opens Its Big Annual,” New York Times, October 26, 1941, 9; “Western-Born Artists Win in Eastern Competition,” Los Angeles Times October 26, 1941, 8; “That Tiresome Fashion” (editorial), New (p.162) York Times, October 28, 1941; “Strictly American Scene Wins Prize,” Atlanta Daily World, October 29, 1941, 1; “Brave Show,” 15; “Painting on Lynch Evil Wins 1st Prize at Carnegie Exhibit,” Chicago Defender, November 1, 1941, 7; “Lynch Picture Brings Artist $1000 Prize,” Baltimore Afro American, November 1, 1941, 14; Miller, “Native Artists Dig into Earth Again,” C7; “Which Way American Art?” Newsweek, November 3, 1941, 63; “Art: Chicago v. Pittsburgh,” Time, November 3, 1941; “Award $1,000 Prize to Lynch Painting,” Pittsburgh Courier, November 8, 1941, 7; Howard Devree, “A Reviewer’s Notebook: Brief Comment on Some of the Recently Opened Shows—A Baroque Survey,” New York Times, February 1, 1942, X10.
(39.) Jewell, “In the Realm of Art”; Kelly, “Finds Best Paintings at Pittsburgh Exhibition Art Left out of Prize Awards.”
(40.) Redd, “Carnegie Judges Award Seven Art Prizes.”
(42.) See Apel, Imagery of Lynching; Goldsby, A Spectacular Secret; Wood, Lynching and Spectacle.
(43.) Dora Apel, “The Antilynching Exhibitions of 1935: Strategies and Constraint,” in Imagery of Lynching, 83–132.
(44.) Letter from Tom Loftin Johnson to John O’ Connor, acting director of the Department of Fine Arts at the Carnegie Institute, September 26, 1941 (courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art archives).
(46.) Apel, Imagery of Lynching.
(47.) Stacy I. Morgan, Rethinking Social Realism: African American Art and Literature (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2004).
(49.) For discussions of death as a racialized social experience, see Orlando Patterson, Slavery and Social Death (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982); Michael T. Taussig, Shamanism, Colonialism and the Wild Man: A Study in Terror and Healing (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991); Joseph Roach, Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996); Hartman, Scenes of Subjection; Avery Gordon, Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997); and Sharon Patricia Holland, Raising the Dead: Readings of Death and (Black) Subjectivity (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2000).
(50.) For critically astute and methodologically innovative, cross-media treatments of national memory making, see Marita Sturken, Tangled Memories: The Vietnam War, the AIDS Epidemic, and the Politics of Remembering (Berkeley: University (p.163) of California Press, 1997) and Tourists of History: Memory, Kitsch, and Consumerism from Oklahoma City to Ground Zero (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2007).
(51.) André Bazin, “The Ontology of the Photographic Image,” trans. Hugh Gray, Film Quarterly 13.4 (1960): 4–9.
(52.) On these topics, see the texts referenced in notes 29 and 34.
(53.) Taussig, Shamanism, Colonialism and the Wild Man, 4. See also Gordon, Ghostly Matters; Holland, Raising the Dead; Patterson, Slavery and Social Death; and Roach, Cities of the Dead.
(54.) Taussig, Shamanism, Colonialism and the Wild Man, 4.
(55.) Ibid. Joanna E. Ziegler provides a history of the emergence of the pietà in the visual artistic realm in Sculpture of Compassion: The Pietà and the Begines in the Southern Low Countries c. 1300–.1600 (Brussels/Rome: Institut Historique Belge de Rome, 1992).
(56.) As Adam Lively observes, “the modern idea of race as a scientific or pseudo-scientific means of classifying the human population by physical type was invented in the 18th century” (Adam Lively, Masks: Blackness, Race, and the Imagination [New York: Oxford University Press, 2000, 1998], 13). See also David Roediger, How Race Survived U.S. History (New York: Verso, 2008); Robert Bernasconi, Race (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishers, 2001); and Reginald Horsman, Race and Manifest Destiny: The Origins of American Racial Anglo-Saxonism (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981).
(57.) Mater DolorosaJulia Kristeva, “Stabat Mater,” in The Kristeva Reader, ed. Toril Moi, trans. Leon S. Roudiez [New York: Columbia University Press, 1986], 160–86).
(58.) Discussions of Mary are surprisingly scarce in the Bible, given the increasing prevalence and significance of her image in Christianity since the blooming of the Cistercian’s Marion cult in the twelfth century. Thereafter, the brief mentions of Mary in the Bible were fleshed out into narratives, images, and eventually dogmas in both the Eastern and the Western churches. See Marina Warner, Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Mary (New York: Knopf, 1976). See also Michael P. Carroll, “Mary and the Mother Archetype,” in The Cult of the Virgin Mary: Psychological Origins (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1992).
(59.) Mater DolorosaMater Dolorosa“Stabat Mater,” 175
(60.) Warner, Alone of All Her Sex.
(61.) See Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, trans. Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982). See also Mary Caputi, “The Abject Maternal: Kristeva’s Theoretical Consistency,” Women and Language 16.2 (Fall 1993): 32–56.
(62.) Psychoanalysis, with its emphasis on understanding primary processes of subject formation, has given these historically consistent, affective investments in the maternal, death, and (re) birth a central place in its theorizations. Carl Jung accounts for them in his treatment and elaboration of archetypes, those essential elements of the collective unconscious around which myths, symbols, and rituals—religious and otherwise—take shape. See Carl Jung, Four Archetypes: Mother, Rebirth, Spirit, Trickster (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1970). See also Carroll, The Cult of the Virgin Mary, 32–35. Previous to Jung, Sigmund (p.165) Freud links death and the maternal through universalized “drives,” “principles,” “complexes,” and “stages,” most notably in his essay, “Mourning and Melancholia,” in The Freud Reader, ed. Peter Gay (New York: Norton, 1995), 584–89, and Beyond the Pleasure Principle (New York: Norton, 1990). Jacques Lacan emphasizes the process of a subject’s “birth” into the symbolic as coterminous with the “mirror phase” break from maternal (presymbolic) space in écrits: A Selection, trans. Bruce Fink (New York: Norton, 2004). D. W. Winnicott and Melanie Klein give the maternal a central role in the object relations that usher one into subjectivity, healthfully or otherwise, depending on whether the breast is “good” or “bad” (Melanie Klein, The Psychoanalysis of Children, trans. Alix Strachey [New York: Delcourte Press, rev. ed. 1975], and D. W. Winnicott, The Child, the Family, and the Outside World [New York: Penguin, 1964]). Kristeva locates the maternal at/as the border between the being of a subject and that subject’s obliteration. Necessary for, and necessarily “radically excluded” from, the coherent and bounded subject, the maternal/abject is—at once—life and death (Kristeva, Powers of Horror).
(63.) Lauren Berlant, “The Theory of Infantile Citizenship,” in The Queen of American Goes to Washington City: Essays on Sex and Citizenship (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1997), 25–54.
(64.) Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (New York: Verso, 1991, 1983), 9. See also étienne Balibar and Immanuel Wallerstein, Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities (New York: Verso, 1991).
(65.) makesee her do rightAmerican PietàsKristeva theorizes the subject-on-trial/in process in Revolution in Poetic Language, trans. Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984).
(66.) E. Ann Kaplan, Motherhood and Representation: The Mother in Popular Culture and Melodrama (New York: Routledge, 1992), 7.
(67.) Dorothy Roberts, Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction and the Meaning of Liberty (New York: Vintage, 1999).
(68.) Ziegler, Sculpture of Compassion.
(69.) Karla Holloway’s Passed On: African American Mourning Stories (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2003)
(70.) Holland, Raising the Dead, 15.
(71.) Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1985)
(72.) Gordon, Ghostly Matters, 17.
(75.) Laura Wexler, Tender Violence: Domestic Images in an Age of U.S. Imperialism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000).
(76.) Saidiya Hartman’s discussion of the racialized violence of identification in Scenes of Subjection, 118–20.
(77.) Patterson, Slavery and Social Death.
(78.) Hazel Carby, Reconstructing Womanhood: The Emergence of the Afro-American Woman Novelist (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987); Ann duCille, “The Occult of True Black Womanhood,” in Female Subjects in Black and White: Race, Psychoanalysis, Feminism, ed. Elizabeth Abel, Barbara Christian, and Helene Moglen (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997); and Hortense Spillers, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book,” Diacritics 17.2 (1987). In Reconstructing Womanhood, Carby engages the racialization of womanhood and motherhood in her analysis of the late-twentieth-century gender codes according to which women were declared to be, or not to be, women. These “womanly” codes of purity, piety, submissiveness, and domesticity invariably denied womanhood to enslaved black women who, by virtue of their status as sexual and reproductive property, could “abide” by none of them. As the means by which womanhood came (not) to be, the cult was the discursive and material backdrop against which humanity was absolutely denied to black females. Yet, as Carby’s close reading of “The Emergence of the Afro-American Woman Novelist” illumines, black women writers effectively “reconstructed” dominant notions of motherhood as a universal experience through literary narrative. Antebellum artists such as Nancy Prince, Harriet Wilson, and Harriet Jacobs used their narratives to analyze, negotiate, and resist the racial criteria that fixed them always outside the possibility of (gendered) subjectivity. In doing so, they made historical and social what were taken to be timeless and natural: the experiences and identities of “women” and “mothers.” See also Patricia Hill Collins, “Shifting the Center: Race, Class and Feminist Theorizing about Motherhood,” in Mothering: Ideology, Experience and Agency, (p.167) ed. Evelyn Nakano Glenn, Grace Chang, and Linda Rennie Forcey (New York: Routledge, 1994), 45–65.
(79.) Carby, Reconstructing Womanhood, 61.
(80.) Roberts, Killing the Black Body.
(81.) Victor Burgin, In/Different Spaces: Place and Memory in Visual Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 21–22.
(82.) See Nicholas Mirzoeff, “The Subject of Visual Culture,” in The Visual Culture Reader, ed. Nicholas Mirzoeff (New York: Routledge, 2002), 3–23; W. J. T. Mitchell, “Showing Seeing: A Critique of Visual Culture,” Journal of Visual Culture 1.2 (2002): 165–81; Mieke Bal, “Visual Essentialism and the Object of Visual Culture,” Journal of Visual Culture 2.1 (2003): 5–32.