Philosophical Performances of Racial and Sexual Freedom


Book Pages: 232 Illustrations: 10 photographs Published: September 2014

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, Theater and Performance, Theory and Philosophy > Feminist Theory

Combining black feminist theory, philosophy, and performance studies, Sarah Jane Cervenak ruminates on the significance of physical and mental roaming for black freedom. She is particularly interested in the power of wandering or daydreaming for those whose mobility has been under severe constraint, from the slave era to the present. Since the Enlightenment, wandering has been considered dangerous and even criminal when associated with people of color. Cervenak engages artist-philosophers who focus on wayward movement and daydreaming, or mental travel, that transcend state-imposed limitations on physical, geographic movement. From Sojourner Truth's spiritual and physical roaming to the rambling protagonist of Gayl Jones's novel Mosquito, Cervenak highlights modes of wandering that subvert Enlightenment-based protocols of rationality, composure, and upstanding comportment. Turning to the artists Pope.L (William Pope.L), Adrian Piper, and Carrie Mae Weems, Cervenak argues that their work produces an otherworldly movement, an errant kinesis that exceeds locomotive constraints, resisting the straightening-out processes of post-Enlightenment, white-supremacist, capitalist, sexist, and heteronormative modernity. Their roaming animates another terrain, one where free, black movement is not necessarily connected to that which can be seen, touched, known, and materially valued.


“Cervenak's Wandering questions the very essence of wandering instead of simply adding a new magnitude to it.”  — Miha, Bookslut

“'Wandering,' in Sarah Jane Cervenak’s ambitious new book, is both an invitation and a warning…. Read alongside three contemporary performance and visual artists whom Cervenak considers in the conclusion, all of these philosophers offer models to exist, dream, imagine, move, and live in a world intent on constraining and restraining black freedom in all its varied forms.” — Alice Pederson, Journal of American History

“This concise and insightful book was written from the perspective of performance studies, but as an interdisciplinary exercise it has much to offer historians who confront absence and contradictions in their research on slavery and race…. Cervenak strikes an effective balance as she lucidly examines black authors’ work even as she honors what they do not say or show as an act of resistance.” — Rachel Hooper, Journal of Southern History

"[I]t became increasingly clear that even if Cervenak's text does not have musical references as works cited, this does not mean that the text does not swing, as sponsored by a summer breeze. Therefore, fully aware of the forthcoming holiday season, perhaps what the text encourages you, its muse, to do, albeit (a)religiously, is to wonder as you wander . . ." — I. Augustus Durham, New Black Man (in Exile)

"A valuable contribution to studies of mobility, Wandering is particularly well-suited for readers interested in black feminist theory, philosophy, performance studies, and intellectual history."  — Michael Ra-shon Hall, Transfers

"Cervenak's timely account, at a juncture when the movement of black bodies is restricted, pathologized, criminalized, and relentlessly subject to police violence, both expands the meaning of wandering . . . and situates the workings of the current 'antiwandering laws and acts' within a historico-philosophical framework wherein wandering is associated with the racialized Other." — Fulden Ibrahimhakkioglu, History: Reviews of New Books

"Woven throughout Wandering is an understanding of the stakes of a project that thinks into being black life worlds. While hashtags such as #sayhername, #blacklivesmatter, and #fergusonsyllabus have emerged as performative black life words since the book’s publication in 2014, Cervenak’s writing is underscored by a critique of the antiblack violence that takes place daily in the United States." — Katherine Brewer Ball, Women & Performance

"Cervenak’s scholarship is an important contribution to performance theory in its unwavering focus on the idea that mental, spiritual, and kinesthetic wandering for black bodies are resistant acts, which, visible or invisible, prove dangerous and pleasurable in complex ways, yet always propel black bodies toward freedom." — Kristyl Dawn Tift, Theatre Journal

"Cervenak’s attention to that which can neither be known nor discredited but is perhaps implied and discerned—the meandering, otherworldly thoughts of freedom produced by black subjects—is intriguing and important." — Jennifer DeVere Brody, Signs

"Intellectually ambitious and beautifully written, Sarah Jane Cervenak’s Wandering is a timely contribution to interdisciplinary scholarship on the opaque powers of Black expressive culture." — Erin Gray, GLQ

"The rigorous turns and supple overturnings in Wandering illuminate and extend meditative resistance to the racial and sexual pathologization of the irregular, antiregulative, social, and aesthetic movement animating the history of black thought. Sarah Jane Cervenak's devoted study of the disruption of linearity, from David Walker to Gayl Jones, from Harriet Jacobs to William Pope.L challenges and allows us to understand that the errand of blackness is a wandering whose origin and end are dislocation, where the new thing awaits." — Fred Moten, author of B Jenkins

"There’s much to admire in Wandering. Sarah Jane Cervenak powerfully speaks to the value of daydreaming as a space of unrestricted movement. Her attention to temporality, to the sonic, and to gesture produces powerful new insights that will make this an important text for philosophy, Black Studies, performance studies, queer studies, and African American studies."
— Christina Sharpe, author of Monstrous Intimacies: Making Post-Slavery Subjects


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Price: $25.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Sarah Jane Cervenak is Assistant Professor of Women's and Gender Studies and African American Studies at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

1. Losing Their Heads: Race, Sexuality, and the Perverse Moves of the European Enlightenment 24

2. Crooked Ways and Weak Pens: The Enactment of Enlightenment against Slavery 59

3. Writing under a Spell: Adrienne Kennedy's Theater 95

4. "I Am an African American Novel": Wandering as Noncompliance in Gayl Jones's Mosquito 122

Conclusion. "Before I Was Straightened Out" 145

Notes 173

Bibliography 197

Index 209
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5727-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5715-5
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