Approaching Blackness: Beyond the Limits of Representation. 13th Annual Students and Graduates Conference

Approaching Blackness: Beyond the Limits of Representation. 13th Annual Students and Graduates Conference

Jiann-Chyng Tu, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, American Studies
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
From - Until
15.09.2014 -
Jiann-Chyng Tu

“You would think they’d be used to me by now. I mean, don’t they know that after fourteen hundred years the charade of blackness is over? That we blacks, the once eternally hip, the people who were as right now as Greenwich Mean Time, are, as of today, as yesterday as stone tools, the velocipede, and the paper straw all rolled into one? The Negro is now officially human.”

Beatty, Paul. Slumberland. New York: Bloomsbury, 2009.

Over the past decades, discussions on blackness and race within American studies have predominantly relied on the interplay between the methodological frameworks of representation and deconstruction. Representation has been especially useful for its capacity to bring together the various disciplinary investments of American studies, specifically literary and cultural studies practices of ‘reading’ with political questions of agency and dis/enfranchisement Questions that have typically been asked are then: How is blackness represented in this or that literary text or cultural artifact?; and what does that tell us about the political, cultural, social, historical, economic context in which the text was written and thus its underlying ideologies. These underlying structures and ideologies are then exposed and critiqued through the work of deconstruction.

In recent years, however, this model of representation has been questioned from a variety of perspectives. The humanities in general has been increasingly turning towards nonrepresentational theories coming from such fields as performance studies, geography, and anthropology, and including such perspectives as, among others, (post)phenomenology, speculative realism, object-oriented ontology, and affect theory. Within American studies there have been debates about the validity of the concept of multiculturalism (with, among others, Walter Benn Michaels on one side and Jodi Melamed and Roderick A. Ferguson on the other side of the debate) and the question of a post-racial society. In his book What Was African American Literature?, Kenneth Warren has argued that African American literature was a direct response to the disenfranchisement black Americans and as such belongs to the historical period of the Jim Crow era. If ‘African American literature’ is solely defined as a displacement of political representation onto the literary realm, however, it would seem logical to assume, as Warren does, that once the African American population achieved civil rights, African American literature would cease to have a function.

As such, the main question that will be asked in this conference is how to find new ways of approaching blackness beyond the limits of representation. In the consideration of this question, we call for a renewed investment in transdisciplinary practices. We invite a variety of topics and approaches, ranging from the aesthetic—which could include questions on the significance of the color ‘black’ in the visual arts, blackness as the absence of color, or the iconic and symbolic roles of blackness in art—, the transnational—which includes questions on the black Atlantic, or the more recent concerns of Afro-Pessimism and critical cosmopolitanism—, and the metacritical—which may include a critique of these new theoretical paradigms.

Possible presentation topics may include, but are not limited to:

-Institutionalization of “black” in the academy
-Approaching African American literature and culture away from identity and representation
-Transnational and Cosmopolitan approaches to blackness
-African (American) Studies in Germany and Europe
-20th and 21st Century black historiography
-Visual approaches to blackness

The 13th Annual Students and Graduates Conference seeks to explore theoretical and methodological approaches to blackness in various disciplines. We welcome and invite advanced bachelors, masters, doctoral, as well as professionals from various fields to submit proposals for a 20 minute presentation, along with a short (max. 200 word) biography, to: [at] by September 15, 2014.


Contact (announcement)

Jiann-Chyng Tu
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik
American Studies
Unter den Linden 6
10099 Berlin