How to come to terms with the spaces and places of Black being in the social, political, and cultural circumstances of life in the United States? What is the status of human beings that have been described as “slaves,” “former slaves,” “Blacks,” Afro-Americans,” “African Americans,” or “people of color,” in American literature and culture? From the inception of the American Nation onward, has this status changed significantly? Is it possible to imagine a continuity in the historical development of the experience and disposition of Blackness in the U.S. in terms of issues concerning politics, ontology, aesthetics, and ethics? What are the conditions of possibility for Blackness, its oppression, and its expression?
Taking its cue from two comparatively recent accounts of the idea and reality of Black life and culture in the U.S.—Fred Moten’s In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition (2003) and Christina Sharpe’s In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (2016)—this seminar seeks to examine both the continuities and the discontinuities in the history of what Moten terms “African America,” from slavery all the way to Black Lives Matter. The seminar thereby introduces a distinct array of literary and audiovisual forms of expression, from the works of Phillis Wheatley to Claudia Rankine, from Robert Johnson to Curtis Mayfield, from Frederick Douglass to Octavia Butler, from Billie Holiday to Erykah Badu, from Gil Scott-Heron to Kanye West, from The Color Purple to Moonlight, and from Blaxploitation to Black Panther. Participants of this seminar will trace the discursive and practical frameworks that give rise to the difficult tensions between the expressions of racial violence and those of Black performance (DuBois, Baraka, Hartman, and Moten), and between the experience of modernity’s oppressive marginalization and being aware of one’s oppression as a principally excluded human being (Fanon, Wilderson, Spillers, and Sharpe). Aside from shorter texts, which will be made available at the start of the semester, the following books need to be purchased by the participants:
- Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself
- Octavia Butler, Kindred
- Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric