Penn State Penn State: College of the Liberal Arts
“Black Enlightenment: The Case of Kant and Wheatley,” Surya Parekh, Penn State

“Black Enlightenment: The Case of Kant and Wheatley,” Surya Parekh, Penn State

Monday, November 3, 2014 12:15 pm
- 1:25 pm EST

Recent scholarship in the Black Radical Tradition argues that the legacies and inheritances of the Enlightenment might be interpreted as always already in relation to blackness. This presentation explores this claim by reading two popular 18th century texts against each other: Immanuel Kant’s Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime and Phillis Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. Framing these texts as sharing an Enlightenment discourse, this presentation shows that Kant’s work covers a complex moment in which the comportment of black women within the "deepest slavery" is represented as one of respect and submission. The presentation turns to Phillis Wheatley’s poetry to respond. What lessons does Wheatley’s philosophizing lyrical I teach us - about the provenance of the Enlightenment, 18th century Afro-Diasporic intellectual production, and the politics of fraternity - speaking to a universal from within slavery and written from, if the accounts are correct, a comportment of respect and submission?

Surya Parekh is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Africana Research Center at the Pennsylvania State University. Previously, he was the 2013-14 Alain Locke Postdoctoral Fellow at Penn State. His research is critically attuned to the (dis)figuration of the Enlightenment subject in contemporary scholarship. Currently, he is completing a book monograph, provisionally titled Reading the Black Enlightenment: Black Subjectivity, Indigeneity, and the Cosmopolitan,which explores the 18th century literary and philosophical production of Afro-British/Afro-American and Native American authors and their traffic with a dominant Enlightenment discourse.