Abstracts

Emmanuelle Andrès | “Reading/Writing ‘the most wretched business’: Toni Morrison’s A Mercy

Abstract | The epilogue of Toni Morrison’s A Mercy (2008) is narrated by the teenage character-narrator Florens’ mother. Though addressed to her daughter, the mother’s words are heard/read only by the reader, who is left with the (merciful?) gift of understanding and reinterpreting the very act that is at the center of the novel. The picture (s)he shapes, the “telling” (s)he hears (161), are conditioned by Florens’ narration—the affective lens through which “the world” (161) and the narrative are to be read. The reader’s legitimacy is recognized and rewarded at the very end of A Mercy. Indeed, the mother’s account, conjured up by Florens, is staged as an imaginary reconciliation, arising from the reading itself, as well as from the reader’s affective, aesthetic desire for such reconciliation.

 

Souleymane Ba |  “Afrofuturism in Contemporary African American Literature: Reading Colson Whitehead”

Abstract | In this post-civil rights era, racial relations are highly complex: racism has not disappeared, but a discourse on postracialism has emerged. Colson Whitehead’s fiction explores the vertiginous vortex that represents the complexity of the contemporary problematic relationship between blackness, the future, and technology. This paper shows how race is represented in an “Afrofuturistic” America by highlighting Afrofuturist aspects in Whitehead’s The Intuitionist and Zone One, where the representation of race feeds on the postracial discourse. What may be the implications of representing a post-apocalyptic world? Are racial distinctions still relevant in the context of “critical posthumanism”? Is the future postracial?

 

Yannick M. Blec | “Rereading William Melvin Kelley: Black Identity Construction in the Light of an Africana Existentialist and Phenomenological Approach”

As an African American writer who was part of the Black Arts Movement, William Melvin Kelley became an ardent defender of Black identity/-ies and the Black Aesthetics. This article aims to revisit his narratives through the scopes of African Existential Philosophy and a phenomenological approach in order to understand how he perceived and constructed Black identities in the context of segregation. At the cross-road between imagination and lived experience, his stories interrogate what constitutes the self as an existing Black body filled with individual and community essence.

 

Melba Joyce Boyd | “The Ghost Got It Wrong: Frances E. W. Harper and Toni Morrison. A Century A/Part”

Abstract | The article considers some key differences between Harper’s poetic treatment of Margaret Garner’s life in “The Slave Mother, A Tale of the Ohio” and Morrison’s fictional diversion from actual historical events in Beloved. The essay critiques the creative reasoning of the author’s imaginary with regards to the ghost’s haunting of her family, especially her mother. The essay also considers the inclusion of the ghost at the end of the opera, Margaret Garner, another problematic that runs counter to a ‘realizable’ appreciation of her true story.

 

Sabine Broeck | “Commentary (Response to Michel Feith)”

Abstract | Broeck’s commentary focuses mainly on the ethical challenge to read the Enlightenment’s freedom narratives not in a paradoxical relation to Euro-American modernity’s coloniality and enslavement regimes but as a complex vision of white free enlightened conviviality—the free brotherhood of Man—purposefully premised on black social death. From this perspective, it becomes crucial to criticize the tendency in much of Beloved‘s critical reception to slide into neo-abolitionist “kitsch.”

 

Sabine Broeck, P. Khalil Saucier | “A Dialogue: On European Borders, Black Movement, and the History of Social Death”

Abstract | This article presents a dialogue between Sabine Broeck and P. Khalil Saucier about Black social death and white empathy in contempo¬rary Europe. It is written as a starting point to speak about black move¬ment, European borders, and social death in the midst of almost weekly ship-wrecks in the Mediterrenean Sea; events that Broeck and Saucier read as the constitutive element of the longe duree of black genocide in Europe; the consolidation of late European modernity.

 

Michel Feith | “Introduction: Weaving Texts and Memories: Around Toni Morrison’s Beloved

Abstract | In this introduction, Michel Feith problematizes the complex relation between writing and the history of slavery by focusing on two case studies that reconfigure this relation: an examination of the Memorial for the Abolition of Slavery, inaugurated in Nantes, France in 2012, and a triangulation between Toni Morrison’s Beloved, and Saidiya Hartman’s Scenes of Subjection (1997) and Lose Your Mother (2007). What common ground seems to emerge from these two case studies—memory as a sort of compromise formation in the monument, and the varying mixes of objectivity and empathy in the texts—is a sense of haunting, accompanied by an always compromised endeavor to lay at rest the ghosts of the Middle Passage.

 

Claude Le Fustec | “Beyond magic realism: the stuff of ordinary lives? Lorene Cary’s rewriting of Beloved

Abstract | In the current context of the proliferation of neo-slave narratives, Lorene Cary’s The Price of a Child (1995) strikes a rather singular tone. With its title explicitly echoing Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Cary’s novel and its straightforward realism come as a surprise. As this close intertextual reading of the two novels intends to show, beyond expressing a probable anxiety of influence, Cary’s narrative appears to revise major tenets of the African American ethos on which Beloved rests.

 

Katharina Gerund | “Searching for Sisterhood: Friendship and Sorority Culture in Tajuana Butler’s Sorority Sisters

Abstract | This essay examines Tajuana Butler’s Sorority Sisters (1998) regarding its portrayal of friendship, sisterhood, and sorority culture. The novel conceptualizes ‘sisterhood’ as a fictive kinship structure and emphasizes the empowering potential of friendship among women. It fully embraces sorority culture and presents pledging as a ‘social drama’ in all its facets. Overall, Sorority Sisters provides an intervention into dominant representations of sorority life and black femininity. Yet, this intervention hinges on a discursive system of control shaped by conventional femininity and an uncritical affirmation of the ideology, practices, and significance of sororities.

 

Frank B. Wilderson, III, Samira Spatzek, and Paula von Gleich | “‘The Inside-Outside of Civil Society’: An Interview with Frank B. Wilderson, III”

Abstract | In this interview, Frank Wilderson talks about the current state of the discipline of Black Studies in the United States of America and beyond and the ways in which Afro-pessimism takes part in shaping this discipline. He also discusses their stakes in current social justice movements such as Black Lives Matter and the relevance he ascribes to Black lived experience and structural positionalities. Commenting on the role that gratuitous violence and the concept of social death play in his work, Wilderson also addresses the challenges Afro-pessimism poses especially to non-Black scholars who want to think through and with this theoretical stream of thought.

Carsten Junker | “Editors’ Note 1.1”

Abstract | This editors’ note launches the first peer-reviewed Black Studies online journal founded in Europe, Black Studies Papers, and introduces its first issue, entitled Slavery Revisited.

Carsten Junker | “Editors’ Note 2.1”

Abstract | This editors’ note introduces the second issue of Black Studies Papers, entitled Current Perspectives in Transnational Black Studies.

 

Marie-Luise Löffler | “Editors’ Note”

Abstract | This editors’ note launches the first peer-reviewed Black Studies online journal founded in Europe, Black Studies Papers, and introduces its first issue, entitled Slavery Revisited.

Marie-Luise Löffler“Editors’ Note 2.1”

Abstract | This editors’ note introduces the second issue of Black Studies Papers, entitled Current Perspectives in Transnational Black Studies.

 

Monica Michlin | “Writing/Reading Slavery as Trauma: Toni Morrison’s A Mercy

Abstract | For the first time since Beloved, Toni Morrison returns to slavery in A Mercy (2008): the slave trade is allegorized as a ‘pox’ upon the initially utopian Vaark farm. Though in the face of systematic discourses of othering, each oppressed character puts up strategies of resistance, the dialectic of love, loss, and alienation in Florens’s story permeates the entire novel. But Florens’s voice offers resistance and empowerment as well: the house that Jacob built and that Florens ‘haunts’ is, in a mise en abyme of the house of fiction reclaimed by Toni Morrison, a black repossession of the house that slavery built.

 

Judith Misrahi-Barak | “Post-Beloved Writing: Review, Revitalize, Recalculate”

Abstract | Twenty-five years have elapsed since the publication of Beloved. In all its complexity, Toni Morrison’s novel forms a peak, both concluding the previous decades of neo-slave narratives and introducing the following ones. As the following article argues, reviewing the many ways the novel has closed a period and opened a new one will help us gain a new perspective and understand new articulations and developments in slavery literature. Misrahi-Barak contends that the genre of the neo-slave narrative has ceased to be African-American only, but has become trans-national and global, dialogic, polyphonic and trans-generic. It has also been instrumental in implementing a rapprochement between disciplines that used to be watertight.

 

Stefanie Mueller | “Standing Up To Words: Writing and Resistance in Toni Morrison’s A Mercy

Abstract | In Toni Morrison’s A Mercy, the protagonist represents both the historical and the contemporary African American author. As Mueller argues, her act of carving words into walls can be read as an act of resistance against the historical silencing of the black voice as well as politically against symbolic violence exercised through language.

 

Claudine Raynaud | “Memory Work”

Abstract | This intervention argues that Morrison’s Beloved highlights the workings of memory (Erinnerungsarbeit) rather than the concept of memory as a duty, as well as assesses the debate known as “memory wars” in France and gives a brief survey of what has been achieved at the level of the French state in the midst of a violent controversy about history, national memory and memorials. It closes on the ways in which slavery is fictionalized and analyzed, from Morrison’s A Mercy (2008) and Chivallon’s anthropological approach (2012) to the discovery of archives, such as the lawsuit brought by the slave Furcy against his master (2011).

 

Stefanie Schäfer | “Plantation Spaces and the Black Body: Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained as Maroon Narrative”

Abstract | This article reads Django Unchained as a maroon narrative. It argues that the film’s spatial poetics critique the American symbolic landscapes of the West and the South as well as their cinematic representation. The analysis examines the depiction of the black body and the blending of Western and Southern spaces in an American business master narrative. In this setup, Tarantino’s self-made black cowboy figure is not heroic but remains a cipher in both epistemologies. Django acts as a ghost who haunts the plantation and the frontier in a series of masquerades, thus pointing to the pitfalls of cinema history and national myth-making.

 

Christian Schmidt | “The Parody of Postblackness in I Am Not Sidney Poitier and the End(s) of African American Literature”

Analyzing Percival Everett’s I Am Not Sidney Poitier as a multi-level parody, this essay argues that the novel not only parodies its protagonist’s almost namesake’s filmic oeuvre but also comically engages with Everett’s own writing in general, and his novel Erasure in particular. Through detailed discussion of these various levels of parody, the essay teases out the ways in which postblack fiction offers a different, and decidedly non-mimetic, take on issues of race and racism than its predecessors in the African American literary tradition by complicating the relationship between fiction, fictional reality, and extra-textual reality.

 

Christina Sharpe | “The Lie at the Center of Everything”

Abstract | In “The Lie at the Center of Everything,” Christina Sharpe reads Valerie Martin’s 2003 Orange Prize winning novel Property for the ways that it positions readers, across race, to enter into the narrative through the consciousness of the white slave-owning woman Manon Gaudet. Sharpe traces the ways that such positioning locates many readers in the inability to see (or hear) black suffering, locates them as unable to see or account for the matter of race; specifically the ‘lived experience of the black.’

 

Samira Spatzek | “‘Own Yourself, Woman’: Toni Morrison’s A Mercy, Early Modernity, and Property”

Abstract | This study puts Toni Morrison’s novel A Mercy in conversation with John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government (1689), re-visiting the Treatises in light of recent Black Studies interventions in the topos of Western subjectivity. While situating both the Treatises and the scholarly engagement with them in their historical moment, it develops a post-slavery reading of the early modern conceptions of individual liberty and property by means of A Mercy’s characters.

Frank B. Wilderson, III, Samira Spatzek, and Paula von Gleich | “‘The Inside-Outside of Civil Society’: An Interview with Frank B. Wilderson, III”

Abstract | In this interview, Frank Wilderson talks about the current state of the discipline of Black Studies in the United States of America and beyond and the ways in which Afro-pessimism takes part in shaping this discipline. He also discusses their stakes in current social justice movements such as Black Lives Matter and the relevance he ascribes to Black lived experience and structural positionalities. Commenting on the role that gratuitous violence and the concept of social death play in his work, Wilderson also addresses the challenges Afro-pessimism poses especially to non-Black scholars who want to think through and with this theoretical stream of thought.

 

Maria Varsam | “To Remember or Not to Remember: Traumatic Memory and the Legacy of Slavery in Octavia Butler’s Kindred and Toni Morrisons Beloved

Abstract | Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Octavia Butler’s Kindred share many thematic and stylistic conventions which illustrate intertextual connections between the neo-slave narrative and critical dystopias. Moreover, they both focus on the effect of history on the present and the continuing legacy of slavery on social ties, identity and agency. As the article argues, central themes of traumatic history and memory are problematized in these novels through the trope of maternal genealogy and the consequences its severance has on affective relationships, race relations and personal identity. Varsam contends that the violent legacy of slavery is transformed from a central marker of traumatic memory to a reference point of survival and personal and social renewal.

 

Sebastian Weier | “Disrupting Enslavist Suture: Black Film as a Cinema of Displeasure”

Abstract | Drawing from Afro-pessimist and feminist film theory, the article proposes a rethinking of theories of racialization and Blackness in and through film. Through a critique of film theories related to the concept of suture and its models of pleasure, identification and subjectivation, the article shows why Blackness in film must not simply be considered through authentic representation or progressive production, but in terms of a disruption of black symbolic death. This disruption is theorized as a cinema of displeasure and irritation, aspects of which will be exemplified with a short consideration of the movie Suture.

 

Frank B. Wilderson, III, Samira Spatzek, and Paula von Gleich | “‘The Inside-Outside of Civil Society’: An Interview with Frank B. Wilderson, III”

Abstract | In this interview, Frank Wilderson talks about the current state of the discipline of Black Studies in the United States of America and beyond and the ways in which Afro-pessimism takes part in shaping this discipline. He also discusses their stakes in current social justice movements such as Black Lives Matter and the relevance he ascribes to Black lived experience and structural positionalities. Commenting on the role that gratuitous violence and the concept of social death play in his work, Wilderson also addresses the challenges Afro-pessimism poses especially to non-Black scholars who want to think through and with this theoretical stream of thought.