Publication Date

April 2016


Rachel Ellis Neyra




English (United States)


Meditating on the relationship between blackness—as embodiment and affect—and domesticity—as a process of regulation with recourse to domestic space—, this project mobilizes what I, as a reader of Fred Moten, call fugitive reading practices against the logic of settler colonialism and, to borrow Paul Ricoeur’s expression as engaged by Eve Sedgwick, “the hermeneutics of suspicion.” Writing under the assumption that epistemic violence is often unwittingly reproduced against black women writers and black female characters, I use “fugitive reading practices” to turn away from hegemonic modes of critique and the violences they entail in order to reparatively read Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon (1977), and, gesturing to James Baldwin and Mamie Bradley, I insist on the necessity of imagining black futurity. Following Hortense Spillers’ 1987 essay, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book,” alongside the select work of Angela Davis, Robert Reid-Pharr, Lauren Berlant, Fred Moten, Saidiya Hartman, Sara Jay Cervenak, Darieck Scott, and Elizabeth Freeman, I trace my engagement with Morrison’s novel in the first two chapters of this project, emphasizing how two characters in particular, Ruth Foster and Pilate Dead, carve out alternative spaces inside of, and adjacent to, hegemonic structures. Ruth and Pilate, I argue, draw on a legacy of philosophically illegible performances of motherhood, as evinced by Mamie Bradley’s exhibition of grief for her son, Emmett. Mamie Bradley’s exhibition of Emmett Till’s corpse is conceptually outside the hegemonic imaginary because the United States, animated by its sadistic desire for a black body to destroy, cannot imagine, or perhaps refuses to imagine, a black mother’s love for her children. The practice mobilized by Mamie Bradley, I argue, is akin to what Ruth and Pilate performed, and it is a practice on which I draw as I attend to what are, admittedly, difficult objects—texts—with which to sit. In the latter half of this project, I turn to James Baldwin’s 1955 essay, “Stranger in the Village,” and I focus on his insistence that “this world is white no longer.” By “this world,” Baldwin means the world of the text, and, like Spillers and Bradley alongside him, he recognizes the kinds of possible futures for black life that visionary aesthetic movements can create. In other words, Baldwin recognizes that alternative representational strategies, particularly strategies that insist on black futurity, can help remap what we consider to be the known world. Baldwin writes in moment when post World War optimism lends itself to the conceptualization of the United States as a white nation devoid of blackness— a paradoxical notion, since blackness is the precondition for whiteness. I juxtapose Baldwin’s essay with the select work of Claudia Rankine and, again, with Mamie Bradley’s performance of grief in order to imagine a future that begins with black life, but which does not indulge the petulant and murderous insistence on a white body. In sum, this project attends to the epistemic erasures of black women from conversations about black futurity, and it asks that we reconfigure the ways we read in order to engage what are potentially insurrectionary reading and movement practices mobilized by our black mothers.



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