Naval Wakes & Black Galactics: Being and Blackness in the Age of Slavery

deadline for submissions: 
December 28, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
North American Society for the Study of Romanticism (NASSR 2019)
contact email: 

For at least the last half-century, theories of Blackness have challenged the foundations of modern critical thought. Theorists such as Fred Moten, Jared Sexton, Christina Sharpe, Hortense Spillers, Alexander Weheliye, Frank Wilderson, Achille Mbembe, and Sylvia Wynter variously interrogate the politics, discourse, and materialities of the imperial, capitalist experience of slavery (and its afterlife). One important avenue of consideration is how this perverse institution undermined possibilities for the Enlightenment subject not simply for those of African descent but for all people complicit in the imperial project. Even while Enlightenment and Revolutionary approaches led to the formulation of the reflective thinking and feeling subject, those discourses underwrote not simply the exclusion of non-whites from subject positions but, in fact, cast them as non-subjects—nonhuman others, ontologically or socially fetishized, beastialized, deceased, or otherwise disabled. This dialectic of the Enlightenment has led to the theoretical exploration of other formulations of being in response, including the more pessimistic theories of ontological death and necropolitics, a star-ward Afro-futurism, the grounded and pedagogical Black Optimism, and a more viscous posthumanism or planetary being—to name a few approaches. Given these theoretical speculations, we are compelled to ask how did Romantic-era authors themselves think beyond these cultural and ontological developments during the Age of Slavery?

Our panel--jointly sponsored by the Theory/Philosophy Caucus, the Race and Empire Caucus, and the Comparative Literature Caucus--seeks papers that investigate how writers, poets, and thinkers in the Romantic era found other modes of being in the period as they took into account slavery’s deployment of excruciating suffering, trauma, and inhumanity. Whether and how does Romantic literature speak to, alter, adjust, or reinvent Black existence and modes of being within or against the period’s understandings of the Enlightenment human? How do we, as scholars of Romanticism rethink the problems of human subjectivity and racial ontology in the wake of such history? We especially invite papers that probe the disruptive and creative potentialities of theoretical configurations such as Afro-Pessimism, Afro-Futurism, Black Optimism for Romantic studies. Possible paper topics may engage, but are not limited to, developments and intersections between Romantic texts and:

  • Afro-pessimism, necropolitics, and/or social death in the literatures and visual cultures of Atlantic slavery
  • Afro-futurist and/or Black Optimist potentialities in Black Atlantic texts
  • Enlightenment liberalism and the political ontologies of non-subjects
  • The aesthetics and/or poiesis of Blackness
  • Posthumanism as a response to the racial limits of the Enlightenment subject, or human

Please send 500-word abstracts to both Kate Singer ( and Deanna Koretsky ( by December 28th, 2018.

NASSR 2019 will take place in Chicago on August 8-11, 2019.