When Cristopher Columbus narrated his touchdown on Caribbean shores in his journal entry for the 23rd of November, he invoked the monstrous figure of the cannibal that would continue to haunt the Americas from then on. For Columbus, the charge of cannibalism helped, in part, to politically rationalize back in Europe the forced dispossession and then enslavement of the local Arawaks. As Spanish colonial practices of labor exploitation under the encomienda and later repartimiento systems nearly eradicated the indigenous population, the African slave trade began along with an explosion of new figures in the repertoire of monstrosity: the zombi, the witch, the ghost, and the vampire. These events lay the groundwork for the consolidation of the southern gothic, a 20th century genre of cultural production that served as a critical terrain of struggle between the colonizer and the colonized and those caught in between.
This course will engage with key texts and visuals in English, French, and Spanish from the southern gothic genre that stretch from the beginning of colonization to our contemporary moment. It uptakes intersectional feminist, decolonial, and queer of color theoretical approaches in order to address the ways of thinking, subjectivities, and material processes that link together the Caribbean with the U.S. South. In short it asks: How does this artistic movement name, capture, resignify, and rationalize the horror in anxieties about gendered, raced, classed, and sexualized difference, forged in the violent processes of racial capitalism? Put another way, what do the representations of minoritized people as horrific figures allow us to think—especially when put into relation with our ideas of how power, state violence, and capitalist expansion work?
Students will learn concepts and theories from the fields above, come to better understand the specific socio-historical contexts of the Caribbean and U.S. South as well as practice and enhance their close reading skills. Students will then cultivate their analytical and writing skills by producing a series of scaffolded essays. Classes will be a mixture of small-group and class discussions, lecture, peer-review workshops, and embodied activities.