Tina PostApr 12, 2023
The Aesthetics of Black Inexpression
New York University Press 2023
Explores expressionlessness, inscrutability, and emotional withholding in Black cultural production.
Arguing that inexpression is a gesture that acquires distinctive meanings in concert with blackness, Deadpan: The Aesthetics of Black Inexpression (NYU Press, 2023) tracks instances and meanings of deadpan—a vaudeville term meaning “dead face”—across literature, theater, visual and performance art, and the performance of self in everyday life. Tina Post reveals that the performance of purposeful withholding is a critical tool in the work of black culture makers, intervening in the persistent framing of African American aesthetics as colorful, loud, humorous, and excessive. Beginning with the expressionless faces of mid-twentieth-century documentary photography and proceeding to early twenty-first-century drama, this project examines performances of blackness’s deadpan aesthetic within and beyond black embodiments, including Young Jean Lee’s The Shipment and Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s Neighbors, as well as Buster Keaton’s signature character and Steve McQueen’s restitution of the former’s legacy within the continuum of Black cultural production. Through this varied archive, Post reveals how deadpan aesthetics function in and between opacity and fugitivity, minimalism and saturation, excess and insensibility.
Brittney Edmonds is an Assistant Professor of Afro-American Studies at UW-Madison. I specialize in 20th and 21st century African American Literature and Culture with a special interest in Black Humor Studies. Read more about my work at brittneymichelleedmonds.com.