Heidegger and Black Thinking

deadline for submissions: 
September 21, 2017
full name / name of organization: 
2018 ACLA Annual Meeting
contact email: 

Heidegger and Black Thinking

Seminar for the

2018 American Comparative Literature Association (ACLA) Annual Meeting

Los Angeles March 29–April 1, 2018

Co-organizers: J. Kameron Carter (j.carter[at]duke.edu) and Michael Eng (meng[at]jcu.edu)

The recent publication of Martin Heidegger’s Black Notebooks has renewed the scandal of his Nazism and has given final confirmation of his anti-Semitism (as if the former had not yet been discovered and the latter were really still in doubt). Alongside the latest round of defenses and dismissals of Heidegger, a compelling development has taken shape. Prominent scholars in Black Studies such as Fred Moten, Sylvia Wynter, Sharon Holland, and Grant Farred have been drawing on Heidegger as a resource for theorizing racial difference and black social life.

For Moten, Heidegger’s distinction between “thing” (das Ding) and object offers a way to imagine a form of experience and an understanding of blackness that exceeds categories of ontology. Wynter turns to Heidegger’s critique of the metaphysics of humanism as a model for mapping the manner in which colonialism uses race as a ground (Grund) for erecting its system determining the human from the non-human. In her conceptualization of “perishment,” Holland invokes Heidegger’s distinction between the human and the animal to think with specificity about black death. And Farred offers an account of his relation to Heidegger’s thought with the startling title Martin Heidegger Saved My Life, which charts a language of thinking beyond the determinations of the racist encounter.

This engagement with Heidegger in Black Studies constitutes what we are calling “Black thinking.” These scholars all express a drive to engage with the question of race as the problem of “the unthought,” as Heidegger names this in his 1951-52 lecture course What is Called Thinking? According to him, the unthought is that which remains masked under dominant modes of thought, but is that which makes such modes possible in the first place. In What is Called Thinking?, a prime example Heidegger gives is the ways technological rationality obscures the event of Being as the ground of thinking. For Heidegger, then, the age of modern technology results in a situation in which there is a mode of thought that is not yet thinking. For scholars in contemporary Black Studies, we are living in an epoch that uses race as a ground for thought, yet has not yet begun to think race and thus engage in a thinking that moves “in the break” and “in the wake” of racial thought.

For this seminar, we seek essays exploring the scholarship that brings Heidegger’s thought and Black Studies into conversation and maps out future possibilities that could emerge from it. For example, placing work on gender, sexual difference, and black feminism into this critical conversation could prove to be particularly promising.

We welcome 300 word abstracts for 20-minute papers on topics including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Black thought vs. Black thinking
  • Heidegger, Black Studies, and dangerous times
  • Heidegger and the dialogue on Afro-pessimism
  • Heidegger, Black Studies, and death
  • Ground/earth and race
  • Human/Animal/Race/Perishment
  • Gender and Sexual Difference as the unthought
  • Heidegger, Black Studies, and Black Feminism
  • Heidegger, Black Studies, and the Work of Art
  • Thinking Heidegger against Heidegger for Black Studies
  • How to move from the Black Notebooks to Black thinking?
  • The work of Sylvia Wynter and “enthusiasm” for Heidegger

Please submit abstracts through the ACLA portal (http://acla.org/seminars) during the submission period (between Thursday, August 31, at 12 p.m. noon EST and Thursday, September 21, at 9 a.m. EST). Interested individuals are encouraged to contact the seminar organizers by email with inquiries. The seminar organizers will review all submitted papers and propose their rosters to the ACLA Program Committee. The ACLA Program Committee will review all seminar proposals during October and notify seminar organizers of acceptance or rejection on or around November 1, 2017.