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Special Issue Articles

Vol. 4 No. 1 (2022): American Studies as Vulnerability Studies

African American Literature, Racial Vulnerability, and the Anthropocene: Reading W .E. B. Du Bois's The Quest of the Silver Fleece in the Twenty-First Century

January 19, 2022


This article discusses W. E. B. Du Bois's first novel, The Quest of the Silver Fleece (1911), in the context of the broader debate on the role of race in the Anthropocene and in relation to Judith Butler's theory on corporeal vulnerability. Specifically, this article spotlights three particular ways in which rereading African American literature may enhance a more race-conscious Anthropocene discourse. Initially, this article demonstrates how Du Bois's text gives opportunity to trace African American vulnerabilities through various scales from the local to the planetary. A genealogy of African American racial vulnerability, I argue, can be vital for better understanding and acting against continuing forms of racism in the Anthropocene. This article continues by turning to Du Bois's representation of vulnerabilities as part of power relations, showing how African American epistemologies of resistance negotiate racial vulnerability. Lastly, this article examines how the novel plays with generic conventions to engage racial vulnerabilities, evincing an African American aesthetics of resistance and suggesting alternative forms of storytelling.


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