kitschy kitschy yaa yaa yaa

I snapped this jpg at  the antique store in Pendleton, SC — not more than 3 miles from campus. These cast iron coin banks cost  $35.00 each. I’m not sure when or where they were made.

Check out the gestures. The nourishing Negress (as Barthes would call her) looks like she’s ready to pitch an epic niggerbitchfit based on the way she’s got her hands on her hips. And the male one — well, I guess he had better have his hat in his hands.

For some reason, this arrangement of these three objects reminds me of “Trueblood and his women” in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Throwbacks of the most grotesque design, they are. (I’m talking about the Truebloods AND the figurines, by the way.) The genius of the Trueblood scene is the way Ellison writes Truebloods’ intricate testimonial as a thing that functions for commodified exchange. It’s brilliant where Trueblood says, “But what I don’t understand is how I done the worse thing a man can do in his own family and ‘stead of things gittin’ bad, they got better” (68). In uniting a critique of Freudian oedipal desire and Marxian material analysis, Ellison depicts the notion of a/cute monopoly. These incestuous circumstances of “keeping it in the family” is taken to extremes and allows Trueblood to capitalize on the sentiments held by Norton, the wealthy white donor to the invisible man‘s college.

These themes connect very closely to the daddy-mommy-me trinity as described in Anti-Oedipus.

Some Rhetorics of Cute

Of course, cute is problematic. Dan Harris in Cute, Quaint, Hungry, & Romantic has some wonderfully delectable quotes.  Here are a few:

“Cuteness is not an aesthetic in the ordinary sense of the word and must by not means be mistaken for the physically appealing, the attractive.  In fact, it is closely linked to the grotesque, the malformed” (3).

“So cute so as to pitiable – possibly because of a malformation…” (3).

“the aesthetics of cuteness creates a class of outcasts and mutations, a ready-made race of lovable inferiors whom both children and adults collect, patronize, and enslave  in the protective concubinage of a vast harem of homely dolls and snugglesome misfits” (emphasis added, 4).

“An aura of motherlessness, ostracism, and melancholy, the silent desperation of the lost puppy dog clamoring to be befriended – namely to be bought” (5).

“cuteness … disempowers its objects, forcing them into ridiculous situations and making them appear more ignorant and vulnerable than they really are” (6).

“a world of soothing tactile immediacy in which there are no sharp corners or abrasive materials but in which everything has been conveniently soft-sculpturized to yield to our importunate squeezes and hugs” (8).

What are the implications of Harris’ assessment of cute, specifically in regards to cuteness’s  ontological associations?   And for this reason, I think of race in similar terms,  that is, as something that is explicitly obtuse.  Cuteness occurs whenever there is an excess of the obvious, wherever artifice and fissures are highlighted and celebrated.  In future posts, I’ll explore this notion of kitsch.

Part of my fundamental theory is operating out of Roland Barthes‘ notion of cute as a geometric and affective ontology of the third space.

The obtuse is greater than 90˚ and less than 180˚ and so is the correlary of acute, as “cute” is etymologically derived through aphesis (the dropping of the initial “a” vowel and the transpositional unstressing of a syllable).  So through a not-so casuistic stretching of language, we can understand cute as synonymouse to obtuse. And this is what most interests me about cute in the same way that I’m interested by race — especially in relationship to it’s visual depictions. We believe race is an obvious visual sign, but it’s not.