Angela Davis with her lawyer Leo Branton, Jr.
Angela Davis with her lawyer Leo Branton, Jr.

Seminar on Angela Davis

I’m posting HERE a copy of my syllabus for a course on Angela Davis’ work.

The course follows a largely chronological path, beginning with her Autobiography and concluding with the speeches and essays included in Freedom is a Constant Struggle. I do begin the course with her essay “Lecture on Liberation” in order to set up a framework for interpreting not only essays and books, but also how and why her work develops as it does. The lecture makes it clear that dialectical engagement – negation, negotiation of life-death struggle, and confrontation – is a constant process. The example of Frederick Douglass is important for that reason alone: in Narrative, Douglass describes his defeat of Covey in physical struggle as the moment he became un-enslaved, free in some fundamental sense. This is crucial for thinking about liberation. But the fundaments of freedom are the basis of further struggle and confrontation and overcoming. The necessity of more dialectic. And so when Davis engages so many new sites at each turn in her work, it is not curiosity or interest alone, but rather the movement of dialect toward further elevation of liberation as theory, practice, and material accomplishment – struggle, in a word.

As well, I frame the course materials with her own critical assessments of the images of her and her time in two later essays on the afro as photographic icon and nationalism as a political movement and worldview.

This course is taught remotely under COVID-19 restrictions, so my evaluation is focused on short, regular writing on a course blog (blotted out for student privacy purposes) that will also, I hope, replicate discussion.

 

Modernity, Disease, Life

It’s hard to know what to say in this moment.

The emergence of COVID-19, coronavirus, ‘rona, whatever you call it … it’s been terrifying and disorienting. What is there to say? There is science. I’ll leave that to the scientists. There is politics. I have a lot to say about that. And so do you. The unevenness of our political leadership and voices? Astonishing and its own kind of terrifying.

I won’t pretend to be a scientist and prognosticate about what’s to come.

But I’ve been struck over the past few weeks by the specificity of this anxiety we all feel, and how, for me, that anxiety draws on a very particular set of affects. Affects, I’d say, that are produced by what’s come to be called “modernity” and the forms of life it makes possible, even necessary. Read more

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage.
Mandatory Credit: Photo by Universal/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5884871ae)
Spike Lee
Do The Right Thing - 1989
Director: Spike Lee
Universal
USA
On/Off Set
Drama
No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage. Mandatory Credit: Photo by Universal/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5884871ae) Spike Lee Do The Right Thing - 1989 Director: Spike Lee Universal USA On/Off Set Drama

Pedagogies of/in Isolation

I’m sure people who teach film exclusively or near-exclusively have layered techniques for guiding discussion and orienting people properly toward cinematic language, but I really struggle to keep students on track. This is especially the case with my course on Spike Lee, which I’m finishing up now. It’s so hard to get them to think about a given film as something more than a reality show in which we’re invited to judge and criticize the characters – something that’s cruel and disgusting about reality television, but inherent to the genre. Cinema isn’t that. Yet, in class, I find it’s really hard to keep students from thinking that way. I understand the impulse. We all talk about characters while exiting the movie theater, often gossiping about them as if they were casual friends. Scholarship and classrooms? We have to be different. Read more

Five Thoughts on Right-Wing Protests

Here are a handful of thoughts in the moment: protestors demanding the economy “open up.’

1. Has anyone actually crunched numbers? I’d love to see numbers by state. How many total people showed up? And what percentage is that per state? And, together, what percentage is that for the whole nation? Let’s get a grip. The national media, no matter their orientation ideologically, gasses up these losers in ways that distort reality so severely  that we can (forgivably) forget where we actually live and what’s actually going on. Read more

Ethics, Politics, and Secular Easter

One of my earliest memories is my grandfather Erwin Drabinski sitting out back of his house in Rosemead with me, quizzing me about what I knew about Easter. My parents, especially my father, were not only non-religious, but anti-religious, which played out as total ignorance on my part when it came to things like the meaning of Easter. I loved my grandfather, so I tried. A lot of stuff about bunnies being a part of Jesus’ entourage, eggs everywhere because people were hungry and needed food. Grandpa was kind and generous, so he played along and respected my parents’ non-religious thing Read more

(Essay Draft) Richard Wright and His Anxious Influence

Here is a draft of my essay entitled “Richard Wright and His Anxious Influence: On Ellison and Baldwin,” a reflection piece on Wright as a father-figure to Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin. It is largely introductory and proceeds through (hopefully) sharp general characterizations of Ellison and Baldwin as critics of Wright, including a short consideration of Irving Howe’s 1963 essays “Black Boys and Native Sons.” The essay concludes: Read more

Syllabus for Spike Lee’s Joints

Here is the syllabus for my spring 2020 course Spike Lee’s Joints. The course studies select Lee films in a Black Studies context, blending critical race theory, engagement with the Black intellectual tradition, and the cultural significance of word-sound-image interplay in the African-American context. I emphasize direct engagement with films rather than commentaries. Read more

Syllabus for Incarcerating Blackness

Here is the syllabus for my course Incarcerating Blackness, which treats some of the key texts on racialized mass incarceration (Davis, Gilmore, Alexander, Ritchie, and Forman, Jr.). These key texts are framed by a broader claim: incarceration is a persistent characterization of the African-American experience. Seen in this frame, the social-political phenomenon of racialized mass incarceration is not just an innovation of social control, but also, if not primarily, the externalization of the central metaphor of the Black experience in the United States. Readings from Du Bois, Wright, Patterson, and Mbembe help us establish a vocabulary for this metaphor, it’s lived-experience, and the existential reality of institutions of incarceration – before, during, and after imprisonment. Read more

Seminar on Angela Davis

Here is the syllabus for my F/19 course on Angela Davis. The centerpiece of the course in Davis’ Blues Legacies and Black Feminism book, which is my favorite of her works. Early readings build toward it with considerations of the history of race-gender liberation, conceptions of freedom, and related stuff. When we get to the Blues Legacies book, I plan to add in readings from Hurston, Locke, Ellison, Baraka, and Murray to underscore the uniqueness of Davis’ contribution to understanding the political significance of vernacular culture and expression. Read more