It was a bit of luck and a lot of hard work, but my family and I managed to get tickets to the opening day of the National Museum of African American Culture and History on Saturday, September 24th. The museum is here forever, so the first day is just an especially festive day. And that it was. There were thousands of people gathered out front to witness the opening, in line to go inside according to timed entry, and inside across the five distinct floors of works reflecting on and presenting the African American experience. Continue reading “On the National Museum of African American History and Culture”
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”
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”
“Haunting is not compelling because it resonates with the supernatural, but rather because it is appropriate to a sense of what it means to live in between things – in between cultures, in between times, in between spaces – to live with various kinds of doubled consciousness. It speaks to living not only with the sense that one’s understanding of one’s own social, political, or racial reality passes through other times, other places, and other people’s experiences of the world, but also to living through those experiences in the very literal sense of making it through. Continue reading “Memory, haunting, ready to die”
From the conclusion to my essay entitled “James Baldwin and the Question of Home” – also the final chapter of my book project tentatively entitled ‘So Unimaginable a Price’: Baldwin and the Black Atlantic.
A final few words.
I began the present reflections with a note on Balfour’s and Miller’s characterization of Baldwin’s non-fiction as a politics of recognition, oriented in part – if not a large part – toward a dialectical transformation of racial politics. In this frame, the question of home is a question of what is to come, a future not-yet (avenir, a-venir) and yet spoken in the present. In this frame, and with this politics of the future, we can register the messianic dimension of Baldwin’s remarks on love in texts like The Fire Next Time. It is not a god that can save this Baldwin. Continue reading “Baldwin, home, tradition”
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”
I’ve never been a fan of how Pete Seeger renders American folk songs. His voice and musical arrangement never connected with me much at all. The voice is a bit too soaring and the arrangement a bit too, I don’t know – that thing you can’t quite name, but is how you feel and connect with musical pieces. And all of that completely misses the point once you stop thinking about personal taste, playing a song on your devices, and start thinking and remembering. Seeger died at 94. That’s a good, old age for a guy who played even older songs for so many years.
What seems more to the point, especially now at his passing, is how Seeger represented a blend of cultural politics and social commentary. Continue reading “Solidarity and cultural politics”
Jason Stanley and Vesla Weaver lay out some critically important ideas in their “Is the United States a ‘Racial Democracy’?” essay in The Stone at the New York Times website. The information is frightening, if not entirely surprising: the criminal justice system penalizes African-Americans in ways that reveals both institutional racism and mass political disenfranchisement of Black people. The numbers tell much of the story and ought to horrify all decent people. The numbers clearly have that effect on Stanley and Weaver and that shows in the earnestness of their prose and analysis.
At the same time, it’s worth asking some follow-up questions about how African-Americans appear in their essay, an essay dedicated not just to numbers and trends, but also to philosophical analysis. Continue reading “Race, racism, and thinking with philosophy”
The time of social media events is short, so writing a few words on Ani DiFranco’s apology (or apologetically toned press release) is at this point probably already out of date. Still, the talk around her event – a now-canceled plan to host a retreat at a plantation house – raises the most American of questions: what does it mean to be here, to remember where we are, and how do we situate ourselves in relation to the pain of the past? And, of course, what does it mean to apologize? Continue reading “Race, Apology, and Ani DiFranco”
One of the central questions of my Levinas and the Postcolonial is why we haven’t asked what should be a very basic, wholly necessary question: if the colonized have been tasked with decolonizing themselves – at every level – why haven’t the colonizers been tasked with the same? I tried to sketch what that looks like, that decolonization, by examining a single thinker (Levinas). The big question comes from a very basic insight and claim, and yet it’s proven to be controversial.