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Courtney Baker

Associate Professor of American Studies


  • Office: Swan Hall #337
  • Office Hours: W 1:30 pm - 3:30 pm and by appointment

Education: B.A., Harvard University; M.A., Ph.D., Duke University

Courtney Baker is Associate Professor of American Studies at Occidental College. She teaches courses in visual culture, critical theory, film, and African-American literature. She is the author of HUMANE INSIGHT: LOOKING AT IMAGES OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN SUFFERING AND DEATH and is at work on a new book, entitled DISOBEDIENT CINEMA: TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY BLACK FILM AND THE TYRANNY OF REALISM.


  • The E-Snuff of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile

    Avidly (A Los Angeles Review of Books Channel)
    July 2016

    The murders of these two Black men ask us, yet again, to think about the experience of seeing and hearing Black death. 

  • "The Grift of Death?: The Ethics of Murder Narratives"

    March 2016

    The death sentence signifies a discrete bounding of the metaphysical condition known as living. The term references both grammar and narration. As a grammatical suggestion, death indicates the point where living comes to a full-stop. Narratologically, by contrast, death frequently generates stories, giving birth to reconstructions of the scene of the crime and the moments that led up to it. Narratives based on real, fatal crimes invite us to consider the ethics of storytelling. 
    Jaques Derrida’s discussions of sacrifice (The Gift of Death) and of the ethical responsibility that the living owe the dead (Specters of Marx) point us toward theorizing narrative in terms of an economy of ethics. With respect to true crime narratives, we must ask, is the surviving text—in part the product of Others’ deaths—the profit of unethical narration?
    Focusing on Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and Toni Morrison’s Jazz, this essay discusses the ethics of authorship, the justice of narrative, and the im/material bodies who haunt crime narratives. This essay considers whether the creative license that the novels take with the facts constitute a second-order crime, an injustice against the victims whose violent demise occasioned the writing. It asks crucial questions about our complicity in the pleasure of murder and about the ethical responsibilities of both writers and readers to the actually-dead.

  • Humane Insight Looking at Images of African American Suffering and Death

    University of Illinois Press (New Black Studies Series)
    September 2015

    In the history of black America, the image of the mortal, wounded, and dead black body has long been looked at by others from a safe distance. Courtney Baker questions the relationship between the spectator and victim and urges viewers to move beyond the safety of the "gaze" to cultivate a capacity for humane insight toward representations of human suffering. Utilizing the visual studies concept termed the "look," Baker interrogates how the notion of humanity was articulated and recognized in oft-referenced moments within the African American experience: the graphic brutality of the 1834 Lalaurie affair; the photographic exhibition of lynching, Without Sanctuary; Emmett Till's murder and funeral; and the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. Contemplating these and other episodes, Baker traces how proponents of black freedom and dignity used the visual display of violence against the black body to galvanize action against racial injustice.

  • Sandra Bland's Face

    Avidly (A Los Angeles Review of Books Channel)
    August 2015

    A contemplation of the mixed and paradoxical narratives perceived in the images of Sandra Bland.

  • A Sense of Outrage

    Huffington Post Black Voices
    July 2015

    A consideration of the work of outrage and its transformation into a movement through the examples of Black Lives Matter and the illegal hunting of a lion in Zimbabwe.

  • Oak Creek Blues

    New Black MAN (in Exile)
    August 2012
  • Project iPad

    New Black MAN (in Exile)
    July 2012
  • Emmett Till, Justice, and the Task of Recognition

    Journal of American Culture
    June 2006
  • "Shooting the Angel in the House: Corinne May Botz' Photographs"

    Art Papers