Black Skin, White Masks

Black Skin, White Masks is definitely one of the more challenging books we’ve read this year (for me anyway).  The complexity of the themes discussed as well as the psychoanalytic aspects of the text made it quite difficult for me to really grasp what was being said. I understood the text in small portions but I often found myself getting lost in the greater scheme of the book.

One thing I found especially interesting, which was mentioned in lecture, was the discussion of the title. At first glance I would have never found anything exceptionally intriguing about the title, but after lecture the significance of the title became apparent. When reading it initially, I saw the “white masks” as the sort of false appearance and the “black skin” as what lay underneath. But after it was explained in lecture, it became apparent that both the “white masks” and “black skin” were aesthetic objects. The black skin stands as yet another surface beneath the white masks: another thing to conceal what is truly at the center of a person. I found this quite interesting for I want to know what people really think is at the center of a person…is there anything? Is a person simply made up of a series of masks and surfaces? Is there anyway to tell? This may however be a complete misinterpretation of the concepts outlined in Fanon’s book. I’m going to go out on a limb and compare characters from Northanger Abbey to this concept of masks and surfaces… It seemed to me that characters like Isabella Thorpe and Mrs. Allen seem to be people made up exclusively of surfaces, having nothing of real value at their cores. Do they have anything underneath all their social platitudes? Or are they an endless series of masks and labels?

Northanger Abbey

I found the frequent appearance of Gothic novels in Northanger Abbey an interesting theme. Catherine’s fascination with them as well as Henry’s parody (when they are on the way to Northanger Abbey) allow for Northanger Abbey to become a sort of ideal for Catherine. Northanger is expected by Catherine, to be an old decaying mansion filled with mystery and intrigue, a true representation of the Gothic novel. When she arrives of course, it is more dull than anything else, lacking all mysterious qualities, ones which Catherine must invent using her imagination. The novels provide an important insight into the character of Catherine as they become a key in her imaginings. Imagination stands as one of the most important qualities of Catherine’s personality, one which is heightened if not created by her reading Gothic Novels. Perhaps the appearance of such novels is a commentary made by Austen about the Gothic novels and their authors of the time. The extent to which Catherine imagines the events of these novels in her daily life and the influence they seem to have in her mind seem to poke fun at the genre.

Another thing I found interesting was mentioned in lecture which was how Austen refused to have her novels published in the quarto form. The accessibility of the octavo and the duodecimo to the public both for their price and size greatly increased the  number of people both reading and owning books. Even today, novels tend to be roughly the same sizes as either the octavo or the duodecimo which goes to show how the reduction of size from the quarto has remained popular for 200 years.