June 2020 issue

The first three essays in this issue all deal with the scripts, frames, and boundaries prescribed on racialized subjects in different contexts and the ways in which those subjects maneuver and assert their agency. The next two essays look at different forms and uses of media in addressing politics and affect. This issue also features an important forum that examines the triangulated politics of the United States, the People’s Republic of China, and Taiwan through the historical and contemporary US imaginary. Six book reviews are featured, which deal with psychopower, psychopolitics, criminalization of racialized communities, and racialized, gendered, and neoliberal violence in the ongoing colonization of Latin America.


 

"Fine Discords:" Anarranging the Archives of Philippa Schuyler
Camille Owens

“‘Fine Discords:’ Anarranging the Archives of Philippa Schuyler” reads the archives of Philippa Schuyler against the story often told about her family’s eugenic beliefs, the exceptional beginning of her life, and the tragedy at its end. Born in 1931, Schuyler became known at a young age as the “Harlem Prodigy” for her talents as a pianist, young intellectual, and performer. Philippa’s parents, writers George Schuyler and Josephine Schuyler, collected exhaustive data on Philippa’s development and achievements, creating an archive that has supported biographical depictions of the Schuylers as proponents of the eugenic theory of “hybrid vigor,” and of Philippa as their experiment. In my article, I offer a different reading, de-mystifying the politics of “hybrid vigor”—as dominant, not radical—and deemphasizing the theory’s bearing on Schuyler’s life. Ultimately, this article is less concerned with overturning this persistent narrative, than in making other stories about Schuyler’s black girlhood available. 

Bringing methods of black girlhood studies and black feminist geography to her archive, I read the scrapbooks for evidence of Schuyler’s own poetic, sonic, and visual contributions. By looking and listening for material that anarranges the scrapbook’s straightforward vector, I offer views of the imaginative, antilinear, and complex inner life she carved for herself.


The scrapbooks themselves (held at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and at the Special Collections Research Center of Syracuse University) are not available online. But there are other ways to view pieces of Schuyler’s archive, creative work, and legacy. The Beinecke Library hosts several digitized images of Schuyler, including this photograph of Schuyler as a child, composing music on a rooftop for her dolls. The Beinecke also hosts many of the studio portraits that Carl Van Vechten took of Schuyler in her young adulthood, including the portrait of Schuyler and her shadow, and the series of photographs of Schuyler in and out of costume (both discussed in the article).

Selections of Schuyler’s piano compositions have also been uploaded to YouTube, including a young performer’s rendition of Schuyler’s “Autumn Rain.” 

As a figure with a popular following during her life and a popular legacy after, there are multiple ways to engage with Schuyler and the stories told about her. I hope to have offered reason to take critical approaches to them.