While this course was conceived before the COVID-19 pandemic, it proceeds with a belief that today, over a century after the publication of The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. DuBois’ words still hold true: Black America “has a message for the world” and we do well to listen. Focusing on DuBois’ beloved Atlanta and other black communities along the Atlantic coast, this class encourages students to listen for the potentially instructive message black cultural production has to offer in these singular, yet not wholly-unprecedented, times.
We will explore not only what black cultural texts teach us about the history and the politics undergirding the particularly racialized effects of the COVID crisis but also how these texts might teach us to think through the more intangible problem of how this pandemic has upset so much of our world(view). Indeed part of the animating anxiety of life during COVID is an awareness that, despite the frequency with which we hear the phrase “when things go back to normal,” for many (if not, to some degree, most) people, there will be no returning “back to normal.”
But Black Studies reminds us that normal is a (fairly fraught) cultural construction, and that the black lives excluded from that construction testify everyday in ordinary and extraordinary ways to the persistence of life beyond normal. For to seriously engage black cultural texts is to enter an ongoing study about possibilities: the possibility of living in the wake of an impossible-to-imagine rupture of life as you know it; the possibility of waking to a new world order without the spatial and temporal relations that connect one to self, family, and society; the possibility of finding one self with only an impossible choice: to drown in hope of a hospitable abyss or continue upon a sea of uncertainties so big that it is as if it, devouring everything between here and the horizon, must certainly be the end of the world.
Though many of the text we will examine highlight black southern writers and black southern stories, this course is not a regional course about black southern literature nor is it a cultural history course about black Atlanta. Atlanta in this course as both a materially specific geographic space and as a socio-political concept is metonymic of new world tendency to link blackness and diasporic relation to ideas of pathology and uneasy transmission.