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Faculty Fall 2018: Matt Tierney

Perspective Prisms of Is: Afrofuturism as Americanism and Anti-Futurism

Assistant Professor of English

Perspective Prisms of Is: Afrofuturism as Americanism and Anti-Futurism

In a reading of 20th-century U.S. prose and poetry—including work by Pauline E. Hopkins, W.E.B. Du Bois, Sun Ra, Amiri Baraka, Samuel R. Delany, and Octavia E. Butler—this project poses a literary intervention into recent transnational American Studies. I focus on Afrofuturism in its geospatial and world-historical aspects. As a geospatial schema, Afrofuturism may foreground the form of the nation only then to undermine the ideological foundations of that form. As a reconstrual of historical time, Afrofuturism may reject augury and triumphalism in favor of what Baraka called “the changing same,” what Delany called “significant distortion of the present,” and what Sun Ra called “perspective prisms of is.” Thus even as the name of Afrofuturism suggests primary investments in Africa and the future, many Afrofuturist texts are actually more devoted to a sociopolitical struggle and a transformative imagination in the American present. If American Studies has now begun to theorize the nation as a readable text that is ever reinscribed within increasingly global histories, I argue, then a groundwork for that endeavor was partly laid during the longue durée of Afrofuturism, by thinkers and makers who distorted claims to national self-identity and futurity by addressing them to an inner exclusion, blackness, and to an extrinsic locale, Africa. This is one half of a larger project in collaboration with Magalí Armillas-Tiseyra, entitled “Present Futures and the Legacies of Afrofuturism: Speculative Fiction, Globality, Utopia.”