EN 2011 Lecture Notes - Lecture 6: Dionne Brand, Leila Aboulela, Frantz Fanon
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July 16-17 Lecture Notes Part II July 16 Beyond the sexual- - post-Colonial Search for
Freedom and Meaning
Dionne Brand, “Train to Montreal” by H.Donner
In “Train to Montreal’ Dionne Brand presents a black consciousness of being race-d by the
white gaze. Even when it is averted, it is there in the negative, in the skimming over and
avoidance, especially as the social world requires the gaze as ackowledgment, as means of
identity. Anzaldua warns us from seeing identity as “personal”. We need the community to
acknowledge us to exist in public life. The absent gaze, just like the silence of the bystanders
at the racial assault in the Montreal terminal, renders her invisible, embarrassing, unrelated to.
Brand describes the gaze also existing in its direct aggressive form: suggestive of sexual intent,
“lewd”, making an approach that threatens her as permeable victim. The young woman feels
hunted, “fright running through her chest and arms”, an ugliness imposed on her, repulsive
“fat, huge, white, red, rolling on a thick neck and mouth, open and sour.” Man uncaring of his
image, in contrast to Primo Levi. Lust transformed into hate, both are equally intent on harm
of some sort. The woman on the train is also conscious of being seen by bistanders, the fellow
passengers who are a part of the evil tableau.
What silences them? What silences her – is it the men, is it the futility? She feels that she a
stranger in the world in which she lives. She feels unprotected: a black woman beaten down by
the ugliness of white supremacy. Her mood changes as she sees Jay—from fright into anger.
Race and Gender
What Simone deBeavoir wrote of the second sex could also be said of race. It took deBeauvor
a while to realize that racial and gender identity worked on very similar mechanisms of
domination and exclusion.
One difference observed in the “Second Sex” was that the colonized races could organize for
power whereas the women were individualized into the families, class and race of the men.
They had no “solidarity” also that men had by virtue of institutions: the army, the university,
But was this true for the “man of color”? Could he be said to have the benefit of male
institutions… ? Time and again, Franz Fanon, a physician from Martinique , found that
blackness interfered with access to the white world. The author, “The Wretched of the Earth”
found that in Martinique or in Algeria, two colonized countries, he had no color. But when he
arrived in France he was conscious of being black.
However, in the case of deBeauvoir: she was sensitive to the systemic witchhunt of Jews by
the Nazis and therefore – eyes opened – found parallels in France’s treatment of Algerians.
Colonization contained aspects of the Concentration Camps in that they separated and
persecuted the colonized from the rights and privileges of the colonizer. They were disallowed
in white spheres similar to women in men’s spheres. (Fanon, ‘The Fact of Blackness”.) The
socially empowered position of white men and his gaze is also present in most feminist
writings – l’ecriture feminine, as exampled by Verena Stefan and Dionne Brand. We find Leila
Aboulela in their company as she, however, reverses the male gaze.
Dionne Brand, a Trini-Canadian writer, may be considered a follower of deBeauvoir’s particular
feminist concern with the empowered gaze. In “Train to Montreal” the narrator is in a bar and
powerfully conscious of the bodies around her while holding on to herself in relation to the