I contend that afro-pessimism has not taken pessimism seriously enough. In what many consider the foundational text, Frank Wilderson’s 2010 book Red, White, and Black, pessimism is only mentioned six times. While it is clear that his pessimism emerges from a metaphysical pessimism based on an objective claim about the world (Thacker, 67). I want to push the conversation forward not through the ontology of the non- but a non-ontology. Rather that developing negativity out from structural positionality, I want to develop the other “major key” of pessimism: the subjective attitude of pessimism towards the world (67). I do so by drawing on theories of gender, and philosophies of negation.
Outlining the source of negativity for various theorists may clarify the dispute between black optimism and afro-pessimism. To do so, I begin with Frantz Fanon’s “fact of blackness,” which I trace through optimist Fred Moten and pessimist Frank WIlderson.
Frantz Fanon’s negativity is the result of the “fact of blackness.” Featured in the fifth chapter of his psychoanalytic studies Black Skin, White Masks, Fanon theorizes blackness as a process of mis-recognition. It is on the street where one discovers their blackness, he says. “Look, a Negro!,” someone calls out, and he is “battered down by tom-toms, cannibalism, intellectual deficiency, fetishism, racial defects, slave-ships.” Suspending the step of the dialectic, blackness is sealed into “crushing objecthood” (109, 112). Continue reading “Fanon: Straddling Infinity and Nothingness”
To understand blackness, one can begin with the context set by The Black Radical Tradition. Scholars have argued that enslaved African peoples have transferred and edited “historical, cultural, and moral materials” as an ongoing shared resource (Interview). Cedric Robinson argues in Black Marxism for the self-conscious development of those materials into a political project that he calls “The Black Radical Tradition.” Familiar Marxists fill the ranks of the Tradition, namely WEB DuBois, CLR James, and (more recently) Angela Davis. Generalizing the problematic out from individual thinkers, we can think the Lukacsian spirit of the challenge posed by the project of The Black Radical Tradition: how can blackness overcome the self-aware fact of shared condition to become a self-aware political force? Or in the elegant Marxian terms: the transition from a class-in-itself to a class-for-itself (commonly derived from The Poverty of Philosophy). Continue reading “The Black Radical Tradition”
The beginning to a talk I will give at the Cultural Studies Association conference in Riverside, CA next week. On the occasion of Achille Mbembe’s new preface to the African reprint of On the Postcolony by Wits University Press
Mbembe: Critique is witnessing as well as endless vigilance, interrogation and anticipation. A proper critique requires us first to dwell in the chaos of the night in order precisely to better break through into the dazzling light of the day.
We recognise the moment of pessimism when the layers of the past and the world of the present fall into the void; that is, a place that is not a place. We recognise the moment of pessimism when we trivialise human experience or provoke misplaced empathy or contempt, when, unable to release language, we succumb to the elemental materiality of the there is.
We enter this “dark night of language” when its symbolising powers are suddenly crippled and, instead of revealing what is hidden within the self-evident and what lies beneath the surface, behind the mask, language circles in on itself and hides what it should be showing.
This paper is on the darkness that clings to so-called “afro-pessimism.” My thesis is that to take the “pessimism” of afro-pessimism seriously, I argue for moving from the metaphysical pessimism of making claims about this world to the moral pessimism of a fatalistic attitude towards the world. Continue reading “Afro-Pessimism as Aesthetic Blackness”