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Blackness Unmoored: Relational Ethics and Aesthetics in Stromae’s “Formidable”

February 7, 2018 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm

Daphne Lamothe

Speaker: Dr. Daphne Lamothe, Ph.D.

Sometimes no bridging is possible; all you can do is hold what is incommensurate. This is one of the most fundamental lessons of black life, as well as in Black Studies. In this presentation, Dr. Lamothe will advance a theory of “blackness unmoored” through an analysis of the lyrics and music video for the song, “Formidable” by Stromae. Lamothe will invoke the metaphor of unmooring to convey the disorientation, and reorientation, of the subject who navigates contending social spaces, racial formations, and orientations to history. The musical and visual registers of Stromae’s text captures both the melancholy and potentiality of the subject who is racially othered and unhomed. Its portrayal of the African “stranger” set adrift in the European Union’s capital bears witness to the subject’s profound humanity, as well as to the material and psychic violence inflicted by structures founded on ideas of black nonbeing.

“Formidable” depicts, without attempting to resolve, these irreconcilable aspects of the self. The thematic and conceptual insights within Stromae’s music and performances illustrate some of the ways the global post-soul aesthetic approaches the challenges of representing blackness and black subjects. Post-soul art wrestles with the gaps and linkages between collective histories of racial subjection, and black life in the present era, characterized by heterogeneity, hybridity, and dispersal. This is the context in which Stromae’s figuration of migratory subject and an urban contact zone appears and functions as an occasion for exploring the shifting meanings of blackness at the turn of a new millennium.

Lastly, Lamothe will place critical discussions of the ethics and aesthetics of “post-soul” in conversation with theories of relational aesthetics to the formal and conceptual ingenuity of artists and authors who mediate on the relation of socially-scripted narratives of blackness to individual experiences of capacious being and becoming.

Daphne Lamothe is the 2017-2018 Humanities Writ Large visiting faculty fellow at Duke University. Lamothe is an associate professor of Africana Studies at Smith College where she teaches literature and cultural studies. Lamothe publishes on poetics and politics of space and place in Black Atlantic literatures and culture. In Lamothe forthcoming book, “Blackness, Being and Event” she examines ontological, phenomenological, and relational ideas of blackness in contemporary narratives of immigrant urbanity. Lamothe’s “Inventing the New Negro: Narrative, Culture, and Ethnography” (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008) was the 2009 runner-up for the MLA’s William Sanders Scarborough Prize.

This event is presented by the John Hope Franklin Center, and the Humanities Writ Large program. A light lunch will be served. Parking is available in nearby Trent Rd. and Erwin Rd. parking decks. The series provides 1 hour parking vouchers to guests.


February 7, 2018
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
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Catherine Angst


Ahmadieh Family Conference Hall
2204 Erwin Rd. Room 240
Durham, NC 27708 United States
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