2020 American Studies Association Panel: "The Calling that We Choose to Follow: The Impact of Anthony P. Farley in Thinking Blackness and Law"

deadline for submissions: 
January 2, 2019
full name / name of organization: 
Jon Jon Moore (UC Berkeley)
contact email: 

People will be able to liberate themselves only after the legal superstructure itself has begun to wither away. And when we begin to overcome and to do without these [juridical] concepts in reality, rather than merely in declarations, that will be the surest sign that the narrow horizon of bourgeois law is finally opening up before us.

--Anthony P. Farley, “Perfecting Slavery”

We seek interdisciplinary papers for a proposed panel at the 2020 American Studies Association conference (Baltimore, Maryland Nov. 12-15) exploring the application, operation, and impact of innovations made over the past two decades by legal theorist Anthony P. Farley. For more than 20 years, Farley, the James Campbell Matthews Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence at Albany Law School and member of the American Law Institute, has published striking work on  capitalism, critical race theory, cultural analysis, law and literature, the legal history of slavery, and libidinal economy.

Farley’s provocative claims-- that the narrative of historical progress post-slavery is narrated juridically vis-a-vis the imposition of anti-black law and order and that juridical pleas for freedom are “produced through an injury” and constitiuvely cannot succeed in producing any condition but unfreedom (Farley 2005)-- have informed generations of scholars interested in comprehending how anti-blackness constitiutes the content and form of modern law in the United States. Echoing Saidiya Hartman’s landmark question, “What if the presumed endowments of man--conscience, sentiment, and reason--rather than assuring liberty or negating slavery acted to yoke slavery and freedom? (Hartman 1997),”Farley has concluded that the submission of the slave gives rise to law: “There is no law before the slave bows down” (Farley 2005).  

Beyond charting the intellectual lives touched by Farley’s work, this panel is interested in furthering the questions presented in his oeuvre and highlighting the work of those who have dissented from his diagnosis, as well as those who have continued to cultivate the pessimistic, abolitionist legal sensibility his scholarship continues to make possible. We are thrilled that Farley has agreed to join us for this highly anticipated and overdue conversation. Below are a few of the questions we’re interested in: 


  1. What is the epistemological and practical relationship between black studies and jurisprudence? What are the ethical mandates of legal practitioners and scholars working at this intersection in 2020?

  2.  If, as Calvin Warren writes, one function of political hope is “delimiting the field of [Black] action to include only activity recognized and legitimated by the Political” (Warren 2015) how do we read Farley’s “Lacan & Voting” when charting Black political imaginations in the wake of Barack Obama’s presidency?

  3. What is the relationship between abolition, class, and gender if one takes seriously Farley’s assertion that “the mark is the beginning of property and law”? (Farley 2008) 

  4. What can we learn from the methods and poetics of Farley? How does his signature writing style trouble genre and enact a self-aware “poetics of possession”? (Best 2004)

Professor Farley’s work has been critically engaged by artists and scholars of afro-pessimism, animal studies, bioethics, civil rights, comparative literature, constitutional and criminal law, critical race theory, education, gender studies, post-Heideggerian philosophy, social psychology, social welfare, and more. 

We seek work by artists and scholars familiar with the work of Farley that work across disciplines, including; black studies, continental theory, legal theory, history, literature and poetics, new materialisms, psychoanalysis, visual studies, and women’s studies. We encourage the submission of papers that engage earlier work-- including but not limited to “The Black Body as Fetish Object,” (1997) “Lacan & Voting Rights,” (2001) and “Perfecting Slavery” (2004)-- as well as later work, such as “Law as Trauma & Repetition” (2007) and “The Colorline as Capitalist Accumulation” (2008). 


Possible Paper Themes:


Barack Obama and legacies of Black neoliberalism 

Blackness and; capital punishment, form, the commodity, jurisprudence, ontology

Critical Race Theory 

Douglass, Fanon, Freud, and Hobbes

Genre and; the argument; the human

Law and; aesthetics, form, pleasure, psychoanalysis (Fredudian, Lacanian, and otherwise) reparations, resistance, sadomasochism 

Legacies of; Adarand v. Pena, Brown v. Board of Education, Plessy v. Ferguson

Neo Segregation

Slavery and; poetics, revolt, rhetoric, time, 



Please send abstracts of 250-300 words to Jon Jon Moore (jonjon@berkeley.edu) by January 2nd, 2020.