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IDSEMUG 2017 - Race in the Visual Field: James Baldwin, America, and the Moving Image

Raoul Peck’s 2017 film, I Am Not Your Negro, brings together the work of James Baldwin with an archive of American cinematic and photographic traces. The film proposes that America is deeply if not completely structured by the figure Baldwin refers to as “the negro,” and that this figure is predicated on both a relation of possessive, colonizing belonging, and a defensive and projective psychic mechanism that has made itself visible repeatedly on the silver screen in the United States at least since the 1930s. By stacking film clip upon film clip, photograph upon photograph, Peck underscores Baldwin’s words by showing how deeply visual the relation of “my negro” is, and that that visuality takes both cinematic and psychic form. This relationship—of race in the visual field—is the subject of this course. This class will be an extensive close reading of the central argument of the film I Am Not Your Negro, using the film as primary archive. With additional theoretical and psychoanalytic readings as well as a few other case studies, we will examine the ethical dimensions of appearing in the visual field, as well as complexities of what it means to take up a position from which we witness, behold, project, or otherwise participate as a viewer of that field. Class materials will include: selected writings from the work of James Baldwin; Dance, Fools, Dance (1931); King Kong (1933); Stagecoach (1939); In the Heat of the Night (1967); Avedon and Baldwin, Nothing Personal; Saidiya Hartman, Scenes of Subjection; Sigmund Freud, “Negation”; Frank Wilderson, Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms; Donald Moss, Hating in the First Person Plural. Class Notes: This 5-hour course includes in-class film screenings. This meeting time also includes dinner shared together as a class (more details will be provided on the first day of class). Add Consent: Department Consent Required.
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