14 April. First Q&A about final projects

Here are my questions for those who presented today. Thank you all for being there, and for taking the time and energy to put these fabulous projects together.

ROSY: Your reading of Ezra (ban on intermarriage and divorce decree) as responding to colonial life. What premises of empire / colonialism / coloniality we read and discuss in class may help you articulate that question. Also, as a bilingual / bicultural text, how could premises of comparative theology combined with post- or decolonial thought may help you chisel that argument? Loved that you consider Ezra and Nehemiah as a model of the Bible forcing readers to read comparatively. There is something there!

MARY ANN: Your reading of the WPA collection through the lens of social ethics begins with Walter Benjamin, straddles to Zora Neale Hurston, and seeks to find ways to read this historical text as a source of remembrance. It seeks to relativize the whiteness of the interviewers and to better see these narratives not as a source of universal truth, but as a text that renders history as unknowable (based on readings of Benjamin, Derrida, Butler, etc.). Would Glissant, Biko, or Mbembe help you perhaps negotiate the ‘source of remembrance’ with the ‘history as unknowable’ premises?

SHIVA: Your reading of the qawwali as oral history is very promising. Your plan to explore the basic premise of these texts as history because texts transmitted orally can be deemed as such irrespectively of where they come from is ambitious and quite original. I wonder who grants historical authority to these texts? Who is supposed to, and how do different genres, such as hamd, na’at, manqabat, marsiya, ghazal (my favorite), kafi, or munajaat may help understand the transfer text/script > performer > performance > audience > devotion? How to negotiate narratology and literary theory with performance theory and religious theory?

SAM: You are reading Foucault’s What is an Author?” and Derrida’s Archive Fever to add to the blogposts of this semester. These two texts, again, vary substantially between their versions in French, as lectures, as articles or chapters of books, and as a self-standing book in the case of Derrida’s; despite all these variations, they share a preoccupation with questions of authority and origin. The first deploys legality and legal discourse, while the second deploys history (loosely understood) and spatiality / location as a referential axes to tease out these questions. They both touch upon authority as a symbolic power, as a source of domain. How do you see this helping you articulate an argument in your own work?

ARIEL: Your three-stage project reviews Audrey Lord’s cancer writings as experiments that question a genealogy of the flesh well established in African American Studies and Black Studies. You move that to a second stage, seeking other genealogies. You do not renege on the premise of black women carrying lots of weight, but you seek other interpretations in the company of Rivera’s poetics of the flesh, Copland’s enfleshing freedom, and other scholars that will help you build that argument. You leave the third stage, Lord’s cancer writings as response to death and dying, to a future with a book. In this second stage, where I see your final project for this class take shape, is there room for oral history or traditions to play a part in reading Lord’s text? What role or roles may orality play in womanist body of thought?

CHRISTINA: Your reading of Danticat’s account of four generations of women and girls between Haiti and the United States, between childhood and adulthood, between colony and empire, and between virginity and womanhood asks if this maternal-filial history of flesh and motherly love, and the happening and telling of testing, can represent any healing dimensions, and a response to Winter’s premise of black women’s flesh mocked. As you incorporate Rivera’s poetics of the flesh, is there room to explore the gender-bending dimensions of motherly penetration of the daughters’ body? Thinking of Mark Jordan’s hunting the sacred, and of a kind of performance of female masculinity to tease out the healing in the mother’s body invasion of the daughter’s and the possible healing properties of that act. Also, the tradition of Celestinas counted on testing virginity for economic survival of the matchmaker; she even mended broken hymens. I wonder also about catharsis (long talk with Shiva about catharsis not being the purification of the single tragic character on stage, performing, but the actual purification of the whole social fabric, Page Dubois, “On Catharsis”) and about the sacrificial dimensions of the body of the daughter, crossroads of exile and redemption.

FABULOUS PRESENTATIONS, EVERYONE. I hope you will post lots of questions, comments, bibliographical suggestions, and so on. See you next week. Hang in there, you’re doing great!

3 replies on “14 April. First Q&A about final projects”

Dear Class,

My sincerest apologies for not being able to hear about your wonderful projects. In lieu of my virtual presence in class, Prof. Carrión suggested I consult her Q&A post and contribute what I can. Unfortunately, I do not feel capable of offering something to everyone, simply due to my own ignorance, but that should not reflect a lack of interest or appreciation for each of your respective inquiries–for which I would be happy to be in dialogue. So I will proceed to address those projects/questions for which I can conjure something to write–however speculatively and inadequately. Lastly, please excuse me if my questions/comments are effectively redundant to considerations you’ve already undertaken.

MARY ANN: Your use of Benjamin to theorize historical remembrance while provincializing the white WPA interviewers makes me think of his critique of historicism in “Theses on the Philosophy of History.” I wonder whether the interviewers could be considered as the historicists with Hurston’s blend of fictional-anthropological-autobiographical writings as a model for the “chronicler” of the history of the oppressed–which is “unforgettable” while remaining perpetually forgotten (or “unknowable”). In this vein, to echo Prof. Carrión, how may Glissant’s “poetics of relation”–where Relation precedes any “knowable” content and poetics are the means of remembering that starts with Relation–contribute to your reading of the WPA collection through the lens of social ethics?

SAM: I’m interested in this pairing of Foucault and Derrida in that, following the former, an “author” is always constructed out of an archive and, following the latter, the archive is never the totality it wants to present itself as. A further interest in this pairing is that the latter strongly disagrees with the methodology of the former. In some sense, to what degree can Derrida be considered as asking “What is an Archive? in a way that questions the very methodological premises that Foucault operates with in order to ask and answer “What is an Author”? (You may find Derrida’s essay, “Cogito and the History of Madness”, of interest for pursuing this consideration. And, inversely, how may Foucault’s analysis show that the primacy of power as evidenced in/by the archive is more exigent than any (quasi-)transcendental argument about “writing”? Lastly, how do these respective positions–and their refraction of each other–affect the way one reads The New Testament (as I recall being the locus of your research)?

ARIEL: Your project on Lorde’s cancer writings in relationship to these black feminist meditations on the flesh sounds equal parts fascinating and promising. This juxtaposition or overlap sparks the following line of questioning for me: under (the gaze of) social death, is the flesh marked as a cancer to the (social) body? By extension, in the afterlife of slavery, does the flesh then literally assume (the structural implications of) this social metaphor? And yet, does Lorde’s cancer /writing/ express and testify to the social life that exceeds social death? Put otherwise, does Lorde’s cancer /writing/ “enflesh freedom” (Copeland)–for Lorde and her readers–in the midst of the afterlife of slavery?

CHRISTINA: Your project sounds rich and makes me think a lot about our readings/discussions in Prof. Stewart’s Womanism seminar. Relatedly, my questions are primed by some readings from that class, but also pertain to readings/discussions from this one. How could Spillers’ notion of the captive flesh as “primary narrative” and “method” of reading/writing be paired with Sharpe’s “wake work” for attending to the simultaneity of what binds and separates these four generations of Haitian women across space and time? Similarly, how may Prof. Stewart’s review essay of (for example) Oro-Yoruba non-gendered conceptions of Motherhood help elaborate these approaches to the flesh–perhaps even pairing it with Glissant’s “poetics of Relation,” where the former conception of the “Mother” is exemplary of latter conception of “Relation”? Lastly, by extension, how may Danticat’s account encompass something like a practice of “remembering the Mother” that is neither gender essential nor specific–even if nonetheless paradigmatically exhibited in/by these Black women–in the midst of the structural dispossession of the Mother that marks the Black Diaspora with aporias concerning both land(lessness) and kin(lessness)? In other words, could you posit a “Mother-function” that poetically emerges in the wake of the structural rupture of land-kin-gender in order to continually re-constitute/re-construct/re-member the love that binds those in/of the flesh?

Obviously, there’s no need to respond to me or take any of my questions up, but I’d be happy to follow-up with any of you if that could be of help (including those of you I couldn’t respond to.

Take care,

Thank you Andrew and Professor Carrion for your questions and comments. They are thought-provoking! I will keep them in mind as I am continuing to work on this paper.

ARIEL: In this blogpost, my aim is not to ask more questions or give you more books to read (for the purpose of writing this paper for class). But there are two books that I was reading/ re-reading this weekend and thought of you and your project. Edwidge Danticat’s “The Art of Death” (I believe that she also has a brief discussion on Audre Lorde’s death. Also , you might find helpful M. Jacqui Alexander’s Pedagogies of the Crossing, particularly her seventh chapter, “Pedagogies of the Sacred: Making the Invisible Tangible.” She is a black feminist who uses her non-Christian perspective (an Africana religious perspective) to speak of “flesh” and “being,” the body enfleshed with spirits. I think that she is would be an excellent conversation partner with Shawn Copeland, “Enfleshing Freedom.”

Responses Questions for Presentations

RE: Rosy

Are you thinking of a project that questions or investigates the forced comparison between Ezra and Nehimiah? I am asking because it sounds as if you might be somewhat reluctant to investigate this comparison and that your real project is in questioning the complexities of Ezra as a (somewhat problematic) colonial subject. I think that you might explore Munoz’s notion of Disidentification and Glissant’s concept of Relationality as theoretical lenses that can help to illustrate the ways in which colonial subjects are not always able to take a “heroic” stance in order to survive.

RE: Mary Ann
I just read parts of Marisa Fuentes’ Dispossessed Lives for another class and I think that text will offer you a useful framework for questioning our relationship to the archive as researchers as well as how black and/or enslaved life will always have a strained relationship with the archive because of the social and ontological limitation imposed by chattel slavery. Fuentes’ work looks at enslaved women in the Caribbean and beyond; she is in conversation with Saidiya Hartman who is, of course, the go to theorist outside of Derrida to have called into question the legitimacy of archival research in regards to the enslaved. Fuentes I believe will be really helpful to you because she is a historian and her perspective is not about abandoning the archive, but restructuring our expectations of and our ability to listen to the archive.
So full transparency, after Rosy and Mary Ann finished speaking my thoughts became a bit more general. For those who are interested in grappling with and questioning the authority and politics of the archive (many of you mentioned looking to Derrida’s Archive Fever) There is a conversation going on within and against the work of Saidiya Hartman which lead up to her latest project Wayward Lives. I am going to list a few articles below which are pretty accessible but if anyone has a problem locating them please reach out to me personally and I can send you PDFs.

Saidiya Hartman:
Venus in Two Acts (2008)
The Dead Book Revisited (2016)

David Kazanjian:
Freedom’s Surprise: Two Paths Through Slavery (2016)

I already mentioned this in the more specific posts above but Marissa Fuentes’ Dispossessed Lives is about slavery and specifically the lives of enslaved women but I think her critique of the archive includes some recuperative efforts which is very different from Hartman’s notion Fabulation.

This is what I have. I apologize for not posting this last week. Thank you so much for all of your work and support in this class.


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