Short Course Description
(In)Visibility in African American Literature and Culture
Full syllabus will be available to registered students only
The prologue to Ralph Ellison?s epic novel, Invisible Man (1952), begins with the protagonist?s observation: ?I am an invisible man . . . No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids -- and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination -- indeed, everything and anything except me.?
What was preventing black Americans from ?being visible? to other Americans? What is enfolded in the failure to see, the failure to be seen? Writing in 1952, Ellison is in dialogue with earlier thinkers such as W.E.B. Du Bois, who coined the term ?double consciousness,? a predicament referring to internalization of a demeaning white gaze, often at the expense of self-knowledge. Invisible to whites, were black Americans invisible to themselves as well?
Could writing make black Americans visible to all? If so, how? Should one follow conventional style and genre to achieve visibility, or would such writing merely enshrine invisibility further? How can identity be transcribed into a viable mode of writing?
We will explore the numerous ways in which the dual paradigm of (in)visibility plays out in African American Literature and visual culture and photography from the late nineteenth century until the current moment, tracing (in)visibility during varied time periods such as Slavery, Reconstruction, Restoration, The Harlem Renaissance, the Inter-War Period, Civil Rights, and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Midterm: 72 hour take home exam 40%
Final requirement: take home assignment 60%
Active participation will be factored into the final grade