David Kazanjian, University of Pennsylvania

The Brink of Freedom: Racial Capitalism and the Caste War of Yucatán”
When Nov 03, 2016
from 03:00 PM to 05:00 PM
Where Bingham Humanities, Room 100
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David Kazanjian, University of Pennsylvania

The Brink of Freedom: Racial Capitalism and the Caste War of Yucatán”
Thursday, November 3 @ 3pm, Bingham Humanities Bldg. Room 100

In his new book The Brink of Freedom David Kazanjian revises nineteenth-century conceptions of freedom by examining the ways black settler colonists in Liberia and Mayan rebels in Yucatán imagined how to live freely. Focusing on colonial and early national Liberia and the Caste War of Yucatán, Kazanjian interprets letters from black settlers in apposition to letters and literature from Mayan rebels and their Creole antagonists.

In this talk, Kazanjian tracks the role the nineteenth-century Yucatán played in Cedric Robinson’s influential theory of racial capitalism. Drawing on Robinson’s own seemingly incidental reference in Black Marxism to Chilam Balam, a legendary Maya prophet, Kazanjian unsettles Robinson’s “red to black” narrative, which presumes that enslaved Afro-diasporans replaced exterminated indigenous people as the principle racialized labor force in the Americas. Kazanjian shows how the frequent appearance of the figure of Chilam Balam throughout the nineteenth-century—in Maya texts, in the archeological and anthropological research of Karl Hermann Berendt, and in the writings of Yucatec Creole intellectual Justo Sierra O’Reilly—indexes the complex articulations of African-descended people and indigenous people. Viewed from the perspective of the figure of Chilam Balam and the racialized dynamics of the Caste War conjuncture, Kazanjian argues for what Jack Forbes might have called a red-black theory of racial capitalism.

David Kazanjian is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of The Brink of Freedom: Improvising Life in the Nineteenth-Century Atlantic World (Duke) and The Colonizing Trick: National Culture and Imperial Citizenship in Early America (Minnesota), as well as co-editor of Loss: The Politics of Mourning (California) and The Aunt Lute Anthology of U.S. Women Writers, Vol. 1 (Aunt Lute Books). He has also published widely on the cultural politics of the Armenian diaspora, and is a member of the organizing collectives of Social Text and the Tepoztlán Institute for Transnational History of the Americas.

Presented by The Department of Comparative Humanities and the Commonwealth Center for the Humanities & Society