The Speech/Acts reading group will meet over six Saturday afternoons in the fall; we will discuss syllabus texts and explore what they illuminate and provoke. The group will meet in a satellite outpost for The Racial Imaginary Institute (TRII), founded by Claudia Rankine, installed in the first-floor galleries at ICA. All are welcome to join the reading group; you are also welcome to use and adapt this syllabus as a tool for encountering Speech/Acts in your own classroom or study group, or to use it on your own.
On Saturday, November 4 from 1 to 4PM, we will discuss In the Wake: On Blackness and Being by Christina Sharpe, and Of Being Dispersed by Simone White.
Probing the relationship between blackness and displacement, Simone White concludes that the creation of a personal identity does not happen in a melting pot, but rather in a compressor. As she slips in and out of forms, dialects, and registers, White demonstrates that various cultural influences collide in a single individual, producing an ever-shifting foundation.
In her original and trenchant work In the Wake, Christina Sharpe interrogates literary, visual, cinematic, and quotidian representations of Black life that comprise what she calls the “orthography of the wake.” Activating multiple registers of “wake”—the path behind a ship, keeping watch with the dead, coming to consciousness—Sharpe illustrates how Black lives are swept up and animated by the afterlives of slavery, and she delineates what survives despite such insistent violence and negation. Initiating and describing a theory and method of reading the metaphors and materiality of “the wake,” “the ship,” “the hold,” and “the weather,” Sharpe shows how the sign of the slave ship marks and haunts contemporary Black life in the diaspora and how the specter of the hold produces conditions of containment, regulation, and punishment, but also something in excess of them. In the weather, Sharpe situates anti-Blackness and white supremacy as the total climate that produces premature Black death as normative. Formulating the wake and “wake work” as sites of artistic production, resistance, consciousness, and possibility for living in diaspora, In the Wake offers a way forward.
The reading group is organized by Meg Onli (ICA), Julia Bloch (Creative Writing Program), and Davy Knittle and Amber Rose Johnson (Penn English).