Submission Deadline: January 15, 2016
“It is important to remember that blackness is defined here in terms of social relationality rather than identity; thus blackness incorporates subjects normatively defined as black, the relations among blacks, whites, and others, and the practices that produce racial difference. Blackness marks a social relationship of dominance and abjection and potentially one of redress and emancipation; it is a contested figure at the very center of social struggle.”
—Saidiya Hartman, Scenes of Subjection, 56–57
Since its 1997 publication, Saidiya Hartman’s Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America has proven to be a scandal, unsettling the claims of recuperative studies that hinge upon sentimentality to understand a distinctive break between the horrors of chattel and the jubilee of emancipation. Instead, Hartman suggests that the historical continuity between slavery and Reconstruction can best be traced through the black body, which itself inhabited and performed the very relations of freedom and violence calcified by racism within liberal humanist frameworks. From the slave coffle to the pastoral landscape to the courtroom, these sites stage the quotidian and spectacular scenes of violence against enslaved and freed black people. Crucial to Hartman’s project is how black corporeality throws the subject position of the autonomous individual (liberal humanism’s desired ideal) into crisis. This crisis appears through a series of juridical and social performances that destabilize and eventually reinscribe the captive’s status as a being vacated of sentience. The performing black female body demystifies how this particular formulation of the subject denies the recurring violences enacted against her flesh. Hartman’s analytic of black performance reveals the enduring violences of the chattel system, and its particular constraints on black female embodiment and performances of self-possession.
Scenes of Subjection marks a turning point in theories of performance, indicative of a broader gesture in the field that sought to reorient itself in relation to its objects. Hartman’s approach dislodges blackness, and specifically the black female body, from technologies of visibility and disappearance tied to identitarian politics. Such a move clarifies how blackness reformulates the relationship between practices of violence and theories of embodiment. This intervention enabled a cohort of emerging and established scholars who credit their own research on black performance and theories of embodiment to Hartman’s seminal text. For example, we can think of Fred Moten’s In the Break, where he is enabled by Hartman’s argument about the reproduction of black performance as it is carried by Aunt Hester’s scream. Or, Daphne Brooks’s uptake in Bodies in Dissent of Hartman’s invitation to consider the centrality of minstrel performance in the production of the grotesque, abject body and all its engendered pleasures. As these studies build upon and thereby extend Hartman’s influence, they demonstrate how Scenes is an invitation to take the work of black performance seriously.
Some of our guiding questions include: How does Hartman’s work resonate within contemporary scholarship on black performance? In what ways has Hartman’s work offered occasion to rethink the intersections of performance theory and black feminist thought? How do pain and pleasure mark the black body in performance? How do theories of embodiment rely upon the pained black body in order to remain conceptually intact? How are sight and vision constructed through spectacular and quotidian black performance? How does Hartman’s work trouble and extend current frameworks that address surveillance and policing? Does Hartman’s work resonate in a global context? What does Hartman offer by way of a method and methodology for understanding black pain and pleasure in the contemporary moment? To mark the 20th anniversary of this groundbreaking study, this special issue of Women and Performance is dedicated entirely to the lasting effects of Scenes. We invite contributions that engage Scenes within broader black feminist genealogies of performance and aesthetics, including analytical, methodological, pedagogical, and practice-based frameworks. Of particular interest are trans-disciplinary approaches attentive to the following topics:
- Black Studies
- Black Performance
- Black Feminism
- Queer of Color Critique
- Feminist Theory
- Performance Studies
- Queer Theory
- Media Studies
- Diaspora Studies
- Legal Studies
- Art History/Visual Studies
- Blackness & Gender
- Subjectivity & Objectivity
- Sentimentality & Sentience
- Trans-Atlantic Movement
Submission Guidelines: Article submissions should be no longer than 3,000 words in length and adhere to the current Chicago Manual of Style (CMS), author-date format. Performative texts should be no longer than 2,000 words and in any style the author chooses (same CMS style as above if using citations). Photo essays and creative work accompanied by artist’s statements are welcome. Questions and abstracts for review are welcome before the final deadline. For consideration, please send articles as a Microsoft Word document to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For further information on Submission Guidelines please click here