Select Page

write a concise definition of the following terms in the context of bell hooks’ article, “Eating the Other.”1. Conversion experience/becoming the Other 2. Consumer cannibalism/commodification of the Other 3. primitivism 4. White critique of black essentialism vs. black nationalism as a survival strategy


Don't use plagiarized sources. Get Your Custom Essay on
Eating the Other Article Analysis
Just from $10/Page
Order Essay

Unformatted Attachment Preview

366 bell hooks
Eating the Other:
Desire and Resistance
bell hooks
This is theory’s acute dilemma: that desire expresses itself most fully where
only those absorbed in its delights and torments are present, that it triumphs
most completely over other human preoccupations in places sheltered from
view. Thus it is paradoxically in hiding that the secrets of desire come to light,
that hegemonic impositions and their reversals, evasions, and subversions are at
their most honest and active, and that the identities and disjunctures between
felt passion and established culture place themselves on most vivid display.
– Joan Cocks, The Oppositional Imagination
Within current debates about race and difference, mass culture is the contemporary
location that both publicly declares and perpetuates the idea that there is pleasure
to be found in the acknowledgment and enjoyment of racial difference. The commodification of Otherness has been so successful because it is offered as a new
delight, more intense, more satisfying than normal ways of doing and feeling. Within
commodity culture, ethnicity becomes spice, seasoning that can liven up the dull
dish that is mainstream white culture. Cultural taboos around sexuality and desire
are transgressed and made explicit as the media bombards folks with a message of
difference no longer based on the white supremacist assumption that “blondes have
more fun.” The “real fun” is to be had by bringing to the surface all those “nasty”
unconscious fantasies and longings about contact with the Other embedded in the
secret (not so secret) deep structure of white supremacy. In many ways it is a
contemporary revival of interest in the “primitive,” with a distinctly postmodern
slant. As Marianna Torgovnick argues in Gone Primitive: Savage Intellects, Modern
From bell hooks, “Eating the other: Desire and resistance.” In Black Looks: Race and Representation, pp. 21–39. Boston: South End Press, 1992.
Eating the Other
What is clear now is that the West’s fascination with the primitive has to do with its
own crises in identity, with its own need to clearly demarcate subject and object even
while flirting with other ways of experiencing the universe.
Certainly from the standpoint of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, the hope
is that desires for the “primitive” or fantasies about the Other can be continually
exploited, and that such exploitation will occur in a manner that reinscribes and
maintains the status quo. Whether or not desire for contact with the Other, for
connection rooted in the longing for pleasure, can act as a critical intervention
challenging and subverting racist domination, inviting and enabling critical resistance, is an unrealized political possibility. Exploring how desire for the Other is
expressed, manipulated, and transformed by encounters with difference and the
different is a critical terrain that can indicate whether these potentially revolutionary
longings are ever fulfilled.
Contemporary working-class British slang playfully converges the discourse of
desire, sexuality, and the Other, evoking the phrase getting “a bit of the Other” as
a way to speak about sexual encounter. Fucking is the Other. Displacing the notion
of Otherness from race, ethnicity, skin-color, the body emerges as a site of contestation where sexuality is the metaphoric Other that threatens to take over, consume,
transform via the experience of pleasure. Desired and sought after, sexual pleasure
alters the consenting subject, deconstructing notions of will, control, coercive domination. Commodity culture in the United States exploits conventional thinking about
race, gender, and sexual desire by “working” both the idea that racial difference
marks one as Other and the assumption that sexual agency expressed within the
context of racialized sexual encounter is a conversion experience that alters one’s
place and participation in contemporary cultural politics. The seductive promise of
this encounter is that it will counter the terrorizing force of the status quo that
makes identity fixed, static, a condition of containment and death. And that it is this
willingness to transgress racial boundaries within the realm of the sexual that eradicates
the fear that one must always conform to the norm to remain “safe.” Difference can
seduce precisely because the mainstream imposition of sameness is a provocation
that terrorizes. And as Jean Baudrillard suggests in Fatal Strategies:
Provocation – unlike seduction, which allows things to come into play and appear in
secret, dual and ambiguous – does not leave you free to be; it calls on you to reveal
yourself as you are. It is always blackmail by identity (and thus a symbolic murder, since
you are never that, except precisely by being condemned to it).
To make one’s self vulnerable to the seduction of difference, to seek an encounter
with the Other, does not require that one relinquish forever one’s mainstream
positionality. When race and ethnicity become commodified as resources for pleasure,
the culture of specific groups, as well as the bodies of individuals, can be seen as
constituting an alternative playground where members of dominating races, genders,
sexual practices affirm their power-over in intimate relations with the Other. While
teaching at Yale, I walked one bright spring day in the downtown area of New
368 bell hooks
Haven, which is close to campus and invariably brings one into contact with many
of the poor black people who live nearby, and found myself walking behind a group
of very blond, very white, jock type boys. (The downtown area was often talked
about as an arena where racist domination of blacks by whites was contested on the
sidewalks, as white people, usually male, often jocks, used their bodies to force black
people off the sidewalk, to push our bodies aside, without ever looking at us or
acknowledging our presence.) Seemingly unaware of my presence, these young men
talked about their plans to fuck as many girls from other racial/ethnic groups as they
could “catch” before graduation. They “ran” it down. Black girls were high on the
list, Native American girls hard to find, Asian girls (all lumped into the same category),
deemed easier to entice, were considered “prime targets.” Talking about this overheard conversation with my students, I found that it was commonly accepted that one
“shopped” for sexual partners in the same way one “shopped” for courses at Yale,
and that race and ethnicity was a serious category on which selections were based.
To these young males and their buddies, fucking was a way to confront the
Other, as well as a way to make themselves over, to leave behind white “innocence”
and enter the world of “experience.” As is often the case in this society, they were
confident that non-white people had more life experience, were more worldly, sensual,
and sexual because they were different. Getting a bit of the Other, in this case
engaging in sexual encounters with non-white females, was considered a ritual of
transcendence, a movement out into a world of difference that would transform, an
acceptable rite of passage. The direct objective was not simply to sexually possess the
Other; it was to be changed in some way by the encounter. “Naturally,” the presence of the Other, the body of the Other, was seen as existing to serve the ends of
white male desires. Writing about the way difference is recouped in the West in
“The ‘Primitive’ Unconscious of Modern Art, or White Skin, Black Masks,” Hal
Foster reminds readers that Picasso regarded the tribal objects he had acquired as
“witnesses” rather than as “models.” Foster critiques this positioning of the Other,
emphasizing that this recognition was “contingent upon instrumentality”: “In this
way, through affinity and use, the primitive is sent up into the service of the Western
tradition (which is then seen to have partly produced it).” A similar critique can be
made of contemporary trends in inter-racial sexual desire and contact initiated by
white males. They claim the body of the colored Other instrumentally, as unexplored
terrain, a symbolic frontier that will be fertile ground for their reconstruction of the
masculine norm, for asserting themselves as transgressive desiring subjects. They call
upon the Other to be both witness and participant in this transformation.
For white boys to openly discuss their desire for colored girls (or boys) publicly
announces their break with a white supremacist past that would have such desire
articulated only as taboo, as secret, as shame. They see their willingness to openly
name their desire for the Other as affirmation of cultural plurality (its impact on
sexual preference and choice). Unlike racist white men who historically violated the
bodies of black women/women of color to assert their position as colonizer/
conqueror, these young men see themselves as non-racists, who choose to transgress
racial boundaries within the sexual realm not to dominate the Other, but rather so
that they can be acted upon, so that they can be changed utterly. Not at all attuned
Eating the Other
to those aspects of their sexual fantasies that irrevocably link them to collective white
racist domination, they believe their desire for contact represents a progressive change
in white attitudes towards non-whites. They do not see themselves as perpetuating
racism. To them the most potent indication of that change is the frank expression of
longing, the open declaration of desire, the need to be intimate with dark Others.
The point is to be changed by this convergence of pleasure and Otherness. One
dares – acts – on the assumption that the exploration into the world of difference,
into the body of the Other, will provide a greater, more intense pleasure than any
that exists in the ordinary world of one’s familiar racial group. And even though the
conviction is that the familiar world will remain intact even as one ventures outside
it, the hope is that they will reenter that world no longer the same.
The current wave of “imperialist nostalgia” (defined by Renato Rosaldo in Culture and Truth as “nostalgia, often found under imperialism, where people mourn
the passing of what they themselves have transformed” or as “a process of yearning
for what one has destroyed that is a form of mystification”) often obscures contemporary cultural strategies deployed not to mourn but to celebrate the sense of a
continuum of “primitivism.” In mass culture, imperialist nostalgia takes the form of
reenacting and reritualizing in different ways the imperialist, colonizing journey as
narrative fantasy of power and desire, of seduction by the Other. This longing is
rooted in the atavistic belief that the spirit of the “primitive” resides in the bodies
of dark Others whose cultures, traditions, and lifestyles may indeed be irrevocably
changed by imperialism, colonization, and racist domination. The desire to make
contact with those bodies deemed Other, with no apparent will to dominate, assuages
the guilt of the past, even takes the form of a defiant gesture where one denies
accountability and historical connection. Most importantly, it establishes a contemporary narrative where the suffering imposed by structures of domination on those
designated Other is deflected by an emphasis on seduction and longing where the
desire is not to make the Other over in one’s image but to become the Other.
Whereas mournful imperialist nostalgia constitutes the betrayed and abandoned
world of the Other as an accumulation of lack and loss, contemporary longing for
the “primitive” is expressed by the projection onto the Other of a sense of plenty,
bounty, a field of dreams. Commenting on this strategy in “Readings in Cultural
Resistance,” Hal Foster contends, “Difference is thus used productively; indeed, in a
social order which seems to know no outside (and which must contrive its own
transgressions to redefine its limits), difference is often fabricated in the interests of
social control as well as of commodity innovation.” Masses of young people dissatisfied by U.S. imperialism, unemployment, lack of economic opportunity, afflicted
by the postmodern malaise of alienation, no sense of grounding, no redemptive
identity, can be manipulated by cultural strategies that offer Otherness as appeasement, particularly through commodification. The contemporary crises of identity in
the west, especially as experienced by white youth, are eased when the “primitive”
is recouped via a focus on diversity and pluralism which suggests the Other can
provide life-sustaining alternatives. Concurrently, diverse ethnic/racial groups can
also embrace this sense of specialness, that histories and experience once seen as
worthy only of disdain can be looked upon with awe.
370 bell hooks
Cultural appropriation of the Other assuages feelings of deprivation and lack
that assault the psyches of radical white youth who choose to be disloyal to western
civilization. Concurrently, marginalized groups, deemed Other, who have been
ignored, rendered invisible, can be seduced by the emphasis on Otherness, by its
commodification, because it offers the promise of recognition and reconciliation.
When the dominant culture demands that the Other be offered as sign that progressive political change is taking place, that the American Dream can indeed be
inclusive of difference, it invites a resurgence of essentialist cultural nationalism.
The acknowledged Other must assume recognizable forms. Hence, it is not African
American culture formed in resistance to contemporary situations that surfaces, but
nostalgic evocation of a “glorious” past. And even though the focus is often on the
ways that this past was “superior” to the present, this cultural narrative relies on
stereotypes of the “primitive,” even as it eschews the term, to evoke a world where
black people were in harmony with nature and with one another. This narrative is
linked to white western conceptions of the dark Other, not to a radical questioning
of those representations.
Should youth of any other color not know how to move closer to the Other, or
how to get in touch with the “primitive,” consumer culture promises to show the
way. It is within the commercial realm of advertising that the drama of Otherness
finds expression. Encounters with Otherness are clearly marked as more exciting,
more intense, and more threatening. The lure is the combination of pleasure and
danger. In the cultural marketplace the Other is coded as having the capacity to be
more alive, as holding the secret that will allow those who venture and dare to break
with the cultural anhedonia (defined in Sam Keen’s The Passionate Life as “the
insensitivity to pleasure, the incapacity for experiencing happiness”) and experience
sensual and spiritual renewal. Before his untimely death, Michel Foucault, the quintessential transgressive thinker in the west, confessed that he had real difficulties
experiencing pleasure:
I think that pleasure is a very difficult behavior. It’s not as simple as that to enjoy one’s
self. And I must say that’s my dream. I would like and I hope I die of an overdose of
pleasure of any kind. Because I think it’s really difficult and I always have the feeling
that I do not feel the pleasure, the complete total pleasure and, for me, it’s related to
death. Because I think that the kind of pleasure I would consider as the real pleasure,
would be so deep, so intense, so overwhelming that I couldn’t survive it. I would die.
Though speaking from the standpoint of his individual experience, Foucault
voices a dilemma felt by many in the west. It is precisely that longing for the pleasure
that has led the white west to sustain a romantic fantasy of the “primitive” and the
concrete search for a real primitive paradise, whether that location be a country or a
body, a dark continent or dark flesh, perceived as the perfect embodiment of that
Within this fantasy of Otherness, the longing for pleasure is projected as a force
that can disrupt and subvert the will to dominate. It acts to both mediate and
challenge. In Lorraine Hansberry’s play Les Blancs, it is the desire to experience
closeness and community that leads the white American journalist Charles to make
Eating the Other
contact and attempt to establish a friendship with Tshembe, the black revolutionary.
Charles struggles to divest himself of white supremacist privilege, eschews the role of
colonizer, and refuses racist exoticization of blacks. Yet he continues to assume that
he alone can decide the nature of his relationship to a black person. Evoking the
idea of a universal transcendent subject, he appeals to Tshembe by repudiating the
role of oppressor, declaring, “I am a man who feels like talking.” When Tshembe
refuses to accept the familiar relationship offered him, refuses to satisfy Charles’
longing for camaraderie and contact, he is accused of hating white men. Calling
attention to situations where white people have oppressed other white people,
Tshembe challenges Charles, declaring that “race is a device – no more, no less,”
that “it explains nothing at all.” Pleased with this disavowal of the importance of
race, Charles agrees, stating “race hasn’t a thing to do with it.” Tshembe then
deconstructs the category “race” without minimizing or ignoring the impact of
racism, telling him:
I believe in the recognition of devices as devices – but I also believe in the reality of
those devices. In one century men choose to hide their conquests under religion, in
another under race. So you and I may recognize the fraudulence of the device in both
cases, but the fact remains that a man who has a sword run through him because he will
not become a Moslem or a Christian – or who is lynched in Mississippi or Zatembe
because he is black – is suffering the utter reality of that device of conquest. And it is
pointless to pretend that it doesn’t exist – merely because it is a lie . . .
Again and again Tshembe must make it clear to Charles that subject to subject
contact between white and black which signals the absence of domination, of an
oppressor/oppressed relationship, must emerge through mutual choice and negotiation. That simply by expressing their desire for “intimate” contact with black people,
white people do not eradicate the politics of racial domination as they are made
manifest in personal interaction.
Mutual recognition of racism, its impact both on those who are dominated and
those who dominate, is the only standpoint that makes possible an encounter between
races that is not based on denial and fantasy. For it is the ever present reality of racist
domination, of white supremacy, that renders problematic the desire of white people
to have contact with the Other. Often it is this reality that is most masked when
representations of contact between white and non-white, white and black, appear
in mass culture. One area where the politics of diversity and its concomitant insistence on inclusive representation have had serious impact is advertising. Now that
sophisticated market surveys reveal the extent to which poor and materially underprivileged people of all races/ethnicities consume products, sometimes in a quantity
disproportionate to income, it has become more evident that these markets can be
appealed to with advertising. Market surveys revealed that black people buy more
Pepsi than other soft drinks and suddenly we see more Pepsi commercials with black
people in them.
The world of fashion has also come to understand that selling products is
heightened by the exploitation of Otherness. The success of Benetton ads, which
372 bell hooks
with their raciall …
Purchase answer to see full

Order your essay today and save 10% with the discount code ESSAYHSELP