Surveilling citizens: Claudia Rankine, from the first to the second person

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In both Don't Let Me BeLonely: An American Lyric (2004) and Citizen: An AmericanLyric (2014), Claudia Rankine considers spaces of surveillance in the post-9/11 period. In particular, Rankine explores how the citizenship of black Americans consists of a confused conjunction: on the one hand forms of invisibility, or even social death, and on the other hand, the hypervisibility that results from contemporary regimes of policing and social control. This chapter shows how Rankine's work frames these moments that insistently turn "recognition" from empathetic identification into surveillantoversight. What could reverse this trajectory? Rankine answers at two levels: first by insisting that hers is an American lyric, and taking recourse to ideas like voting and citizenship, which Rankine positions against the spectatorial attitudes of both the well-intentioned and the media-glutted. This rather conventional approach, which emphasizes civic virtue and the virtue of civics, is further tied to Rankine's intensive interrogation of pronoun usage in these same works, an exploration I read as an extended comment on the contemporary meanings of the lyric form. I propose that Rankine's pronoun work can be understood as a reflection on the increasing proximity of surveillance society to the society of the spectacle, which work together in a new "aesthetics of transparency," one that hobbles classical liberal demands for political representation and personal expression. Copyright © 2017 The Author(s).

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSpaces of surveillance: States and selves
EditorsSusan FLYNN, Antonia MACKAY
Place of PublicationCham
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
ISBN (Electronic)9783319490854
ISBN (Print)9783319490847
Publication statusPublished - 2017


Clapp, J. (2017). Surveilling citizens: Claudia Rankine, from the first to the second person. In S. Flynn & A. Mackay (Eds.), Spaces of surveillance: States and selves (pp. 169-184). Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.


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