Week 5 – Passing

Amy Robinson claims that the recognition of the performance of passing, i.e. its visibility, constitutes the spectator either as a dupe (to him the performance is nonexistent as he assumes mimesis), or places him on the same level of familiarity as the performer. At the same time, it is the spectator who determines the success of the pass. To the in-group spectator “the visibility of the apparatus of passing–literally the machinery that enables the performance” (721) works as a sign of a successful pass, for the spectator, being familiar with the apparatus recognizes the newly assumed identity of the performer. At first this may sounded, to me, as counterintuitive seeing as visibility of the performance seems to presuppose its very failure as a hiding, or sheltering, mechanism. However, the purpose of passing is not to reject or annihilate the original identity, but precisely to hide it. Paraphrasing Brecht: becoming the character, as opposed to acting the character, would be annihilating to the performer. In this context I see passing is part of the greater practice of negotiating an identity within a repressive society. It does not have to signify a complete denial of one’s true identity. Rather, passing–even if necessitated by repressive mechanism such as homophobia or racism–may be a way of craftily getting what is otherwise denied: safety, acceptance, privilege.


Work Cited:

Robinson, Amy. “It Takes One to Know One: Passing and Communities of Common Interest.” Critical Inquiry. Volume 20, Number 4 (Summer 1994): p. 715 – p. 736.

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