Call for Papers: James Baldwin’s Global Imagination

New York University
February 18-20, 2011

Program in Africana Studies [NYU], Institute for African American Affairs, [NYU], The Office of the Vice-Provost for Globalization and Multicultural Affairs, [NYU], The Institute for Public Knowledge [NYU], The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, [NYPL], The Studio Museum in Harlem, The Brecht Forum

About midway through his piercing book-length essay, No Name in the Street, James Baldwin (1924-1987) declares, “[a]ll Western nations have been caught in a lie, the lie of their pretended humanism; this means that their history has no moral justification and that the West has no moral authority.” For Baldwin, the violent history of the West and its inability to confront the depth and range of human suffering for which it is responsible, has made necessary its grand deception, its nagging self-delusion of universal humanism. The fictive but forcefully real categories of race, nation, gender, class, and other concrete markers of abstract difference continue to provide the frame and rhetoric for this collective evasion. “James Baldwin’s Global Imagination” is proposed as an opportunity to take seriously Baldwin’s consistent and insistent proposal that categories of difference represent an early misnaming, a dangerous and cowardly misrecognition of the moral imagination required to confront not only our mortality but also the brutal legacies of our collective histories. Staged in the context of global economic insecurity, a planet gripped by the ravages of war and climate change, ever-increasing gaps in wealth, as well as rampant fundamentalism (East and West), this conference is intended as an examination of globality not simply as a matter of demography but as an urgent call to re-consider the contemporary utility of Baldwin’s expansive injunction to William Faulkner (and, in fact, to us all), “[t]hat any real change implies the breakup of the world as one has always known it, the loss of all that gave one an identity, the end of safety.” Taking Baldwin’s vision as our starting point, this conference aims, among other related concerns, to make legible the continued impacts of U.S. state racism in this putatively post-racial period. The economic divestment practices of the current era, which intensify poverty and produce forms of civic containment such as the prison industrial complex and racial resegregation, all frustrate the alleviation of individual and familial crises in impoverished communities and require economically-just, community-based, extra-state, political mobilization. In this post-Civil Rights epoch saturated by disorienting fictions of progress circulating alongside the vulgar traffic in difference that characterizes much of late-capitalist popular consumption, critical appraisals of such processes are timely and necessary. As such, we invite contributions from a range of practices and fields of thought. This orienting intellectual posture illuminates the continued structural and identitarian restraints which remain the most dominant features of global life, and has particular implications for policy-making, interdisciplinary scholarship, as well as twenty-first century conceptions of the self that refuse the false, or, more precisely, rigid, character of borders and disciplines.

Topics to be considered include, but are not limited to:
Baldwin and conceptions of (racial) difference
Baldwin and gender/sexuality
Baldwin and the social (sciences)
Baldwin in the “Age” of Obama
Baldwin and transnationalism
Baldwin and civil rights/post-civil rights
Baldwin, the Republic, white hegemony, and black futurity
Baldwin, spirituality, and the ethics of everyday life
Baldwin, exile, and (global) citizenship
Baldwin, love, freedom, and the fabrication of the self

Abstracts of approximately 250 words should be forwarded in Rich Text Format or PDF to no later than, Wednesday, December 22, 2010.

Selected participants will be notified by Monday, January 3, 2011.

Conference Program Committee:
Aliyyah Abdur-Rahman, Brandeis University
Rich Blint, New York University
Douglas Field, Staffordshire University, UK
Bill Schwartz, Queen Mary, University of London