Taking Refuge: An Introduction
There is really nothing more to say - except why. But since why is difficult to handle,
one must take refuge in how. - Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye
In her approach to the story of Pecola Breedlove in The Bluest Eye, Toni
Morrison's narrator expresses the kind of apprehension about our ability to
explain the social violences of race and gender that haunts this book. For
while American Anatomies hopes to provide a compelling argument about
the lengthy and often contradictory collusion of race and gender hierar-
chies in U.S. culture, it likewise invests in how as a response to the difficul-
ties of handling why. Where such difficulties are for the narrator primarily
emotional, my hesitations take place on methodological grounds as well.
As critical debates about disciplinary study in the past twenty years have
stressed, the practices we engage to define and explain social complexities
condition whatever conclusions we might reach.l
Why
therefore emerges as
the consequence of our narratives of how, and these narratives are neither
innocent nor politically disinterested. To take refuge, as this book does, in
the contingencies of how is to register these broader anxieties about knowl-
edge, truth, and politics that are currently transforming our disciplinary
understandings of and approaches to cultural critique.2 American Anato-
mies is thus a book marked by limits: not only the history, politics, and
disciplinary limits of race and gender as conceptual categories, but more
specifically, the limits of its own theoretical claims to know.
Let me begin, then, with what this study will not do. It will not offer
an analysis of the critical currency now accorded to race and gender with-
out reading that analysis as both resistance to and complicity with late-
twentieth-century formations of white supremacy and patriarchy. Instead,
American Anatomies approaches its critical obsessions as both cultural and
disciplinary ones, and while it hopes to contribute to an antiracist and anti-
sexist critique, I maintain a deep skepticism toward the political and theo-
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