Scripturalizing Modernities Through Black Flesh
A Pitts Theology Library Digital Exhibition Curated by Dr. Vincent L. Wimbush
y name is Vincent Wimbush. I am a scholar of religion, with a transdisciplinary focus on and orientation to “scriptures” conceptualized and engaged not as texts (at least not flatly or in the traditional sense) but as shorthand for complex dynamics, practices, psycho-cultural politics in, the modern world. In the Pitts Library Exhibition of the Candler School of Theology, Emory University, which I here announce and invite you to experience this fall, I should like with this sort of focus and orientation to throw light on how our reality is produced, ordered, and naturalized through a provocative focus on how we produce and make use of “scriptures” as cultural discourses and media. This means seeing scriptures as reflective of the basic “play-element” in/as culture, as rites, performances, and their varied veiling and unveiling operations and effects—thus, “Masquerade” as the main title of the Exhibition and as part of the focus of my related lecture and panels of scholars. In order to help us see more clearly how reality is masqueraded, is made up and maintained, the Exhibition takes up the freighted phenomenon of Race/Racialization/Racism as arguably the most complex and persistent vector or transporter of the modern. Race/Racialization/Racism is focused particularly but not exclusively on Black flesh--as powerful and disturbing and intensive impulse for or driver of the production and arrangement of modernities, for the structure or order of all things, including the making/unmaking of the modern Order of Things--what I call “scripturalization” (and the related phenomena “scripturalizing,” “scripturalism,” “scripturalectics”). Examination of how scripturalization works and what has propelled it is examined through focus on the persistent (hyper)signification of Black flesh. The sharpness of this focus is facilitated by the window opened by a late eighteenth century English-speaking/-writing ex-slave—we know him most popularly as Olaudah Equiano—in his telling of his own “interesting,” complex life story, published in 1789. This narrative is used throughout the Exhibition in order to stress some of the major workings and resultant implications and ramifications of the scripturalization of Black flesh for the construction of and responses to, and refractions of, modernities, the realities in which we all are imbedded (even if experienced in different times, types of bodies, and positionalities). I hope that as you experience the Exhibition you are provoked toward further thinking and conversation about how all of us have been formed, with what consequences, and what challenges are ahead for us.