Event and Passage

April 28, 2019 John Drabinski

What is the Middle Passage to philosophical thinking?

My talk at Society for French Historical Studies, linked HERE in very draft form, explored this question in Édouard Glissant’s work. I frame the discussion in terms of “event,” drawn from Martin Heidegger’s late work Identity and Difference. In particular, I am interested in how event or Ereignis names the appropriation of thought and thinking by moments of fissure, fracture, and radical breaks from the past. Glissant’s account of the Middle Passage is just that: an event that fractures relation to the past, but also generates new conditions of thinking – inside, but also outside, the disaster.

This is a draft of the introductory piece for my short book project entitled What is the AfroPostmodern?, which reflects on the meaning of the Middle Passage for thinking about language, identity, the construction of meaning, and cultural politics in the black Americas – a sort of meta-reflection on my book Glissant and the Middle Passage: Philosophy, Beginning, Abyss.

And yet, for Glissant, this work after the event – or, perhaps better put, work that keeps the event forever in view – is dedicated to life alongside what he calls the fixity of days and tears. Mixed time, mixed space, mixed affect, mixed effect. Life goes on; the event makes new forms of thinking possible, forms that in the afro-Caribbean context engage and indulge the chaotic mixture of histories and memories. This means thinking historically in mixed affect, which in turn produces mixed epistemologies, ontologies, and aesthetic practices. Creolization is a response and responsiveness to the event of the Middle Passage and its appropriation of thought and being. What is that appropriation, what is it to live and to think after?

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