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Whither "Relation"?

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Organizer: Ren Ellis Neyra

Co-Organizer: Dixa Ramírez-D'Oleo

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In 1939, Aimé Césaire wrote in Cahier d’un retour au pays natal: “And this land screamed for centuries that we are bestial brutes; that the human pulse [les pulsations de l’humanité] stops at the gates of the slave compound [aux portes de la négrerie]; that we are walking compost [fumier] hideously promising tender cane and silky cotton and they would brand us with red-hot irons and we would sleep in our excrement and they would sell us on the town square and an ell of English cloth and salted meat from Ireland cost less than we did, and this land was calm, tranquil, repeating that the spirit of the Lord was in its acts.” The seminar organizers read this passage as already having scrambled the desired—and forced—meanings of several signifiers relevant to a contemporary “Anthropocene ethics” (Axelle Karera). The “land” is not personified positively but rather is rhetorically and materially part of “la négrerie.” In the third clause, “they” “act” with “the land” and “God” and define themselves against what the Cahier’s “we” are blackened into “being” (Calvin Warren). What binds “we” and “they” in Césaire’s passage? Is it conversion? Is it “relation”? How do contemporary calls for “relation,” in the Glissantian sense, and relationality, continue to rejuvenate themselves in the face of the kind of violence that Césaire’s Cahier reckons with?

In This Will Not Be Generative (Cambridge 2023), Dixa Ramírez-D’Oleo argues that the semiotic procedures of white ecofeminist writings (in different fields and disciplines) render “blackness as compost”—“that which must be destroyed so that it can give life to other life-forms”—and camouflage their catachrestic uses of a black “we,” converting it into material for white survival. We bring these textual references together for how they raise the possibility that the liberal conversion in contemporary eco-criticism of blackness into a white or “white indigène” (Ramírez-D’Oleo) “we” is less an innovation than it is something at which such discourses arrive—an old call to which they pay heed.

This seminar invites papers that apply different kinds of readerly pressure onto rhetorics of care, relation, and solidarity, be those shaped by black critical theory, black nihilism, deconstruction, a non-relational Caribbean tradition, etc. Critical readings of the uses of eco-criticism and ethics, affect, gender and/or sexuality, poetics, salvific narratives, vitalism, mestizaje and “brownness,” and other rhetorical schemas are welcome.


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