Sara Baartman and the 'Inclusive Exclusions' of Neoliberalism
English: Literature and Writing
This essay examines three African-American feminist texts—Elizabeth Alexander’s “The Venus Hottentot,” Barbara Chase-Riboud’s Hottentot Venus, and Suzan-Lori Parks’s Venus. In their nuanced critiques of the sovereign power of neoliberalism as both a sociopolitical and a discursive condition, that is, as what Foucault calls a biopolitics, these texts represent a feminist cultural activism that challenges the hegemonic forms of neoliberalism and transnational market relations. Despite their apparent focus on African-American women’s bodies and their exploitation and instrumentalization, what is additionally meaningful in these texts is that the more recent history of globalization to which women are subjected under late capitalism—a history within and on which these texts and their writers work—is shown to be coextensive (although not homologous) with the history of imperialism that made it possible in the first place to mark out a place for a Sara Baartman (the so-called Hottentot Venus) in nascent capitalist relations and forces of production and in the early colonization of southern Africa. In their nonreferential literary representations of twentieth-century neoliberalism, Alexander, Parks, and Chase-Riboud give readers a marginal subject, “Sara Baartman,” who serves not simply as an icon of sexual difference between white and black, as some critics have argued, but as an economic placeholder for these interrelated nineteenth- and twentieth-century economic and social histories.
Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism
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