This talk focuses on Black Life as a constitutive ontological limit for the workings of modern humanity. Using the racialized performances of gender by Joss Moody, the main character in Jackie Kay’s 1999 novel Trumpet, and the musician Sun Ra as launch pads, the lecture pays particular attention to the complex ways gender and sexuality function in the barring of Black flesh from the category of the human-as-Man. Both Ra and Joss Moody embody non-normative figurations of Black masculinity that deploy the violent ungendering of Black subjects as a condition of possibility for alternate ways of inhabiting the world.
Alexander G. Weheliye is professor of African American Studies at Northwestern University where he teaches black literature and culture, critical theory, social technologies, and popular culture. He is the author of Phonographies: Grooves in Sonic Afro-Modernity (2005) and Habeas Viscus: Racializing Assemblages, Biopolitics, and Black Feminist Theories of the Human (2014). Currently, he is working on two projects: Modernity Hesitant: The Civilizational Diagnostics of W.E.B. Du Bois and Walter Benjamin tracks the different ways in which these thinkers imagine the marginal as central to the workings of modern civilization; Feenin: R&B’s Technologies of Humanity offers a critical history of the intimate relationship between R&B music and technology since the late 1970’s.
The lecture is part of the ICI Lecture Series ERRANS. The English verb ‘to err’ has largely lost its positive connotations. It no longer invokes wandering, rambling, or roaming, and is now understood negatively in relation to a prescribed path or goal. To be sure, errors are acknowledged to play an important role in the pursuit of knowledge and happiness, but usually only to the extent that their recognition allows for their elimination, correction, and avoidance. Recognizing that a critique of ideals of productivity, success, goal-orientation, and determination is necessarily paradoxical, the lecture series takes the shifting meanings of ‘erring’ – connoting the violation of norms as well as the activity of wandering – as a prompt to explore the critical potentials and risks of embracing error, randomness, failure, and non-teleological temporalities, and to do so across different disciplines and discourses.
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