New Assistant English Professor, Dr. Jarvis C. McInnis and "Conjuring the America"

Monday, July 31, 2017

Professor Dr. Jarvis C. McInnis holds a BA in English from Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi, and a Ph.D. in English & Comparative Literature from Columbia University in the City of New York. Jarvis is an interdisciplinary scholar of African American & African Diaspora literature and culture, with teaching and research interests in the global south (primarily the US South and the Caribbean), sound studies, performance studies, and visual culture.

Dr. McInnis refers to himself as an interdisciplinary scholar of African American and African Diaspora literature and culture. His research and teaching interests include black transnationalism and diaspora, as well as how literature intersects with other modes of aesthetic production, such as music and sound, visual culture, and performance.

He is currently at work on his first book project, tentatively titled, “The Afterlives of the Plantation: Aesthetics, Labor, and Diaspora in the Global Black South,” which aims to reorient the geographic contours of black transnationalism and diaspora by exploring the hemispheric linkages between southern African American and Caribbean literature and culture in the early twentieth century.

Jarvis’s research has been supported by numerous grants and fellowships, including the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship, the Ford Foundation Pre-doctoral and Dissertation Fellowships, and Princeton University’s Department of African American Studies postdoctoral fellowship. His work appears or is forthcoming in journals and venues such as Callaloo, MELUS, Mississippi Quarterly, Public Books, and The Global South. Before coming to Duke, Jarvis was an assistant professor of English at the University of Notre Dame. In addition to his research and teaching, he serves as an assistant to the editor for Callaloo and a consultant for the W. E. B. Du Bois Scholars Institute housed at Princeton University

English 184S.02 | Conjuring the Americas

Known variously as conjure and hoodoo in the United States, Vodou in Haiti, Obeah in Jamaica, and Santería in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic, African-derived spiritual, healing, and magic practices survived in the Americas despite slavery’s inordinate brutalities and consistent efforts to eradicate them. Bringing together writers from the United States and the Caribbean, this course will explore how enslaved Africans and their descendants retained and remade their knowledge of the supernatural world as strategies of resistance and agency, healing and survival. Reading across a range of literary genres—including the southern gothic, magical realism, and historical fiction—as well as anthropology, we will mobilize conjure (and its Caribbean variants) to chart a hemispheric conception of African Diaspora literature. Readings include works by Charles Chesnutt, Zora Neale Hurston, Alejo Carpentier, Gloria Naylor, Maryse Condé, and Erna Brodber, among others. It may also include representations of conjure in film and television. Some questions we may take up include: What is the sociopolitical function of conjure in African Diaspora literature and culture? How are these practices gendered in the tradition? How does conjure converge with and/or depart from Judeo-Christian religious practices and notions of Western rationality? What alternative epistemologies and ontologies emerge from the space and practice of conjure? Chesnutt, Zora Neale Hurston, Alejo Carpentier, Gloria Naylor, Maryse Condé, and Erna Brodber, among others. It may also include representations of conjure in film and television. Some questions we may take up include: What is the sociopolitical function of conjure in African Diaspora literature and culture? How are these practices gendered in the tradition? How does conjure converge with and/or depart from Judeo-Christian religious practices and notions of Western rationality? What alternative epistemologies and ontologies emerge from the space and practice of conjure? 

              

In “Conjuring the Americas” the course examines how African American and Caribbean writers and artists have drawn on the rich tradition of African-derived religious, spiritual, healing, and magic practices in the Americas to interrogate and often disrupt notions of freedom, gender, power, and Western rationality: from Alejo Carpentier’s The Kingdom of this World to Beyoncé’s Lemonade.  

Alongside literature, this course explores how these practices are depicted in film, music, and painting, and what they reveal about diaspora and the importance of African cultural retentions in the Americas. Ultimately, as a teacher, Dr. McInnis hopes to curate a classroom space where his students feel free to take intellectual risks, and where they can use African diaspora literature and culture to celebrate and affirm black humanity and creativity; interrogate and dismantle systems of power, injustice, and inequality; and imagine new futures and more just worlds