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Aesthetics and Conceptual Aphasia: The Suppression of Black Revolutionary Violence

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Organizer: Mlondolozi Zondi

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There is a proliferation of creative and scholarly maneuvers that render work which tends toward Black ontological/existential negation as retrograde—as something to move past or beyond. Jaye Austin Williams has attributed this to the “tyranny of positivity” that guards against ontological questions about Blackness, and polices a Black revolutionary world-sense. This policing mechanism privileges passive resistance over insurgency and/or idleness, enunciation over unspeakability, and (world-)making over destruction. This seminar attends to the suppression of Black revolutionary thought, desire, and action in literature, theory, aesthetics, and politics. The aim is to unpack what must be suppressed and absented in order to reduce articulations of Black revolutionary violence to metaphor and symbolism in aesthetic and intellectual production. In question are the (un-)conscious fantasies and desires for participation in (liberal) humanism and capitalism that inform the dismissal of Black affects and dispositions associated with rage, suspicion, disgust, pessimism, melancholy, etc. What are the stakes of emplotting Black suffering into narratives of possibility, hope, pleasure, and joy? Which narrative conventions in art, cinema, and literature are deployed to make Black radicalism palatable and Black revolution ineffable?

Attendant to these concerns, this seminar attends to structural analyses of gender and sexuality, specifically the political and historical unfolding of these terms, and how their production (linked to slavery and colonialism) informs how we analyze “militant” or “radical” Black projects. Many scholars have generated compelling critiques of masculinity and homophobia in Black revolutionary movements from North America to Africa and the Caribbean. The seminar will centralize those critiques while also probing academic discourses which fix Black revolutionary thought and action to an inherently masculinist posture. What assumptions and/or anxieties about gender lead to the conflation of defensive anti-colonial violence with masculinity? When are critiques of sexism and homophobia urgent and helpful, and when are they entangled in anti-Black pathologization and reactionary counter-insurgency? 

In the midst of an increased hypervaluation of Black agency and self-definition in cultural expression, this seminar welcomes contributions that draw attention to how anti-Black domination is also reinforced through those ostensibly agential performances. The seminar will be about bringing to the surface the outcomes of repressing radical Black praxis in favor of jubilation and hallucinatory satisfaction about the current and historical state of things. 

Contributions attending to these questions through psychoanalytics, Afro-pessimism, radical Black feminisms, Black aesthetic/performance theory, negative affect theory, political theory, and continental philosophy are encouraged to apply.

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