Forms of Humanism
This course takes a key area of concern in Black studies: What does it mean to be a human being? “Blackness,” as a modern social category, signifies the contradictory condition of being human while at the same time being the position of doubted humanity. To examine this question – what does it mean to be Black and human? – some scholars have focused on the topic of “liberal humanism” and the discourses that constitute the proper subject of western modernity as the universal center of knowledge and power in the economy and politics. As scholars have observed, liberalism humanism, with its ideology of the free, self-possessive individual, continues to define what being human means in social, cultural, and political life. At the same time, legal and customary freedom and protection that liberalism promises to everyone equally are unequally defined. Thus, liberal humanism’s contradictions – “liberty for all” yet unending bondage, “universal suffrage” yet routinized disenfranchisement – has prompted two related questions for scholars of Black studies: How has Black life been lived and experienced within the contradictory rationality of liberal humanism? And: How have Black subjects conceptualized alternative modes of being human? More specifically, what ways of being, knowing, and perceiving have been endemic to Black life? In this course, we will consider how Black scholars and cultural producers have theorized Black life and subjectivity through ontological “forms” that reveal alternatively human possibilities. Thus, Black “flesh,” “animality,” “objecthood,” and “non-being,” in addition to the conventional categories of liberal humanism, will guide our consideration of Black studies as an intellectual project that elaborates on the historical possibility of alternative humanisms produced before and through settler colonialism, transatlantic slavery, and slavery's long afterlife.