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The Void of Faceless Faces: Ralph Ellison and the Matter of Black Affect

Thursday Lecture Series

dateOctober 3, 2019 timeThursday, 12:15pm EDT location The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room, Columbia University
  • Audience open exclusively to Columbia faculty, students, and invited guests
  • All others interested in attending, please email SOF/Heyman at [email protected].
B&W portrait photo of Ralph Ellison

What is a face? And what might it mean to be without one? This talk considers these, and related, questions through a reading of Ralph Ellison’s seminal novel Invisible Man. Specifically, I consider the deployment of the concept-metaphor of “facelessness” in Ellison’s text as a means of theorizing the matter of Black affect. I argue that Ellison’s rendering of Blackness as facelessness makes a key intervention into theories of affect which center on the face as the primary site of the affective encounter. Breaking with dominant conceptions of the face as a universal, anatomical reality or an ethico-affective horizon, Ellison demonstrates that the face is the product of obliterative violence––a social, political, and historical construction contingent on Black abjection.