Note on Vijay Iyer

January 28th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

Here are the comments I made introducing Vijay Iyer at the 28 January 2016 Hutchins Center colloquium at Harvard, with links to text and examples.

Introducing Vijay Iyer

It is an immense pleasure and honor to introduce Vijay Iyer today, Franklin D. and Florence Rosenblatt Professor of the Arts in the Department of Music. I know Vijay a bit, and I’ll talk about that in a moment, but before meeting him in person, I was like everyone floored by his music. It is vibrant, challenging, multi-sensory, intellectual, and just flat out beautiful. His honors and recognitions are well-known: Grammy nominee in 2011, Doris Duke Performing Artist in 2012, a 2013 MacArthur Fellow, and named by DownBeat magazine as pianist of the year in 2014, then artist of the year in 2015. Vijay’s albums have won similar honors » Read the rest of this entry «

On Guenther’s Solitary Confinement

December 29th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Here are my long-ish remarks on Lisa Guenther’s book Solitary Confinement: Social Death and Its Afterlives, for a book session at the 2014 American Philosophical Association.


It is nothing surprising to say that Lisa Guenther’s Solitary Confinement: Social Death and its Afterlives is a stunningly important work. Her topic – the meaning and significance of the practice of solitary confinement as a form of punishment – could not be more timely and urgent, whether we look to the recently released report on torture practices in the U.S. or to the increasing attention given to racialized practices of incarceration in this country.  » Read the rest of this entry «

Privacy, coloniality, identity

November 8th, 2014 § 4 comments § permalink

Here are my remarks from the roundtable discussion on James Baldwin and Privacy at the American Studies Association meeting in Los Angeles. They are short (a 5-8 minute slot), but I try here to think about colonialism as hyper-visibility and publicity and how Baldwin’s conception of Black cultural formation in the United States operates with a sense of privacy that complicates, if not out rejects, the relation between coloniality and the social and political practice(s) of anti-Black racism in the U.S. » Read the rest of this entry «

Levinas and after

October 23rd, 2014 § 5 comments § permalink

The following is my response to comments by Sonia Sikka and Kris Sealey at the 23 October book session on my Levinas and the Postcolonial. They commented extensively, raising questions of the future of Levinas studies, philosophical pluralism, and the legacies of colonialism in contemporary thought. This is what I have to say in reply… » Read the rest of this entry «

Ideology and Shame

October 20th, 2014 § 1 comment § permalink

In recounting his falling out with Stokely Carmichael in Revolutionary Suicide, Huey Newton touches on a couple of key points, most of which are well-known to those familiar with Black Power/Black Panther history, But bear they repeating and reexamination because the conflict and division they identify raise enormously complex, enormously urgent questions. In this case, I want to revisit them in order to ask the question both Carmichael and Newton ask: in terms of racial justice, what does it mean to consider white people as participants in, and so not just bystanders to or targets of, a revolutionary project? » Read the rest of this entry «

Du Bois and the 1897 post-racial

October 17th, 2014 § 5 comments § permalink

After Obama’s election in 2008, we got to hear a lot about this term “post-racial.” I’ve never been sure exactly who believed in such a thing, except those people for whom race is such an anxiety that they now flat out deny its presence in everyday life and always have. Opportunists. In that sense, I could hardly take the rhetoric for or against seriously. The same people who were happy to declare race “over” when Obama was elected had been saying the same thing for a few decades, at least. Targeting that particular term as a product of the moment? A strange project, I think.

Here is a funny bit of historical perspective. » Read the rest of this entry «

Huey Newton’s primal scenes

October 17th, 2014 § 1 comment § permalink

There are many ways to read Huey Newton’s Revolutionary Suicide. It is, above all, a signature text of its moment: peaking Black radicalism, splinters in that radicalism (the critiques of Eldridge Cleaver and Stokely Carmichael aren’t just polemical, they cut to the heart of the meanings of nationalism and revolutionary politics), and autobiography as a kind of revolutionary practice. It is also a programme for self-liberation that, in Newton’s telling, becomes the liberation of a people. Self-liberation is inseparable from the encounter with books and ideas – or, perhaps better, from the encounter with what makes books and ideas possible. This last bit is what interests me.

Re-reading Revolutionary Suicide for my course this semester, I’m also struck by the fragmented and quirky intellectual lineage Newton evokes, from Plato and Descartes to Mao and Fanon to Coleridge to Ho Chi Minh. There is a lot to tease out in those connections, and in general I think Newton needs to be read closely and appreciated as an intellectual in both the bookish sense and the organic, politically mobilizing sense of what Grant Farred calls “the vernacular intellectual” (see his What’s My Name?). » Read the rest of this entry «

Leiter & Philosophy: A Surely Much Too Early Post-Mortem

September 25th, 2014 § 23 comments § permalink

Some thoughts that are something like an entirely too early post-mortem on professional philosophy’s great harasser: Brian Leiter. Thanks to Leigh Johnson for playing the role of collector of the major pieces out about Leiter and, hopefully, his final stumble and fall. This recent stuff about him – sending harassing emails meant to intimidate – should be no surprise. No surprise at all. He’s been at it a long time. Perhaps it’s worth stopping and reflecting on what it says about philosophy as a profession. » Read the rest of this entry «

Letter on Salaita, U of Illinois

August 18th, 2014 § 3 comments § permalink

I am posting here (with his permission)  a letter by Martin Kavka, who teaches in the Department of Religion at Florida State University. His words represent an alternative and thoughtful response to the Salaita case at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. A boycott of the campus by faculty has spread across social media (I have myself signed on), and I think the boycott is both a smart response and an important one. Martin’s letter outlines a bit of a different response, one that builds a protest into the the talk. Thanks to Martin for permission to post this and for his considered alternative. » Read the rest of this entry «

Heidegger, racism, and scholarship

July 23rd, 2014 § 27 comments § permalink

My doctoral training was in European philosophy. At University of Memphis (1991-1996), I studied Kant, Hegel, Husserl, Heidegger, Levinas, Irigaray, and Derrida with some of smartest folks out there, including most prominently Robert Bernasconi, Tom Nenon, and Tina Chanter. Around 1999 or so, I decided to shift fields to what I do now: Africana studies in a philosophical register. I still follow some European trends and work, and there’s no doubt that my own orientation is informed by what we call “poststructuralism.” I read from that place, even as the tradition I used to work in gets reworked at every level when I think and write. The re-emergence of Heidegger and the question of anti-Semitism, controversial yet again, caught my eye and I’ve been meaning to write a bit on it. Here’s that bit, for what it’s worth. » Read the rest of this entry «