Fred Moten - Blackness and Nothingness

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The South Atlantic Quarterly

The South Atlantic Quarterly 112:4, Fall 2013 112:4, Fall 2013 ���

��� 10.1215/0038287610.1215/00382876-2345261 -2345261 © © 2013 2013 Duke Duke University University PressPress

Fred Moten

Fred Moten

Blackness and

Blackness and Nothingnes

Nothingness

s

(Mysticism in the Flesh)

(Mysticism in the Flesh)

Just Friends Just Friends

I

I

n the past decade, the most exciting and gen-n the past decade, the most exciting and gen-erative advance in black critical theory, which is erative advance in black critical theory, which is to say critical theory, is the announcement and to say critical theory, is the announcement and enactment of Afro-pessimism in the work of enactment of Afro-pessimism in the work of Frank B. Wilderson III and Jared Sexton. Black Frank B. Wilderson III and Jared Sexton. Black study such as theirs refreshes lines of rigorously study such as theirs refreshes lines of rigorously antidisciplinary in(ter)vention, effecting antidisciplinary in(ter)vention, effecting intellec-tual renewal against academic sterility. When tual renewal against academic sterility. When wardens of established disciplines and advocates wardens of established disciplines and advocates of interdisciplinary reform fight to secure depleted of interdisciplinary reform fight to secure depleted sovereignty in and over the same depleted real sovereignty in and over the same depleted real estate—whose value increases as its estate—whose value increases as its desertifica-tion progresses

tion progresses; whose value is set ; whose value is set by the new by the new mas- mas-ters of another form of what Thomas Jefferson ters of another form of what Thomas Jefferson called silent profit—and when note of this false called silent profit—and when note of this false alternative is taken by those who offer nothing alternative is taken by those who offer nothing but a c

but a critique of the very idea of a trritique of the very idea of a true one, Wilderue one, Wilder- -son and Sexton keep on pushing over the edge of son and Sexton keep on pushing over the edge of refusal, driven by a visionary impetus their work refusal, driven by a visionary impetus their work requires and allows us to try to see and hear and requires and allows us to try to see and hear and feel. This essay is dedicated to Sexton’s and feel. This essay is dedicated to Sexton’s and Wilder-son’s work, out of love for the common project, out son’s work, out of love for the common project, out of love for such rigorous devotion to the common of love for such rigorous devotion to the common project, out of love for black people, out of love for project, out of love for black people, out of love for

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738 The The South South Atlantic Atlantic QuarterlyQuarterly ••  Fall 2013  Fall 2013

blackness. I have thought long and hard, in the wake of their work, in a kind blackness. I have thought long and hard, in the wake of their work, in a kind of echo of Bob Marley’s question, about whether blackness could be loved; of echo of Bob Marley’s question, about whether blackness could be loved; there seems to be a growing consensus that ana

there seems to be a growing consensus that analytic precision does not allowlytic precision does not allow for such a flight of fancy, such romance, but I remain under the impression, for such a flight of fancy, such romance, but I remain under the impression, and devoted to the impressio

and devoted to the impression, that anan, that analytic precision is, in factlytic precision is, in fact, a fu, a function ofnction of such fancy. And t

such fancy. And this, perhaps, is where the tension cohis, perhaps, is where the tension comes, whermes, where it is and we it is and willill remain, not in spite of the love but in it, embedded in its difficulty and remain, not in spite of the love but in it, embedded in its difficulty and vio-lence, no

lence, not in tt in the impossibility of its performance or declaration but out of thehe impossibility of its performance or declaration but out of the exhaustion that is t

exhaustion that is their conditioheir condition of possibility. Mon of possibility. More to the point, if Afrore to the point, if Afro-pes- -pes-simism is the study of this i

simism is the study of this impossimpossibility, the thinkbility, the thinking that I have to offer (anding that I have to offer (and I thi

I think I’m as reticent ank I’m as reticent about the termbout the termblack optimism black optimism  as Wilderson and Sexton as Wilderson and Sexton are about

are about Afro-pessimism Afro-pessimism , in spite of the fact that we make recourse to them), in spite of the fact that we make recourse to them) moves not in that impossibility’s transcendence but rather in its exhaustion. moves not in that impossibility’s transcendence but rather in its exhaustion. Moreover, I want to consider exhaustion as a mode or form or way of life, Moreover, I want to consider exhaustion as a mode or form or way of life, which is to say sociality, thereby marking a relation whose implications which is to say sociality, thereby marking a relation whose implications con-stitute, in my v

stitute, in my viewiew, a fu, a fundamental theoretical reason not to believe, as it were,ndamental theoretical reason not to believe, as it were, in social death. Like Curtis Mayfield, however, I do plan to stay a believer. in social death. Like Curtis Mayfield, however, I do plan to stay a believer. This

This is to sayis to say, again like May, again like Mayfield, that I plan to stay a black motherfucfield, that I plan to stay a black motherfuckerker.. Over the course of this essay, we’ll have occasion to consider what that Over the course of this essay, we’ll have occasion to consider what that means, by way of a discussion of my preference for the terms

means, by way of a discussion of my preference for the terms lifelife and and opti- opti-mism 

mism  over over deathdeath and and pessimism  pessimism  and in the light of Wilderson’s and Sexton’s and in the light of Wilderson’s and Sexton’s

brilliant insistence not only upon the preferential option for blackness but brilliant insistence not only upon the preferential option for blackness but also upon the requirem

also upon the requirement of the most painstaking and ent of the most painstaking and painful painful attentioattention ton to our damnation, a term I

our damnation, a term I prefer toprefer towretchednesswretchedness, after the example of Miguel, after the example of Miguel Mellino, not simply because it is a more literal translation of Fanon (though Mellino, not simply because it is a more literal translation of Fanon (though often, wit

often, with regard to Fh regard to Fanon, I prefer the particanon, I prefer the particular kular kinds of precision that fol-inds of precision that fol-low from what some might dismiss as mistranslation) but also because low from what some might dismiss as mistranslation) but also because wretched

wretchedness emerges from a standpoint that is not only not oness emerges from a standpoint that is not only not ours, thurs, that is notat is not only one we cannot have and ought not want, but that is, in general, held only one we cannot have and ought not want, but that is, in general, held within

within the logic of im/possithe logic of im/possibility tbility that delineates what suhat delineates what subjects and citbjects and citizensizens call the real world (Mellino 2013). But this is to say, from the outset, not that call the real world (Mellino 2013). But this is to say, from the outset, not that I will advocate the construction of a necessarily fictive standpoint of our own I will advocate the construction of a necessarily fictive standpoint of our own but that I will seek to begin to explore not just the absence but the refusal of but that I will seek to begin to explore not just the absence but the refusal of standpoint, to actually e

standpoint, to actually explorxplore and to ine and to inhabihabit and to tt and to think what Bryan hink what Bryan WagWag- -ner (2009: 1) calls “existence without standing” from no standpoint because ner (2009: 1) calls “existence without standing” from no standpoint because this is what it would truly mean to remain in the hold of the ship (when the this is what it would truly mean to remain in the hold of the ship (when the hold is thought with properly critical, and improperly celebratory, clarity). hold is thought with properly critical, and improperly celebratory, clarity). What would it be, deeper still, what is it, to think from no standpoint; to What would it be, deeper still, what is it, to think from no standpoint; to think outside the desire for a standpoint? What emerges in the desire that think outside the desire for a standpoint? What emerges in the desire that

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constitutes a certain proximity to t

constitutes a certain proximity to that thought is not (just) that blackness ishat thought is not (just) that blackness is ontologically prior to the logistic and regulative power that is supposed to ontologically prior to the logistic and regulative power that is supposed to have brought it into existence but that blackness is prior to ontology; or, in a have brought it into existence but that blackness is prior to ontology; or, in a slight variation of what Chandler would say, blackness is the anoriginal slight variation of what Chandler would say, blackness is the anoriginal dis-placement of onto

placement of ontology, that it is ontology’s anti- logy, that it is ontology’s anti- and ante-foundatand ante-foundation, ontolo-ion, ontolo-gy’s underground, the irreparable disturbance of ontoloontolo-gy’s time and space. gy’s underground, the irreparable disturbance of ontology’s time and space. This is to say that what I do assert, not against, I think,

This is to say that what I do assert, not against, I think, but certainly in appo-but certainly in appo-sition to Afro-pessimism, as it is, at least at one point, distilled in Sexton’s sition to Afro-pessimism, as it is, at least at one point, distilled in Sexton’s work, is not what he calls one of t

work, is not what he calls one of that project’s mohat project’s most polemical dist polemical dimensions,mensions, “namely, that black life is not social, or rather that black life is lived in social “namely, that black life is not social, or rather that black life is lived in social death” (Sexton 2011b: 28). What I assert is this: that black life—which is as death” (Sexton 2011b: 28). What I assert is this: that black life—which is as surely to say

surely to saylifelife as black thought is to say as black thought is to say thought thought —is ir—is irreducireducibly social; that,bly social; that, moreover, black life is lived in

moreover, black life is lived in political  political  death or that it is lived, if you will,  death or that it is lived, if you will, inin

the burial ground of the subject by those who, insofar as they are not the burial ground of the subject by those who, insofar as they are not sub-jects, are also not, in the interminable (as opposed to the last) analysis, jects, are also not, in the interminable (as opposed to the last) analysis, “death-bound,” as Abdul JanMohamed (2005) would say. In this, however, I “death-bound,” as Abdul JanMohamed (2005) would say. In this, however, I also agree with Sexton insofar as I am inclined to call this burial

also agree with Sexton insofar as I am inclined to call this burial ground “theground “the world” and to conc

world” and to conceive of it and the deeive of it and the desire for it as pathogenic. At stsire for it as pathogenic. At stake, nowake, now,, will be what the difference is between the pathogenic and the pathological, a will be what the difference is between the pathogenic and the pathological, a difference that will have been insta

difference that will have been instantiated by what we might think of as tntiated by what we might think of as thehe view, as well as the point of view, of the pathologist. I don’t think I ever view, as well as the point of view, of the pathologist. I don’t think I ever claimed, or meant to claim, that Afro-pessimism sees blackness as a kind of claimed, or meant to claim, that Afro-pessimism sees blackness as a kind of pathog

pathogen. I ten. I thinkhink I I  probabl probably do, or at least hope that it is, iy do, or at least hope that it is, insofar as I bnsofar as I bear theear the hope that blackness bears or is the potential to end the world.

hope that blackness bears or is the potential to end the world.

The question concerning the point of view, or standpoint, of the The question concerning the point of view, or standpoint, of the pathologist is cruc

pathologist is crucial but so is the question of what it is that the pathologistial but so is the question of what it is that the pathologist examines. What, precisely, is the morbid body upon which Fanon, the examines. What, precisely, is the morbid body upon which Fanon, the pathologist, trai

pathologist, trains his eye? Whns his eye? What is the object of hiat is the object of his “cos “complete lysis” (Fanomplete lysis” (Fanonn 2008: xiv)? And i

2008: xiv)? And if it is more properf it is more proper, because more literal, to sp, because more literal, to speak of aeak of a lysislysis

of universe, rather than body, ho

of universe, rather than body, how do we thiw do we think tnk the relatiohe relation between n between tran- tran-scendental frame and the body, or nobody, that occupies, or is banished scendental frame and the body, or nobody, that occupies, or is banished from, its confines and powers of orientation? What I offer here as a from, its confines and powers of orientation? What I offer here as a clarifi-cation of Sexton’s understanding of my relation to Afro-pessimism cation of Sexton’s understanding of my relation to Afro-pessimism emerges from my sense of a kind of terminological dehiscence in Orlando emerges from my sense of a kind of terminological dehiscence in Orlando Patterson’

Patterson’s (1982) work that emerges in s (1982) work that emerges in what I take what I take to be his to be his deep but udeep but unacnac- -knowledged affinity with and indebtedness to the work of Hannah Arendt, knowledged affinity with and indebtedness to the work of Hannah Arendt, namely, with a distinction crucial to her work between the social and the namely, with a distinction crucial to her work between the social and the political. The “secular excommunication” that describes slavery for political. The “secular excommunication” that describes slavery for Patter-son (1982: 5) is mor

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political order, which is tantamount, in Arendt’s formulation, with political order, which is tantamount, in Arendt’s formulation, with some-thi

thing on the order of a radical relegationng on the order of a radical relegationtoto the social. T the social. The probhe problem with slav-lem with slav-ery, for Patterson, is that it is political death, not social death; the problem is ery, for Patterson, is that it is political death, not social death; the problem is that slavery confers t

that slavery confers the paradoxically stateless sthe paradoxically stateless status of the merelyatus of the merely, barely liv-, barely liv-ing; it delineates the inhuman as unaccommodated

ing; it delineates the inhuman as unaccommodated biosbios. At stake is the. At stake is the transvaluation or, better yet, the invaluation or antivaluation,

transvaluation or, better yet, the invaluation or antivaluation, the extractionthe extraction

from the sciences of value (and from the very possibility

from the sciences of value (and from the very possibility of that necessarilyof that necessarily fictional, but materially brutal, standpoint that Wagner [2009: 1] calls “being fictional, but materially brutal, standpoint that Wagner [2009: 1] calls “being a party to exchange”). Such extraction will, in turn, be the very mark and a party to exchange”). Such extraction will, in turn, be the very mark and inscr

inscription (rather than absence or eraiption (rather than absence or eradication) of the socialitdication) of the sociality of a life, giveny of a life, given in commo

in common, instantiated in exchan, instantiated in exchange. What I am trynge. What I am trying to get to, by way oing to get to, by way off this terminological slide in Patterson, is the consideration of a radical this terminological slide in Patterson, is the consideration of a radical dis-junction between sociality and the state-sanctioned, state-sponsored terror junction between sociality and the state-sanctioned, state-sponsored terror of power

of power-laden intersu-laden intersubjectivitbjectivityy, which is, or would be, the str, which is, or would be, the structuuctural foun-ral foun-dation of

dation of Patterson’Patterson’s epiphenomenols epiphenomenology ogy of spirof spirit. To have honorit. To have honor, whic, which is, h is, ofof necessity, to be a

necessity, to be a manman of honor, for Patterson, is to become a combatant in of honor, for Patterson, is to become a combatant in transcendental subjectivity’s perpetual civil war. To refuse the induction that transcendental subjectivity’s perpetual civil war. To refuse the induction that Patterson desires is to enact or perform the recognition of the constitut

Patterson desires is to enact or perform the recognition of the constitution ofion of civil society as enmity, hostility, and civil butchery. It is, moreover, to civil society as enmity, hostility, and civil butchery. It is, moreover, to con-sider that the unspoken violence of political friendship constitutes a capacity sider that the unspoken violence of political friendship constitutes a capacity for alignment and coalition that is enhanced by the unspeakable violence for alignment and coalition that is enhanced by the unspeakable violence that is done to what and whom the political excludes. This is to say that, yes, that is done to what and whom the political excludes. This is to say that, yes, I am in total agreement with the Afro-pessimistic understanding of I am in total agreement with the Afro-pessimistic understanding of black-ness as exterior to civil societ

ness as exterior to civil society and, moreoy and, moreover, as ver, as unmappable within tunmappable within the cos-he cos-mological grid of the transcendental subject. However, I understand civil mological grid of the transcendental subject. However, I understand civil society and the coordinates of the transcendental aesthetic—cognate as they society and the coordinates of the transcendental aesthetic—cognate as they are not with the failed but rather with the successful state and its abstract, are not with the failed but rather with the successful state and its abstract, equivalen

equivalent citizens—to be t citizens—to be the fundamentally and essentially antisocial nurs-the fundamentally and essentially antisocial nurs-ery for a necessarily necropolitical imitation of life. So that if Afro-pessimists ery for a necessarily necropolitical imitation of life. So that if Afro-pessimists say that social life is not the condition of black life but is, rather, the political say that social life is not the condition of black life but is, rather, the political field that would surround it, then that’s a formulation with which I would field that would surround it, then that’s a formulation with which I would agree. Soci

agree. Social death is not imposed upon blackness by or from the staal death is not imposed upon blackness by or from the standpointndpoint or positionality of the political; rather,

or positionality of the political; rather, it is the field it is the field of the political of the political , from which, from which blackness is relegated to the supposedly undifferentiated mass or blob of the blackness is relegated to the supposedly undifferentiated mass or blob of the social, which is, in any case, where and what blackness chooses to stay.

social, which is, in any case, where and what blackness chooses to stay. Thi

This question of the location and s question of the location and position of social death is, as Sextonposition of social death is, as Sexton has shown far more rigorously than I could ever hope to do, crucial. It raises has shown far more rigorously than I could ever hope to do, crucial. It raises again t

again that massive prohat massive problematic of inside and outside that animates thoughtblematic of inside and outside that animates thought since before its beginning as the endless end to which thought always seeks since before its beginning as the endless end to which thought always seeks

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to return

to return. Such mappa. Such mappability of the space-tibility of the space-time or state me or state of social death would,of social death would, in tur

in turn, help us better understand the position, help us better understand the positionalities that could be said, fignalities that could be said, figu- u-ratively, to inhabit it. This mass is understood to be undifferentiated ratively, to inhabit it. This mass is understood to be undifferentiated pre-cisely because from the imaginar

cisely because from the imaginary perspective of ty perspective of the political subject—whhe political subject—whoo is also t

is also the transcendental subject of knowledge, grasp, ownershiphe transcendental subject of knowledge, grasp, ownership, and , and self- self-possession—difference can only be manifest as the discrete individuality possession—difference can only be manifest as the discrete individuality that holds or

that holds or occupies a standpoint. Frooccupies a standpoint. From that standpoint, from the artim that standpoint, from the artificialficial,, officially assumed position, blackness is nothing, that is, the relative officially assumed position, blackness is nothing, that is, the relative noth-ingness of the impossible, pathological subject and his fellows. I believe it is ingness of the impossible, pathological subject and his fellows. I believe it is from that standpoint that Afro-pessimism identifies and articulates the from that standpoint that Afro-pessimism identifies and articulates the imperative to embrace that nothingness which is, of necessity, relative. It is imperative to embrace that nothingness which is, of necessity, relative. It is from this standpoint, which Wilderson defines precisely by his inability to from this standpoint, which Wilderson defines precisely by his inability to occupy it, that he, in a painfully and painstakingly lyrical tour de force of occupy it, that he, in a painfully and painstakingly lyrical tour de force of auto

autobiograbiographical writiphical writing, declares himself ng, declares himself to be nothing and proclaims to be nothing and proclaims hishis decision, which in any case he cannot make, to remain as nothing, in decision, which in any case he cannot make, to remain as nothing, in genea-logical and sociogenea-logical isolation even from every other nothing.

logical and sociological isolation even from every other nothing.

Now, all that remains are unspoken scraps scattered on the floor like Lisa’s Now, all that remains are unspoken scraps scattered on the floor like Lisa’s grievance. I am nothing, Naima, and you are nothing: the unspeakable grievance. I am nothing, Naima, and you are nothing: the unspeakable answer to your question within your question. This is why I could not— answer to your question within your question. This is why I could not— would not—answer your question that night. Would I ever be with a

would not—answer your question that night. Would I ever be with a BlackBlack woman again? It was earnest, not accusatory—I know. And nothing terri woman again? It was earnest, not accusatory—I know. And nothing terrifiesfies me more than such a question asked in earnest. It is a question that goes to me more than such a question asked in earnest. It is a question that goes to the heart of desire, to the heart of our

the heart of desire, to the heart of our black capacity to desireblack capacity to desire. But if we take. But if we take out the nouns that you used (nouns of habit that get us through the day), out the nouns that you used (nouns of habit that get us through the day), your question to me would sound like this: Would nothing ever be with your question to me would sound like this: Would nothing ever be with nothing again? (Wilderson 2008: 265)

nothing again? (Wilderson 2008: 265)

When one reads the severity and i

When one reads the severity and intensity of Wilderson’ntensity of Wilderson’s words—hiss words—his assertion of his own nothingness and the implications of that nothingness assertion of his own nothingness and the implications of that nothingness for his reader

for his reader—one is a—one is all but overwhelmed by the need ll but overwhelmed by the need for a kind of affor a kind of affir- fir-mative negation of his formulation. It’s not that one wants to say no, mative negation of his formulation. It’s not that one wants to say no, Pro-fessor Wilderson, you are, or I a

fessor Wilderson, you are, or I am, somebody; rather, one wants to assertm, somebody; rather, one wants to assert the presence of something between the subjectivity that is refused and the presence of something between the subjectivity that is refused and which one refuses and nothing, whatever that is. But it is the beauty—the which one refuses and nothing, whatever that is. But it is the beauty—the fantastic, celebratory force of Wilderson’s and Sexton’s work, which study fantastic, celebratory force of Wilderson’s and Sexton’s work, which study has allowed me to begin more closely to approach—of Afro-pessimism that has allowed me to begin more closely to approach—of Afro-pessimism that allows and compels one to move past that contradictory impulse to affirm allows and compels one to move past that contradictory impulse to affirm in the interest of negation and to begin to consider

in the interest of negation and to begin to consider what nothing iswhat nothing is, not, not from its own standpoint or from any standpoint but from the absoluteness from its own standpoint or from any standpoint but from the absoluteness

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of its generative dispersion of a general antagonism t

of its generative dispersion of a general antagonism that blackness holds andhat blackness holds and protects in as cr

protects in as critical celebration and degenerative and regenerative pritical celebration and degenerative and regenerative preserveserva- a-tion. That’s the mobility of place, the fugitive field of unowning, in and from tion. That’s the mobility of place, the fugitive field of unowning, in and from which we ask,

which we ask, paraonparaontolotologically, by way of but agically, by way of but also against lso against and underneathand underneath the ontological terms at our disposal: What is nothingness? What is the ontological terms at our disposal: What is nothingness? What is thingli-ness? What is bla

ness? What is blackness? What’s the relationship between blackness, tckness? What’s the relationship between blackness, thinglhingli- i-ness, nothingness and the (de/re)generative operations of what Deleuze ness, nothingness and the (de/re)generative operations of what Deleuze might call

might call a lifea life in common? Where do we go, by what means do we begi in common? Where do we go, by what means do we begin, ton, to study blackness? Can there be an aesthetic sociology or a social poetics of study blackness? Can there be an aesthetic sociology or a social poetics of nothingness? Can we perform an an

nothingness? Can we perform an anatoatomy of the thing my of the thing or prodor produce a theoryuce a theory of the universal machine? Our aim, even in the face of the brutally imposed of the universal machine? Our aim, even in the face of the brutally imposed difficulties of black life, is cause for celebration. This is not because difficulties of black life, is cause for celebration. This is not because celebra-tion is supposed to make us feel good or make us feel better, though there tion is supposed to make us feel good or make us feel better, though there would be nothin

would be nothing wrong with tg wrong with that. It is, rather, because the cause for celebra-hat. It is, rather, because the cause for celebra-tion tur

tion turns out to be tns out to be the conditiohe condition of possibility of black thought, which n of possibility of black thought, which ani- ani-mates the black operations that will produce the absolute overturning, the mates the black operations that will produce the absolute overturning, the absolute turning of this motherfucker out. Celebration is the essence of absolute turning of this motherfucker out. Celebration is the essence of black thought, the animation of black operations, which are, in the first black thought, the animation of black operations, which are, in the first instance, our undercommon, underground, submarine sociality.

instance, our undercommon, underground, submarine sociality. In the end, though

In the end, though lifelife and and optimism optimism  are the terms under which I are the terms under which I speak, I agree with Sexton—by way of the slightest, most immeasurable speak, I agree with Sexton—by way of the slightest, most immeasurable reversal of emphasis—that Afro-pessimism and black optimism are not but reversal of emphasis—that Afro-pessimism and black optimism are not but nothing other than one another. I will continue to prefer the black optimism nothing other than one another. I will continue to prefer the black optimism of his work just as, I am sure, he will continue to prefer the Afro-pessimism of his work just as, I am sure, he will continue to prefer the Afro-pessimism of mine. We will have been interarticulate, I believe, in the field where of mine. We will have been interarticulate, I believe, in the field where anni-hilative seeing, generative sounding, rigorous touching and feeling, requires hilative seeing, generative sounding, rigorous touching and feeling, requires an improvisation of and on friendship, a sociality of friendship that will have an improvisation of and on friendship, a sociality of friendship that will have been, at once, both intramural and evangelical. I’ll try to approach that field, been, at once, both intramural and evangelical. I’ll try to approach that field, its expansive concentration, by way of Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell’s (1982) its expansive concentration, by way of Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell’s (1982) extended meditation on nothingness; by way of Fanon’s and Peter extended meditation on nothingness; by way of Fanon’s and Peter Line-baugh’s accounts of language in and as vehicularity; by way of Foucault’s baugh’s accounts of language in and as vehicularity; by way of Foucault’s meditations on the sh

meditations on the ship of fools and Deleuze’s consideraip of fools and Deleuze’s consideration of the tion of the boat asboat as interior of the exterior when they are both thoroughly solicited by the interior of the exterior when they are both thoroughly solicited by the uncharted voices that we carry; by way, even, of Lysis and Socrates; but also, uncharted voices that we carry; by way, even, of Lysis and Socrates; but also, and in the first instance, by way of Hawk and Newk, just friends, trading and in the first instance, by way of Hawk and Newk, just friends, trading fours. Perhaps I’m simply deluding myself, but such celebratory fours. Perhaps I’m simply deluding myself, but such celebratory perfor-mance of thought, in thought, is as much about the insurgency of mance of thought, in thought, is as much about the insurgency of imma-nence as it is about what W

nence as it is about what Wagner (2009: 2) caagner (2009: 2) calls the “consolation of transcen-lls the “consolation of transcen-dence.” But, as I said earlier, I plan to stay a believer in blackness, even as dence.” But, as I said earlier, I plan to stay a believer in blackness, even as

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thingliness, even as (absolute) nothingness, even as imprisonment in thingliness, even as (absolute) nothingness, even as imprisonment in pas-sage on the most open road of all, even as—to use and abuse a terribly sage on the most open road of all, even as—to use and abuse a terribly beau-tiful phrase of Wilderson’s (2010: xi)—fantasy in the hold.

tiful phrase of Wilderson’s (2010: xi)—fantasy in the hold.

Mu

Mu First Part/ First Part/MuMu Second Part Second Part T

To stay in to stay in the hold of the ship, despite my fantasies of flighthe hold of the ship, despite my fantasies of flight.. —Frank B. Wilderson,

—Frank B. Wilderson, Red, White, and BlackRed, White, and Black Where

Where we we were, were, not- not-withstanding, wasn’t there . . .

withstanding, wasn’t there . . . Where we Where we were was

were was the hold the hold of a of a ship wship we weree were

  caught

  caught

in.

in. Soaked Soaked wood wood kept kept us us afloat. afloat. . . ItIt wasn’t

wasn’t limbo we limbo we were were in albeit in albeit wewe limbo’

limbo’d d our our way way there. there. Where Where wewe were

were was was what what we we meant meant by by “mu.”“mu.”

Nathaniel Mackey, “On Antiphon Island—‘mu’ twenty-eight part—” Nathaniel Mackey, “On Antiphon Island—‘mu’ twenty-eight part—”

There are flights of fantasy in the hold of the ship: the ordinary fugue and There are flights of fantasy in the hold of the ship: the ordinary fugue and fugitive ru

fugitive run of tn of the language lab, black phonhe language lab, black phonograpographies’ brutally experhies’ brutally experimentalimental venue. Paraontological totality is still in the making. Present and unmade in venue. Paraontological totality is still in the making. Present and unmade in presence, blackness is an instrument in the making.

presence, blackness is an instrument in the making. Quasi una fantasiaQuasi una fantasia in in its paralegal swer

its paralegal swerve, its mad-worve, its mad-worked braid, the iked braid, the imagination produces noth-magination produces noth-ing but exsense

ing but exsense in the hold. Do you remember the days of slavery? Mackeyin the hold. Do you remember the days of slavery? Mackey (2006: 65) rightly says, “

(2006: 65) rightly says, “The world was ever afThe world was ever after, / elsewhere. / . . . no / wayter, / elsewhere. / . . . no / way where we were / was t

where we were / was there.here.” Do you remember where we are? No way where” Do you remember where we are? No way where we are is here. Where we were, where we are, is what we meant by

we are is here. Where we were, where we are, is what we meant by mumu, which, which Wilderson (2010: xi) rightly calls the void of our subjectivity, which we Wilderson (2010: xi) rightly calls the void of our subjectivity, which we extend, in consent beyond all voluntarity, in our avoidance of subjectivity. extend, in consent beyond all voluntarity, in our avoidance of subjectivity. And so it is that we remain in the hold, in the break, as if entering again and And so it is that we remain in the hold, in the break, as if entering again and again the broken world, to trace the visionary company and join it. This again the broken world, to trace the visionary company and join it. This con-trapuntal island, where we are marooned in search of marronage, where we trapuntal island, where we are marooned in search of marronage, where we linger in stateless emergency, is our mobile, constant study, our lysed cell linger in stateless emergency, is our mobile, constant study, our lysed cell and held dislocation, our blown standpoint and lyred

and held dislocation, our blown standpoint and lyred chapel. We study ourchapel. We study our seaborne variance, sent by its prehisto

seaborne variance, sent by its prehistory into arrry into arrivance without arrival, as aivance without arrival, as a poetics of lore, of abnormal articulation, where the relation between joint poetics of lore, of abnormal articulation, where the relation between joint and flesh is

and flesh is the pleated distance of the pleated distance of a musical moment that is emphatically,a musical moment that is emphatically, palpably imperceptible and, therefore, exhausts description. Having defied palpably imperceptible and, therefore, exhausts description. Having defied

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degradation, the moment becomes a theory of the moment, of the feeling of degradation, the moment becomes a theory of the moment, of the feeling of a presence that is ungraspable in the way that it touches. Such musical a presence that is ungraspable in the way that it touches. Such musical moments—of advent, of nativity in all its terrible beauty, of the alienation moments—of advent, of nativity in all its terrible beauty, of the alienation that is a

that is always alreadlways already born iy born in and as n and as parousia, of the disruption in durationparousia, of the disruption in duration of the very idea of the moment—are rigorous performances of the theory of the very idea of the moment—are rigorous performances of the theory of the social life of t

of the social life of the shipped, given in the shipped, given in the terror of enjhe terror of enjoyment and itsoyment and its endlessly redoubled folds. If you take up the hopelessly imprecise tools endlessly redoubled folds. If you take up the hopelessly imprecise tools of standard navigation, the deathly reckoning of difference engines, of standard navigation, the deathly reckoning of difference engines, mari-time clock

time clocks, and tables of damned assurance, you might stus, and tables of damned assurance, you might stumble omble on such an such a moment about two and a half minutes into “Mutron,” a duet by Blackwell moment about two and a half minutes into “Mutron,” a duet by Blackwell and Cherry recorded in 1982. You’ll know the moment by how it requires and Cherry recorded in 1982. You’ll know the moment by how it requires you to thin

you to think the relation between fantasy and nothingness: whak the relation between fantasy and nothingness: what is mistakent is mistaken for silence is, all of a sudden, transubstantial.

for silence is, all of a sudden, transubstantial.

It’s terrible to have come from nothing but the sea, which is nowhere, It’s terrible to have come from nothing but the sea, which is nowhere, navigable only in its constant autodislocation. The absence of solidity seems navigable only in its constant autodislocation. The absence of solidity seems to demand some other ceremony of hailing that will have been carried out to demand some other ceremony of hailing that will have been carried out on some more exalted frequency. This is exacerbated by the venal refusal of on some more exalted frequency. This is exacerbated by the venal refusal of a general acknowledgment of the crime, which is, in any case, impossible, a general acknowledgment of the crime, which is, in any case, impossible, raising the question of whether the only way adequately to account for the raising the question of whether the only way adequately to account for the horror of slavery and the brutality of the slaver, the only way to be (in horror of slavery and the brutality of the slaver, the only way to be (in Sex-ton’s words) a witness rather than a spectator, is to begin by positing the ton’s words) a witness rather than a spectator, is to begin by positing the absolute degradation of the enslaved. This is not a trick question; it’s not absolute degradation of the enslaved. This is not a trick question; it’s not merely rhetorical. If the slave is, in the end and in essence, nothing, what merely rhetorical. If the slave is, in the end and in essence, nothing, what remains is the necessity of an investigation of that nothingness. What is the remains is the necessity of an investigation of that nothingness. What is the nothin

nothingness, which is to say the blackness, of tgness, which is to say the blackness, of the slave that it is not rhe slave that it is not reducibleeducible to what they did, though what they did is irreducible in it? This is a question to what they did, though what they did is irreducible in it? This is a question concerning the undercommon inheritance of another world, which is given concerning the undercommon inheritance of another world, which is given in and given as fantasy in the hold. Those who are called into being by the in and given as fantasy in the hold. Those who are called into being by the desire for another call relinquish the fantastic when they make the choice to desire for another call relinquish the fantastic when they make the choice to leave the hold behind. In resistance to such departure we linger in the leave the hold behind. In resistance to such departure we linger in the advent, in the brutal interplay of advent and enclosure. Marcus Rediker advent, in the brutal interplay of advent and enclosure. Marcus Rediker offers us a scene of the interplay:

offers us a scene of the interplay:

They resumed paddling and soon began to sing. After a while she could They resumed paddling and soon began to sing. After a while she could hear, a

hear, at first faintt first faintly, then with increasing claritly, then with increasing clarity, other souny, other sounds—tds—the waveshe waves slapping the hull of the big ship, its timbers c

slapping the hull of the big ship, its timbers creaking. Then came mufreaking. Then came muffledfled screaming in a strange language.

screaming in a strange language.

The ship grew larger and more terrify

The ship grew larger and more terrifying with ing with every vevery vigorigorous stroke ofous stroke of the paddles. The smells grew stronger and the sounds louder—crying the paddles. The smells grew stronger and the sounds louder—crying andand

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wailing from one quarter and low, plaintive singing from another; the wailing from one quarter and low, plaintive singing from another; the anar-chic noise of children given an underbeat by hands drumming on wood; t chic noise of children given an underbeat by hands drumming on wood; thehe odd comprehens

odd comprehensible word or two wafible word or two wafting tting through: someone asking forhrough: someone asking for men- men-ney 

ney , water, another laying a curse, appealing to, water, another laying a curse, appealing to myabecamyabeca, spirits. As the canoe-, spirits. As the canoe-men maneuvered their vessel up alongside, she saw dark faces, framed by men maneuvered their vessel up alongside, she saw dark faces, framed by small holes in the side of the ship above the waterline, staring intently. Above small holes in the side of the ship above the waterline, staring intently. Above her, dozens of black women and children a

her, dozens of black women and children and a few red-faced men peered overnd a few red-faced men peered over the rail. They had seen the attempted escape on the sandbar. The men had the rail. They had seen the attempted escape on the sandbar. The men had cutl

cutlasses and barked orders in harsh, raspy voices. Shasses and barked orders in harsh, raspy voices. She had arrived at the slavee had arrived at the slave ship. (Rediker 2007: 2)

ship. (Rediker 2007: 2)

Her name is Hortense. Her name is NourbeSe. Her name is B. The black Her name is Hortense. Her name is NourbeSe. Her name is B. The black chant she hears is old and new to her. She is unmoored. She is ungendered. chant she hears is old and new to her. She is unmoored. She is ungendered. Her mother is lost. Exhausted, exhaustive maternity is her pedagogical Her mother is lost. Exhausted, exhaustive maternity is her pedagogical imperative: “consent not to be a single being” (Glissant 2011: 5).

imperative: “consent not to be a single being” (Glissant 2011: 5).

What’s required is some attempt to think the relation between fantasy What’s required is some attempt to think the relation between fantasy and nothingness: emptiness, dispossession in the hold; consent (not to be a and nothingness: emptiness, dispossession in the hold; consent (not to be a single being) in

single being) in the; an intithe; an intimacy given most emphaticallymacy given most emphatically, and erotically, in, and erotically, in a moment of something that, for lack of a better word, we call “silence,” a a moment of something that, for lack of a better word, we call “silence,” a suboceanic feelin

suboceanic feeling of preterition—borne by a common particle in tg of preterition—borne by a common particle in the doublhe doublee expanse—that makes vessels run over or overturn. The temporal expanse—that makes vessels run over or overturn. The temporal coordi-nates 2’29” and 2’30” mark the in-betweenness and mobile location of the nates 2’29” and 2’30” mark the in-betweenness and mobile location of the span, so we can consider that what is mistaken for silence can also be given span, so we can consider that what is mistaken for silence can also be given in and as nothingness in its full transubstantiality, but also the compression in and as nothingness in its full transubstantiality, but also the compression and dispersion, t

and dispersion, the condensahe condensation and displacement, of caged dution and displacement, of caged duration, theration, the marking more emphatically of its beginning and end, and, especially, the marking more emphatically of its beginning and end, and, especially, the concentrated air of its propulsion that shows up as waiting,

concentrated air of its propulsion that shows up as waiting, Erwartung Erwartung ,, embarrassment in our expectation, Blackwell’s antic, anticipatory pulse. embarrassment in our expectation, Blackwell’s antic, anticipatory pulse. This moment of nothingness. “Unhoused vacuity” (Mackey 2001: 118), This moment of nothingness. “Unhoused vacuity” (Mackey 2001: 118), metoikic vernacular, the r

metoikic vernacular, the rich materiality ich materiality of the hold’of the hold’s, the jug’s, emptiness,s, the jug’s, emptiness, its contents having fled in their remaining, fled as the remainder, the its contents having fled in their remaining, fled as the remainder, the dan-ger, the supplement, votive and unelect. Blackwell offers what is held in ger, the supplement, votive and unelect. Blackwell offers what is held in mumu

as the impossible to understand black thing, the Cherry thing as a seriality as the impossible to understand black thing, the Cherry thing as a seriality of openings, a vestibular chain, a kind of spillway, as Hortense Spillers of openings, a vestibular chain, a kind of spillway, as Hortense Spillers might

might saysay..

I am concerned with the

I am concerned with the mumu in “Mutron”—by way of an approach in “Mutron”—by way of an approach through Rediker that describes Rediker’s attempt to describe what might be through Rediker that describes Rediker’s attempt to describe what might be called a birth into death, or an entrance into bare life or raw life, but which I called a birth into death, or an entrance into bare life or raw life, but which I will insist, not despite but precisely because of its being the blood-stain’d will insist, not despite but precisely because of its being the blood-stain’d

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gate through which the radically nonanalagous enters, is the impure gate through which the radically nonanalagous enters, is the impure imma-nence of the undercommons’ (an)originary refrain—because the task of nence of the undercommons’ (an)originary refrain—because the task of con

continually instigating ttinually instigating this flown, recursive imagining demands the inhabi-his flown, recursive imagining demands the inhabi-tation of an architecture and its acoustic, an inhabiinhabi-tation given as if in an tation of an architecture and its acoustic, an inhabitation given as if in an approach from outside. What is required, and this is recited with such approach from outside. What is required, and this is recited with such ter-rible beauty in the work of Wilderson and Sexton, in echo of Lewis Gordon, rible beauty in the work of Wilderson and Sexton, in echo of Lewis Gordon, is not only

is not only to resideto reside in an unlivability, an exhaustion that is always already in an unlivability, an exhaustion that is always already

given as

given as forforeshadowing afterlife, as eshadowing afterlife, as a life a life in some absoluin some absolutely proximate andtely proximate and unbridgeable distance from the livin

unbridgeable distance from the living death of subjection, but alsog death of subjection, but alsoto discoverto discover and to enter 

and to enter  it. Mackey, in the fantastic sear and burned, spurred overhearing it. Mackey, in the fantastic sear and burned, spurred overhearing of his preface to

of his preface to Splay Anthem Splay Anthem , outlining the provenance and relationship, outlining the provenance and relationship between the book’s serial halves (“Each was given its impetus by a piece of between the book’s serial halves (“Each was given its impetus by a piece of recorded m

recorded music from which it takes its titusic from which it takes its title, the Dogon ‘Song of the Andoum-le, the Dogon ‘Song of the Andoum-boulou’ in one case, Don Cherry

boulou’ in one case, Don Cherry’s’s‘Mu‘Mu’ First ’ First Part Part  and and ‘Mu‘Mu’ Second ’ Second Part Part  in the in the other” [Mackey 2006: ix]), speaks of

other” [Mackey 2006: ix]), speaks of mumu in relation to a circling or spiraling in relation to a circling or spiraling or ringing, t

or ringing, this roundneshis roundness or rons or rondo linking beginndo linking beginning and end; the wailinging and end; the wailing that accom

that accompanies entrance into and expupanies entrance into and expulsion from lsion from socialsociality; tity; that makes youhat makes you wonder if music, which is not only music, is mobilized in the service of an wonder if music, which is not only music, is mobilized in the service of an eccentricity, a centrif

eccentricity, a centrifugal force, whose intimation Mackey also approaches,ugal force, whose intimation Mackey also approaches, that marks sociality’s ecstatic existence beyon

that marks sociality’s ecstatic existence beyond beginning d beginning and end, ends andand end, ends and means. Forgive this long series of long quotations from that preface, to means. Forgive this long series of long quotations from that preface, to pas-sages of which I remain imprisoned insofar as the range of phonemic, sages of which I remain imprisoned insofar as the range of phonemic, his-torical, and parageographic resonance in

torical, and parageographic resonance in mumu get me to the elsewhere and get me to the elsewhere and elsewhen that I already inhabit but which I have to keep learn

elsewhen that I already inhabit but which I have to keep learning to desire.ing to desire. Actually, if you forgive me, there will be no need to thank me.

Actually, if you forgive me, there will be no need to thank me.

Multi-instrumentalist Don Cherry, best known as a trumpeter, includes Multi-instrumentalist Don Cherry, best known as a trumpeter, includes voice among the instruments used on the “

voice among the instruments used on the “MuMu” albums and resorts to a sort” albums and resorts to a sort of dove-coo baby talk on one piece, “Teo-Teo-Can,” emitting sounds that of dove-coo baby talk on one piece, “Teo-Teo-Can,” emitting sounds that might accompany the tickling of a baby’s chin if not be made by the baby might accompany the tickling of a baby’s chin if not be made by the baby itself. It recalls Amiri Baraka’s comment on hearing a John Coltrane solo itself. It recalls Amiri Baraka’s comment on hearing a John Coltrane solo that consisted of playing the head of “Confirmation” again and again, twenty that consisted of playing the head of “Confirmation” again and again, twenty times or so: “like watching a grown man learnin

times or so: “like watching a grown man learning to speak.” In both cases,g to speak.” In both cases, as with the Dogon trumpet burst and as it’s put in “Song of the as with the Dogon trumpet burst and as it’s put in “Song of the Andoum-boulou: 58,” one

boulou: 58,” one is “back / at / some beginningis “back / at / some beginning,” som,” some exte extremity taremity taking oneking one back to animating

back to animating constraint. The antelope-hoconstraint. The antelope-horn trn trumpet’s blast and bleat,rumpet’s blast and bleat, Cherry’s ludic warble and Trane’s recursive quandary are variations on Cherry’s ludic warble and Trane’s recursive quandary are variations on music as gnostic announcement, ancient rhyme, that of end and beginning, music as gnostic announcement, ancient rhyme, that of end and beginning, gnostic accent or note that cuts both ways.

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But not only music. “Mu” (in quotes to underscore its whatsaid-ness) is But not only music. “Mu” (in quotes to underscore its whatsaid-ness) is also lingual and imaginal effect and affect, myth and mouth in the Greek also lingual and imaginal effect and affect, myth and mouth in the Greek form

formmuthosmuthos that Jane Harrison, as Charles Olson was fond of noting, calls “a that Jane Harrison, as Charles Olson was fond of noting, calls “a re-utterance or pre-utterance, . . . a focus of emotion,” surmising the first re-utterance or pre-utterance, . . . a focus of emotion,” surmising the first muthos

muthos to have been “sim to have been “simply the interjecply the interjectional uttertional utteranceancemumu.” “Mu.” “Mu” is also ” is also lin- lin-gual and erotic allure, mouth and muse, mouth not only noun but verb and gual and erotic allure, mouth and muse, mouth not only noun but verb and muse likewise, lingual and imaginal process, prod and process. It promises muse likewise, lingual and imaginal process, prod and process. It promises verbal and romantic enhancement, graduation to an altered state, momentary verbal and romantic enhancement, graduation to an altered state, momentary thrall

thrall translated into myth. Proffered from time immemtranslated into myth. Proffered from time immemorial, poetrorial, poetry’s peren-y’s peren-nial boon, it thrives on quixotic persistence, the increment or enablement nial boon, it thrives on quixotic persistence, the increment or enablement lan-guage affords, promise and impossibility rolled into one (Anuncia/Nunca). guage affords, promise and impossibility rolled into one (Anuncia/Nunca). “Mu” carries a theme of utopic reverie, a theme of lost ground and elegiac “Mu” carries a theme of utopic reverie, a theme of lost ground and elegiac allure recalling the Atlantis-like continent Mu, thought by some during the allure recalling the Atlantis-like continent Mu, thought by some during the late nineteenth centur

late nineteenth century and early twentieth century and early twentieth century to have y to have existed long ago inexisted long ago in the Pacific. The places named in t

the Pacific. The places named in the song of the Andoumboulou, set foot onhe song of the Andoumboulou, set foot on by the deceased while alive but lost or taken away by death, could be called by the deceased while alive but lost or taken away by death, could be called “Mu.” Any longingly imag

“Mu.” Any longingly imagined, mourned or remembered place, time, state, orined, mourned or remembered place, time, state, or condition can be called “Mu.” . . .

condition can be called “Mu.” . . .

Serial form lends itself to andoumboulouous liminality, the draft Serial form lends itself to andoumboulouous liminality, the draft unas-sured extension knows itself to be. Provisional, ongoing, the serial poem sured extension knows itself to be. Provisional, ongoing, the serial poem moves forward and backward both,

moves forward and backward both, repeatedly “back / at / some beginning,”repeatedly “back / at / some beginning,” repeatedly circling or cycling back, doing so with such adamance as to call repeatedly circling or cycling back, doing so with such adamance as to call for-ward and back into question and suggest an eccentric step to the side—as ward and back into question and suggest an eccentric step to the side—as though, driven to distraction by shortcircuiting options, it can only be itself though, driven to distraction by shortcircuiting options, it can only be itself beside itself. So it is that “

beside itself. So it is that “MuMu” is also” is also Song of the AndoumboulouSong of the Andoumboulou,,Song of theSong of the Andoumboulou

Andoumboulou also “ also “MuMu.” H.D.” H.D.’.’s crazed geese, cs crazed geese, circlinircling above the spot that wasg above the spot that was once Atlantis or the Hesperides or the Islands of the Blest, come to mind, as once Atlantis or the Hesperides or the Islands of the Blest, come to mind, as do John Coltrane’

do John Coltrane’s wheeling, spirs wheeling, spiraling raling runs as if around or in pursuit of someuns as if around or in pursuit of some lost or last note, lost or last amenity: a tangential, verging movement out lost or last note, lost or last amenity: a tangential, verging movement out (out-lantish). The ring shout co

lantish). The ring shout comes to mind, as do the rings mes to mind, as do the rings of Saturn, the planetof Saturn, the planet adopted by Sun Ra, one of whose albums,

adopted by Sun Ra, one of whose albums, AtlantisAtlantis, opens with a piece called, opens with a piece called “Mu.” (Mackey 2006: ix–xii)

“Mu.” (Mackey 2006: ix–xii)

Now I want us to try to think about the relation between Mackey’s and Now I want us to try to think about the relation between Mackey’s and Wilderson’s dialectics of held fantasy. Wilderson’s register is more explicitly Wilderson’s dialectics of held fantasy. Wilderson’s register is more explicitly philosophical and, so, our registers might have to shift as well. Entrance into philosophical and, so, our registers might have to shift as well. Entrance into the philosoph

the philosophy of the subject is ay of the subject is also perilous, but it seems as if our lso perilous, but it seems as if our belated- belated-ness makes such peril necessary if the goal is to approach the ship and its ness makes such peril necessary if the goal is to approach the ship and its hold. Wilderson says:

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T

To put it bluntly, the imaginative lo put it bluntly, the imaginative labor of cinema, political actabor of cinema, political action, and cul-ion, and cul-tural st

tural studies are all affludies are all afflicted with the same theoretical aphasia. They areicted with the same theoretical aphasia. They are speechless in the face of gratuitous violence.

speechless in the face of gratuitous violence. This t

This theoretical aphasia is symptomatic of a debilitated ensemble ofheoretical aphasia is symptomatic of a debilitated ensemble of questions regarding polit

questions regarding political ontology. At iical ontology. At its heart are tts heart are two registers of imag-wo registers of imag-inative labor. The first register is that of description, the rhetorical labor inative labor. The first register is that of description, the rhetorical labor aimed at explaining the way relations of power are named, categorized, and aimed at explaining the way relations of power are named, categorized, and explored. The second register can be characterized as prescription, the explored. The second register can be characterized as prescription, the rhe-torical labor predicated on the notion that everyone can be emancipated torical labor predicated on the notion that everyone can be emancipated through some form of discursive, or symbolic, intervention.

through some form of discursive, or symbolic, intervention.

But emancipation through some form of discursive or symbolic But emancipation through some form of discursive or symbolic intervention is wanting in the face of a subject position that is not a subject intervention is wanting in the face of a subject position that is not a subject position—what Marx calls “a speaking implement” or what Ronald Judy calls position—what Marx calls “a speaking implement” or what Ronald Judy calls “an interdiction against subjectivity.” In other words, the Black has sentient “an interdiction against subjectivity.” In other words, the Black has sentient capacity but no relational capacity. As an accumulated and fungible object, capacity but no relational capacity. As an accumulated and fungible object, rather than an exploited and alienated subject, the Black is openly vulnerable rather than an exploited and alienated subject, the Black is openly vulnerable to the whims of the world and so is his or her cultural “production.” What to the whims of the world and so is his or her cultural “production.” What does it mean—what are the stakes—when the world can whimsically does it mean—what are the stakes—when the world can whimsically trans-pose one’

pose one’s cultus cultural gestures, the stral gestures, the stuff of symbolic intervention, onto anotheruff of symbolic intervention, onto another worldly good, a commodity of style? (Wilderson 2010: 56)

worldly good, a commodity of style? (Wilderson 2010: 56)

He continues: He continues:

The Afro-pessimists are theorists of Black positionality who share Fanon’s The Afro-pessimists are theorists of Black positionality who share Fanon’s insistence that, though Blacks are . . . sentient beings, the structure of the insistence that, though Blacks are . . . sentient beings, the structure of the entire world’

entire world’s semantic field . . . is s semantic field . . . is sutured by anti-Black solidarsutured by anti-Black solidarity. . . . Afro-ity. . . . Afro-pessimism explores the meaning of Blackness not—in the first instance—as pessimism explores the meaning of Blackness not—in the first instance—as a variously and unconsciously interpellated identity or as a conscious social a variously and unconsciously interpellated identity or as a conscious social actor, but as a structural position of noncommunicability in the face of all actor, but as a structural position of noncommunicability in the face of all other positions; this meaning is noncommunicable because, again, as a other positions; this meaning is noncommunicable because, again, as a posi-tion, Blackness is predicated on modalities of accumulation and fungibility, tion, Blackness is predicated on modalities of accumulation and fungibility, not exploitation and alienation. (58–59)

not exploitation and alienation. (58–59)

A certain

A certain kind of sociologikind of sociological desire is announced in tcal desire is announced in this utterance, in echohis utterance, in echo not only of Fanon, not only of Patterson, but of an anticipatory not only of Fanon, not only of Patterson, but of an anticipatory counterutter-ance in Du Bois as well. What is our methodological comportment in the ance in Du Bois as well. What is our methodological comportment in the face of the question concerning the strange meaning of being black when face of the question concerning the strange meaning of being black when the ontological attitude is already under a kind of interdiction with regard to the ontological attitude is already under a kind of interdiction with regard to such being? A sociology of relations that would somehow account for the such being? A sociology of relations that would somehow account for the radically nonrelational—but this only insofar as relationality is understood radically nonrelational—but this only insofar as relationality is understood

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to be an expression of power

to be an expression of power, struc, structured by ttured by the givenness of a transcendentalhe givenness of a transcendental subjectivity t

subjectivity that the black cannot have buhat the black cannot have but by which the black can be had; at by which the black can be had; a struct

structural position that he or she cannot take but by which he or she can beural position that he or she cannot take but by which he or she can be taken. The givenness and substantiveness of transcendental subjectivity is taken. The givenness and substantiveness of transcendental subjectivity is assured by a relative nothingness. In a relationalit

assured by a relative nothingness. In a relationality that can only be manifesty that can only be manifest as a general absence of relations, by way of a theoretically established as a general absence of relations, by way of a theoretically established non-communicability that is,

communicability that is, itself, somehow given for thought by way of someitself, somehow given for thought by way of some kind of spooky action at a distance (How else would we know this kind of spooky action at a distance (How else would we know this noncom-municability? How else would it show up as t

municability? How else would it show up as the nonrelatiohe nonrelationality nality that strthat strucuc- -tures all relationality?).

tures all relationality?).

Within this framework blackness and antiblackness remain in brutally Within this framework blackness and antiblackness remain in brutally antisocial structural support of one another like the stanchions of an absent antisocial structural support of one another like the stanchions of an absent bridge of lost desire over which flows the commerce and under which flows bridge of lost desire over which flows the commerce and under which flows the current, the logistics and energy of exclusion and incorporation, that the current, the logistics and energy of exclusion and incorporation, that characterizes the political world. Though it might seem paradoxical, the characterizes the political world. Though it might seem paradoxical, the bridge between blackness and antiblackness

bridge between blackness and antiblackness isis  “the unbridgeable gap  “the unbridgeable gap between Black being and Human life” (

between Black being and Human life” (Wilderson 2010: 57). WhaWilderson 2010: 57). What remains ist remains is the necessity of an attempt to index black existence by way of what Chandler the necessity of an attempt to index black existence by way of what Chandler (2007: 41) would call

(2007: 41) would call par paraaontoontological, rather thalogical, rather than politico-ontological, means.n politico-ontological, means. The relative nothingness of black life, which shows up for political ontology The relative nothingness of black life, which shows up for political ontology as a relation of nonrelation or counterrela

as a relation of nonrelation or counterrelation precisely in tion precisely in the impossibility ofthe impossibility of political intersubjectivity, can be said both to obscure and to indicate the political intersubjectivity, can be said both to obscure and to indicate the social

social animation of tanimation of the bridge’s underside, wherhe bridge’s underside, where the e the im/possibim/possibilities of ilities of polit- polit-ical intersubjectivity are exhausted. Politpolit-ical ontology backs away from the ical intersubjectivity are exhausted. Political ontology backs away from the experimental declivity that Fanon and Du Bois were at least able to blaze, experimental declivity that Fanon and Du Bois were at least able to blaze, each in his own way forging a sociological path that would move against the each in his own way forging a sociological path that would move against the limiting force, held in the ontological traces, of positivism, on the one hand, limiting force, held in the ontological traces, of positivism, on the one hand, and phenom

and phenomenologyenology, on the , on the other, as each would serother, as each would serve as tve as the foundation of ahe foundation of a theory of relations posing the nothingness of blackness in its (negative) theory of relations posing the nothingness of blackness in its (negative) rela-tion to the substance of subjectivity-as-nonblackness (enacted in tion to the substance of subjectivity-as-nonblackness (enacted in antiblack-ness). On the one hand, blackness and ontology are unavailable for one ness). On the one hand, blackness and ontology are unavailable for one another; on the other hand, black

another; on the other hand, blackness must free itself from ontolness must free itself from ontological exogical expec- pec-tation, must refuse subjection to ontology’s sanction against the very idea of tation, must refuse subjection to ontology’s sanction against the very idea of black subjectivity. Th

black subjectivity. This imperative is not somis imperative is not somethiething up ahead, to which black-ng up ahead, to which black-ness aspires; it is the labor, which must not be mistaken for Sisyphean, that ness aspires; it is the labor, which must not be mistaken for Sisyphean, that blackness serially

blackness serially commits. The paraontocommits. The paraontological distinclogical distinction between tion between blackblack- -ness and blacks allows us no longer to be enth

ness and blacks allows us no longer to be enthralled by tralled by the notion that black-he notion that black-ness is a property th

ness is a property that belongs to bat belongs to blacks (thereby placing certain formulationslacks (thereby placing certain formulations regarding non/relationality and non/communicability on a different footing regarding non/relationality and non/communicability on a different footing

Figure

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