English 287ag. Black Literary Avant-Gardes: Graduate Seminar

Instructor: Jesse McCarthy
Thursday, 3:00-5:00pm
Course Website
​​​​​​​Enrollment: Limited to 15

In his classic manifesto “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain,” Langston Hughes declared that his generation of artists and poets—upstarts coming of age in the roaring twenties—was determined to build what he called “temples for tomorrow.” How should we read that phrase today? Recent debates in Black Studies and in African American Literature over temporality, periodization, affect, and antagonism, suggest that we may not have an adequate theory of the avant-garde, or at least we may need to update the one we inherit from Poggioli (1968). By revisiting the avant-garde, we renew a concept that touches on a wealth of topics of interest to contemporary theoretical and methodological debates: taste, politics, publics and counter-publics, signifying, archives, transnationalism, translation, incompleteness, failure, and the circulation and manipulation of new medias. There are also the classic questions: Who gets to decide what constitutes an "avant-garde" or avant-gardes? What is the relationship between avant-garde artistic movements and political or militant ones? This course will explore all of these themes comparatively, with readings drawn from poems, plays, novels, and films, and we will range widely across the African diaspora, without neglecting important formations in Europe, Asia, the Caribbean, and Latin America.