WiSe 16/17: Art or Propaganda? Writing and Blackness 1925-2011
The seminar takes as its cue the title of an Alain Locke essay which, three years after The New Negro (1925) and in the inaugural issue of the journal Harlem, makes explicit a central concern of ... read more
The seminar takes as its cue the title of an Alain Locke essay which, three years after The New Negro (1925) and in the inaugural issue of the journal Harlem, makes explicit a central concern of discussions about black literature: Should it be art or propaganda? The title is a provocation, of course, but its context is a debate between Locke and W.E.B. Du Bois, from which we can extrapolate crucial queries: What do “propaganda” and “art”, or perhaps codifications of the political and the poetic, signify at respective historical moments? And what are the corresponding notions of authorship, literature, and readership? The perhaps obvious working hypothesis of the seminar is that the nexus blackness and writing, ever since the Harlem Renaissance and until Kenneth Warren’s (2011) historicizing of the very notion of African American literature, revolves around these questions. Most of the syllabus consists of key debates, of influential essays, manifestoes, and scholarship; theories of blackness and black literature will be examined from within and beyond the confines of narratives such as the nation or the Black Atlantic. The selection of literary texts, by contrast, will exclude many of the canonical signposts: seminal writers such as Ralph Ellison or Toni Morrison figure as essayists rather than novelists, and we will read Ann Petry’s The Street rather than Richard Wright’s Native Son. This divergence – canonical debates and largely understudied literature – should make for an interesting tension, complicating received understandings of the nexus writing and blackness.
For an active participation credit (3 ECTS) students are asked to be part of an expert group / give a presentation, write an excerpt and a review essay. For a graded “Schein” (7 ECTS) students have to write a seminar paper on top of that.