Creolization and the Black Atlantic

PHIL 539

135 c
  • Spring 2024
  • Time: Wed, 2:30 – 5:30
  • Location: 8 Huck Life Science Building

This course uses the frame of creolization to make legible the conceptions of identity, home/belonging and cultural production coming out of the Black Atlantic world. The thinkers we will read contemplate the socio-cultural, aesthetic/literary and political landscape of the Black Atlantic as one shaped by negotiations of the meaning of freedom, liberation struggle, making joy amidst multiculture, and making beginnings out of historical loss. Ultimately, creolization in the context of the Black Atlantic will position us to study what is unique to racial formation coming out of the colliding histories of the Black Atlantic world, and how it continues to inform contemporary political culture (broadly construed). Creolization, in other words, will foreground the significance of Relation – world-relations broken and world-relations refashioned and imagined anew – as it unfolds in the context of the uneven power terrain of slavery, settler colonial conquest and modern forms of anti-black violence in the Afro-diasporic Atlantic. We will read works by Derek Walcott, Dionne Brand, Édouard Glissant, Antonio Benitez-Rojo, Paul Gilroy, C.L.R. James, Jamaica Kincaid and Stuart Hall (among others). In them, we will look for the ways they each name/mark the “selective creation and cultural struggle” (Trouillot) of Black Atlantic lifeworlds, as these worlds are situated at the geographical and historical crossroads of modernity. We will also study how these thinkers theorize the liberatory possibilities of the incoherence, opacity and bricolage that often marks Black Atlantic identity-(re)making and homing practices in the aftermath of “New World” slavery and settler colonial conquest. Hence, using creolization to frame our study allows us to consider how the Black Atlantic, though always entangled with the violence of racial hierarchies, has always more than the summative reaction to/resistance against that violence. In other words, creolization makes legible the Black Atlantic as a dynamic site of experimentation with meaning-making and identity-formation.

(This is tentative list, open to revision/addition by our collective seminar community)


Dionne Brand, A Map to the Door of No Return: Notes to Belonging

Antonio Benitez-Rojo, The Repeating Island: The Caribbean and the Postmodern Perspective

Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double ConsciousnessĖdouard Glissant, Poetics of Relation

C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins

Jamaica Kincaid, A Small Place (pdf also available on Canvas)

Articles/Book Chapters (available on Canvas)

Bernabé, Chamoiseau, Confiant and Khya, “In Praise of Creoleness”

Bernabé et al, “Créolité Bites”

Davis & Sealey, Creolizing Critical Theory: New Voices in Caribbean Philosophy (selected chapters)

Kamau Braithwaite, “History of the Voice”

Ėdouard Glissant, Caribbean Discourse: Essays (selected essays)

Wilson Harris, The Unfinished Genesis of the Imagination (selected essays)

Derek Walcott, What the Twilight Says: Essays (selected essays)

According to Penn State policy G-9: Academic Integrity, an academic integrity violation is “an intentional, unintentional, or attempted violation of course or assessment policies to gain an academic advantage or to advantage or disadvantage another student academically.” Unless your instructor tells you otherwise, you must complete all course work entirely on your own, using only sources that have been permitted by your instructor, and you may not assist other students with papers, quizzes, exams, or other assessments. You may not use any online sites (e.g., Course Hero or Chegg), technologies (e.g., ChatGPT, language translators), tools, or sources for your assignments in this course. Students with questions about academic integrity should ask their instructor before submitting work.

Active class participation: 25%

Your class participation grade has two components. (1) This course is a seminar. Hence, your active participation is required for your (and our) overall success. You are expected to critically engage with the texts, as well as with your peers during our class-time conversations. This component of your class participation grade will assess your sustained contributions to our collective conversations throughout the semester. (2) Toward the end of the semester (April 10 or 17), we will dedicate a class to final paper presentations (between 15/20 minutes each). This component of your class participation grade will assess (clear and accessible presentation of your final project, and active engagement with questions for your peers.

Class presentation: 20%

You will lead the discussion of a selected text for the first half of class. In your discussion, you should (1) provide a summary of the text that highlights the major issues raised/claims offered by the author(s); (2) analyze the content consistent with the themes of our course; and (3) pose two/three questions of topical and thematic import for class discussion. Class presentation assignments and scheduling will be posted on Canvas. Be sure to note when and on what text you present.

One-page paper proposal and bibliography: 15%

No later than Mar 3, you will submit a one-page proposal for your final paper. This proposal should include your guiding question(s) and/or themes, the text(s) and/or figure(s) on which you plan to focus, and a brief description of the stakes (in other words, your ‘why’) of your critical analysis. You should also include a list of the texts you anticipate working with for the paper.

Draft of final paper: 15%

No later than Wed Apr 3, you will submit a draft of your final paper for instructor feedback. This draft should be no more than 2000 words.

Final paper: 25%

For your cumulative assessment for this course, you will submit a critical analysis paper (5000 – 6000 words) on an approved course-related theme of your choice. It may examine one author at length or multiple authors/texts, providing a comparative analytical discussion. This is due no later than Thurs May 2

JANUARY (10, 17, 24, 31)

Bernabé et al, “In Praise of Creoleness”
Bernabé et al, “Créolité Bites”
Glissant, Poetics of Relation
Glissant, Caribbean Discourse, “Poetics”
Walcott, What the Twilight Says:Essays, “The Muse of History”
Davis & Sealey, Creolizing Critical Theory: New Voices in Caribbean Philosophy (selected chapters)

Wed Jan 10 (first day of class) on Zoom
Wed Jan 17 class on Zoom

FEBRUARY (7, 14, 28)

Brand, A Map to the Door of No Return
Kincaid, A Small Place
Harris, The Unfinished Genesis of the Imagination, “Creoleness: The Crossroads of a Civilization”
Antonio Benitez-Rojo, The Repeating Island, Introduction, Chpt 1

Wed Feb 7 class on Zoom
No class meeting on Feb 21

MARCH (13, 20, 27)

Gilroy, The Black Atlantic
Walcott, What the Twilight Says:Essays, “The Antilles: Fragments of Epic Memory”
Glissant, Caribbean Discourse, “An Exploded Discourse”
Kamau Braithwaite, “History of the Voice”

No class on Mar 6 (Spring Break)
Wed Mar 20 class on Zoom
Wed Mar 27 class on Zoom

One page paper and bibliography due by March 3

APRIL (3, 10, 17, 24)

James, The Black Jacobins
Walcott, What the Twilight Says: Essays, “What the Twilight Says”
Antonio Benitez-Rojo, The Repeating Island, chapter 6, 11

April 17 class on Zoom
Last day of class: April 24

Paper draft due on Apr 3
Paper presentations on April 24


Final paper due