The Right to Opacity: Reading Fred Moten and Édouard Glissant (LIT4146.01)

Anaïs Duplan

What power does an unintelligible text have? How do we grapple with literature that doesn’t want to be understood? The “right to opacity” is a foundational part of Caribbean author-theorist  Édouard Glissant’s work. Through this idea, he questions whether it is possible––or even ethical––to be make oneself legible across cultural lines. Instead, Glissant’s work is built against transparency, an implicit and explicit argument for opacity as the least violent and most ethical means of communication. To read a writer like Glissant then, we have to learn to read anew. The same is true for the body of work by poet-scholar Fred Moten, whom many have characterized as impossibly, frustratingly difficult. Rather than an unfortunate instance of “academese,” Moten’s scholarly and poetic work seeks a different, more somatic, and de-hierarchalized kind of relation. Over the course of the semester, we will practice engagement without understanding, generative frustration, mind-boggling patience, a sense of humor, rage, and finally, hopefully, an opening. Perhaps many openings. Blackness is for Moten, after all, not a state of being, but a form of sociality, requiring us to blur the boundaries of self, risking our own sense of self-determination and autonomy only to rediscover ourselves in the “consent not to be a single being.”

In addition to the works of Moten and Glissant, we will engage with other media––visual art, music, and film––as a means of recognizing the “right to opacity” across a larger cross-section of Afrodiasporic creative production. This will be a reading- and discussion-intensive course, culminating in final, critical essays.  

Book list:

  • The Service Porch, Fred Moten
  • The Little Edges, Fred Moten
  • Black and Blur (consent not to be a single being), Fred Moten
  • Poetics of Relation,  Édouard Glissant
  • Mahagony: A Novel, Édouard Glissant
  • Monsieur Toussaint: A Play, Édouard Glissant

Learning Outcomes:
- Navigate the works of Glissant and Moten with moderate confidence
- Establish an understanding of theorists, artists, and writers related to Glissant and Moten
- Describe the political implications of Glissant's "right to opacity"


Delivery Method: Fully in-person
Prerequisites: Interested students should submit a one-paragraph statement of interest (including related courses to date) and a one-page writing sample via this form by May 5, 2022. The writing sample should be an example of literary, arts, and/or cultural analysis.
Corequisites: Students are required to attend all Literature Evenings, Bennington Translates, and Poetry at Bennington events this term, commonly held at 7pm on most Wednesday evenings.
Course Level: 4000-level
Credits: 4
T 2:10PM - 5:50PM (Full-term)
Maximum Enrollment: 25
Course Frequency: One time only

Categories: Literature , Society Culture and Thought , Fully In-Person , All courses
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