Tavia Nyong’o’s The Amalgamation Waltz: Race, Performance, and the Ruses of Memory serves as a timely text in my 'queer of color critique' directed reading. After just attending the Affect Theory Conference this past weekend, I was able to read The Amalgamation Waltz with a special attention to notions of affect and the ways in which affects such as shame, love, and desire factor prominently in Nyong’o’s argument. Drawing on historical, musical, visual, and performance texts, Nyong’o explores the lineages of racial hybridity in the United States. The Amalgamation Waltz situates nineteenth century conceptions of interraciality alongside contemporary attractions to the idea of a postracial society. Nyong’o draws the reader’s attention to “the national Thing”, a commanding force that produces a simultaneous loyal attachment to the nation and deep-seated suspicion of the other. By historicizing the concept of amalgamation, Nyong’o contends that the figure of the racial hybrid labors as an embodied vindication for the nation’s racist past.
With a focus on shame, Nyong’o’s use of affect illustrates one of the reasons why I’m so drawn to this exciting and extensive field of study. I find that my interest in affect stems from its constructive potential; that it might serve as a dynamic alternative to a more delimiting focus on identity. Rather than framing his argument solely around identity, Nyong’o’s incisive examination of shame shows, I think, how an attention to affect might provide more penetrating interpretations of group affinity.
Ultimately, The Amalgamation Waltz illustrates how the racial hybrid serves as a conduit to a post-racial/hybrid future so long as the racial hybrid is bred through heterosexual reproduction. Nyong’o stresses, “I want to mark the deployment of amalgamation as an act of ideological closure that opens out only onto the future of racially normative heterosexuality” (101). Nyong'o eloquently reveals the intimate relationship between transgressive discourses of racial mixing and heterosexuality. With its normalizing powers, heterosexual love, romance, and reproduction are celebrated as integral channels in securing our post/transracial future. The performativity of the racial hybrid magnifies the performativity of the transracial future so long as the parents of the mixed race subject are male and female. These performativities are present today; discourses surrounding prominent hybrid racial subjects such as Barack Obama and Tiger Woods convey how the mere presence of racial hybridity is sought to summon a transracial future. This transracial future is both complicit with linear straight time and wedded to notions of progress.
The claims at the heart of The Amalgamation Waltz beat synchronically with my interests in critical mixed race studies and queer studies as well as my more precise inquiries regarding how representations of mixed-race subjects both conserve heteronormativity and factor into American racial progress narratives. I’m left wondering: how are different racial hybrids folded into the nation? In what ways does the figure of the mixed-Asian and Pacific Islander (API) labor for the nation? What might an attention to the nuances of mestizaje and amalgamation show us? In his conclusion, Nyong'o offers a disturbing statement from the Herald of Progress:
"unless the shape of the blood participles be consistent with the imperative requirements of the masculine and feminine principles ... it will forever remain physiologically impossible to perfectly - i.e. harmoniously and conjugally - blend or hybridize the reproductive blood of extreme nationalities ... the best offspring are obtained from parents of exactly opposite temperaments" (172).
Is white masculinity seen to exist in perfect harmony with Asian femininity? Are these "opposite temperaments"? What might the API racial hybrid offer to the nation and its investment in a heteronormative transracial future?
As I grapple with these questions I’m brought back to Nyong’o’s discussion of Foucault’s concept of governmentality; in particular, the ways the body is governed and the operations of this governing. As I think ahead to my second-year paper, Foucault’s theories on biopower, governmentality, and discipline may be areas of thought I should become more familiar with. In addition, The Amalgamation Waltz concludes with a gripping excursus on Lacan's theories of objet a and amalga. I'm eager to learn more about this particular stream of psychoanlaytic thought, especially as it relates to the role transference plays in the embodiment of racial hybridity.