Appointed As

Walter H. Capps Center for Religion, Ethics and Public Life Postdoctoral Fellow


ACLS Emerging Voices Fellowships program


University of California, Santa Barbara

PhD Field of Study

PhD, Gender and Women's Studies, University of Arizona

Dissertation Abstract

"What Is Suicide? Entanglements of Literature and Philosophy in the 'Afterlife of Slavery'"

Suicide articulates a being for whom freedom is a possibility. My dissertation, What Is Suicide? Entanglements of Philosophy and Literature in the ‘Afterlife of Slavery,’” traces the transformation of the concept of suicide between the 17th and 21st centuries in its dynamic interaction over the longue durée of Black social death in the history and geography of racial slavery. What Is Suicide? poses the problem of Black suicide as a fundamental question about the racialization of human freedom. It thusly illuminates at the reductive level of ontology how racial blackness is produced as an abstract nothingness that grounds the being of freedom—a being that is racialized non-Black.
Whereas cultural studies of suicide tend to confine the problem of suicide to a phenomenology of suffering and resistance, I critique how its elaborations of freedom necessitate the racialization of the figure of the slave as non-being. Beyond a critique of the medical model, I claim that suicide—as much a sociological problem and literary figure as a medical category—constitutes a “political-theological apparatus” that divides ethical from unethical life, negating Black subjectivity as a species of life that cannot make death a choice. To advance this interdisciplinary critique, I traverse African American and Latinx literature, philosophy, critical theory and the medical humanities to grapple with how suicide has been an ethical, ontological and epistemological category for making and unmaking the human. It reframes a set of canonic twentieth-century texts as immanent critiques of the racial logics of suicide: the postcolonial feminism of Gayatri Spivak, the Afropessimist literature of Toni Morrison, and the political prose of the Chicane poet Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales.
I specifically draw on Saidiya Hartman and Frantz Fanon, in conjunction with Lacanian psychoanalysis and what I describe as the “natalist philosophies” of Martin Heidegger and Hannah Arendt, to destabilize the philosophical and psychological conceits that inhere in the notion of suicide, particularly the possibility of social life. In posing “Black suicide” as an ontological question about social death rather than an experiential problem of pathology, I privilege the literary imagination as a site for both displacing the discursive agon of mental health and presenting the symbolic contradictions of antiblackness.