Adducing women of color feminism’s theories of the flesh and Mikhail Bakhtin’s conception of the grotesque, this talk advances a theory of Black Grotesquerie as an aesthetic mode in the project of textualizing African American life in the catastrophic present. Rather than merely signifying excess, dread, or decay, Black Grotesquerie delineates an expressive practice of contortion, substitution, inversion, corruption. Reading together works by visual artist Wangechi Mutu and author Marci Blackman, this talk illustrates the ways in which Black Grotesquerie reconfigures the terms of contemporary black struggle by rendering the boundary between (black) living and dying porous and negotiable. Black Grotesquerie thus enables African Diaspora cultural producers to imagine new sociopolitical and racial arrangements—even as it registers the impossibility of fully representing black experience, whether in historical time or post-racial futurity.

Aliyyah I. Abdur-Rahman is Associate Professor of English, African and Afro-American Studies, and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Brandeis University. A two-time winner of the Darwin T. Turner Award for Best Essay of the Year in African American Review, she has been awarded fellowships from the Ford Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, the American Association of University Women, the Mellon Foundation, the W.E.B Du Bois Institute at Harvard University, and the JFK Institute at the Freie Universität Berlin. She has published Against the Closet: Black Political Longing and the Erotics of Race (2012), is currently editing a volume on transatlantic African American literature and culture for the series African American Literature in Transition, 1750-2015, and her current project carries the provisional title Millennial Style: The Politics of Experiment in Contemporary African Diasporic Culture.

In English
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ICI Berlin

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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