Aesthetics and Liberation: I wish I knew how it would feel to be free

Dates: 23 & 30 April, 7 & 28 May, 4 & 11 June 2024 (17:00-18:30 hrs)
Location: Leiden University
Instructor: Lieks Hettinga
Credits: 5 ECTS
Registration: see below, via teacher

In a documentary by Peter Rodis (1970), Nina Simone is asked what freedom means to her, and she considers the question with serious reflection: “It’s just a feeling, it’s just a feeling.” Becoming more animated, she says: “I’ll tell you what freedom is to me: no fear. I mean really, no fear. It is something to really feel. Like a new way of seeing. A new way of seeing something.” In providing answers to the questions raised by herself in her 1967 song, I wish I knew how it would feel to be free, Nina Simone describes freedom as an ephemeral sensation, as well as a desire for, and practice of, living without fear. This course takes cue from how Nina Simone locates freedom in sensations and new ways of seeing, attuning us to the role of aesthetics in the practice of liberation.

In today’s context, vocabularies of liberation and freedom are tricky to navigate given how they have been co-opted by far-right politics. Moreover, within the Global North, ‘liberation’ might call to mind social movements of a different era – black liberation, gay and lesbian liberation, or transgender liberation – obscuring how liberation remains central to contemporary struggles. It is precisely the desire for radical transformation and for a different way of feeling and seeing that might help us address the deadlocks of assimilation and commodification of justice movements. This course will explore the continuing value of liberation and freedom for critical thinking and practice today. What would it mean to engage liberation and freedom over ‘inclusion’ or ‘equality’? And can ‘liberation’ open transformative registers that allow us to circumvent the dialectic discussion of rights vs. justice? We will explore what freedom and liberation mean in genealogies of critical theory and artistic practice that offer a critique to, and/or an alternative from, how these terms have been central to the violences of white liberalism.

The sessions will primarily draw on literature emerging from black studies, queer theory, transgender studies, and aesthetic theory. Authors whose work we will engage with include: José Esteban Muñoz, Robin Kelley, Angela Davis, Leslie Feinberg, Saidiya Hartman, Orlando Patterson, Joshua Chambers-Letson, Elizabeth Anker, Alexander Weheliye, Fred Moten, C. Riley Snorton, Lauren Berlant, Cameron Awkward-Rich, and Elizabeth Povinelli. Each session will also bring artworks into conversation that bring black, queer, and trans aesthetics to bear on the question of freedom and liberation.

Registration and deadline:
This course is open to advanced RMA students and PhD candidates.
In order to register, please send a short motivation (100 words) to teacher Lieks Hettinga:
Also indicate your RMA (or PhD) programma & university and to which Research School you’re affiliated.
The deadline for this is: Friday April 5, 2024.