The Labial, Consumption, and the Scalar
This chapter focuses on the sculpted vulvas of Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party (1979) and Kara Walker’s A Subtlety (2014) in order to draw out some of the issues that underlie the representational politics that surround the black vulva. Though these installations diverge in many ways, this chapter argues that they enable a meditation on the possibility of Luce Irigaray’s permeable, dialogic selfhood—selves that illustrate the impossibility of a border between self and Other—rendering porosity and the labial as important for an ethics of mutual vulnerability. Yet this chapter also cautions against forgetting asymmetries of power. Reading across the installations and the controversy over Walker’s installation in particular forces us to acknowledge that the differences between pleasure in vulnerability and the sensation of racial violation are related to the differences between the structures of our epistemologies of gender and race. Dwelling on the sensuality that inheres in A Subtlety, however, offers a way to reorient porosity by thinking with the dimension of smell as one site of the installation’s excess. The scalar, in turn, allows us to imagine formulations of brown jouissance in relation to fleshiness that exceeds the individual in multiple directions.
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