Novel, Society and Politics
127 | CCN: 25749
In the Shadow of Democracy
Instructor: IK Udekwu
Tu/Th 5:00pm-6:30pm, Wheeler 126 ///
We normally understand our democratic citizenship as grounded in and described by formal, legal declarations of our rights that endow us with freedom, equality, and self-rule in political union. Such formal declarations, however, elide the practical, historical realities of the democratic experience — where agency is limited, inequality is assumed, and at least some of us must, necessarily, lose with respect to the policy decisions of shifting majorities. Some must sacrifice their interests — how can this be just? How can a democracy cope, or fail to cope, with the continual, necessary sacrifices made by some citizens? How can trust be maintained and polities be made whole in the face of this fundamental threat to union?
Danielle Allen (Talking to Strangers, 2004) describes the events following Brown v. Board decision (1954) as a moment where, both within and beyond formal legal frameworks, the United States was forced to draft a new constitution attempting to work through the current reality of such questions. This course takes up Allen’s work, novels contemporary with Brown v. Board (from Wright, Ellison, and Baldwin), political theory, and recent reflections on black life and citizenship (Claudia Rankine) to investigate the role of black citizenship and sacrifice in the constitution of the American polity. Parallel to this, we will discuss the ways in which these experiences of what Paul Gilroy calls “the Black Atlantic” may be a crucial, perhaps the crucial, component of understanding the character of modernity.