English 233-2 - Winter, 2020

Problems in American Literature

Class Information

Instructor: Gray, Erin
CRN: 76969
Time: W 12:10-3:00
Location: 120 Voorhies
Breadth: Later American
Focus: Interdiscipline, Method, Theory


    In his 1982 study of world slavery, Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study, Orlando Patterson mobilized the concept of social death to theorize slaves? domination by their masters, their exclusion from political personhood, and their subjection to gratuitous violence, dishonor, namelessness, and natal alienation. Patterson?s social death thesis has since had a dramatic impact on black studies and continues to pose a series of conceptual challenges to our understanding of the dynamics of slavery and freedom in black Atlantic life. In this class, we will explore the impact of the social death thesis on black studies, comparative critical race and ethnic studies, black feminist and queer theories of time and sexuality, and current social practice. We will query the continued relevance of the social death thesis for academic and popular histories of American slavery and for struggles against the ongoing crisis of structural anti-black racism in the U.S.; consider the relationship of the social death thesis to other concepts in black studies, queer studies, and queer-of-color critique (agency, representation, abjection, resistance, the archive, affect, sociality, negativity, abandonment, shame, opacity, futurity); explore the articulation, contestation, and transformation of social death in aesthetic and political practice; and assess how approaches to life and death in black studies complicate political philosophies of bio-power, necro-politics, and posthumanism.


    Discussion Questions and Participation: 30%
    Presentation: 20%
    Final Paper Abstract: 10%
    Final Paper: 40%


    The Reaper's Garden, Vincent Brown
    The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon
    Scenes of Subjection, Saidiya Hartman
    Death Beyond Disavowal: The Impossible Politics of Difference, Grace Hong
    In the Wake: On Blackness and Being, Christina Sharpe
    In the Belly of Her Ghost, Colin Dayan
    The Hawthorne Archive, Avery Gordon
    Who Fears Death, Nnedi Okorafor
    Afro-Fabulations: The Queer Drama of Black Life, Tavia Nyong?o
    Social Death: Racialized Rightlessness and the Criminalization of the Unprotected, Lisa Marie Cacho