ENGL 386 sections 001 & 002
American Women Writers of Color
--Terms and Concepts Page--

This list contains some of the critical/analytical terms and concepts that we will encounter in this course. Through class discussion and reading, we may encounter more terms/concepts than are listed here; we will amend this list as we progress through the readings. These terms and concepts give us a critical vocabulary through which to discuss many of the phenomena we'll encounter in our historical and literary texts. Names included in parentheses after a term are those of specific writers from whom I've directly borrowed the term, or in whose sense we'll use it. These terms come from general philosophy, feminism, cultural critique, literary critique, postcolonial studies -- we're cross-disciplinary, you know.

Many of these terms will be included on the course mid-term and final exams.

»»philosophical/critical/historical terms

  • appropriate, appropriation: taking something over and making use of it for oneself. In cultural/race terms, very contentious and double-edged: a dominant episteme can appropriate material from subordinate epistemes (for example, they way many people see white rappers and hip-hoppers "stealing" a black music form to make money for white record labels). Atthe same time, subordinate or marginal groups can appropriate materials from a dominant episteme and use them in ways that dominant episteme couldnever have dreamed -- often in such a way as to subvert that episteme (often through irony).

  • assimilation/acculturation

  • binary, binary opposition, dualism (Cixous et al): in general, a system of thought that sees the world and people through only an "either/or" view (white/black, right/wrong, good/evil, sun/moon, man/woman, etc.). Usually, one side of the "/" is arbitrarily assumed superior, better, more right, more desireable, etc., than the other side, so each binary opposition also contains a hierarchy. Such thought, feminists and other theorists argue, neither reflects nor considers the actual richness and complexity of the world or human experience.

  • borders, frontier (Anzaldúa)

  • collapsing, conflating, homogenizing, saming: very basically, considering something/someone as exactly the same as something/someone else different. Overlooking or erasing distinction and difference to force sameness so as not to have to deal with differrence.

  • "color"

  • construct, construction, constructed: anything that does not occur "naturally" -- i.e., anything that humans had a hand in. Also, anything that hs a discernable strcuture to it (that is also artficially made). The notion of "beauty" is a construct in that it does not come hard-wired into our brians, but is rather socially "constructed." ( If the notion of what counts as "beauty" was hard-wired in our heads, then that notion would be exactly the same throughout the world -- which it obviously isn't.)

  • contact zone (Pratt): "social spaces where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power" (Mary Louise Pratt). ALmost literally what it sounds like: a zone of contact, especially between two cultures; for example, the U.S.-México border can be considered a contact zone, since two distinct cultures rub up against each other there, one very much more in power than the other. The idea of "contact zone" can be expanded to include more than just physical places, and more than just cultures.

  • determination, overdetermination

  • dialectical

  • discourse, dominant discourse (Barthes, Foucault)

  • distinction, difference

  • episteme, epistemology (Foucault): a mindset, a way of knowing, what counts as knowledge or worth knowing, and all the knowledge that such a notion creats -- all rolled into one. All that a culture knows, thinks is worth knowing, counts as "knowledge" to begin with, and perpetuates through institutions such as schools, religion, law, government, books, "common sense," etc.

  • essentialism: the notion that peoples (individually as as a whole) can be reduced down to an "essential quality" (or "inherent quality") that dictates who they are and what they do. The thought that becomes thr ground for stereotypes. Examples: Jews are "naturally" clever and cheap; blacks are "naturally" athletic and rhythmic; Asians are "inherently" good at math; women are "essentially" emotional and illogical; men are "naturally" logical and capable of leadership.

  • gaze : literally and figuratively, "looking." Usually indicates the process of looking at someone/something not in such a way that one just "sees" that person/thing, but rather in such a way that the person/object is "projected" by the position of being looked at. The "gaze" is usually discussed as active, while being seen or being the "object" of the gaze is usually considered passive.

  • hegemony (Gramsci): in a very oversimpified sense, this term describes a social environment where not only is the dominant model of knowledge accepted as the only or only correct model of knowledge, but lso where even those objectified within that scheme follow the exact same logic and thereby actively or passively participate in their own oppression. What Lorde quotes Freire as calling "that bit of the oppressor we carry in our heads."

  • homogeneity, heterogeneity

  • ideology, ideological

  • investment

  • irreducible, irreducibility, incommensurable (Bhabha et al)

  • issei/nissei

  • Latina/Chicana

  • "lesbian" (Rich et al)

  • master narrative: basically, the versions of "the truth" that a dominant episteme tells.

  • other, Other, Othering, otherness (de Beauvoir et al):

  • patriarchy, misogyny: patriarchy = social dominance and rule of, by, and for males (or the masculine) explicitly at the expense of women (and of men who don't fit the dominant concept of "a man" or the "masculine"). Misogyny = hatred of women (whether by men or by women), despising "womanliness" and femininity.

  • problematic, problematical, prolematize

  • race/ethnicity

  • racism (cognizant/casual): Rita Sethi's distinction between "knowable" and "aware" (cognizant) racism, racism that explicitly looks like racism, and racism so ingrained into one's daily life that one doesn't think about it (casual) or even realize counts as racism.

  • signifier, signified, referent, signification (de Saussure)

  • simultaneous, simultaneity

  • transculturation (Pratt): "processes whereby members of subordinated or marginal groups select and invent from materials transmitted by a dominant or metropolitan culture [...] While subordinate people do not usually control what emanates from the dominant culture, they do determine to varying extents what gets absorbed into their own and what it gets used for" (Mary Louise Pratt). Pratt here describes a process that can also be described by the terms reappropriation, recombinant production, etc. As she states, subordinate or marginal groups can't always control what surrounding (or invading) dominant culture transmits to them, but they can often have a say in how theyuse what's transmitted to them. Often, subordinate groups or individuals use the cultural products and forms thrown at them by dominant culture in ways that the dominant culture or ideology can't think of, wouldn't think of, or that subvert the whole though process of that dominant episteme. Another way to think of it: using what gets handed to you in ways that don't fit the intended purpose of those things. Pratt describes this as an event that occurs at contact zones (see above).

  • "woman"

    »»literary terms

  • author, narrator

  • narration, narrative

  • primary/secondary text

  • text, subtext, paratext (Eco)

  • plot, story (differences between) (Eco)

  • frame, context

  • genres: short story, essay, novel, play, poetry (defining elements of)

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