a "reorder of things" in black studies: sacred praxis, phono(geo)graphy, and the counter-archive of diaspora

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2022-02-01

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Abstract

This article examines Erna Brodber's 1994 novel, Louisiana, as a methodological invitation to the field of Black Studies to query how we do the work of black study. A Jamaican social scientist turned novelist, Brodber finds the tools of social science and notions of Western rationality and reason that undergird it insufficient for the unique challenges of recovering a past characterized by violent rupture and irreparable loss. In turn, she takes up fiction to imagine a new method and field of study to fill in the gaps of black diasporic history. Merging anthropology and sociology with literature, she produces a fictionalized ethnography-the novel Louisiana-that undermines the tenets of Western Enlightenment thought, its various offspring (social scientific method, History, Christianity, and technology), and their attendant claims to truth, facticity, and progress. Mobilizing the epistemes embedded within black diasporic cultural and political practices such as spirit possession, music, storytelling, and grassroots labor organizing, Louisiana constructs a counter-archive of diaspora that is at once sacred, feminist, and communal. Ultimately, the novel sketches the contours of a new interdisciplinary method and field of study-perhaps Brodber's own version of Black Studies-that foregrounds 1) "sacred praxis" vis-à-vis spirit possession as a legitimate mode of knowledge acquisition, 2) the "global black south" as a nodal point of diasporic relationality, and 3) a dispossessive logic and an ethic of humility and surrender in the research process that serves as an affront to notions of liberal individual personhood and the hierarchization of peoples and knowledges that produced and sustain the Western "order of things."

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10.5325/complitstudies.59.1.0011

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McInnis, JC (2022). a "reorder of things" in black studies: sacred praxis, phono(geo)graphy, and the counter-archive of diaspora. Comparative Literature Studies, 59(1). pp. 11–48. 10.5325/complitstudies.59.1.0011 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/24967.

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Scholars@Duke

McInnis

Jarvis C McInnis

Cordelia and William Laverack Family Assistant Professor of English

Jarvis C. McInnis holds a BA in English from Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi, and a Ph.D. in English & Comparative Literature from Columbia University in the City of New York.  Jarvis is an interdisciplinary scholar of African American & African Diaspora literature and culture, with teaching and research interests in the global south (primarily the US South and the Caribbean), sound studies, performance studies, and visual culture.

He is currently at work on his first book project, tentatively titled, “The Afterlives of the Plantation: Aesthetics, Labor, and Diaspora in the Global Black South,” which aims to reorient the geographic contours of black transnationalism and diaspora by exploring the hemispheric linkages between southern African American and Caribbean literature and culture in the early twentieth century. Jarvis’s research has been supported by numerous grants and fellowships, including the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship, the Ford Foundation Pre-doctoral and Dissertation Fellowships, and Princeton University’s Department of African American Studies postdoctoral fellowship. His work appears or is forthcoming in journals and venues such as CallalooMELUSMississippi QuarterlyPublic Books, and The Global South.

Professor McInnis hopes to curate a classroom space where his students feel free to take intellectual risks, and where they can use African diaspora literature and culture to celebrate and affirm black humanity and creativity; interrogate and dismantle systems of power, injustice, and inequality; and imagine new futures and more just worlds. 


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