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Dream States, Freedom Dreams, and the Imagination Boom: Is "Race a Signifier of Hope"?

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Abstract:

This paper is about secular/sacred crossroads and civic engagement. I look at the resurgence of “imagination” and “dream” in the discourse of civic agency found in recent writing on race and democracy. I argue that the 2006 ensemble performance work by poet and theatre artist Sekou Sundiata, the 51st (dream) state, forms part of an ‘imagination boom’ in the work of African-American intellectuals and scholars of color. I concentrate on the work of Sundiata, with whom I collaborated closely on the engagement initiative linked to 51st (dream) state before his death in 2007. But I locate 51st (dream) state in a body of work that approaches race through “freedom dreams,” “dream states,” “magical realism,” “the soul of America,” and moods of prophetic witness and the surreal. Sundiata’s work quotes Cornell West, whose voice is featured in the multimedia element of the performance and whose characterization of the “prisoner of hope” in Democracy Matters works the crossroads of the political, the historical, and the spiritual. Sundiata and Robin Kelley were even more engaged in a conversation on the relationship between critique and hope. Both are partial to the democratic imagination as essentially surreal and of surrealism as “a living practice” needed to “bridge the gap between dream and action” (Kelley). Also participating in the ‘imagination boom’ that urges a new politics of race and ethnicity are other publicly active intellectuals: Lani Guinier, Gerald Torres, Patrick Johnson, George Sanchez, Jack Tchen, Nikkil Singh. Imagination is aligned with the hauntings of history, the sacred, and the aesthetic (both West and Guinier/Torres feature readings of Morrison’s Beloved), familial hauntings and memories of the language of black churches. Not sacred, these works by intellectuals on the left activate ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’ as a dimension of ‘democracy’ or ‘engagement.’ What is the political intent of hope when Guinier, commenting on Black is a Country, asks, is “race...a signifier of hope”? “Democracy,” Singh writes, “is the defeated hero of DuBois’s text but is also a resource of hope, one linked...to an open future, to the self-determination of black people.” Sundiata and others take up Singh’s question: “The stubborn contribution of black activism...reopens the necessary, radical question of authentic freedom: what kind of social world...fulfills the diverse and particular needs generated by an unequal history?” These writings do not issue a call to the sacred, but they refuse to reject inspiration as part of a poetics of democracy. The question of race becomes the question of democracy, and the question of democracy becomes the question of the moment—the question of hope, imprisoned and otherwise.
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Name: American Studies Association Annual Meeting
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http://www.theasa.net


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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p244746_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Ellison, Julie. "Dream States, Freedom Dreams, and the Imagination Boom: Is "Race a Signifier of Hope"?" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hyatt Regency, Albuquerque, New Mexico, <Not Available>. 2014-11-30 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p244746_index.html>

APA Citation:

Ellison, J. "Dream States, Freedom Dreams, and the Imagination Boom: Is "Race a Signifier of Hope"?" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hyatt Regency, Albuquerque, New Mexico <Not Available>. 2014-11-30 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p244746_index.html

Publication Type: Invited Paper
Abstract: This paper is about secular/sacred crossroads and civic engagement. I look at the resurgence of “imagination” and “dream” in the discourse of civic agency found in recent writing on race and democracy. I argue that the 2006 ensemble performance work by poet and theatre artist Sekou Sundiata, the 51st (dream) state, forms part of an ‘imagination boom’ in the work of African-American intellectuals and scholars of color. I concentrate on the work of Sundiata, with whom I collaborated closely on the engagement initiative linked to 51st (dream) state before his death in 2007. But I locate 51st (dream) state in a body of work that approaches race through “freedom dreams,” “dream states,” “magical realism,” “the soul of America,” and moods of prophetic witness and the surreal. Sundiata’s work quotes Cornell West, whose voice is featured in the multimedia element of the performance and whose characterization of the “prisoner of hope” in Democracy Matters works the crossroads of the political, the historical, and the spiritual. Sundiata and Robin Kelley were even more engaged in a conversation on the relationship between critique and hope. Both are partial to the democratic imagination as essentially surreal and of surrealism as “a living practice” needed to “bridge the gap between dream and action” (Kelley). Also participating in the ‘imagination boom’ that urges a new politics of race and ethnicity are other publicly active intellectuals: Lani Guinier, Gerald Torres, Patrick Johnson, George Sanchez, Jack Tchen, Nikkil Singh. Imagination is aligned with the hauntings of history, the sacred, and the aesthetic (both West and Guinier/Torres feature readings of Morrison’s Beloved), familial hauntings and memories of the language of black churches. Not sacred, these works by intellectuals on the left activate ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’ as a dimension of ‘democracy’ or ‘engagement.’ What is the political intent of hope when Guinier, commenting on Black is a Country, asks, is “race...a signifier of hope”? “Democracy,” Singh writes, “is the defeated hero of DuBois’s text but is also a resource of hope, one linked...to an open future, to the self-determination of black people.” Sundiata and others take up Singh’s question: “The stubborn contribution of black activism...reopens the necessary, radical question of authentic freedom: what kind of social world...fulfills the diverse and particular needs generated by an unequal history?” These writings do not issue a call to the sacred, but they refuse to reject inspiration as part of a poetics of democracy. The question of race becomes the question of democracy, and the question of democracy becomes the question of the moment—the question of hope, imprisoned and otherwise.


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Imagining the Impossible: Race, Queer Hope, and Underground Movements in the 1970s United States

California Dreaming: Emancipation and Freedom In the Golden State

Immigrant Hopes and Nativist Dreams: Two Imagined Utopias


 
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