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William Paris Manuscript Workshop

On March 5th we hosted a book workshop on Dr. William Paris’ book manuscript Black Mythologies: Race, Culture, and the Practice of Utopia. Dr. Paris is the Weinberg Postdoctoral Fellow in Philosophy of Race and the event was sponsored by the Weinberg College Dean’s Collective Fund for Critical Race Studies and the Critical Theory Program. The commentators were Professor Jane Rhodes (African American Studies, UIC), Jacqueline Scott (Philosophy, Loyola), and Professor Dilip Gaonkar (Communication Studies, Northwestern). Dr. Paris’ book argues that the work of Hortense Spillers, Frantz Fanon, W.E.B Du Bois, and Stuart Hall contains elements of a tradition of Black critical theory that takes seriously the roles of culture and utopia in political practices. By bringing these figures together, he articulates a form of Black critical theory which understands utopia as both the possibility of transforming one's context and as a normative element embedded in racialized forms of life. Dr. Paris is interested in whether it is objectively possible for structures of racism and violence to be overturned and how one can subjectively grasp the critical position from which one can make the claim for transformation. He defends an account of culture as a series of formative and interpretive practices that can both obscure and reveal the normative role of utopia as the demand for material freedom. Hence, the emphasis on plural mythologies. He concludes that this ambivalence in culture necessitates a robust Black critical theory that can interpret the normative utopian possibilities within culture within an often conservative state of affairs.

The workshop was well attended and generated stimulating and productive discussion. Dr. Paris said: “I received immensely generative feedback from all the participants in the workshop. Broadly throughout the workshop we discussed what my understanding of culture as semiotic entailed and how it fit with existing scholarship. One question I received was whether I had made utopia too moderate considering the Black radical tradition which interests me. This seems to me to be an important response that has led me to rethink certain aspects of my account and return to emphasizing that the version of Black critical theory I am defending takes as its guiding principal structural and material freedom. I thank all the participants for their time and comments. Their work has made my book manuscript more focused and clearer.” Dr. Paris has taken a faculty position at Wesleyan University for next year.


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