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Unthinking Affect: Blackness, Incapacity, Negativity

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Organizer: Tyrone S. Palmer

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“... the slave occupies the position of the unthought. So what does it mean to try to bring that position into view without making it a locus of positive value, or without trying to fill in the void?” — Saidiya Hartman

“Affect has allowed the humanities to constantly possibly introject any seemingly absent or forgotten dimension of inquiry, to insist that play, the unexpected, and the unthought can always be brought back into the insistent need to attend to whatever constitutes each subdisciplinary investment in affectivity figures the very notion of ‘affect’ as a placeholder for the unthought...‘affect’ in this general sense is the negative of ontology of the humanities.” — Eugenie Brinkema

Can a turn to affect account for the figure of the Slave? Can an embrace of affectivity, as potential, bring Blackness into the realm of our understanding “without trying to fill in the void”? This seminar will engage these, and related, questions through extended explorations of the relationship between affect theory, Blackness, and the unthinkable. In contrast to the affirmative Deleuzianism which characterizes much of the extant work within affect theory, this seminar will think with and through the power of the negative and its implications for the study of affect. Rather than conceptualizing affect as the connective thread between bodies and worlds, or as a purely relational force, how might we think about affect and non-relationality; affect outside of and against the world; affect without the body? If affect, at base, is ontological capacity, what does the structural positioning of Blackness as “incapacity in its pure and unadulterated form” (Wilderson) entail for the study, and question, of Black affect?

Of particular interest to this seminar is the tension between the positioning of affect as that which addresses the constitutive lacunae of any given discourse, and Blackness’ general, structuring absence within the current discourse on affect. As such, this stream encourages contributions that explore the tensions, and impasses that emerge when considering Blackness and affect in tandem. Recent inroads have been made into the study of Blackness and affect, particularly around questions of sensation, the haptic, and pleasure. Much of this work emphasizes a celebratory and affirmative tone, positioning affectivity, hapticality, and the sensational as zones that “escape” and offer “lines of flight” in excess of the logics of capture and domination which structure Black life. In conversation with this work, this seminar invites papers that considers the negative dimensions of affect inquiry as they relate to Blackness.

Potential Topics:
The Ontology of Affect
The Body-Flesh Distinction
Affect and (Un)Gendering
Speculative Realism
Libidinal Economy of Anti-Blackness 
Movement, Gesture, Performance

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