30 March 2014
The Beholder Metaphor
In the essays: “Phallus(ies) of interpretation: toward engendering the black critical ‘I’ , “On The Color Purple, Stereotypes, and Silence”, and “The Black Person in Art: How Should S/He Be Portrayed? (Part III)” writers Ann duCille, Trudier Harris, and Henry Louis Gates, Jr.—respectively—all discuss the challenges we face when criticizing literature. Similar to many of the discussion we’ve had in class—particularly in regards to Vonnegut—duCille introduces the “beholder metaphor”; She writes, “Truth, like beauty, is in the eye and perhaps the experience of the beholder”(2). However, duCille ultimately deems this metaphor as being problematic because of the individual reader’s “power and perspective” while encountering a text. Additionally, duCille explains that this metaphor, “invites us to question the authority of the critical I to constitute the Other it beholds, even in the midst of reading the Other’s celebration of its own subjectivity”(2). In other words, duCille--like Harris and Gates—is posing a central question that is frequently asked within literature: who possesses the authority to write about issues such as incest or racism? And does a writer like Alice Walker—a black feminist-- have the literary authority to write about the black male identity or the collective black culture? In response to this question, many black male readers feel that they have been misrepresented within literature as they struggle to accept “seeing themselves depicted as something other than the heroes of their women’s lives”(9). duCille later explains that these men “misread the refusal of a certain kind of male behavior [within a text] as a rejection of black men”(9) as a whole, as opposed to acknowledging the rejection of a specific behavior or attitude that may exist separately from their own selves. Here, we notice that the “beholder exceeds his authority as a reader”(9) and instead, “extrapolates a universal real—‘all black men’—from the particular fiction—‘a black man’ or ‘some black man’”(9). In doing so, duCille argues that the beholder is not only missing the point of the literature but that he is also “denying” a woman writer of her “creative imagination”(9).
While the conflict that exists between the critical I and the Other may be on-going, I tend to side with duCille, I believe that the true challenge “of our critical practice is to see both inside and outside our own assumptions”(10), because as we all very well know--as English majors-- “Texts have a way of becoming what we say they are”(10).