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Anthony Obst

PhD Candidate

Lansstraße 5-9
14195 Berlin


2019 –

PhD Candidate

Graduate School of North American Studies, Freie Universität Berlin

2016 – 2018

M.A. North American Studies

Thesis: “Drums of Haiti: Black Radical Literary Representations of the Haitian Revolution in the 1930s”

John-F.-Kennedy Institute, Freie Universität Berlin

2008 – 2011

B.A. American Studies / German Literature

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin



Honorable Mention: Willi-Paul-Adams-Preis


Rocco Clein Preis für Musikjournalismus

Between Hope and Despair: Abolition and Timely Affect in Black Radical Retrospective Texts of the 1930s (dissertation project)

Dissertation in Culture

Mentoring team:
First supervisor: Prof. Dr. Frank Kelleter
Second supervisor: Prof. Dr. Martin Lüthe
Third supervisor: Dr. Herman Bennett

My dissertation project is a cultural history of how African American writers in the 1930s theorized the abolition of slavery as an unfinished project. The long Depression decade in the United States saw a proliferation of literary and historiographical engagements with the history of slavery and the resistance to it, which often served as critiques of their present. Texts like W. E. B. Du Bois’s historical study Black Reconstruction (1935), Marvel Cooke and Ella Baker’s reporting on “The Bronx Slave Market” (1935), and Langston Hughes’s dramatic and essayistic writing on Haiti and Scottsboro thus confronted what Saidiya Hartman would 60 years later call “the ambivalent legacy of emancipation” (1997, 12). Grouping these texts – loosely – under the rubric of retrospective texts, I approach them – broadly – through the lens of affect: How does the past feel in these texts and how does the future feel in relation to this past? In approaching these questions, I outline the contours of a structure of feelings as it takes shape in what Cedric Robinson has described as the formative period of Black Marxism (1983). More precisely, I take this to be a structure of what I call timely affect: affect related to time, and affect of an opportune moment. While the Depression Era in the United States marks a period in which “the weight of history” (Slaby 2020) as unfolding crisis is felt intensely and at times despairingly, this crisis for capitalism also offers a renewed sense of hope for a radical reconstruction of social, political, and economic relations. Drawing on the theory and praxis of twenty-first century abolitionists like Angela Davis, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Avery Gordon, and Dylan Rodríguez, I propose to read this as an abolitionist structure of feelings. Analytically, this structure identifies the persistence of racial capitalism’s carceral logics, processes, and institutions in the aftermath of formal emancipation. I argue that abolition as a dialectical structure of timely affect registers a despairing sense of the weight of history as an ongoing force in the present, but refuses the logic of closure, interpreting the future instead as radically open.


"Ceremony Found: Sylvia Wynter’s Hybrid Human and Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony.” aspeers 12, 2019, pp. 77–96.

“Take Care: Drake als Vorbote einer inklusiven Männlichkeit im Rap des Internetzeitalters.” Rap im 21. Jahrhundert: Eine (Sub-)Kultur im Wandel. Ed. Marc Dietrich. Transcript, 2016, pp. 55–80.

Conference Papers

07/2021, International Graduate Conference, Graduate School of North American Studies, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany

Paper: "'Without Force of Police': W. E. B. Du Bois's Abolition Democracy in Dusk of Dawn"

06/2021, Affective Societies Workshop with Tyrone Palmer, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany

Paper: "Pr(e/o)positions Alongside Negativity" (co-authored with Jasón Bustos, Henrike Kohpeiß, Matthew James Milbourne, Christian Schwinghammer, and Claas Oberstadt)

04/2021, European Association of American Studies Conference, University of Warsaw, Poland

Paper: "Dusk or Dawn? Affective Relations to Temporality in W. E. B. Du Bois’s Depression-Era Theory of History"

03/2020, European Social Science History Conference, Leiden University, Netherlands (Postponed)

Paper: "Radical Despair in the 1930s: Troubled Responses to America’s Unfinished 19th-Century Revolutions"

10/2019, Symposium African American Worldmaking in the Long Nineteenth Century,” Universität Potsdam, Germany

Paper: "The Long Nineteenth Century and Long Emancipation: Black Radical Tragic Worldmaking in the Wake of the Haitian Revolution"

02/2017, Configurations of the Black Atlantic: Interdisciplinary Symposium at the JFKI, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany

Paper: "Black Atlantic Politics of Representation in the Music of Dean Blunt"

Dahlem Research School
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft