Here is a draft of a new essay on the afropostmodern, in which I refer to parts of Jean-François Lyotard’s work in order to frame a sense of the postmodern turn in afro-Caribbean theory. (It is for a volume on Lyotard’s legacy.) I argue that the language of metanarrative and differend underscores important features of the afropostmodern – namely, in the work of Édouard Glissant and Derek Walcott – around the fecundity of contradiction and paradox. A snippet:
And if we return to Lyotard, this site of modernity/postmodernity offers a twist on the story of the postmodern and the differend, shifting from the consequences of Lyotard’s conceptions, in which anti-state and anti-imperial agitation works against the violence of modernity in our moment, and toward a notion of the afropostmodern as an originary interruption, disruption, and contestation of modernity’s violence in the very moment of its inception. The question, then, is not simply how postmodern strategies mitigate and disrupt conventional forms of violence, but also how dating or periodizing the postmodern in the moment of modernity’s emergence reveals an alternative mode of thought in the shadows of Europe’s worst excess. Further, when we see this sort of emergence-at-origin, we catch sight of something utterly compelling and revolutionary: the creation of worlds-becoming that work with fragments, work without strategies of legitimation, and therefore work without what Lyotard calls the fantasied “universal genre of discourse” that regulates difference. I am thinking here of the opening pages of The Differend in which Lyotard sets out the problem: “Given 1) the impossibility of avoiding conflicts (the impossibility of indifference) and 2) the absence of a universal genre of discourse to regulate them (or, if you prefer, the inevitable partiality of the judge): to find, if not what can legitimate judgement (the ‘good’ linkage), then at least how to save the honor of thinking.” (The Differend, xii) Thinking becomes, in the afropostmodern, a thinking of becoming – but always a becoming without reference to a possible being that stabilizes. Glissant, for that reason, characterizes Relation, his term for afropostmodern thinking, as rhizomatic and (on the model of theoretical physics) chaotic. Nomadic without the desire to set up a final or single root. A Deleuzean term, but one adopted in response to the demands of thinking in the wake of the failure of metanarratives of race, origin, or political principles to negotiate and neutralize contradiction, paradox – the threats to the modern order and its authoritarian impulses.