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“Architectures of the Flesh” author analyzes the philosophy of race

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On Feb. 9, University of Southern California (USC) Associate Professor of English Dr. Zakiyyah Jackson presented at Wittenberg via Zoom. Her lecture, “Architectures of the Flesh,” focused on the metaphysics of race. This presentation was built upon key themes from Jackson’s book “Becoming Human: Matter and Meaning in an Antiblack World”.

Jackson walked the virtual crowd of Wittenberg students and faculty through her masterfully crafted essay. One of her main focuses was to examine representationalism.

“I want to provide an analytic for interrogating what representationalism claims to do,” Jackson said. “I want to highlight the chair of representationalism and its politics, not of representation, but of materialization and dematerialization of the flesh.”

This stance was utilized to develop Dr. Jackson’s position on how our society sees and understands black women.

“What I suggest is that there is no pre-existing black female body with determinant boundaries and properties that precede measurement. The organismic body is always making itself at it is; being a made in interaction with histories discursive material means of measurement,” Jackson said.

Through the use of Octavia Butler’s famous short story “Bloodchild,” Jackson was able to question the tendencies of humans to fit ourselves into categories. Her closing remark is as follows: ”An encounter with an with the nonhuman or with an ovipositor invites us not to ponder the assumed transparent difference or the strangeness of the non-human other, but to question the referentiality of our categories, and other words to observe that opacity and differentiation is too often already falsely thought to be accounted for and understood via our categories, imagining a new world, then demands to reenact the reimagining of the body.”

Religious Teaching Fellow Spencer Dew coordinated Jackson’s virtual visit. Though he knew that this semester’s event was going to be virtual, Jackson was still his first choice to have as a speaker because of the success of her book.

“When Dr. Jackson’s book was published this summer, I must have received texts and emails from six or seven of my colleagues within the first week of publication, all of them urging me to read the book. The popularity of this book in religious studies — the sense that Jackson’s project is of really groundbreaking value for thinking about religion — has been astounding,” Dew said.

Dew was excited by Jackson’s ability to express complex thoughts and ideas. This was one of the main reasons why Dr. Jackson was chosen.

“I wanted Wittenberg students to be exposed to a thinker of this caliber, and a project of this vast and audacious scale. Yes, Jackson is a difficult thinker, but what a remarkable thing to be exposed to, this level of erudition and analytical acumen! That is very much what the college experience should be about,” Dew said.

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