January 24, 2008 – Hortense Spillers: “The Idea of Black Culture”

Hortense Spillers
English, Vanderbilt University

The Idea of Black Culture I
Thursday, January 24 / 4 PM / Humanities 210

The Idea of Black Culture II
Friday, January 25 / 10 AM – 12 PM / Humanities 210

Download a copy of the seminar reading.

Hortense Spillers’s essays have become classics in the study of psychoanalysis, race, and Black feminism, each articulating, in provocative, and often humorous, eloquently hortatory terms, a critical imperative for its moment. “Interstices,” for example, concludes, “the goal is not an articulating of sexuality so much as it is a global restoration and dispersal of power. In such an act of restoration, sexuality becomes one of several active predicates. So much depends on it.” “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe,” a powerfully memorable critique and repurposing of The Moynihan Report, suggests that “the African-American woman, the mother, the daughter, becomes historically the powerful and shadowy evocation of a cultural synthesis long evaporated…our task is to make a place for this different social subject.” And, in addressing the relations that might obtain between psychoanalysis—what she calls “this ethical self-knowing”—and “race,” Spillers urges us to “unhook the psychoanalytic hermeneutic from its rigorous curative framework and try to recover it in a free-floating realm of self-didactic possibility that might decentralize and disperse the knowing one.” Her talk and seminar will be taken from her forthcoming book, The Idea of Black Culture (Blackwell, 2008).

Hortense J. Spillers holds the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Chair in English at Vanderbilt University, where she joined the faculty after holding positions at Duke, Cornell, and Emory. She has published many articles and essays on slavery, 19th- and 20th-century U.S. literature, African-American literature, and the Harlem Renaissance, as well as theoretical interventions in psychoanalysis, critical race studies, Black feminism, and American Studies. She is the author of Black, White, and in Color: Essays on American Literature and Culture (Chicago, 2003). She is also editor of Comparative American Identities: Race, Sex, and Nationality in the Modern Text, Selected Papers from the English Institute (Routledge, 1991), and co-editor, with Marjorie Pryse, of the groundbreaking Conjuring: Black Women, Fiction, and Literary Tradition (Indiana, 1985).

For more information contact Nick Mitchell, nmitchel@ucsc.edu.

Sponsored by the Black Cultural Studies Research Cluster, with additional cosponsorship provided by the Institute for Advanced Feminist Research, Graduate Studies, Oakes College, Porter College, and the Departments of History of Consciousness, Literature, and Sociology.