Radiclani Clytus Assistant Professor of English and American Studies

Clytus is an Assistant Professor of English, specializing in nineteenth-century (African) American cultural productions. He has received fellowships from the American Antiquarian Society, New-York Historical Society, and Library Company of Philadelphia. He is the editor of Blue Notes: Essays, Interviews, and Commentaries (University of Michigan, 2000), a compilation of prose works by Yusef Komunyakaa, and is the author of articles on nineteenth-century circum-Atlantic visual culture. His forthcoming book, Graphic Slavery: American Abolitionism and the Primacy of the Visual (New York University Press), examines the ocularcentric roots of American anti-slavery rhetoric.

Brown Affiliations

scholarly work

Graphic Slavery: American Abolitionism and the Primacy of the Visual. Under contract: New York University Press.

Condition Red: Essays, Interviews, and Commentaries by Yusef Komunyakaa. Editor. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Forthcoming 2016.

“Visualizing in Black Print: The Brooklyn Correspondence of William J. Wilson Aka ‘Ethiop.’” J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists. (Accepted pending revisions).

“The Music and Musical Inheritances of Slavery.” The Cambridge Companion to Slavery in American Literature. Ed. Ezra Tawil. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Forthcoming 2016. 

“Phenomenal Listening: The Art of Jason Moran.”  Callaloo: A Journal of African Diaspora Arts and Letters. Forthcoming Spring 2016.

“Freedom Comes In A Box: Reflections on the National Museum of African American History and Culture.” Callaloo: Art & Culture in the African Diaspora. 38.3, 2015.   

“Paying Dues and Playing the Blues: Baldwin’s Existential Jazz.” The Cambridge Companion to James Baldwin. Ed. Michele Elam. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015. 

Django Unchained: A Review,” Commom-place.org. Vol. 13. No. 4.5, September 2013. 

"'KEEP IT BEFORE THE PEOPLE': Devotional Sentiment and the Pictorialization of American Slavery." Early African American Print Culture in Theory and Practice. Eds. Lara Langer Cohen and Jordan Alexander Stein. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012.

"At Home in England: Black Imagery Across the Atlantic." Black Victorians: Black People in British Art 1800-1900. Ed. Jan Marsh. London: Lund Humphries, 2005.

Blue Notes: Essays, Interviews, and Commentaries by Yusef Komunyakaa. Editor. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000.

research overview

Radiclani Clytus's research and teaching interests include nineteenth- and twentieth-century (African) American literature and visual culture, history of the book, and literary theory.

research statement

My current book project, Graphic Slavery: American Abolitionism and the Primacy of the Visual (New York University Press) is an interdisciplinary investigation into why American evangelical abolitionism relied so readily on visual media. My manuscript looks both at and beyond the iconography of the printed page in order to reveal how enlightenment era sensibilities such as Adam Smith's concept of spectatorial sympathy and the West's scientific regard for empirical observation helped to facilitate the American Anti-Slavery Society's (AASS) vested interest in pictorial propaganda. Through a consideration of the AASS's 1835 pamphlet campaign and a variety of related texts that touch upon the subject of American slavery, including transatlantic travel narratives, antislavery lectures, illustrated ephemera and moving panoramas, I examine those ideological and material conditions which contributed to the AASS's presumption that "the eye" was indeed "an avenue to the nation's heart and conscience." I especially argue that abolitionists of the AASS readily exploited the metaphysics of vision common to many discourses throughout the period.

My second project, tentatively titled Old Media New Artists: Close Encounters With Black Modernity, proposes an alternative account of black avant-garde poetics within literature, music, and the visual arts. I argue that, from "Negro" to "Black" to "African American," black cultural productions have been unremittingly retrofitted to accommodate the social and political consensus necessitated by racial naming. But while this system of classification has enabled the institutional stature of black arts and letters, I also posit that it has impeded our critical apprehension of those artists for whom race functions as a speculative trope. To this end, Old Media New Artists will examine the ways in which black moderns (such as William J. Wilson, Jean Toomer, Arna Bontemps, Norman Mailer, James Badwin, David Henry Hwang, Harryette Mullen, Terrance Hayes, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Rammellzee, Kara Walker, and Jason Moran) establish new epistemic regimes of knowing that rely at once on the recognition and disavowal of racial meaning.

As a multi-media supplement to Old Media New Artists I am co-directing a feature-length documentary, titled Grammar, about jazz pianist and MacArthur Award winner Jason Moran. Since January 2011, filmmakers Gregg Conde, Tony Gannon, and I have been documenting Moran's rehearsals and performances in order to reveal the ways in which the inherently improvisational and amorphous nature of jazz music configures the language of creative and artistic expression. Because much of Moran's ongoing oeuvre blurs the boundaries between jazz, rap, and performance art, our documentary will not only explain how his eclectic style of playing is informed by his coming of age during the emergence of electro music, 80's funk, house, M-Base, and the culture of hip hop but it will also demonstrate how Moran's hybrid sense of musicality portends a foundational shift in how we define jazz music. Coincidentally, Grammar purports that jazz never truly ceased to be America's most popular art form. Rather, like its kindred genres soul and funk, it merely migrated into the genetic structure of hip hop music through the inventive practices of sampling and beat making.

funded research

N/A