In Stay Black and Die, I. Augustus Durham examines melancholy and genius in black culture, letters, and media from the nineteenth century to the contemporary moment. Drawing on psychoanalysis, affect theory, and black studies, Durham explores the black mother as both a lost object and a found subject often obscured when constituting a cultural legacy of genius across history. He analyzes the works of Frederick Douglass, Ralph Ellison, Marvin Gaye, Octavia E. Butler, and Kendrick Lamar to show how black cultural practices and aesthetics abstract and reveal the lost mother through performance. Whether attributing Douglass’s intellect to his matrilineage, reading Gaye’s falsetto singing voice as a move to interpolate black female vocality, or examining the women in Ellison’s life who encouraged his aesthetic interests, Durham demonstrates that melancholy becomes the catalyst for genius and genius in turn is a signifier of the maternal. Using psychoanalysis to develop a theory of racial melancholy while “playing” with affect theory to investigate racial aesthetics, Durham theorizes the role of the feminine, especially the black maternal, in the production of black masculinist genius.
Figures viii Echo | I xi Thank | You; or, Acknowledgments xix Color | Blackness 1 Read | Frederick 39 Travel | Ralph 79 Man | Marvin 117 Woman | Gan 151 Love | Kendrick 179 Study | Us 213 Notes 225 Bibliography 273 Index 309
I. Augustus Durham is Assistant Professor of English at Lehman College, City University of New York.
“What haunts and inspires black creativity in an antiblack world? In Stay Black and Die, I. Augustus Durham offers a gendered vernacular psychoanalytic reading of this question, which is to say that he offers a lush blues of genius’s complicated sustenance and insistence. And right there in this blues is the centrality of black femaleness—the maternal—that dapples the engagement with the object that is and is not lost. This richly researched book showcases genius as a notion traced through its motherline and, as such, Durham’s brilliance is a stay in every sense of the word: a hold, a refusal, a plea, and an inhabitance, a longing in which one can linger.”
~Kevin Quashie, author of, Black Aliveness, or A Poetics of Being
“I. Augustus Durham adds a fundamentally new and truly insightful spin to studies in blackness and melancholy. Bringing melancholy into the realm of nonromanticized genius, he moves seamlessly between the study of literature and the study of music. His analysis of music videos also makes his approach to black melancholy and genius a deep study of affect that refuses any boundaries between the literary, the sonic, and the visual. I am certain that Durham’s theorization of melancholic genius will become a portable, widely cited idea.”
~Margo Natalie Crawford, author of, Black Post-Blackness: The Black Arts Movement and Twenty-First-Century Aesthetics