Theses Doctoral

Quiet Dawn: Time, Aesthetics, and the Afterlives of Black Radicalism

Cunningham, Nijah N.

Quiet Dawn: Time, Aesthetics, and the Afterlives of Black Radicalism traces the unfulfilled utopian aspirations of the revolutionary past that haunt the present of the African diaspora. Taking its name from the final track on famed black nationalist musician Archie Shepp’s 1972 Attica Blues, this dissertation argues that the defeat of black radical and anticolonial projects witnessed during the turbulent years of the sixties and seventies not only represent past “failures” but also point to a freedom that has yet to arrive. Working at the convergence of literature, performance, and visual culture, Quiet Dawn argues that the unfinished projects of black and anticolonial revolution live on as radical potentialities that linger in the archive like a “haunting refrain.” Quiet Dawn offers a theory the haunting refrain of black sociality that emanates across seemingly disparate geopolitical nodes. The concept of the haunting refrain designates an affective register through which otherwise hidden and obscure regions of the past can be apprehended. The dissertation attends to the traces of black sociality that linger in the archive through an examination of the literary and critical works of black intellectuals such as Amiri Baraka, Nikki Giovanni, Kamau Brathwaite, Sylvia Wynter, Frantz Fanon, and Léopold Sédar Senghor. Rather than lay claim to political heroes, Quiet Dawn turns to the past in an attempt to give an account of the dispersed social forces that gathered around the promise of a black world. Each chapter offers an example of the haunting refrain of black social life that lingers in the past. In this way, the dissertation as a whole gives an account of the radical potentialities that register as hums, echoes, muted chants, and shadow songs of the “long sixties.” Quiet Dawn contributes to scholarship on black internationalism and intervenes in current critical debates around race, gender, and sexual violence in the fields of black studies, feminist studies, and postcolonial studies. Its theorization of black social life as a spectral presence is an attempt at attending to the other others that haunt contemporary critiques of power which merely seek redemption in an irredeemable world. To be sure, this project strikes neither an optimistic nor pessimistic note. Rather, it is rooted in the belief that there are infinite amounts of hope that we have yet to apprehend.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
English and Comparative Literature
Thesis Advisors
Hartman, Saidiya V.
Scott, David
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
August 11, 2015