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Mapping as Method, Plotting as Praxis: Slavery, the University, and the Undercommons

Type: Panel
Sponsor Groups:
Organizers: Ellen Louis, Yousuf Al-Bulushi
Chairs: Ellen Louis


Making recourse to geographical metaphors, geographical reasoning, and figurative and literal space, this panel explores key analytics in black studies to examine terrains of power and track subversive movements across them. In one instance, we seek to apprehend slavery as structural, taking its historical incidence throughout the Americas as formative of our present global order. Here, the questions concern the desires, compensatory logics, sadistic pleasures, fear, projections, unbounded lack--the drives of the master class--that saturate slavery's constituent formations (i.e. the auction block, the whipping post, the coffle). These drives present for one iteration of what might be called, following Hortense Spillers, the psychic landscape of slavery. In the wake of slavery--taking this psychic landscape as palimpsest--this panel also wonders about the afterlife of those desires, fears, projection and, more precisely, their displacement onto and emplacement of institutional forms (Sharpe; McKittrick; Hartman). Put another way, these scholars are also interested in the artifices that conceal those primal scenes. They take the university to be exemplary in this respect. It is, as Stefano Harney and Fred Moten instruct, an enterprise representing itself as space of enlightenment: as a site that paradoxically depends upon the demystification of this structuration "in order to clear the ground for unobstructed planning and development." Following this, they ask: to what extent can black studies be understood as a project of wayfinding in and out of the university? Does the production of the undercommons--the underground from which black studies might pursue its aims--necessitate deliberation, study, organization? If, per Sylvia Wynter, black studies constitutes the plot, to the university-as-plantation, what course, method, or mode of practice should it pursue? Does this pursuit or cultivation depend upon a collective will, political agency, or mode of political organization that is always already self-defeating? To draw, again, on the language of Moten and Harney, how to actualize the ‘prophetic organization of the maroons’ without reproducing ‘an organization called the university’? Is organization always already a call to order? By itself, is a desire for the undercommons enough to manifest the position of the subversive intellectual?


Type Details Minutes
Panelist Priscilla Vaz University of Texas-Austin 15
Panelist Kristen Maye Brown University 15
Panelist Ellen Louis 15
Panelist Yousuf Al-Bulushi University of California, Irvine 15

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