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Stefani Engelstein: Divisive Affect, Loyalty, and National Cohesion: Du Bois contra Wagner
November 18, 2022 @ 9:30 am - 11:00 am
Please join the Franklin Humanities Institute for its Friday morning series, tgiFHI! tgiFHI gives Duke faculty in the humanities, interpretative social sciences, and arts the opportunity to present their current research to their departmental [and interdepartmental] colleagues, students, and other interlocutors in their fields.
The divisive affect at the center of contemporary debates on teaching the history of race relations in the US was also theorized by several European theorists of thelate nineteenth through early twentieth century as problematic for social cohesion, including Richard Wagner, Ernest Renan, and Georg Simmel. This talk will explore W.E.B. Du Bois’s engagement with theories of loyalty, ignorance, and national unity, which he draws from these thinkers. Du Bois’s amiration of the power of Wagner’s operas, in particular, has long puzzled scholars. Recognizing Du Bois’s critique of Lohengrin, most clearly evidenced in the short story “The Coming of John” within The Souls of Black Folk, requires first subjecting the opera’s emphasis on loyalty and ignorance to new analysis. In dialogue with Wagner, Du Bois’s story illuminates forms of affective transmission beyond the epistemological that manifest themselves in violent cycles of repetition resistant to the influence of knowledge. While Du Bois here also employs methods, themselves repurposed from Wagner, to reclaim time from the violent cycles of repetition he documents, education emerges as inadequate to the task.