¶ Week 1: Questions

1.) There has been a lot of talk recently about “slow” movements: the slow food movement; slow scholarship; the slow professor; the slow university. At a distance from these discourses lies Rob Nixon’s concept of “slow violence” (see Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor). While Nixon is focused on environmental projects and disasters (Bhopal etc.), I kept thinking of the concept as I read Wanda Coleman (and listened to Anthony and Kevin). One of the challenges of responding politically to or organizing to address the negative developments that occur in neighborhoods and communities is that they often occur slowly and incrementally (and thus, in some ways, invisibly). And one of the most effective aspects of Coleman’s narrative is the way she reminds us of the obvious (but often forgotten) fact that large-scale historical events and developments are often experienced, as if, in slow motion as lives slowly unravel. What struck you about the way she weaves together the story of a neighborhood, a community, and her own life story? Are there some early lessons from her story and from the stories of Anthony and Kevin (though very different) that we might adopt provisionally as protocols/adages to inform our work on this project?

2.) “For me, narrating counter-histories of slavery has always been inseparable from writing a history of the present, by which I mean the incomplete project of freedom, and the precarious life of the ex-slave, a condition defined by the vulnerability to premature death and to gratuitous acts of violence” (Hartman 4). I am fascinated by this aspect of Saidiya Hartman’s project: linking a “counter history” in a more or less distant past to a “history of the present.” Intuitively, this feels like what we should be striving for in the long term if our work with the Watts material eventually takes shape as a history. But did you get any sense from Hartman’s essay of how that might work? 

3.) Coleman references magazines with articles on Emmett Till1, a 14-year-old African American who was lynched in Money, Mississippi in 1955. She writes, “Photographs of his corpse, in state, and the lines of hundreds of mourners, appeared in either Ebony or Jet magazine or both” (Coleman 251). One of the articles to which she refers was published in the September 15, 1955 issue of Jet. Read the Jet article2 and its New York Times equivalent (also view the full page) then consider Hartman’s “Venus in Two Acts.” As historical documents, how does the Jet article act as a “counter history” to the Times article?

1. Hartman also mentions Till. See the second paragraph on page 4.
2. The article begins on page 6. Be prepared, the imagery is very upsetting.

Just as a point of interest, take a look at Jet page 14. You will make a timely discovery.

Please let us know if you have any questions about the prompt. -Dermot and Melanie