Julie Phillips Brown


Bare life and the limits of self in Claudia Rankine's 'Citizen'

Kate Clark, 'Little Girl' (2008). Infant caribou hide, foam, clay, pins, thread, rubber eyes. 15 x 28 x 19 in. Image used with permission of the artist.

“To live through the days sometimes you moan like deer,”[3] writes Claudia Rankine in Citizen: An American Lyric (2014), her critically acclaimed book of poems regarding race in twenty-first-century America. Rankine’s book is a motley hybrid of text and image; its lyric verse, prose fragments, film stills, photographs, and other visual images all center, whether directly or obliquely, on the accumulative traumas of structural racism.

It is as if every valorization and every “politicization” of life […] necessarily implies a new decision concerning the threshold beyond which life ceases to be politically relevant, becomes only “sacred life,” and can as such be eliminated without punishment. Every society sets this limit; every society — even the most modern — decides who its “sacred men” will be. It is even possible that this limit […] has now — in the new biopolitical horizon of states with national sovereignty — moved inside every human life and every citizen.

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