Though “posthumousness” takes a variety of forms, the texts within its ambit share a quality that Jean-Christophe Cloutier, in Shadow Archives, calls “a belated form of timeliness.” The editorial apparatus of posthumously published texts, such as Claude McKay’s Amiable with Big Teeth or Muriel Rukeyser’s Savage Coast, foregrounds these novels’ prior lostness and subsequent belated arrival in forms and contexts that their authors could not have foreseen. Whatever the reason for this untimeliness, whether it is a product of active suppression (Claude McKay’s Romance in Marseille or Richard Wright’s The Man Who Lived Underground), or archival neglect (Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon), its presence frames the work as having arrived late because it once arrived too early.
In this seminar, we will interpret the phenomenon of posthumousness as a litmus test for the evolution of literary history, taste, form, and cultural production. A posthumous work might upset an author’s established oeuvre, challenge accepted literary genealogies, or cast an author’s political orientation in a new light, undermining scholarly consensus and interpretive precedent. We welcome papers that theorize the effects of posthumous publication on literary analysis, historiography, and canon formation; we encourage papers that investigate posthumousness within twentieth-century African American literature, Asian American literature, queer literatures, women’s literatures, and other literary traditions. We will consider the politics of recovery, asking whether posthumous publication is the inevitable and necessary solution to the archive’s silences, or whether there are situations in which it might be productive, as Stephen Best has suggested, “to resist the recovery imperative.” We encourage papers that demonstrate an interest in collaboratively refining a set of terms that will help us systematically parse the diverse range of texts inflected by posthumous publication:
- Incomplete, abandoned, or fragmentary (Ralph Ellison’s Three Days Before the Shooting…)
- Lost and rediscovered (Claude McKay’s Amiable with Big Teeth)
- “Completed” by an editor (Lorraine Hansbery’s Les Blancs, Frances Chung’s Crazy Melon and Chinese Apple)
- Queer and suppressed (Langston Hughes’s “Seven People Dancing”)
- Extant yet unpublished (Richard Wright’s Tarbaby’s Dawn)
- Edge case: posthumous reception (Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s DICTEE)