Ridiculous Thoughts

This serves as a statement of suspension of disbelief.

First, new writing that I’m excited about. I just published an essay in the African American Intellectual History Society blog series on Comics, Race, and Society: Crossover, Convergence, and the Cultural Politics of Black Comics. I found a use for the impressions of Miguel Covarrubias that have stayed with me since I wrote about salon culture in the Harlem Renaissance that ultimately shaped my views of Black imagery in visual culture and what it means for artists and intellectuals known for their politics to engage in image-making practices, more broadly.

I wanted to start with something positive, because this year has been… too much. As the year comes to a close, amid horror in Aleppo and a reprieve from pipeline construction at the Oceti Sakowin camp in the Standing Rock Sioux Nation, I wanted to do what I’ve metaphorically referred to as “counting your blessings.” Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not religious, but I use this phrase somewhat interchangeably with “taking stock” or “inventory,” in an other-than-material sense. Whatever your belief system or lack thereof, I’d advocate making a habit of taking stock of what’s generative, nourishing, and available to you at any given time as a way to handle the day-to-day stress of living in a world quite often inimical to your and my nurture. I suggested this to students at a campus event about dealing with microaggressions in professional environments, recently.

So, as a note toward a theory of practice, here are 7 things of which I’m taking stock right now.

(I don’t count individual persons in my life as “stock,” because that’s too much like slavery, but regarding my wonderful my partner is: I tend to think of #relationshipgoals in terms of Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra, and so far, we’re basically killing it.)

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It’s always darkest before it goes completely Black

Enough doom and gloom. Now is a good time for critical memory, if not full-on nostalgia. Oh, for the halcyon days of neoliberalism, Black First Ladies, and magical solutions to real problems. I for one think that if neoliberalism is as powerful as we’ve been led to believe, it’s not over.

I also believe it’s important to think about what analysts call the “going on being” that gives rise to so many of our anxieties. So here are some reflections on my experience at the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts conference in Atlanta, held in conjunction with the meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association and the History of Science Society.

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It was a wonderful gathering, despite the labyrinthine organization of the Westin Peachtree Plaza (it’s like they read about the Bonaventure in Jameson’s “Postmodernism” essay and said, ‘I’ll see that, and I’ll raise you…’).

 

I felt then, and I feel now, like when you find your people, you should keep good company with them. And talk about a galaxy of stars! Below, here’s the abstract from the roundtable in which I participated:screen-shot-2016-11-18-at-12-37-46-pm

Despite some technical difficulties, our colleague Aimee Bahng was able to join us via FaceTime, using audio only, which seemed appropriate. I realized during our conversation that there are some amazing connections between the thematics in the decolonial thought I’ve been reading lately as part of Penn Humanities Forum and the take on “queer futurity” or “concrete utopia” that I’ve held onto as I move through these conversations with other critics who work on STS, speculative fiction, and posthumanism. One of the works in progress I discussed on the roundtable was an essay on Black Panther (spoiler alert!) that I’m prepping for a certain special issue of a certain journal. The quote I had at hand, which is part of my discussion of how queer futurity influences my interpretation of the new and the old Black Panther comics, was a gentle reminder of how central race thinking and antiracist praxis have always been to the utopian project of cultural criticism:

its recommendation of “holding queerness in a sort of ontologically humble state, under a conceptual grid in which we do not claim to always already know queerness in the world” is in part a response to the entanglement of queer theories and LGBTQ politics in white supremacy, a gentle reminder or apologia for the persistence of Latinidad, the decolonial impulse of minoritarian cultural politics, in queer of color critique. I would like to think that Blackness animates my work in similar terms.

On the other side, now, I was looking at Richard Fung’s website because I just introduced the concept of Queer Diaspora to my students in our World Lit seminar.

In addition to the awesome trailer for Re:Orientations

Richard has the chapter from Disidentifications about his penis* on the website. I read it and I thought, god I miss José. But here we are.cxajjskxeaahscl

*not actually about his penis. Read the chapter.

I’m writing a blog!

But of course, you already know that.
I’m submitting a guest post for the African American Intellectual History Society blog series on Comics, Race, and Society. What I’ve written is a gloss, a tour, rather than a sharply-focused analysis, but I hope it demonstrates a way of thinking about the topic and extending an approach I’ve found productive elsewhere.
As part of the assignment (giving myself homework LOL) I have to include a bio. I’m doing that, without trying to be too self-aggrandizing, and I am working on a legible abstract. Wish me luck!

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 ☉.

What have I done for you lately?

jwji-presentation

The video from my talk at the Colloquium on Race & Difference at Emory University‘s James Weldon Johnson Institute is live! Unfortunately, the Q&A isn’t part of the video. But as usual, it was the best part of the event. Trust.

camerazoom-20161003140420047This was an excellent short trip. I got to meet the indefatigable Dr. Andra Gillespie and Dr. Kali-Ahset Amen, the fellows who are currently working with them, and really engaged community members including a couple young enterprising women from Agnes Scott College. I also signed some books, found a potential connect for the Comics and Popular Arts conference at DragonCon, and met Dr. Patricia Ventura of Spelman, with whom I’ve corresponded about a special issue of Utopian Studies. Neat! I also got a tour through the current exhibition on Black arts and activism from Dr. Pellom McDaniels III (the third y’all). After getting back (and dealing with a cold 👎🏾) I had the good fortune to talk about related topics with the American Literature Working Group at UPenn. This is a really good way to move forward on my second project, which is the purpose for my next trip:

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Well, actually… Evanston!

 

I’m doing a lecture/colloquium for African American Studies at Northwestern. Coming soon–From Speculative Blackness to Audiofuturism: Sound Studies and the Alchemy of Race. This was all in the midst of the premiere of Luke Cage on Netflix, or, as I prefer to describe it, the start of my engagement to marry Luke Cage. Amidst all of this, however, I haven’t watched Atlanta. Because I don’t have a TV. I’ll probably buy the whole season, but til then…

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Now/Here/This: Emory University, Monday October 3

Monday #ATL: I’ll be talking about Speculative Blackness at Emory University’s James Weldon Johnson Institute for the Study of Race and Difference. I couldn’t be more excited! I could be less nervous, but it’s cool, this is the reason for the season. I’m honored to share this work on the power of the imagination and the histories of Black and American speculative knowledge practices with a crowd who can appreciate it. If you’re in ATL, come through! I will be selling/signing books before and after the Colloquium.

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Syllabus | Blackness & Utopia

As a continuation of my efforts at Going Digital, I’m revising the syllabus for a course I taught a couple years ago in order to include it in the repository of pedagogical artifacts for Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities, an MLA-sponsored online resource currently in development. Let’s see how this works out. This is a utopian remix of the course modified for the prospect of teaching online. I taught this as a Topics in African American Literature course at Drexel University, in 2013.

BLACKNESS & UTOPIA | PROFESSOR CARRINGTON
Blackness & Utopia

COURSE DESCRIPTION

We will examine how black writers have articulated utopian visions, from Emancipation to the 20th century, and how they have intervened in the utopian traditions of American literature and culture, including anti-utopia, heterotopia, and dystopia. Novels, short stories, and film by African-American authors that portray utopian societies and movements, along with cultural criticism grounded in the study of those texts, form the basis for our work in this course. We will engage with the ways in which Black authors have envisioned a better world and how they have articulated distinct agendas for self-determination.

LEARNING OBJECTIVES

  1. We will use readings, discussions, and assessments to refine the two principal concepts that frame the course: Blackness and Utopia—but not necessarily to establish a fixed definition for either term.
  2. Students should expect their own written work and contributions to class discussion to communicate a nuanced appreciation for the form and content of the readings as well as the capacity to ask informed questions about them.
  3. Students will develop an awareness of how cultural criticism addresses the concept of utopia and how the concerns of this field pertain to African-American literature.
  4. By cultivating familiarity with the primary and secondary texts, students will progress toward a substantive, multifaceted understanding of the interests of Black writers and readers.
  5. Supplementary research into relevant primary and secondary sources will provide students with a broader understanding of the fields of knowledge that inform the topics of our course.
  6. Assessments in the course will encourage students to a) practice applying the categories of analysis that are prioritized in literary criticism, b) express themselves within the scope of an academic argument.
  7. Students will share responsibility with the professor for maintaining class discussion as a space for reflection that is grounded by studied interpretations of the readings.

REQUIRED TEXTS

  • Sutton Griggs, Imperium in Imperio. Electronic edition via HathiTrust.
  • George Schuyler, Black Empire. Northeastern, 1993. Print or ebook.
  • Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower. Warner, 1993. Print or ebook.

ADDITIONAL ASSIGNED MATERIAL

  • David Walker, “Appeal…to the Colored Citizens of the World”-PDF
  • Samuel Delany, “We, in Some Strange Power’s Employ, Move on a Rigorous Line,” from Aye, and Gomorrah
  • Octavia Butler, “The Book of Martha,” from Marleen Barr, ed. Afro-Future Females
  • Julie Dash, dir. Daughters of the Dust (film: secure, licensed streaming)
  • Kahiu Wanuri, dir. Pumzi (film: secure, licensed streaming)/vimeo
  • Supplementary readings/materials specified below will be available via the Content Management System (Drupal, Moodle, WordPress, BBLearn, etc.)

ASSESSMENT AND GRADING

  • Class participation (attendance, in-class assignments, discussion): 20%
  • Formative assessment 1 (emphasis on comprehension, short turnaround time): 15%
  • Formative assessment 2 (emphasis on interpretation, pre-assigned secondary sources): 15%
  • Responses to films (2): 20%
  • Summative assessment (emphasis on interpretation, self-directed research): 30%

PLAN OF STUDY

This schedule is modified from a ten-week quarter calendar with two to three in-class meetings per week. The changes accommodate a course of equal or longer duration, in vivo or online with videoconferencing and live chat collaboration tools.

Unit I: Orientation

  • Overview of the course and texts, review the Learning Objectives—live or by video
  • “Utopias and Utopianism,” from Encyclopedia of American Studies
  • Slave Revolts, Marronage, and Colonization (readings TBD, e.g. Africa and the Americas, PBS documentaries, The Invention of the White Race),
  • Vincent Brown: Slave Revolt in Jamaica
  • Maroonage: World Heritage Sites
  • In-class discussion: David Walker’s Appeal

Unit II: Race Travel

  • Maria Fabi, “Race Travel…Early 20th Century African American Utopian Fiction”
  • Sutton Griggs, Imperium in Imperio: Introduction by Cornel West, Chronology of Sutton Griggs, chapters: “To the Public” and “Belton Finds a Friend”
  • In-class discussion of introductory chapters
  • Recommended reading order: Chapters VI through IX, Chapters X through XIII, Chapters XIV through Conclusion
  • First formative assessment due following discussion of Conclusion

Unit III: Satire and Anti-Utopia

  • Sharon DeGraw, “Schuyler,” from The Subject of Race in American Science Fiction + Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia-YouTube video
  • George Schuyler, Black Empire, part 1.0
  • In-class discussion of part 1.0 vs. part 2.1
  • George Schuyler, Black Empire, part 2.2
  • Second formative assessment incorporating select secondary sources (e.g. Encyclopedia of African American Culture & History, Encyclopedia of American Studies, Keywords for American Cultural Studies)

Unit IV: Space/place, realism, speculation

  • Film 1. Daughters of the Dust
  • Response due on Daughters of the Dust + supplementary reading
  • Introduction to the work of Samuel Delany + “We, in Some Strange Power’s Employ”
  • In-class collaborative assignment: Infrastructure/technology and utopia + rural electrification-YouTube video

Unit V: The Critical Dystopia

  • Film 2. Pumzi + response
  • Tom Moylan, “Octavia Butler’s Parables,” from Scraps of the Untainted Sky
  • Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower
  • Workshop on final paper research

UNIT VI: Against Race/Against Utopia?

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