Fall 2019 English Graduate Courses

350:607 - 'Black is...Black Ain't': Currents in African American Literary and Cultural Theory

Course No:  350:607
Index # - 20557
Distribution Requirement:  B, C
Wednesday - 4:30 p.m.
MU 207

'Black Is...Black Ain't':  Currents in African American Literary and Cultural Theory

Maurice Wallace

This course is dedicated to new and emergent directions in black literary and cultural theory.  It alternately outlines and probes the most generative currents of black thought bearing on literature, literary criticism, culture, aesthetics, history and epistemology.  In practical and pedagogical terms, the course aims to help graduate students do (not reductively “apply”) theory and thus give speculative voice to (what it means to be engaged by and in) black study in the context of these discursive frames.  Any rigorous undertaking of black study cannot escape the problems of method and archive, even if escape is precisely that modality of thought and sociality black study cannot get by without.  The literary and cultural preoccupations of contemporary black thought qua thought are continuous with forceful political, theological, and philosophical provocations, historical and futurist, blurring the outer edges of our somewhat narrower apprehensions of what “black is” and what “black ain’t.”

We begin with a parsing of the current terms and positions associated with those philosophical orientations (and its history) toward black life and death in literature, music and art somewhat reflexively referred to as Afro-pessimism and its cousin-discourses, Afro-optimism and Afro-futurism.  From there we take up new readings on race and/as disability, sound studies, black visual culture, science fiction and what Stefano Harvey and Fred Moten call "black study” as they bear on the Afro-optimist/Afro-pessimist question.  Other vital readings by Sylvia Wynter, Fred Moten, Frank Wilderson, Christina Sharpe, Jared Sexton, Cedric Robinson, Nathanial Mackey, Hortense Spillers, and Saidiya Hartman will inform this inquiry into what is, as Moten would surely express it, not but nothing other than black speculative criticism.