13/13 | W.E.B. Du Bois, Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this session of Critique 13/13 was suspended. Please read the final introduction and epilogue to the Critique 13/13 series.

Professors Brandon Terry and Bernard E. Harcourt

read and discuss

Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil by W.E.B. Du Bois

at Columbia University

Wednesday, April 29, 2020  

6:15 – 8:45 pm


The COVID-19 pandemic hit us in New York City like a Mack truck. Only a few days earlier, we were packing ourselves into Buell Hall, assembling over a hundred guests into that narrow space, cheek-to-cheek, to discuss Hannah Arendt, then traveling to Yale to meet even more colleagues to dialogue and break bread over Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason. A few days later, we were isolating and confining ourselves, in solitary, under stay-at-home orders to cease all physical contact.

Many of us took on new roles and invented new ways of trying to be helpful and assist others in need. Some of us fell ill and struggled through the pain and fever. Others lost friends or family to the virus and had to suffer alone, almost in silence. The fear of contaminating others—especially the most vulnerable, the elderly, the incarcerated, those at risk—prevented many of us from volunteering in the ways we had known before and forced us to become creative.

The pandemic quickly reaffirmed everything we know about our society and its inequalities, injustices, and failures. It confirmed everything we suspected about precarity and the lack of universal health care, about who is truly vulnerable in our society, about the hidden interests of our leaders. We knew all that. The pandemic just confirmed it—as the Great Recession of 2008 had years before.

The pandemic also forced us to confront what we had been doing before. Our calendars wiped clean, many of us had to reckon with our previous engagements and an entirely new way of being. Forced to stay inside, in isolation, we had no choice but to reflect on what we would have done with our time—and what meaning it all had.

For many of us, the experience was disorienting. In many ways, it destabilized us. In some ways, it helped us see more clearly. Please join us in critically reflecting on these times. We have posted final essays to Critique 13/13, listed on the top right of this page. We invite you to think with us through this time of pandemic and confinement.

[Read full Introduction here.  © Bernard E. Harcourt.]