Annotation: Alys Eve Weinbaum’s “Racial Aura” (2008)

Peer-Review: 0

This annotation was written in reference to my paper: “Re-imagining Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker through the National Politics of Global Capitalism.” See my abstract here.

Weinbaum, Alys Eve. “Racial Aura: Walter Benjamin and the Work of Art in a Biotechnological Age.” Literature and Medicine. 26.1 (2008): 207-239.

In this article Weinbaum interrogates the widely held belief that racism can only come to an end once society moves beyond race. She reveals how recent scientific evidence has debunked the fiction of race as biologically inherited and the cause for significant genetic differences. In this respect, Weinbaum discusses how science is used to reinforce the color-blind movement and suggest that we currently inhabit a post-racial moment. Weinbaum, however, calls attention to the inherent paradox regarding scientific evidence that suggests that “race has no genetic basis” and the emergence of biotechnologies that are strongly dependent on the idea of race and participate in its commodification (208). She lists examples such as “recreational genealogy, race-based medicine, and…an arsenal of assisted reproductive technologies, or so-called ARTs” (208). Her discussion of the last category is particularly interesting as she explores how individuals dependent on ARTs selectively choose sperm to produce a desired racial effect in their offspring. In the latter half of her essay Weinbaum considers Benjamin’s discussion of “aura” in his article “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Benjamin suggests that reproduced works of art lack “aura” or authenticity. Weinbaum relies on this discussion to conceptualize the notion of “racial aura” in which she considers the position of race within our putatively post-race society. Although race is supposedly inauthentic it still haunts our consciousness and the way we perceive the world. This theoretical framework is particularly important to my own analysis of how Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker furthers a discussion of the implications of post-race rhetoric.

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