The Annual Fales Lecture
Black Maybe: Notes on Black Writing, Aesthetics, and Value
Wednesday, April 3 at 6PM
Fales Library Reading Room
Bobst Library • 3rd Floor
70 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012
The re-emergent debates around race and the avant-garde rhyme with, or serve as proxy for, similarly re-emergent debates about the relationship between class and race, on the one hand, and the status of mass media on the other. In both sets of arguments the value of experience is at stake, and partisan arguments on all sides tend to re-stage the fundamental terms of the supposed antagonism without either historicizing it or asking what work the idea of an opposition does in the present. Whatever the limits of Kenneth Warren’s polemical (and problematic) claim that the conditions for a distinct African American literature have passed, it sounds an important critical call to reconsider the politics of so-called “identity politics” as well as the supposed “politics of form.”
Starting from the premise that new discursive and representational horizons are at stake for contemporary black writers, this lecture wades into that debate by proposing that in the apparent documentary or archival turn among such writers as Tyehimba Jess, Claudia Rankine, Robin Coste Lewis, and others amounts to the emergence of a new aesthetic formation that can help us think about the possibilities of a political art in the present.
Anthony Reed is Associate Professor of English and African American Studies at Yale University. His 2014 Freedom Time: The Politics and Poetics of Black Experimental Writing won the MLA’s William Sanders Scarborough Prize. He is currently finishing a book that examines the recorded collaborations between poets and musicians during and after the Black Arts era through the interrelated transformations of media, aesthetic, and politics. He is also currently working on a project concerned with poetry in the context of the fall of South African apartheid and the rise of the neoliberal state.
The Fales Lecture is co-sponsored annually by NYU Special Collections and the English Department. Established and sustained by a gift from Haliburton Fales, 2nd (1919-2015), the lecture explores historical, current, and emerging themes in English and American literature.