Author(s): Alison Kinney
Object Lessons is a series of short, beautifully designed books about the hidden lives of ordinary things. We all wear hoods: the Grim Reaper, Red Riding Hood, torturers, executioners and the executed, athletes, laborers, anarchists, rappers, babies in onesies, and anyone who's ever grabbed a hoodie on a chilly day. Alison Kinney's Hood explores the material and symbolic vibrancy of this everyday garment and political semaphore, which often protects the powerful at the expense of the powerless-with deadly results. Kinney considers medieval clerics and the Klan, anti-hoodie campaigns and the Hooded Man of Abu Ghraib, the Inquisition and the murder of Trayvon Martin, uncovering both the hooded perpetrators of violence and the hooded victims in their sights. Object Lessons is published in partnership with an essay series in The Atlantic.
A hood divides the world into the two most unequal possible parts. A hood obfuscates the face of the wearer, the face that would otherwise declare, “this is a person, this is an individual.” A hood declares that whoever is present is not present, that here stands a non-person. A hood makes its wearer into both a cypher and a vector. The hood declares that what is done by a hood wearer is not done by any person in particular but by a transpersonal force, or that what is done to a hood wearer is not done by any person in particular but by a transpersonal force. A hood privileges either the wearer or everyone present but the wearer, depending on who has the say on the hood. The hood privileges power, either the power of the mass over the wearer or the power of the wearer as apart from the mass. The hood is an ambivalent text, a rampart in the struggle between the individual and the circumstance. Whether the hood is worn by the individual or by the agent or agents of the circumstance determines and is determined by the characteristics of power. The experiences of whoever is within the hood and whoever is outside the hood are always at odds. The hood makes protection and vulnerability into antagonists. The hood depersonalises the relations of power. The hood pretends that although what is happening is happening, either it is not happening to an actual person or it is not being enacted by an actual person, but not both. The struggle over who does and who does not wear the hood is the struggle over who will be vulnerable and who will be protected, but vulnerability is not inherent in either hood wearing or non-hood wearing and protection is not inherent in either hood wearing or non-hood wearing. Vulnerability and protection are negotiated ad hoc across the hem of the hood. Vulnerability and protection are determined by who decides who wears the hood rather than by who wears the hood or by who does not wear the hood. The anonymity of the hood allows power to be exerted which without the hood would not be able to be exerted, but either the wielder or the victim of that power could be wearing the hood. The hood itself is only a disjunction, a border, a division, a territory cleared of individual presence, or beyond which the declaration of individual presence has been withheld. Kinney’s book, from the excellent ‘Object Lessons’ series, is full of surprises and interesting perspectives, of moments when you realise that you hadn’t thought much about something or perhaps had thought about it wrongly. She treats the hood throughout history, particularly modern American history, as worn by monks, judges, penitents, inquisitors (or not), the Grim Reaper (or not), the Ku Klux Klan (or not), by torturers, the tortured, executioners (or not), the executed, by criminals, by youth, by activists, and by those who wear hoods for religious reasons. She illuminates the wielding and suffering of anonymised power by concentrating on the concealment that enables the anonymisation of this power. I have not worn a hood since I was a child and wore a windbreaker, but this book makes me curious to do so again. To be present anonymously, to displace my volume in society, has a certain appeal, possibly an unhealthy appeal. You could also wear a hood to keep warm.
A popular, personal, historical take on a singular garment and its myriad associations with death, violence, and identity.
Provocative and highly informative, Alison Kinney's Hood considers this seemingly neutral garment accessory and reveals it to be vexed by a long history of violence, from the Grim Reaper to the KKK and beyond-a history we would do well to address, and redress. Readers will never see hoods the same way again. Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking In spry and intelligent prose, Alison Kinney tours the many uses of the hood in human culture, exploring seemingly unconnected byways and guiding the reader through some surprising connections. The ubiquitous hood, she shows, is an artifact of human relationships with power, the state, and one another. By the end of my time with Hood, I had laughed out loud, sighed in exasperation, and felt by turns both furious and proud. Rebecca Onion, history writer for Slate Magazine This slim, energetic book ricochets between medieval executioners, Abu Ghraib, anarchist protestors, the Ku Klux Klan, Trayvon Martin, and the Grim Reaper in search of a Unified Theory of Hoods. Surprisingly, it ends up finding one, and unearths all manner of fascinating hood-related facts along the way. Pacific Standard Part of the publisher Bloomsbury's 'Object Lessons' series, Hood contains a definite chill as Kinney tracks the history and significance of the garment through the 15th century to the present. ... Kinney tells a riveting story of the origins of the Ku Klux Klan's hooded uniforms. ... This examination is part of the strength of the Object Lessons series. (Other titles look at Silence, Glass, and Dust.) Kinney, a writer in Brooklyn, New York, knits seemingly disparate subjects - burkinis and gentrification, for example - together in such a way that the connection is instantly appreciated - and she does her work in fewer than 200 pages. It's thought-provoking without the lecture. In examining these small yet significant objects of daily life, we find new meaning in the world around us. Next time you get a little chilly and reach for your hoodie, thank Kinney for this history lesson. Tara Jefferson, The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards Book Review
Alison Kinney is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn, New York, USA. Her writing has appeared online at Paris Review Daily, The Atlantic, Hyperallergic, the New York Times, The New Inquiry, New Republic, Narratively, and other publications.
Chapter One: "That very, very simple thing about the hood" The Grim Reaper. The executioner and the executed. Chapter Two: The Struggle Against Terrorism Two Murals. The Ku Klux Klan. Lynching. The Spanish Inquisition. A Timeline of Hooding. Abu Ghraib. Chapter Three: Little Red Riding Hoodlum Our bodies, our hoods. The Seattle WTO protests. Black Blocs and pink blocs. Chapter Four: "It's What's Under the Hood That Counts" Everybody's hoods. Anti-hoodie initiatives. Black Lives Matter. Acknowledgements List of Illustrations Notes