Essays in Honor of Matthew D. Stroud
Stages of Passing: Identity and Performance in the Comedia
AMY R. WILLIAMSEN University of North Carolina Greensboro
Tales about passing—stories of attempted transformation across lines of social identity categories—have been analyzed largely for what they can teach us about the workings of race or gender in the United States. The term is usually associated with the tensions between phenotype and racial categories in the post-Civil War US, as represented, for instance, in Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel, Passing. More recently, Judith Butler, Nadine Ehlers and others have theorized passing and its relationship to the performativity of identity. Useful as it is for an understanding of individual subjectivity, current US-based work on passing inevitably constrains and even predetermines the possible theoretical models of passing and its representations. Sean McDaniel and Joyce Tolliver’s forthcoming book, Writing Counterfeit Subjects: The Representation of Passing in Spain, suggests that passing stories arise at times of anxiety about changes in the reliability of certain social categories for determining social meaning and individual identity.1 They demonstrate that “passing tales are powerful: not only is tension created by the imminent possibility that the pass will be exposed, but the examination of how passing acts are represented and received reveals the contours and power of the social categories that are transgressed” (“Introduction”). Their work reveals that it is not a cultural universal that race is the fundamental category determining social station and privilege; in cultures such as that of 17th-century Spain, religion as an identity category takes on a crucial role. Even in...
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