Slave Poetics and the Political Present (interdisciplinary)

deadline for submissions: 
January 26, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
American Studies Association, Atlanta, GA, Nov. 8th-11th
contact email: 

In his 2012 essay “On Failing to Make the Past Present,” Stephen Best argues that the slave archive is not always “a ready prism for apprehending the black political present,” pressuring contemporary scholars to make a distinction between today’s political crises and black diasporic history. And yet, recent political regressions force us to re-examine how our current moment may be informed by and understood through the optics of abolition, emancipation, and reconstruction. This panel seeks to re-focus current critical thought on the links between the traumatic past and the historical present by examining how the poetry of slavery accentuates—and even depends upon—these linkages. We are in, as Saidiya Hartman once said, the “afterlife of slavery,” however fractured, aestheticized, and routinized that afterlife may be.

This panel’s exploration of the commonalities between past, present, and future racial violences invites its panelists to explore the ways that historical patterns of emergence and suppression have continued to undergird representations of black poetics in contemporary critical thought. How might the political crises of the past and present be examined through the rhetoric, operations, affects, and procedures of the anti-slavery poetic? Where do and why might these linkages collapse? We hope to understand how states of emergency might be linked to ongoing, collaborative, and imaginative political expression. Through this critical examination, we will account for the processes by which politico-poetic discourses may continuously re-emerge over time through the conventions of poetic form.

Following the work of Hartman, Michelle Alexander, Christina Sharpe, Evie Shockley, and others, this panel aims to interrogate the relationship between historical traumas and their afterlives. What mechanisms allowed for anti-slavery poetic discourse—and, along with it, new definitions of personhood, freedom, and liberation—to emerge in the nineteenth century? What is the relationship between antebellum poetic discourses of black political emergence (abolition, enfranchisement, and emancipation) and contemporary political movements centered about re-enfranchisement and the affirmation of black life? How do the traumas of slavery replicate themselves in the contemporary moment? How might modern processes of identity formation be reimagined through the influence of routinized poetic traditions?

Please send questions, inquiries, or submissions (150 to 300 word abstract and short bio) to Amadi Ozier (amadi.ozier@rutgers.edu) by Friday, January 26th. We encourage papers from any of the broad disciplinary and methodological families that constitute American Studies.

Possible topics of exploration:

  • antebellum and contemporary anti-slavery political discourses
  • contemporary slavery
  • circulation history and book history
  • the aestheticization of slavery, past and present
  • histories of social movements
  • anti-slavery and neo-slavery performance studies
  • slave narratives and neo-slave narratives
  • contemporary anti-slavery poetry
  • pro-slavery, anti-slavery, and neo-slavery poetic form
  • slavery as a symbol