The Department of English is hosting four candidates for the US literatures and cultures assistant professor search. Megan Finch is a PhD candidate in the English Department at Brandeis University and is a visiting assistant professor at the Rhode Island School of Design. Finch’s dissertation, entitled “Unreasonable Blackness: Black Women Writing Madness, 1980-Present,” surveys literature written by black women in the wake of the Civil Rights/Black Power and second-wave feminist movements.
Finch argues that black feminist literature of the 80s and beyond invokes the trope of the mad black woman to undermine her construction as a constitutively unreasonable, socially dead subject; Finch recasts social death as the “idiotic structure of blackness” in order to highlight its relationship to discourses of madness and civilization. Finch contends that Toni Morrison, Octavia Butler, Nalo Hopkinson, and others use figures such as infanticidal mothers, schizophrenic girls, and suicidal race women to interrogate how reason was made the exclusive property of whiteness, justifying slavery and black women’s abjection in its afterlife. Finch’s methods derive from recent black studies work that extends intersectional approaches to power into theories that argue that black being is not fully included in humanist identity categories. Instead of identity, which coheres through its grammatical (possessive) relationship to being, Finch theorizes black existence structured anagrammatically (without possession) or idiotically.
This approach offers a re-evaluation of black women’s contemporary literature by using Enlightenment/Enslavement era discourses of madness and idiocy to illuminate a different relationship between seemingly disparate genres like the neo-slave narrative and Afrofuturism, both of which engage the mad black woman trope.