The function of the spirituals in the African-American intellectual tradition is well-known, especially in the work of W.E.B. Du Bois and Alain Locke – for both, the spirituals work as a foundation to the tradition. The spirituals are an enigma. They represent content as both lyric and sound; indeed, the distinction between those two forms of content is thin, at most. More likely there is no real distinction. Frederick Douglass notes the profundity of the sorrow songs in Narrative when (more…)
In “Letter on Humanism,” a letter written to French theorist Jean Beaufret in response to the claim that his book Being and Time did not contain an ethics, Martin Heidegger famously remarks that “language is the house of Being.” This is a signature moment in Heidegger’s work, one that (roughly) shifts his work from the relationship between subjectivity and ontology to the more searching, and certainly more peculiar, question of language, truth, and Being. But Heidegger underscores something very important in this famous remark: language and what it means to be are inextricably linked. (more…)
This is the draft introduction to my essay “Martinique Between Naipaul and Fanon,” which I have written about in a number of posts over the past week.
Antillean society is a neurotic society, a comparison society. Hence we are referred back from the individual to the social structure. If there is a flaw, it lies not in the ‘soul’ of the individual, but in his environment.
Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks
At first glance, they are two very different, if not outright opposed, thinkers. (more…)
The meaning of Caribbean history is too much for any single post, to say the least (ha), but let me reflect here on with two signature moments in theorizing the Black diaspora. At the 1956 Paris Congress, where Fanon delivered his “Racism and Culture” essay, Alioun Diop makes an important set of remarks. Diop remarks that history has “dishonored” black communities, not simply through the systematic violence of four and a half centuries of slavery and colonialism, but also because the meaning and significance of history has always been at stake and the European theorists of history have dominated the narrative that consigns only abjection to Africa and the diaspora. “[W]ere it not for the fact that this History, with a capital H, was the unilateral interpretation of the life of the world by the West all along,” Diop writes, perhaps the historical meaning of black people could be different. (more…)
How does Fanon understand Martinique, and therefore the Caribbean as such? This question concerns both how Fanon’s work works as a theory of the colonized and what it means that Fanon left the Caribbean for Algeria. I do not mean to speculate about motives or mindset, but instead just describe how Fanon’s account of the Caribbean sets out an impossible situation, an unredeemable place, which is, in the end, incompatible with the possibilities described in his radical optimism (a future without a past, a new humanism). (more…)
In “Reading and Writing,” there is a short meditation on Joseph Conrad’s work, work with which he feels a surprising and almost elliptical affinity, and Naipaul there turns to autobiography in order to describe the relationship between reading and a sense of place. This is important because it inscribes the question of place – what it means to belong, and therefore to flourish outside conditions of inexorable alienation (colonialism’s cultural effect), but also what it means to be adrift in alienation – in language and storytelling. (more…)
One of my general aims in critically re-reading Fanon is to historicize – in the sense of periodization – his thought. For me, this means in part critically evaluating how he understands the Caribbean in terms of memory, history, and culture, framed by developments after Fanon. Too much work in philosophy and theory begins and ends with Fanon, or reads him as a sort of timeless thinker. But periodizing also means asking how we might frame Fanon’s work with the questions of his moment. (more…)
One of the key claims in my writing on Fanon is that he eschews history in the name of a new beginning, which is both fantastical and forgetful of those forms of resistance and saying yes to life borne by vernacular cultural forms. For me, this is not just a comment about how Fanon has forgotten something in his analysis. (more…)
I’m writing and thinking about two passages. The first is an old 1920s blues and string band lyric, one that has many variations, but comes down to this turn of phrase:
If trouble don’t kill me
I believe I’ll never die
The lyric comes up a lot in profoundly sad and mournful songs, of course, but also in dance tunes. (more…)
My essay for the Caribbean Philosophical Association meeting in San Juan makes what I hope will be a provocative claim: on the question of the meaning of the Caribbean, Naipaul and Fanon are essentially saying the same thing. In terms of the iconography of the Caribbean intellectual tradition, there could not be a sharper contrast. Naipaul is melancholic, wandering, and generally as pessimistic about the meaning of the Caribbean as you’ll find in the tradition. Fanon’s affect is really the opposite, with a dreamy optimism about the future, and (at least at the level of rhetoric) militant politics. (more…)