Happy 112th birthday to Langston Hughes. A few items in memory: one video of Gary Bartz’s interpretation of “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” (thanks to Chike Jeffers for the link), a reading of “The Weary Blues” to jazz accompaniment in 1958, and a passage from Haunting and Displacement on Hughes’ complex relation to Africa and America. Continue reading “Langston Hughes, race, memory”
In his 1964 essay “The White Problem,” dating from the period of the publication of The Fire Next Time, Baldwin sets out what he calls “two levels of experience.” These two levels operate as the dialectical tension within which whiteness as an American identity emerges. “In this country, for a dangerously long time,” Baldwin writes Continue reading “Baldwin, race, identity”
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 Continue reading “Baldwin, language, spirituals”
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. Continue reading “Introducing Naipaul and Fanon”
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. Continue reading “Sighs and history”
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. Continue reading “Between Naipaul and Fanon”
I’ve been starting and re-starting an essay that takes up the dispute between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois concerning the shape and meaning of racial uplift. The topic isn’t new, of course, but I’m hoping I have something new or interesting to say. And the topic came from a short, but really interesting conversation in my F’12 seminar Du Bois and After. Continue reading “Memory and abject labor”