Hugo ka Canham: Riotous Deathscapes through the Watchful Ocean

Hugo ka Canham and book cover

Presented by the Program in Critical Theory, the Series in Black / Africana Critical Theory stages a slow sequence of conversations across Africana Studies, Black Study, and Critical Theory. Rather than a form of triangulation that aims at resolution, the series stays with tension across these lines of thought, in provisional forms of critical contemplation that might help us meet our current condition. Seminars center on open discussion of a recently published or pre-circulated piece.

This seminar centers on Hugo ka Canham’s Riotous Deathscapes.

Hugo ka Canham is a Professor at the Institute for Social and Health Sciences, University of South Africa. He thinks along the fault lines of Black studies, African feminism, African queer theorisations, and a planetary perspective. He is invested in dismantling the binaries between the human and the natural, multispecies world, within an emerging transdisciplinary rubric of Black Planetary Studies. His latest book, Riotous Deathscapes is published by Duke University Press and copublished by Wits University Press. He is working on a book provisionally titled Treading Queer Waters.

In Riotous Deathscapes, Hugo ka Canham presents an understanding of life and death based on indigenous and black ways of knowing that he terms Mpondo theory. Focusing on amaMpondo people from rural Mpondoland, in South Africa’s Eastern Cape, Canham outlines the methodologies that have enabled the community’s resilience and survival. He assembles historical events and a cast of ancestral and living characters, following the tenor of village life, to offer a portrait of how Mpondo people live and die in the face of centuries of abandonment, trauma, antiblackness, and death. Canham shows that Mpondo theory is grounded in and develops in relation to the natural world, where the river and hill are key sites of being and resistance. Central too, is the interface between ancestors and the living, in which life and death become a continuity and a boundlessness that white supremacy and neoliberalism cannot interdict. By charting a course of black life in Mpondoland, Canham tells a story of blackness on the African continent and beyond.

This event is presented in collaboration with the Center for African Studies, the Center for Race and Gender, the Department of African American Studies, the Department of Comparative Literature, the Department of English, the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies, the Department of Geography, the Department of Political Science, the Department of Rhetoric, the Department of Sociology, the Institute for International Studies, the Irving Stone Chair in Literature, the Marion E. Koshland Chair in the Humanities, the Office of the Dean of the Social Science Division, the Rachel Anderson Stageberg Chair in English, the Social Science Matrix, and the Townsend Center for the Humanities.

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