Racism In Hippolyte Taine's History Of English Literature
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Gates places “race” in scare quotes to question the term’s use, which ends in his distancing himself from and then refusing the term. Gates examines “race”‘s history in relation to the themes of science, language and culture. All three illustrate a targeted campaign to subordinate the racial “other”. In refusing to accept the term, Gates refuses Western definition. Gates locates the scientific connection between nature and race in Hippolyte Taine’s History of English Literature. Rather than identifying race as a cultural and social construct, Taine maintains that “race” occurs naturally. Taine asserts that the character value of a man lies in his race, stating that race, intellect and heart are “inseparable” (1892). The racial other made up the “species of man”, all of which were inferior to the white man (1898). Skin color and mental capacity become synonymous, and Kant “conflates color with intelligence” (1898). Any semblance of reason nonwhites show is ignored because of the color of their skin, causing a negation in spite of logic, rather than an assertion in the presence of logic.
If the Western literary tradition has been defined as a “more-or-less set of closed works that somehow speak to, or respond to, the “human condition’ (1891), excluding works from that literary tradition excludes people of color as experiencing the “human condition”. In making these tropes seem an innate part of cultural existence, no one questions racial practices because these tropes “naturally” exist. There is no reason to question or challenge these tropes because they are not created, the simply exist. They are natural characteristics that can only be observed, which is another subversion of the racial other.
19th century Western literature follows the thought that race is an “ineffaceable quantity, which irresistibly determine the shape and contour of thought and feeling (1892). This is an important precedent of us vs them, and in the “scientific” belief that non-national races were inherently, biologically different, rather than culturally different. The racial other exists naturally as a slave, but can obtain humanity through display of artistic ability, but is not identified as artistic because they are naturally