Blood as Archive of Dignity and Intimacy

Tuesday, February 7, 2017 -
9:30am to 4:00pm
Tuesday, February 7, 2017 -
9:30am to 4:00pm

Academic scholarship on Africa is dominated (perhaps especially research agendas set in the north) by the blood of disease, violence and spectacular masculinities. Blood is often invoked to describe scenes of extreme violence (rivers of blood, bloodbath, bloodthirsty), a usage that relies on an excessive visual evocation of visible blood. The premise of this workshop is that invisible blood inside the body (as supplier of oxygen and nutrients to cells, and as a substance with generative and healing properties) provides us with a productive way for thinking about intimacy and dignity. Our aim is to seek out new approaches, and to interrogate the accepted discourses around blood, and thereby to develop new research agendas.

The workshop’s research questions focus on how blood has been referenced in recent discourses to do with the dignity of the self – many of these, but not all, raced as well as gendered. Whereas blood outside the body is spectacular, and typically occurs as the result of a rupture or violence done to the body, this workshop is instead interested in the quieter meanings of blood, and in particular as these relate to experiences of intimacy, belonging and secrecy. In an essay that has come to carry enormous weight, South African academic and cultural commentator Njabulo Ndebele wrote about the need for black South Africans to become ordinary, to develop practices and discourses of self-reflection. This essay has often been interpreted as an injunction to step away from activism; yet Ndebele’s argument was in fact the opposite. It was and remains an activist agenda for transformation and for the cultivation of self-reflective scholarship and modes of living. We interpret this injunction here, and turn the gaze from spectacular blood to blood as an intimate fluid, and hence linked to interiority.

The archive this workshop documents and theorises is blood under the skin, circulating and regenerating the body. Sara Ahmed’s memorable terminology (in The Cultural Politics of Emotion), referring to affective states as “sticky” and “leaky”, provide some of the starting points for discussions that seek out and theorise discourses of blood as archives of dignity and personhood, rather than spectacle. An area of scholarship that has obvious connections with this workshop is recent work on DNA and the memory that the body retains of historical trauma. Recent studies have shown that blood retains traces of trauma for generations after the event (such as enslavement). This holds great potential for the way we understand and think about the enduring presence of the past, and its continuing relevance and reach. Blood within discourses of race has had ominous histories, but these new scientific understandings of the knowledge and memory that blood holds open new avenues for research in the humanities, agendas that can be activist and transformative of society.

BY INVITATION ONLY, please email Carli Coetzee

Tuesday, February 7th

9:30-10:30       Grace A. Musila “Vulnerability and its Hospitalities: A Reading of Redi Tlhabi’s Endings and Beginnings"
10:30-11:00     Break
11:00-12:00     Kopano Ratele “Raising Boys”
12:00-1:00       Stephanie M. Selvick “Still Bleeding: Zanele Muholi’s Aesthetics of Survival and Desire”
1:00-2:30         Break
2:30-3:30         Laura Murphy “The Blood-Stained-Gate: Blood as Emotional Rhetoric in the New Slave Narrative”
3:30-4:00         Break
4:00-4:30         Round-up and conclusion, discussion of special issue or edited book


Sponsored by
Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies