ENGL 467 B1: "Afterlives" of US Slavery

T. Zackodnik


Recently, Black studies and theory in the US has turned to a focus on the "afterlives of slavery," a phrase coined by Saidiya Hartman. We see this turn registered multiply in concepts such as "the hold" (Sharpe) and "plantation futures" (McKittrick).  It is also evident in studies of the carceral state or penal democracy as the "new" plantation (Alexander, James), and in calls for a "third Reconstruction" (Coates). And arguably this turn to afterlives is also active in questions of "aligning with the dead" (Rankine), as well as the characterization of Black life as in a "state of war" or the "slow violence" of a "centuries long crime wave" (Kelley and Moten). This notion of slavery’s afterlives also sees theorists exploring questions of how to conceptualize Blackness geographically or spatially, temporally, and in relation to configurations of the human. We will explore together what the stakes are of this larger and sustained turn to mapping Black unfreedom and its ruptures as not past but ongoing. This course takes the turn to afterlives not as a given, but rather as a provocation that raises a number of related questions, not the least of which are what it might mean to focus on "Black suffering" and questions of "the human" now, and how this focus may relate to some long-standing preoccupations in Black writing produced in the US. This course will consider "the afterlives" of US slavery as a concept through two main avenues of focus: theory and cultural criticism; and fiction and narrative prose. 

Our texts may include some of the following: 


Michelle Alexander, Angela Davis, Joy James, and/or Ta-Nehisi Coates on the carceral state 

Stephen Best, Saidiya Hartman, and Tiffany Willoughby-Herard on the question of slavery’s afterlives

Tiffany Lethabo King and Katherine McKittrick on plantation landscapes, plantation futures, Black geographies

Christina Sharpe’s and Jared Sexton’s Afro-pessimism

Octavia Butler, Kindred 

Charles Johnson, Oxherding Tale

Claudia Rankine, "The Condition of Black Life is One of Mourning" 

Colson Whitehead, Underground Railroad