The Mellon Research Initiative in Racial Capitalism Presents:
Wan-Chuan Kao, “In the Lap of Whiteness”
What did the premodern hold look like? What cargoes and feelings did it traffic? If the hold, in Fred Moten and Stefano Harney’s formulation, is a periodizing and racializing technology of modern logistics, the two imbricated vectors do not necessarily coincide. Instead of approaching the premodern hold from a modern biologization of race or from a cultural-political mode of historiography, Kao proposes a method grounded in empathy studies. Kao takes as a litmus test “The Squire’s Tale” by Chaucer, in particular its image of a feminine lap cradling a wounded talking falcon that signifies whiteness as racial capital in the guise of courtliness. An alternative to the extraction model of racial capitalism, Canacee’s empathic lap is one figuration of the premodern hold that attempts to traffic whiteness as its terrible load. Next, Kao considers periodization as the historiographic equivalent to racial passing, arguing that the two phenomena share traits and tactics, and that classification and recognition do not always align. In fact, the empathic scene is often marked by the non-coincidence of subjects—a certain wrongness inherent in a failed encounter—that demands willful interpellation. Kao then turns to the reception history of “The Squire’s Tale” and contend that Spenser and Milton repurpose the text through a Foucauldian contre-move rooted in modernist, Orientalist strategies of differentiating texts, bodies, affects, and histories. Periodization is the racial logistics of time.