English 100

Junior Seminar: Black Experimental Writing

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
7 Spring 2005 Wagner, Bryan
Wagner, Bryan
MW 4-5:30 109 Wheeler
Other Readings and Media

Readings for this course have not been determined but will include works by Will Alexander, Octavia Butler, Samuel Delany, Cornelius Eady, Renee Gladman, Erica Hunt, Nathaniel Mackey, Fred Moten, Harryette Mullen, Julie Patton, Ed Roberson, Jean Toomer, Lorenzo Thomas, Melvin Tolson, Tyrone Williams, and Kevin Young.


African American literature arrived, at its inception, as the self-acknowledged antidote to a longstanding tradition that relegated black expression to the status of noise. Whether cast as the malapropism of the urban parvenu or the stuttering of the plantation slave, the moan of the cotton chopper or the mute stoicism of the suffering bondsman, black language was typically pushed at the point of its transcription toward the guttural, the comical, and the lewd -- a reduction that was, in a complex sense, not wholly untrue to the spirit of black expression under slavery which often relied upon asemantic sounds, gestures, and other non-speech acts to convey meaning. In the twentieth century, black writers would develop a hermeneutic attuned to this special condition of their literature, employing metaphors of psychic doubling, masks, veils, and tricksterism to restore the hidden denotations of black expression. Building upon even as it breaks with this mode of interpretation, this course investigates a tradition of black writing where the line connecting surface to depth, or language to intention, is unceremoniously dropped. Language that approaches nonsense, in this tradition, is no longer a sure sign of indirection or concealed significance. It is, rather, a sign of persistent interest in words that have become disconnected from their original negation. In addition to the black avant-garde writers who are our primary focus of concern, we will also be reading critics engaged with questions of literary form, the black voice, and non-standard language -- beginning with the epoch-marking essay by anthropologist Franz Boas, 'On Alternating Sounds' (1889).

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