115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

When Others Surveil: Intersectionality & Ways of Seeing White Power in Late-Victorian Fiction

Antoinette Chevalier, University of California, Berkeley

In this essay I will interrogate how the hyper-visibility of "blackness" at the fin de siecle is used strategically to undermine racial and cultural hegemonies through surveillance of the professional class.


In this essay I will examine four novels from the fin de siecle -- Bram Stoker's Dracula, The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle, Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone, and Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad -- as these seminal texts highlight the performance of "blackness" and the exploitation of intersectionality in order to subvert cultural hierarchies.  Key charcters in each novel will be analyzed firstly as highly racialized and subversive figures in and of themselves, but moreover how they strategically employ their hyper-visibility (or oftentimes invisibility) to effect.  Three of the texts (Stoker, Doyle, and Collins) are thematically centered on detectives and therein describe elaborate activities of surveillance;  nevertheless, my interest is in the way characters who often lack agency in surveillance (they are instead frequently positioned as objects of the gaze) are nonetheless able to see effectively the stratagems of racial and cultural oppression and then de-stablize these power structures through effective performance of racialized/othered identities.  Blackness is reconceptualized as a vehicle  to dismantle social hegemonies.  Alternatively, my colonial text -- Heart of Darkness --  is not centered on detection but nonetheless involves in the figure of Kurtz a character who has created a panopticon-like stronghold in the African Congo;   his ways of seeing the other along with his jaundiced view of ideologies of the metropole will serve -- in my paper -- as a way to problematize and call into question the effectiveness of sustained interstitionality as Kurtz's identity dissolution has led to a descent into madness.