Blackness, Freedom, Free Verse
Grad Seminar, Winter 2017
Analyzing the “complicity of slavery and freedom,” Saidiya Hartman asks: “is not the free will of the individual measured precisely through the exercise of constraint and autonomy determined by the capacity to participate in relations of exchange that only fetter and bind the subject?” The key terms of this complex question — freedom, measure, constraint — bear not only upon problems of social determination, but also upon problems of poetic form. Is it possible to link social determination and poetic form, as these pertain to Black history and aesthetics, through the sort of question Hartman asks?
Taking up the bearing of this question upon contemporary American poetry, this course will focus on the relation between Blackness, freedom, and free verse. We will read poetry by Claudia Rankine, Aimé Césaire, Dionne Brand, Jean Toomer, M. NorbeSe Philip, Nathaniel Mackey, C.S. Giscombe, Amiri Baraka, and Evie Shockley leading us into investigations of how the history and experience of racial ascription is at issue in discrepant forms of free verse lyric, open field poetry, and poetic cartography. Interspersed with these volumes, we will discuss theories of Black positionality, performativity, and aesthetics articulated by Hortense Spillers, Saidiya Hartman, Fred Moten, Frank Wilderson, and Neil Roberts.
The Structure of Capital
Reading Seminar, Winter 2016
Meeting weekly, we will undertake a close reading of Marx's Capital, Vol. 1.
1. Introduction: Synthetic Summary - January 8
2. Chapter 1-3 (pp. 125-178) - January 15
3. Chapters 4-6 (pp. 178-283) - January 22
4. Chapters 7-9 (pp. 283-340) - January 29
5. Chapter 10 (pp. 340-417) - February 5
6. Chapters 11-14 (pp. 417-492) - February 12
7. Chapter 15 (pp. 492-643) - March 4
8. Chapters 16-18 (pp. 643-675) - March 11
9. Week Off - March 18
10. Chapters 19-24 (pp. 675-762) - March 21
11. Chapters 25 (pp. 762-873) - March 25
12. Chapters 26-33 (pp. 873-943) - April 1
13. Appendix: Results of the Immediate Process of Production (pp. 943-1085) - April 8
Structure / Form
Grad Course, Winter 2016
How do we define the terms "structure" and "form"? How do we distinguish between these concepts, and how do they function differently in such fields as philosophy, literary criticism, architecture, art, and science?
Beginning with these questions, we will study major concepts of structural and formal determination in Plato, Aristotle, Kant, and Marx. We will then follow these concepts through several key texts on the dialectical constitution of artworks (Adorno), structural causality (Althusser, Miller, Macherey), and formal rupture in poetic language (Kristeva, Moten). We will then conclude with Reinhold Martin's analysis of ideologies of structure and form in corporate architecture, Kate Marshall's account of infrastructure as a narrative figure in American fiction, and Rosalind Kraus & Yves Alain-Bois' delineation of a "formless" trajectory in 20th century art, following Bataille's theory of the informe.
Social Death and Black Positionality
Reading Seminar, Fall 2015
(Fri 2-4, LB 681)
Meeting every other week, we will discuss three major texts theorizing slavery and social death, focusing on the politics of anti-black racism and black positionality in the present.
- Introductory Session
October 9 & 16
- Orlando Patterson, Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study (pp. 1-101; 174-208; 299-342)
Nov. 6 & 13
- Saidiya Hartman, Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in 19th Century America
Nov. 27 & Dec. 4
- Frank Wilderson / Saidiya Hartman Interview
- Frank Wilderson, Red, White, and Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms (pp. 1-91)
Grad Seminar, Winter 2015
"Only the poet, disdaining to be tied to any such subjection, lifted up with the vigour of his own invention, doth grow, in effect, into another nature, in making things either better than nature brings forth, or, quite anew, forms such as never were in nature, as the heroes, demi-gods, cyclops, chimeras, furies, and such like; so as he goes hand in hand with nature, not enclosed within the narrow warrant of her gifts, but freely ranging within the zodiac of his own wit.”
- Sir Phillip Sydney, A Defence of Poesy (1583)
The Greek term poiësis means "an act or process of creation." In the sixteenth century, Sir Phillip Sydney insists upon the "incomparable" title of the poet as "maker" — one who does not only imitate nature but rather makes things either new or better than nature, "ranging within the zodiac of his own wit." And in the twentieth century, Martin Heidegger considers poetry "a kind of building."
These are classical and canonical definitions that still hold new resources for imagining and theorizing the constructive capacities of poetic practice. Our seminar will assemble and explore the field of "Expanded Poetics," asking how far the limits of the "poetic" can be extended beyond the writing of "poems" while still maintaining a significant relation to "poetry" and to the history of poetic form. To this end we will consider various theories of "making" within and beyond the history of poetics while attending to models of form, structure, and image and to practices of material construction in literature, art, architecture, engineering, and the physical sciences. We will also host a number of guest speakers for supplemental evening seminars in addition to our regular classes.