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Lyric Whiteness: Thoughts on the Construction of an Invisible Category in Germany

October 11, 2022 @ 5:00 pm 7:00 pm

Lecture by Hannah Vandergrift-Eldridge (U of Wisconsin-Madison) on 10/11 at 5pm in Shaffer 3.

Since the turn of the millennium, the Anglo-American academy and culture at large has embarked on a much-needed analysis of race and lyric poetry. Driven by the work of BIPOC poets and poet-scholars including Claudia Rankine, Dorothy Wang, and Timothy Yu, these new directions mobilize the energy of political movements as well as the increasing visibility of BIPOC poets and scholars to foreground the unique capabilities of lyric poetry for grappling with questions of identity, literariness, form, language and politics. “What is largely missing from this vital work, however, is an analysis of whiteness. I develop the term “lyric whiteness” to name the fact that, in the history of European and American poetics, concepts like “subjectivity” and “humanity” were and have continued to be established by and for white people, as authors such as Maisha Auma, Peggy Piesche, Charles Mills, Arnold Farr, and Susan Arndt have demonstrated outside theories of poetry. Calling attention to that fact does not mean abandoning subjectivity or humanity, nor does it mean that writers of color in those traditions or others never use, adapt, or identify with those concepts. Rather, by naming the whiteness that has remained unspoken and invisible, I call attention to its contingency, fragility, and porousness. Doing so creates an opportunity to step outside the bounds of what the white European tradition has insisted poetry, language, and subjectivity are or do. I develop “lyric solidarity” as a counter-term to “lyric whiteness,” one that decenters white subjectivity and allows affinities and connections to emerge that do not erase difference or dissonance but sustain polyphony and dialogue.