Black Life/Schwarz-Sein: Inhabitations of the Flesh - Alexander Weheliye (Boundaries: Public Lecture)
African American Studies, Northwestern University
Abstract: Using the racialized performances of gender of Joss Moody, the main character in Jackie Kay’s 1998 novel Trumpet, and the musician Sun Ra as launch pads, my argument pays particular attention to the complex ways gender and sexuality function in the barring of Black flesh from the category of the human-as-Man. Joss Moody and Sun Ra represent inhabitations of the flesh that bring to light the relational being-in-the-world of Black Life, in the process making the constitutive ungendered displacement of Black Life from origin and belonging habitable by staging the affectability of Black mattering as second sight. In order to think more deeply about Black Life’s relationship to the non-human, I will also consider an underdiscussed aspect of Henrietta Lacks’s cellular afterlife that highlights how Black Life/Schwarz-Sein must be expunged from even the purportedly most fundamental parts of human life in order for it to even begin resembling “life.”
Alexander Ghedi Weheliye is professor of African American Studies at Northwestern University where he teaches Black literature and culture, critical theory, social technologies, and popular culture. He is the author of Phonographies: Grooves in Sonic Afro-Modernity (Duke UP, 2005) and Habeas Viscus: Racializing Assemblages, Biopolitics, and Black Feminist Theories of the Human (Duke UP, 2014). Currently, he is working on two projects. The first, Feenin: R&B’s Technologies of Humanity, offers a critical history of the intimate relationship between R&B music and technology since the late 1970’s. The second, Black Life/Schwarz-Sein, situates Blackness as an ungendered ontology of unbelonging.