La Marr Jurelle Bruce (University of Maryland), “Mad Black Rants: Dispatches from the Asylum”

La Marr Jurelle Bruce (University of Maryland), “Mad Black Rants: Dispatches from the Asylum”

Monday, February 21, 2022 12:15 pm
- 1:30 pm EST
Via Zoom

This talk follows the lead of three mad black captives in African American literature.

The first is an unnamed “balmy” black scholar jailed alongside Bigger Thomas—and soon dragged away to an insane asylum—in Richard Wright’s Native Son (1940). The second is an unnamed middle-aged black woman confined to a psychiatric ward after urinating in a first-grade classroom in Gayl Jones’s “Asylum” (1977). The third is Hyacinthe Malveaux, a young woman exiled from her black bourgeois family and institutionalized in a psychiatric hospital—all for disobeying tyrannies of respectability and psychonormativity—in Ntozake Shange’s Liliane (1994).

From within psychiatric enclosures, each of these characters relays radical critiques of antiblackness and antimadness. However, all three are misheard, muted, and maligned, their insights dismissed as rant, rave, ramble, and nonsense. Reading and listening to these captive theorists, these asylum intellectuals, I propose what I call the idiom of madness: a mode of radical utterance that is incomprehensible to normative logics, that is inaudible to rational hearing, that subverts the grammars of “Reason,” that might speak (or roar) truth to power with poignant effect.

La Marr Jurelle Bruce (B.A. Columbia; Ph.D. Yale) is a cultural and literary theorist, Black/black studies devotee, first-generation college graduate, and Associate Professor of American Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park. Winner of the Joe Weixlmann Essay Prize from African American Review, his writing on black expressive culture appears in American QuarterlyThe Black ScholarGLQSocial TextTDR, and elsewhere. His debut book, How to Go Mad without Losing Your Mind: Madness and Black Radical Creativity (Duke University Press, 2021) received the Nicolás Guillén Outstanding Book Award. He is now in the thick of a project on—and experiment in—convergences of love and madness. He sometimes calls it The Afromantic.

Contact: Olivia Brown