Perishment: Thoughts on Blackness and the Human/Animal Distinction

Sharon Holland: Perishment: Thoughts on Blackness and the Human/Animal Distinction

February 20, 2014

Humanities 1, Room 210

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Sharon Holland, Professor of American Studies at UNC Chapel Hill has been working on a book project entitled “Perishment,” a theoretical study that takes German philosopher Martin Heidegger’s notion that humans “die” while animals “perish,” and reads across the theoretical spectrum of works on the human/animal distinction in order to arrive at a fundamental question: what is the relationship of “blackness” to discourse on the animal?  Do black humans “die” or “perish”?  The prevailing thought in the field of African Americanist scholarship is that “blackness” – through Martin Heidegger and Frantz Fanon in particular – is related to “thingness,” rather than animality.  This theoretical project re-thinks that interpretive paradigm.  I am particularly invested in how movement away from “the animal,” writ large in the Cartesian framework, does not allow for much discussion of an ethical commitment (Emanuel Levinas) to the animal within African Americanist discourse.  My intention is to provide both a critique of the present condition in critical discourse on blackness (especially its gendered assumptions) and a model for how to begin such a conversation within the theoretical language available to us on the human/animal divide.

Sharon P. Holland is a graduate of Princeton University (1986) and holds a PhD in English and African American Studies from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (1992).  She is the author of RAISING THE DEAD: READINGS OF DEATH AND (BLACK) SUBJECTIVITY (Duke UP, 2000), which won the Lora Romero First Book Prize from the American Studies Association (ASA) in 2002.  She is also co-author of a collection of trans-Atlantic Afro-Native criticism with Professor Tiya Miles (American Culture, UM, Ann Arbor) entitled Crossing Waters/ Crossing Worlds: The African Diaspora in Indian Country (Duke University Press, 2006). Professor Holland is also responsible for bringing a feminist classic, THE QUEEN IS IN THE GARBAGE by Lila Karp to the attention of The Feminist Press (Summer 2007) for publication (2007).  She is the author of The Erotic Life of Racism (Duke University Press, 2012), a theoretical project that explores the intersection of Critical Race, Feminist, and Queer Theory.  She is also at work on the final draft of another book project entitled simply, “little black girl.”  You can see her work on food, writing and all things equestrian on her blog,  She is currently at work on a new project, “Perishment” an investigation of the human/animal distinction and the place of discourse on blackness within that discussion. She is presently a Professor in the Department of American Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Presented with generous support from: the Institute for Humanities Research, Critical Race and Ethnic Studies (CRES) and the Feminist Studies Department at UCSC.

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