Black Flânerie, or Wandering while Black in the City of Light

Edwin Hill, University of Southern California

September 28, 4:00 - 5:30 pm, McPherson Lab room 1015

This project explores pedestrian black freedom dreams. It considers experiments with being-in-motion in the city as a way of reflecting on the world, engaging with the world, and being with others. By black flânerie, I mean to highlight how people navigate the “grooves in sonic afro-modernity” (Weheliye) through social and cultural practices that require moving in a certain kind of way through the city. From cruising, bar-hopping, and site-seeing to shopping, street dancing, and daydreaming, the wandering black flâneur adopts modes of nomadism and errantry that emerge from experiences and histories of the African diaspora.

As the title suggests, in its play on the expression “walking” or “driving” while black, “wandering while black” involves the situation of the racialized body, a situation involving spatial organizations of power ensconced in histories of colonial conquest and colonization. For while these black flâneurs cast a lingering gaze onto the fleeting beauty of the post/colonial city, they must also navigate the racialized dynamics of the gaze, i.e. the performative and normative regulation of space through the violent policing of who can look at whom, who can be seen and who remain invisible, who must look down and who cannot look away. 

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Edwin Hill is an Associate Professor at the University of Southern California with joint appointments in the Department of French & Italian and the Department of American Studies & Ethnicity. His research lies at the intersections of popular music and literature, with a focus on histories of race and modernity, theories of sound, post/colonialism and black feminist thought, black Atlantic and Mediterranean noir fiction, and popular musical forms and cultural practices (jazz, hip hop, and house). He published his book Black Soundscapes White Stages: The Meaning of Francophone Sound in the Black Atlantic by Johns Hopkins University Press (African diaspora series, 2013). Published articles appear in Ethnomusicology Forum, the Journal of Popular Music Studies, and Negritud: Journal of Afro-Latin American Studies. His book-in-progress deals with black rage and sound cultures in France and the US.

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