Making whiteness matter: The King of Tars

  • Jamie Friedman


While many critics read the King of Tars’s white bodies as the a priori ground of the text’s racial-religious identities, I maintain that the narrative’s whiteness is more malleable and unstable. This interpretation attends to the historical and cultural logic that gave rise to The King of Tars’s iteration of racialized bodies. Considering historical connections between this narrative and Christian exchanges with Mongols in the decades before the text’s composition suggests that the narrative recuperates distinct racial hierarchies precisely where they were indeterminate historically, while retaining traces of that racial plasticity in its fantasized white bodies. The text materializes the period’s desires to expand Christendom, even figuratively, and to reify unstable racial identifications instantiated by conversions real and fantasized. Illuminating the traces of a constructed white racial body draws whiteness into the text’s production of racial-religious identities – via ideological and performative plasticity – that heretofore have adhered exclusively to readings of black bodies in the narrative.



Sincere thanks to Cord Whitaker and the anonymous reviewers of this article for their insightful and gracious comments. And thanks as well to Doug Sugano for years of mentoring, even from afar.


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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jamie Friedman
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of EnglishWestmont CollegeSanta Barbara

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