A Panel discussion with Frank B. Wilderson III and Ranjana Khanna On Questions of Structural Change: The Human, Afropessimism, and Indignity

Department of Philosophy Colloquium Series 2020-21
Spring Semester


A Panel discussion with Frank B. Wilderson III and Ranjana Khanna
On Questions of Structural Change: The Human, Afropessimism, and Indignity

*Recording of 3/25 event – https://drive.google.com/file/d/1cL_4Hj8M9MUW0zoQV6ajxkspdUPh2W5C/view?usp=sharing

WHEN: April 20th, 3pm-5pm EDT
WHAT: A Panel discussion with Frank B. Wilderson III and Ranjana Khanna
On Questions of Structural Change: The Human, Afropessimism, and Indignity
WHERE: Zoom Registration required: https://coa.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZYvdOyqpjorEtDP6wjsGAoFVEb113DAThqp

This event is co-sponsored by the Colby Center for the Arts and Humanities, the University of Maine, Philosophy Department, and College of the Atlantic.

This panel brings two contemporary thinkers in the Humanities, Frank B. Wilderson III and Ranjana Khanna, into conversation about questions of racism, colonialism, and sexual difference. Wilderson and Khanna both engage critically with notions of the human. Wilderson has argued that Humanist thought and its material implications are dependent on Black death; he suggests that within this configuration, “Human Life is dependent on Black death for its existence and for its conceptual coherence.” Wilderson offers Afropessimism as an analytic lens, arguing that it shows an irreconcilable difference between the violence of capitalism, gender oppression, White supremacy and colonialism on the one hand, and the violence of anti-Blackness on the other. Khanna has argued for a radical reassessment of the use of dignity as the basis for understandings of the human. She proposes instead a consideration of the human in terms of disposability. Through psychoanalytic, feminist, Marxist and literary analyses, Khanna offers an approach to questions of political change and justice through a focus on moments of dissolution that challenge rather than reinforce the rights-bearing liberal subject and humanist assumptions of “sameness and consistency as being the mark of signature, personhood, humanness, autonomy, or life itself.”

Although Wilderson and Khanna are both informed by an overlapping archive in Marxist and psychoanalytic thought, they offer different provocations, and arrive at different arguments and questions. Both consider subjectivity through analyses of racism, colonialism, capitalism and sexual difference that attend to structural relations and the legacies of humanist notions of the human.  A conversation between them thus promises to be generative for a diverse audience,  and particularly timely for the current political moment. The first part of the panel will consist of Wilderson III and Khanna responding to each other’s work, with a focus on two texts: “The Trouble with Humans” (from Afropessimism) and  “Indignity.” The second part of the panel will be a Q&A discussion, with time for audience members to pose questions to the speakers.

Frank B. Wilderson III
Frank B. Wilderson III is Chancellor’s Professor and Chair of African American Studies, and a core faculty member of the Culture & Theory Ph.D. Program at UC Irvine; and an award-winning writer whose books include Afropessimism (Liveright/W.W. Norton 2020); Incognegro: A Memoir of Exile and Apartheid(Duke University Press 2015); and Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms (Duke University Press 2010).  He spent five and a half years in South Africa, where he was one of two Americans to hold elected office in the African National Congress during the apartheid era. He also was a cadre in the underground. His literary awards include The American Book Award; The Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Legacy Award for Creative Nonfiction; The Maya Angelou Award for Best Fiction Portraying the Black Experience in America; and a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship. As of September 29, 2020, his book Afropessimismhas been Long Listed for the National Book Award (Nonfiction category). Wilderson was educated at Dartmouth College (A.B Government and Philosophy), Columbia University (MFA/Fiction Writing), and UC Berkeley (PhD/Rhetoric).

Ranjana Khanna
Ranjana Khanna is Director of the John Hope Franklin Institute, Professor  of English, Literature, and Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies at Duke University, and the incoming second vice-president of the American Comparative Literature Association. Khanna is a literary critic and theorist recognized for her interdisciplinary, feminist, and internationalist contributions to the fields of post-colonial studies, feminist theory, and postcolonial literature and the visual arts. She is best known for her work on melancholia and has also published on film, Algeria, area studies, autobiography, Marxism, and visual and feminist theory. Khanna is the author of Algeria Cuts: Women and Representation, 1830-Present (2007) and Dark Continents: Psychoanalysis and Colonialism (2003). Her articles have been published in a wide range of journals, including Differences, Signs, Third TextDiacriticsScreenArt History, positionsSAQFeminist Theory, and Public Culture. Her book manuscripts in progress are titled: Asylum and Unbelonging.Khanna served as the Margaret Taylor Smith Director of Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies at Duke from 2007–2015.









Audience members are encouraged to read the linked texts before the panel session.
Wilderson Chapter Five Afropessimism

Khanna Indignity