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  • Print publication year: 2001
  • Online publication date: October 2009

4 - “HOO, HOO, HOO”: some episodes in the construction of modern male whiteness

Summary

BOOM, kill the Arabs.

BOOM, kill the white men,

HOO, HOO, HOO.

Vachel Lindsay, 1914

And fears not portly Azcan nor his hoos.

Wallace Stevens, 1922

Hoo ha ha

Hoo ha ha

HOO

HOO

HOO

T. S. Eliot, 1923–24

This chapter undertakes an analysis of “Hoo”: a phonemic bit apparently decorative, unpurposeful, and wayward, resounding in poems of Vachel Lindsay, Wallace Stevens, and T. S. Eliot. Despite looking like a meaningless sound or inarticulate syllable, the phoneme presents a cornucopia of racialized materials in order to create a powerful position for [male] whiteness; it makes a vibrant, aggressive sound of threat and promise that thrills and jolts its users. This reading of a poetic phoneme by social philology proceeds “by fully semanticizing / the so-called nonsemantic features of language” (Bernstein 1992, 16). An alternative and important reading of “hoo” in Eliot only, one that helped incite this chapter, occurs in Michael North's work. He takes the syllable as an indicator of nullity, a “purely phatic sound” “associated with cultures outside of Europe” that Eliot uses to indicate that “language has become null” as Sweeney crosses the line, confessing the savagery of murder (North 1992, 69–70; 1994, 89, 96). In contrast, but helped considerably by North's focus, I see the sound as having content and intertextualities. Briefly to sketch some of its effects, “hoo” draws on black agency and autonomy, which, because mysterious, inexplicable, and frightening to Euro-American writers, is therefore paradoxically affirmed and denied in the syllable “hoo.”