This conversation with Alexander Weheliye is built upon the critique he made of the work of Giorgio Agamben, in particular in his essentialization of the muselmann in the context of the Holocaust. Alexander argues that slavery functions as a better paradigm to understand the “layering” of bare lives and the racial aspects that this understanding involves. He explains how he is interested in finding other ways to “claim humanity” than the traditional judicial one that attributes this status in a retroactive manner to suffering bodies. In order to do so, we evoke the works of major African-American and black Caribbean thinkers such as Hortense Spillers, Sylvia Wynter, Édouard Glissant, Frantz Fanon, Aimé Césaire, C.L.R. James, etc. We spend the last ten minutes of the conversation talking about Alexander’s work about the relationship between black music and technology.
Alexander G. Weheliye is professor of African American Studies at Northwestern University where he teaches black literature and culture, critical theory, social technologies, and popular culture. He is the author of Phonographies: Grooves in Sonic Afro-Modernity (Duke UP, 2005), which was awarded The Modern Language Association’s William Sanders Scarborough Prize for Outstanding Scholarly Study of Black American Literature or Culture and Habeas Viscus: Racializing Assemblages, Biopolitics, and Black Feminist Theories of the Human (Duke UP, 2014). Currently, he is working on two projects. The first, Modernity Hesitant: The Civilizational Diagnostics of W.E.B. Du Bois and Walter Benjamin, tracks the different ways in which these thinkers imagine the marginal as central to the workings of modern civilization. The second, Feen