Ideology and Shame

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? Continue reading “Ideology and Shame”

Du Bois and the 1897 post-racial

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. Continue reading “Du Bois and the 1897 post-racial”

Huey Newton’s primal scenes

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?). Continue reading “Huey Newton’s primal scenes”

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

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. Continue reading “Leiter & Philosophy: A Surely Much Too Early Post-Mortem”

Letter on Salaita, U of Illinois

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. Continue reading “Letter on Salaita, U of Illinois”

Heidegger, racism, and scholarship

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. Continue reading “Heidegger, racism, and scholarship”

Beauty, pain, and A Small Place

I’ve been stuck in a particular section of this project – a long critical introduction to a new translation of Jean Bernabé, Patrick Chamoiseau, and Raphael Confiant’s Éloge de la créolité (contracted with SUNY). The section is on Édouard Glissant’s contribution to and critical appraisal of the creolists. On the one hand, this is the most straightforward section of the introduction. Unlike other sections on Négritude and surrealism, black existentialism, and my own conception of the afro-postmodern, this section – which I title Theorizing the Black Atlantic – has plenty of texts for dialogue, extrapolation, and analysis. Still, as it goes with writing, sometimes it is hard to start and find the right motif. Continue reading “Beauty, pain, and A Small Place”

On Fanon’s birthday

Today is what would have been Frantz Fanon’s 89th birthday – born in 1925, died in 1961, but in that short time he completely changed how we think about embodiment, freedom, resistance, identity, and so much more. I’ve always been partial to Black Skin, White Masks, which I consider his greatest work. As with all ambitious work, it is flawed and is full of oversteps, oversights, and under-theorized concepts. But that’s exactly what I like about it: it thinks more than the book can contain. Continue reading “On Fanon’s birthday”

Race, reading, and critical framing

I’m working slowly but persistently on this James Baldwin book – tentative title ‘So Unimaginable a Price’: Baldwin and the Black Atlantic – and have recently been sitting with his famous critique of Richard Wright. The basics of that critique are well-known and straightforward enough: the protest novel is one-dimensional and Black life is more complex, complicated, and therefore worthy of a better literature. Whether or not that’s fair to Wright is its own question. But it reveals Baldwin’s own priorities and values as a thinker and are important for that reason alone. Continue reading “Race, reading, and critical framing”

Rest in peace, Allen Grossman

Sad news via Publishers Weekly that poet Allen Grossman has passed away. He died of complications from Alzheimer’s at 83, according to this story and his son. I’m not a poetry professor or specialist, but I know beautiful words when I read them. Grossman’s poetry and fantastically wandering, evocative essays – a sort of poetics, also a sort of autobiography – caught me when I first read him. Completely by chance.

I was at the School of Criticism and Theory at Cornell University in summer of 2000. The point of me being there was to continue – in a big push – to reinvent myself as an intellectual. Trained in European philosophy, especially the French postmodernists and early phenomenology, I’d made the decision to turn my attention to the Americas with special attention to the Caribbean and African-American traditions. For me, the bridge concept (I wasn’t interested in a clean break, but instead some careful, thoughtful transition) was theorizing trauma in Holocaust studies and varieties of historiography in 20th century Jewish critical theory. SCT that year would be reading and discussing trauma studies, with one seminar by David Carroll that ended with Édouard Glissant.

So, I was off.

allen grossman

I met fantastic people there, including most seriously my spouse and sometimes collaborator. For those friendships and that singular love, so very grateful for chance and luck!

I also met and talked a lot with Allen Grossman. He was everything you think of when you think of a poet: bombastic, dead serious, unpredictable, sensuous, critical, attentive, daydreamy – here is a nice appreciation of his work. Asked him about Derek Walcott, whom I was reading seriously at the time, and Allen swung his hands around and yelled “his language is too sensual, I can barely read the words!” Yes. That is true!

Before I got there to SCT, I read some of Allen’s poetry and essays. I read everyone on the faculty seminar lists. But wow did his poetry stick with me. It is everything. I read this often when I think of what it means to think, then begin to write:

Asking Allen Grossman about writing and thinking and books and ideas was like enrolling in a master-class on the solitude and intensity of thought and expression. We chatted regularly by chance on the Cornell campus while walking around. We had lunch three times. I remember each one because I left and went back to my summer dorm room to write like crazy. Just inspired me. He wasn’t interested in the Africana studies stuff I was pursuing, but my background in 20th century Jewish critical theory gave us a common vocabulary. That is, it gave me a starting point for listening closely.

His poetry is also intensely sensual. I’ll leave this here as a close, saying, yes, rest in peace Allen Grossman. And thank you for your words on the page and for shouting and ranting and inspiring me when I needed it, was ready for it, and in love with it.

grossman for puff