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

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

ReBIT19 – Pessimism as Interpretative Frame

The second annual symposium under the rubric Re-Thinking the Black Intellectual Tradition was held on March 30th, 2019. We gathered under the theme “Pessimism as Interpretative Frame” and explored the meaning of pessimism for thinking about the histories and lives of Black people. Read more

The Poetics of Beautiful Blackness

Broadly: How can the abjection of blackness under regimes of anti-blackness be (or has it already been) reversed, disrupted, disputed, and resisted? Specifically: what is Négritude to James Baldwin, who is Baldwin to Négritude?

My essay, linked here in final draft form, is forthcoming in a volume on James Baldwin and his influences and sites of intervention. Baldwin did not talk in any detail about the Négritude movement in his non-fiction, despite the fact that it was one of the most important movements in the mid-century black Atlantic world. Read more

Event and Passage

What is the Middle Passage to philosophical thinking?

My talk at Society for French Historical Studies, linked HERE in very draft form, explored this question in Édouard Glissant’s work. I frame the discussion in terms of “event,” drawn from Martin Heidegger’s late work Identity and Difference. In particular, I am interested in how event or Ereignis names the appropriation of thought and thinking by moments of fissure, fracture, and radical breaks from the past. Glissant’s account of the Middle Passage is just that: an event that fractures relation to the past, but also generates new conditions of thinking – inside, but also outside, the disaster. Read more