Becoming Human

Thu, Apr 22, 2021, 4:30 pm
via Zoom
Intersections Working Group
Department of English
Department of African American Studies
Program in American Studies
Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies
University Center for Human Values

Woman with goat hair, horn and ears

Zakiyyah Iman Jackson’s research explores the literary and figurative aspects of Western philosophical and scientific discourse and investigates the engagement of literature and visual culture with the historical concerns, knowledge claims, and rhetoric of Western science and philosophy. While African diasporic literary studies are often isolated from the fields of science and philosophy, Jackson’s scholarship reveals the fields’ shared concerns, and how reading Western philosophy and science through the lens of African diasporic literature and visual culture can situate and often problematize authoritative conceptualizations of being and, thus, demonstrate that literary studies have an important role to play in the histories of science and philosophy.

Jackson’s first book, Becoming Human: Matter and Meaning in an Antiblack World was published by New York University Press in May 2020 as part of the Sexual Cultures series. Becoming Human argues that key African American, African, and Caribbean literary and visual texts generate conceptions of being and materiality that creatively disrupt a human-animal distinction that persistently reproduces the racial logics and orders of Western thought. These texts move beyond a critique of bestialization to generate new possibilities for rethinking ontology: being, fleshly materiality, and the nature of what exists and what human beings can claim to know about existence. Jackson argues that the texts in her study generate alternative possibilities for reimaging (human) being because they neither rely on animal abjection to define the human, nor reestablish “human recognition” within liberal humanism as an antidote to racialization. Ultimately, Becoming Human reveals the pernicious peculiarity of reigning foundational conceptions of “the human” rooted in Renaissance and Enlightenment humanism and expressed in current multiculturalist alternatives. What emerges from this questioning is a generative, unruly sense of being / knowing / feeling existence.

Jackson is at work on a second book, tentatively titled “Obscure Light: Blackness and the Derangement of Sex-Gender.” It argues that anti-Blackness constitutes the bedrock of modern Western logics of sex-gender and meditates on how its terrorizing vertical orders might be toppled by the transfiguring potentialities of Blackness. Ultimately, the project provides a critique of biocentrism (or biological reductionism and determinism) and elucidates the indistinction of sex-gender and race.

Jackson has published in Feminist Studies; Qui Parle: Critical Humanities and Social Science; Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience; South Atlantic Quarterly (SAQ); e-flux; and twice in Gay and Lesbian Quarterly (GLQ).

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