These essays, written over more than thirty years of Vincent L. Wimbush’s career as a scholar, provide a response to the nearly universal, persistent, and sedimented modern-world hyper-signification of Black flesh, always needing to be framed, humiliated, policed, and dirtied. Because Wimbush is a scholar of religion as culture—having to do with social practices and their psycho-politics as regimes of knowledge, discourse, formation, and power relations—his ex-centric transdisciplinary interest in scriptures has been viewed, in some circles, as controversial. Yet it is Wimbush’s linkage of the modern hyper-signification of Black flesh—leading to racialization and racism, especially anti-Black racism—to the scriptural as shorthand for discourse and relations of power that makes this work compelling.
Vincent L. Wimbush is an internationally recognized scholar of religion, with more than thirty years of professional teaching, research, and scholarly organizational program experience. He is founding director of The Institute for Signifying Scriptures, a forum for transdisciplinary research, conversation, and programming.
Introduction: Cursus Fugae: Frenzied Soundings and Threatening Gestures; or, the Making of an Undisciplined/Black-Fleshed Maroon
Part I. Contemptus Mundi; or, Hōs Mē: Initiation into a Discursive Formation
1.Contemptus Mundi: Social Power of an Ancient Rhetorics and Worldview (1992)
2.Ascetic Behavior and Color-ful Language: Stories About Ethiopian Moses (1992)
3.Not of This World: Early Christianities as Rhetorical and Social Formation (1996)
4.Like a Ship that’s Tossed and Driven: The Ascetics of Social Formation (2001)
5.Contemptus Mundi: The Dialectics of Modern Formation
Part II. “Hitting a Lick With a Crooked Stick”; Or, Reading Darkness, Reading Scriptures: Oblique Critique of the Discursive Formation
6.Reading Darkness, Reading Scriptures: African Americans and the Bible—A Disturbing Conjunction and a Defiant Question (2000)
7.“Naturally Veiled and Half Articulate”: Scriptures, Modernity, and the Formation of African America (2008)
8.“No modern Joshua”: Nationalization, Scriptures, and Race (2009)
10.Per-forming Scriptures: Text(ure)s of African Diaspora Formation (2020)
Part III. Signifying (on) Scriptures; Or, Reading Textures, Gestures, Power: Efforts at Re-orientation and Re-formation within the Veil of Formation
11.The Work We Make Scriptures Do for Us: An Argument for Signifying (on) Scriptures as Intellectual Project (2010)
12.Scripturalization: A Theory of the Politics of Language (2015)
13.From Being Framed to Selling Shadows
15. White Men’s Fetish: The Black Atlantic Reads King James (2015)
16. The Name the Peckerwoods Gave It: St. Paul’s Holy Spiritual Temple and the Scriptural Formation of the Black Atlantic
Written in collaboration with Rosamond C. Rodman
17.“We Will Make Our Own Future Text”: A Proposal for an Alternate Interpretive Orientation (2007)
18.Meditation on Disruption (2018)
Part IV. “I’m Buildin’ Me a Home,” Or, “[I] Had to Run”: Expansive and Safe Space for “Composing” the Human
19.Scriptures: Fathoming a Complex Social-Cultural Phenomenon (2004)
20.Escape: The Launch of the Independent Institute for Signifying Scriptures (2014)
21.“I Wish [We] Knew How it Would Feel to be Free”: The Subjunctive Mood (2016)
22.“If the president does it…it’s not illegal…”: The Modern Nation/State as the Scriptural (2017)
23.“They’re Ruining the Game”: (Mis)Readers of the Nation-State (2018)
24.“Who Counts?”: Classification as Scripturalization (2019)
25.Scriptures, Race, Nation: Thinking Through Our Mystifications
26.Religion as the Scriptural: Or, the Mimeticization of Reality
27.Scripturalization as Violence
28.“Backgrounded by Savagery”: Black Flesh as Scripture
Afterword: Mr. George Floyd—American Scripture
Black Flesh Matters: Essays in Runagate Interpretation, a pathbreaking collection of essays, advocates a style of biblical criticism inspired by “the world of the Black vernacular and vernacular-sensitive scholarly criticism.” It is a must-read, and not only for anyone interested in emancipatory biblical interpretation. I highly recommend it!
In the introduction to this collection of 30 years of writings and reflections, Vincent Wimbush says he invites readers to ‘travel back’ with him. I object. He is not inviting us ‘back’ to anything. He is passionately demanding that we keep running with him. This is the better metaphor: Running, like music, produces diverse effects. Some readers will be mortified by what Wimbush writes. I am hopefully terrified and, like Wimbush, aim to continue to keep myself fit and ready to run. We all need to run.
Black Flesh Matters delivers a powerful intellectual framework for the first solid way forward since the alleged American freedom from slavery 170 years ago. It provides clear and deep paths beyond American tragedy, if we can take it in. Vincent Wimbush’s previous books created the big picture. This new book brings together undaunted reckoning with the horror of American slavery, a clear portrait of how scripturalizing can make ‘our own future,’ and an extraordinary compiling of African American insight and imagination from the past 400 years.
Vincent Wimbush’s new book, a dazzling compendium of essays both new and not so new, fairly scorches the hands that turns its pages. Taken as a whole, the arguments focus on the profound necessity to create a new canonical formation of the meanings and mandates of being African American. The call to action by Dr. Wimbush, a consummate scholar, draws on an enormously wide-ranging referential landscape, from his own academic research in classical sacred texts to the immediacy of discourse by contemporary global writers, artists, musicians, and social critics. His book is a significant life work to which he brings a Black scholar’s brilliance and passion, and from which his readers cannot turn away unscathed.