This course will provide an introduction to African-American literature, with an emphasis on the contested concept of “Americanness” as a legal, socio-cultural, and symbolic category. How does visibility come to define citizenship in the United States? Who holds the power to look and so to see? Questions of in/visibility and metaphors of un/veiling will become central to our critical framework this quarter. We will explore texts in which unspoken, unseen, or otherwise ghosted elements become vital to interpretative practice. How might these texts necessitate a different kind of reading and of listening? We will therefore analyze texts within performative contexts. What are the possibilities and pitfalls of empathy, or what Dominick LaCapra calls “empathic unsettlement,” within various communities and their allies? How do the intersections of race, class, gender, and sexuality shape, undo, and reform modes of meaning-making? Our readings will draw from theoretical concepts—such as the gaze, the politics of representation, double consciousness, affective response, performance, identity, and other connections between visibility and power—with close attention to the material weight of history.
Required Texts: Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861)
James Weldon Johnson, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912)
Jean Toomer, Cane (1923)
Wallace Thurman, ed. FIRE!!: Devoted to Younger Negro Artists (1926)
Nella Larsen, Passing (1929)
Octavia Butler, Wild Seed (1980)