Black Body: Women, Colonialism, and Space

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by Radhika Mohanram

From Algeria to the Antipodes, the female black body, when viewed through the colonial lens, represents all that is dangerous and unknown in an alien land. Its true significance can be understood only through the concept of space, because a “black body” is understood as “black” only outside of its context, its “place” — and a female black body is doubly out of place. Yet for all its importance to racial identity, Radhika Mohanram argues, space has been submerged and overlooked in postcolonial theory. Accordingly, she develops in Black Body a theory of identity situated within space and place rather than the more familiar models of identity formation that emphasize time.

Mohanram’s emphasis on space brings out the connections among various strands in postcolonial studies: the politics of displacement, the concept of diasporic identity versus indigenous identity, the identity of woman in the nation and the spatial construction of femininity, the association of the black body with nature and landscape and the white body with knowledge. Drawing on the work of Fanon. Merleau-Ponty, and Levi-Strauss, Black Body interrogates theories produced in the Northern Hemisphere and questions their value for the Southern Hemisphere. The relationship between the female black body and the white male body effectively and tellingly parallels the relationship between the two hemispheres.