ENGL 586 A1: 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 prison slave" (Wilderson), "the hold" (Sharpe, Wilderson), and "plantation futures" (McKittrick). It is also evident in studies of the carceral state or penal democracy as the "new" plantation (Davis, James, Alexander), and in calls for a "third Reconstruction" (Coates). And arguably this turn to afterlives is also there in questions of "aligning with the dead" (Rankine), as well as the characterization of Black life as in a "state of war" or undergoing the "slow violence" of a "centuries long crime wave" (Kelley, 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 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 African American writing.

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:

  • Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow
  • Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936 to 1938
  • Davis, Angela, Are Prisons Obsolete?
  • Best, Stephen and Saidiya Hartman, "Fugitive Justice"
  • Butler, Octavia, Kindred
  • Gilmore, Ruth Wilson, Golden Gulag
  • Hartman, Saidiya, Scenes of Subjection; Lose your Mother
  • James, Joy, "Democracy and Captivity"
  • Johnson, Charles, Oxherding Tale
  • Jones, Gayle, Corregidora
  • King, Tiffany Lethabo, "The Labor of (Re)reading Plantation Landscapes Fungible(ly)"
  • McKittrick, Katherine, On Demonic Ground; "Plantation Futures"; "Mathematics Black Life"
  • Morrison, Toni, Beloved
  • Moten, Fred, "The Case of Blackness"; "Blackness and Nothingness (Mysticism and the Flesh)"
  • Octavia's Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements
  • Patterson, Orlando, Slavery and Social Death
  • Rankine, Claudia, Citizen; "The Condition of Black Life is One of Mourning"
  • Reed, Ishmael, Flight to Canada
  • Sexton, Jared. "The Social Life of Social Death"; "Unbearable Blackness"
  • Sharpe, Christina, In the Wake; Monstrous Intimacies: Making Post-Slavery Subjects
  • Spillers, Hortense, "Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: An American Grammar Book"
  • Whitehead, Colson, Underground Railroad
  • Wideman, John Edgar, Brothers and Keepers
  • Wilderson, Frank B. ""The Prison Slave as Hegemony's (Silent) Scandal"
  • Willoughby-Herard, Tiffany, "More expendable than slaves? Racial Justice and the After-Life of Slavery"
  • Wynter, Sylvia. "Novel and History, Plot and Plantation"; "1492: A New World View"