Hallowed

Recently, I experienced utopia.

 

I was at the Society for Utopian Studies conference in St. Petersburg–no, Florida is not utopia, but there were birds! And academics. (And some sort of motivational speaker event, but I had nothing to do with that.) Then, it was Halloween weekend. But I’m getting ahead of myself–who am I, Everett Ross?

The Society for Utopian Studies is a long-standing organization dedicated to scholarly exploration of the utopian tradition in literature and culture. I dig this, because I’m basically a utopian at heart, and I find it’s necessary to hold on to a sense of wonder in a world that hates and fears mutants where state-sanctioned and extralegal violence/dispossession are all too common features of everyday life for people who look like me. Real-world efforts to create utopian communities are not my bag, but I do find it really vital to learn from and practice concrete utopia in the sense articulated by Ernst Bloch and redeemed by José Muñoz in Cruising Utopia (by the way, you can read the introduction to the book right there).

I came to the conference at the invitation of Justin Nordstrom from Penn State to participate in a roundtable discussion of Speculative Blackness with utopian studies scholars. It was great! The panelists included Dr. Nordstrom, Jennifer Wagner-Lawlor of Penn State (President of the Society), Hugh O’Connell of UMass-Boston, and Hoda Zaki of Hood College. And me. It’s still surreal to arrive at a place where my work precedes me in such a concrete way, but I was really fortunate to benefit from the reflections of such thoughtful colleagues and such an engaged audience. I’m all about engaged audiences! That is my whole thing. I also reiterated my gratitude for a watershed intervention from early in the career of Daphne Patai, “Utopia for Whom?” an article that sparked my continuing deference to the feminist science fiction movement as the proving ground for a critique of genre that upends its conventional relationship to the social.

I attended some panels on Race & Identity, on American Dystopian texts, on Utopia and theory, I made some new friends (probable future collaborators), and I heard from people whose work speaks to biopolitics and notions of the speculative informed by finance. I live-tweeted a number of the presentations, as well. This was great, because it allowed me to get into conversation with people who weren’t there and to connect in advance with some people who were. This allowed me to get hip to some fascinating work in Black Religious Studies. Speaking of Twitter, because the conference was in Florida, I was excited to see birds!

A Great Blue Heron!
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A Brown Pelican!

After I returned home, it was time for a friend’s Halloween party. That’s a story for another time and place. Next up: the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts conference in Atlanta!

This will be my third time in ATL this year. I really should respond to that open call for extras in Black Panther

In other news…

Despite some setbacks, I made it to Chicago to meet up with avid Speculative Blackness reader and distinguished scholar Alex Weheliye for the Colloquium in African American Studies at Northwestern University. They have a department, how cool is that? colloquium-10-18

The trip was an opportunity to connect with some senior scholars and emerging scholars (doctoral candidates) working in the same interdisciplinary orbit as my own research: Black and American/Diaspora Studies, literature and cultural production, cultural politics of form and genre, the Humanities in a global frame. Some of them clued me in to other questions in Environmental Humanities and Science & Technology Studies (STS) that I can follow up on, thanks to their intellectual curiosity.
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I shared some of my past and present dilemmas with the group and they were, as expected, informed and informative. By itself, the chapter of my book on the Carl Brandon phenomenon doesn’t touch every node in this network, but the sources and methods in there are really integral to the broader agenda that leads me from science fiction fandom to radio drama. These folks were fantastic interlocutors, and I hope to hear (and read) more from them as my #Audiofuturism project develops.

Read more about the work of Northwestern’s African American Studies faculty here.

Meanwhile, I have reached a tentative truce with the wifi networks and credentials involved in UPenn’s libraries for the purpose of the Penn Humanities Forum. A perk of having an ID card there is that my credentials allow me to look for different databases to which my home institution doesn’t subscribe. While I was poking around in this fashion, I took a little time to find myself and located something I’d written that has been in print for some time. I finally uploaded this to my academia.edu page, and here it is.

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This is a review of Modernity, Freedom, and the African Diaspora by Elisa Joy White. I was writing this review for the Journal of the African Literature Association when I first signed on to Twitter, and it’s been online and in print for a while. I said it then and I’ll say it again, now: this is a really useful book. It’s interdisciplinary; it engages with ethnography, political philosophy, migration and Diaspora Studies, and history; and it’s so attentive to how race thinking inflects discourses of national belonging and the broader, transnational European and globalization agendas. The comparisons between the US, France, and Ireland are essential, in this regard. I had a similar assessment of Queer Inclusions, Continental Divisions, by David Rayside: some books are just spot-on as resources for understanding the persistent power and the limitations of the nation-state as we come up against those limits.

There will be video from the Colloquium at Northwestern, so stay tuned! Next stop: the Society for Utopian Studies conference in sunny Florida ☉.