Introduction to Comparative Literature
Blackness and the Archive: Literary Approaches
In this course, we will explore how twenty-first century literatures engage the archive of the Atlantic slave trade and its relationship to both the history of the United States and contemporary Black social life. How can the history of irredeemable losses be narrated and refigured? What forms of listening, of attention, do writers model as they engage with the archival materials that record the murder, violence against, and subjugation of African and Black people? Given the irreparable losses of racial slavery, thinkers in various Black literary traditions have reckoned with the impasse of the archive.
With this in mind, we will take five texts as examples of written engagements with the archive by Black scholars and poets. We will study these texts carefully in order to apprentice ourselves to their experiments in writing. The texts are: Alexis Pauline Gumbs’s M Archive (2018), Saidiya Hartman’s Lose Your Mother (2008), John Keene’s Counternarratives (2015), M NourbeSe Philip’s Zong! (2011), and Claudia Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric (2004).
Excitingly, because none of these texts engage in straightforward narration, we will learn from them how to read and tarry with experimental writing. We will investigate how and why each of these projects requires forms of writing that defy normative modes of communication, rules of genre, and even those of syntax. How does each of the texts engage with issues of race, gender, and sexuality? While these writers meaningfully deploy non-standard forms of writing, students will learn and practice ways to write clear and articulate responses.