Preface to Glissant and the Middle Passage

Here is a preview of my new book Glissant and the Middle Passage: Philosophy, Beginning, Abyss, due out from University of Minnesota Press in June. The book offers a long argument for understanding the Middle Passage as a philosophical event, transforming our understanding of memory and its constitutive relation to subjectivity, aesthetics, and the nature of intellectual work. I put Glissant’s work in conversation with a number of Atlanticworld thinkers of catastrophe and its aftermath, including most centrally Aimé Césaire, Frantz Fanon, Walter Benjamin, Antonio Benítez-Rojo, and George Lamming. But the primary focus is on offering a philosophical treatment of Glissant’s non-fiction work in order to center the question of disaster and its production of an abyss at the heart of thinking. How, then, to begin thinking with the abyss? This is Glissant’s work. This is the orientation of Glissant and the Middle Passage.

A link to the uncorrected proof of the Preface is below. Thank you to the folks at University of Minnesota for letting me share this snippet.

The beginning words …

“THIS BOOK is a long meditation on and philosophical treatment of the work of Édouard Glissant, with special attention to the poetics developed in his nonfiction writings. A bit has been written recently on Glissant and philosophy in French, but English-language commentary has been of a decidedly different character. This is a critical gap in the literature.

Glissant’s work is profoundly philosophical. There can be no doubt about this, and it makes the gap all the more noteworthy. As well, Glissant’s sustained engagement with the central trends of Atlantic thought—from Négritude to various kind of existentialism to ethical-political critiques of modernity to the poststructuralist moment—places him at the center of many debates. I want to argue in part across this book that Glissant’s conscious and deeply critical movement across both the north and south Atlantic intellectual worlds makes him a uniquely important figure. The engagements are always critical; central, for Glissant, will always be Caribbeanness considered on its own terms. But the terms of the Caribbean are always unstable, chaotic, and fractal in character, which delinks Glissant from … “

[download Preface to Glissant and the Middle Passage]

“A School Shooting”; or, Necropolitics Again

I went to bed and woke up with the same troubled conscience of all decent people. Yet another school massacre, and all the senses of hopelessness that come with the news. Knowing it is unspeakably sad and awful, knowing we’ll be here again sooner than later.

I didn’t wake up worrying about my kids at their school. I’ll be honest about that. I’ve gone there before, in the past, after a shooting. Continue reading ““A School Shooting”; or, Necropolitics Again”

A Thought on Erica Garner’s Passing

From 30 December 2017

A small thought on Erica Garner.

I was thinking today about the long, searching conversations I had with my Baldwin seminar last spring while we were reading his last great work Evidence of Things Not Seen. Baldwin in that book was able to make the lives of black Atlanta and the lives of murdered children speak, come alive, and communicate their individual and communal despair, as well as the link between that suffering and the long arc of African-American history. Continue reading “A Thought on Erica Garner’s Passing”

Derek Walcott, In Memory

Rest in peace, Derek Walcott.

A winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, he needs no new recognition. He was as great a poet as one can imagine. His non-fiction is fantastic. In a post-Fanon, post-Césaire world, he refashioned the meaning of the Caribbean for more than one generation of intellectuals. That is the world. For me, right here, there was no greater influence on my work in Africana studies. Continue reading “Derek Walcott, In Memory”

Five Thoughts on I Am Not Your Negro

A first handful of thoughts on I Am Not Your Negro, which is a film worth thinking about in a couple of different ways. First, as a film about race and American life. Second, as a film about James Baldwin. Those both are and are not the same thing in Peck’s film, I think. These are first impressions, but I wanted to write them down. I think Peck’s film is worth returning to and exploring. He’s a brilliant artist, and this is a work of art, which means it demands a lot of thoughtfulness.

I usually hesitate to write out first impressions. And yet, here are five: Continue reading “Five Thoughts on I Am Not Your Negro”

Do widzenia, Zygmunt Bauman

Rest in peace, Zygmunt Bauman.

In my waning days as a teacher of things European, I started regularly teaching a course on death. First, I taught it as an elective at Grand Valley State University in Michigan, then, second, I taught it as a first-year seminar at Hampshire College in Massachusetts. The course really had Heidegger’s meditations on death as a centerpiece – to me, some of the most profound stuff in twentieth century philosophy – and we used that to frame all sorts of stuff, whether readings of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky stories or an interpretation of Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. Continue reading “Do widzenia, Zygmunt Bauman”

On the National Museum of African American History and Culture

It was a bit of luck and a lot of hard work, but my family and I managed to get tickets to the opening day of the National Museum of African American Culture and History on Saturday, September 24th. The museum is here forever, so the first day is just an especially festive day. And that it was. There were thousands of people gathered out front to witness the opening, in line to go inside according to timed entry, and inside across the five distinct floors of works reflecting on and presenting the African American experience. Continue reading “On the National Museum of African American History and Culture”