New Translation: Mbembe’s Out of the Dark Night

February 8, 2021
February 8, 2021 John Drabinski

New Translation: Mbembe’s Out of the Dark Night

I’m so happy the translation of Sortir de la grande nuit is out (with another essay included). This is probably my favorite of Mbembe‘s work. Coupled with the translation of Politiques de l’inimitié (Necropolitics) and of course Critique de la raison nègre, this is some of the most compelling work on decolonization … really glad this is all available now for people who do not read French.

I have to say, too, that Mbembe is the only writer to get me excitedly back to looking at Fanon, whatever very real and deep reservations I have about Fanon and Fanon scholarship. But I think what’s now Out of the Dark Night opens really new horizons, especially in the “Epilogue”:

The aim of anti colonialism was to create a new form of reality: emancipation from what was most intolerable and unbearable in colonialism, its dead force, and then the constitution of a subject who, at the origin, would first refer to itself – an, in referring first to itself, to its pure possibility and free apparition, would inevitably relate to the world, to others, to an Elsewhere.

The objective of the uprising was to be born into freedom. Its objective was to break the dead forces that limit the capacities for life. Becoming free was the equivalent of being by and for oneself, constituting oneself as a responsible human subject – before oneself, before others, and before nations. This is what I have referred to through this book as the politics of ascent into humanity.

There is so much here. It is a big, broad take on anticolonial struggle and the future of decolonial work, which follows from detailed and compelling analyses in all the pages that preceded – as well as the books that have preceded it, for sure. But what caught my eye in this moment is the turn to the ethical subject in formation, not just a romantic revolutionary subject that comes out of so much in Fanon scholarship or a kind of liberal fascination with self-assertion dressed up as revolutionary muscularity. Rather, Mbembe links the ascent into humanity as a distance, a distance that is something without real philosophical language, in which one is able to see self, other, nation as sites of responsible self-making instead of screens on which to project one’s self or the fantasies of what community and nation would look like. In other words, decolonial *becoming* that dispenses with narcissism and obsession with power in the name of being before self and others and community/nation as a responsible, responsive, and co-creative subject. In that way, I think the “Epilogue” to this new translation is my favorite part of the book. Mbembe steps directly into the space Fanon compels and opens up, but does so with a kind of humility and vulnerability that speaks to futurity on its own anxious terms: if we do not know what is to come after, we become in the after and make worlds there, or at least can possibly make worlds, in the mode and name of responsibility. The future is an ethical task.

I like this turn. It is immensely difficult space because it is a space to come (à-venir, avenir, the undeconstructable, etc.). But this is some of the most honest reckoning with space to come I’ve read. I know this book will get eyes on it. And I’m so happy about that.