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Deviancy and Disorder – The Visual Legacy of the Hottentot Venus in the Novels of Toni Morrison

Collier, Elisabeth (2019) Deviancy and Disorder – The Visual Legacy of the Hottentot Venus in the Novels of Toni Morrison. PhD thesis, University of Essex.

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Abstract

Sarah Bartmann came to Europe in 1808 as one of the thousands of people exhibited and transformed into medical spectacles during the course of the nineteenth century. My thesis explores the historical roots and intersecting perspectives surrounding this charged icon and her transformation into the Hottentot Venus through the works of Toni Morrison. Forming a living, breathing embodiment of ultimate difference, establishing nationalistic boundaries through the dissection and reconstruction of her bodily image, Bartmann highlights the way that science and popular culture work to mutually inform and regulate cultural behaviour. Utilising an exploration of Toni Morrison’s ‘aesthetics of resistance’ – at once ‘highly political and passionately aesthetic,’ Fred Moten’s consideration of the black radical tradition, and Roland Barthes’ contemplation on the function of photography, this research suggests that a difference needs to be drawn between the image of ‘race’ and that of the ‘racial image’ within cultural production and re-presentation of iconography. Evident in the association of historic and timeless stereotype, traced from early engravings of the Hottentot Venus to her life-size silhouettes produced by artist Kara Walker, aligned with Morrison’s uncanny depiction of the Africanist presence and lynching spectacle, Bartmann is no longer an image in which black female sexuality is present as an intelligibly visual object. Instead, she becomes a racial icon with a charged political presence in which race is derived as an articulation of the visual. Bartmann’s iconography reveals how cultural memory binds the past to the present and to the future, in a continual process of subversion, displacement and resurrection. An interdisciplinary thesis that juxtaposes the historic with the postmodern, the literary with the political, the aesthetic with the ideological, revealing the socio-political realities that have influenced the emergence of race and the transformation of the black female body.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Divisions: Faculty of Humanities > Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies, Department of
Depositing User: Elisabeth Collier
Date Deposited: 27 Nov 2020 13:00
Last Modified: 27 Nov 2020 13:00
URI: http://repository.essex.ac.uk/id/eprint/29129

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