English 203

Graduate Readings: Politics of Death, Cultural Regenerations

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
3 Spring 2012 JanMohamed, Abdul R.
JanMohamed, Abdul\n& Pandolfo, Stefania
W 3-6 258 Dwinelle

Book List

Butler, Octavia: Kindred; Jones, Gayl: Corregidora; Morrison, Toni: Beloved; Walker, Alice: The Third Life of Grange Copeland


This course will be jointly taught by Abdul JanMohamed (English) and Stefania Pandolfo (Anthropology), and it is cross-listed with Anthropology 250X section 6.

This seminar is a two-voice reflection on violence, death, subjugation, and the problem of emancipation and cultural regeneration. It is conceived as a dialogue between two archives––two historical, philosophical and experiential sites where we see these questions as urgently formulated. On one side the history of slavery and the racialization of violence in the US, with the transmission of a “death-bound” subjectivity and the burning question of how to think the possibility of regeneration in the midst of the reproduction of death; on the other the experiences and vocabularies of subjectivity, trauma, oppression, death, violence and regeneration in Islam and in the contemporary Middle East.  In our bi-focal intervention we will draw on readings from Marxian, psychoanalytic, phenomenological, anthropological, and political-theological theoretical approaches, critical theories of melancholy and memory, as well as from anthropological accounts of life, death, destruction and the afterlife emerging from Arab and Islamic tradition, attempting to find a ground for the re-thinking of the relationship of catastrophic loss, subjectivity, transmission, and the regeneration of culture.

1. We will focus on the effects of racialized violence, and in particular the threat of death (periodically buttressed by actual lynchings) on the formation of black subjectivity.  In the aftermath of JanMohamed’s Death-Bound-Subject, we will be concentrating on the effects of such threats on the processes of biological and cultural reproduction.  How does death-bound-subjectivity reproduce its own formation from one generation to the next, how does it permeate the formation of young children from the beginning of their lives, and what can the parents do to resist such reproduction?  How does hegemony ensure the reproduction of received relations of violence and death, and what kind of resistance is efficacious against hegemony’s attempt to reproduce itself?  Such questions will be taken up via close examination of four black feminist novels that explore the topic in fascinating ways. 

2. We will pursue these questions through select literary and ethnographic works addressing the problem of traumatic transmission, violence, and melancholy in colonial and decolonial Maghreb.  Against this background we will examine documents from the recent revolutionary events in the Maghreb and Middle East, with particular reference to the adjoining place of the risk of death and cultural regeneration--acts situated at the ambiguous and morally troubled border of struggle, suicide and testimony, and that are received and mourned in their communities and across the region as gestures opening onto a space of the gift, in the collective struggle for the reclaiming of life. Finally, through the examination of religious sources in the Islamic ethical and eschatological tradition of thinking and practicing on death (al-Ghazali), as well as modernist theological engagements with the problem of subjugation, falsification of a tradition, and witnessing/martyrdom, we will outline the elements of a reflection on destruction, death, imagination and regeneration in counterpoint.

Primary readings will include: Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Alice Walker’s Third Life of Grange Copeland, Gayl Jones’ Corregidor, and Octavia Butler’s Kindred and her short story, “Bloodchild,”  Kateb Yacine’s Nedjma, J. Lacan The Ethics of Psychoanalysis (selected chapters), A. Feldman, Formations of Violence,Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, The Remembrance of Death and the Afterlife, Ali Shariati, “Jihad and Shahadat”.  We will also use an archive of documents about the current uprisings in the Middle East, and selections from A. JanMohamed’s The Death-Bound-Subject and S. Pandolfo’s Knot of the Soul.

Additional readings will include selections from:  N. Abraham and M. Torok, Jessica Benjamin, Walter Block, Judith Butler, Patricia Hill Collins, V. Crapanzano, V. Das, J. Derrida, Frantz Fanon, Lisa Guenther, W.G.F Hegel, M. Heidegger, A. Kojeve, J. Lacan, John Locke, A. Mbembe, Jennifer Morgan, David Marriot, Darieck Scott, Dorothy Roberts, Hortense Spiller, and others.

Other Recent Sections of This Course

Back to Semester List