Preface to Glissant and the Middle Passage

Here is a preview of my new book Glissant and the Middle Passage: Philosophy, Beginning, Abyss, due out from University of Minnesota Press in June. The book offers a long argument for understanding the Middle Passage as a philosophical event, transforming our understanding of memory and its constitutive relation to subjectivity, aesthetics, and the nature of intellectual work. I put Glissant’s work in conversation with a number of Atlanticworld thinkers of catastrophe and its aftermath, including most centrally Aimé Césaire, Frantz Fanon, Walter Benjamin, Antonio Benítez-Rojo, and George Lamming. But the primary focus is on offering a philosophical treatment of Glissant’s non-fiction work in order to center the question of disaster and its production of an abyss at the heart of thinking. How, then, to begin thinking with the abyss? This is Glissant’s work. This is the orientation of Glissant and the Middle Passage.

A link to the uncorrected proof of the Preface is below. Thank you to the folks at University of Minnesota for letting me share this snippet.

The beginning words …

“THIS BOOK is a long meditation on and philosophical treatment of the work of Édouard Glissant, with special attention to the poetics developed in his nonfiction writings. A bit has been written recently on Glissant and philosophy in French, but English-language commentary has been of a decidedly different character. This is a critical gap in the literature.

Glissant’s work is profoundly philosophical. There can be no doubt about this, and it makes the gap all the more noteworthy. As well, Glissant’s sustained engagement with the central trends of Atlantic thought—from Négritude to various kind of existentialism to ethical-political critiques of modernity to the poststructuralist moment—places him at the center of many debates. I want to argue in part across this book that Glissant’s conscious and deeply critical movement across both the north and south Atlantic intellectual worlds makes him a uniquely important figure. The engagements are always critical; central, for Glissant, will always be Caribbeanness considered on its own terms. But the terms of the Caribbean are always unstable, chaotic, and fractal in character, which delinks Glissant from … “

[download Preface to Glissant and the Middle Passage]

On the National Museum of African American History and Culture

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”

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”

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”

Memory, haunting, ready to die

From Marisa Parham‘s Haunting and Displacement in African American Literature and Culture (2009)

“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”

Baldwin, home, tradition

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”

Language, race, memory, home

Below is the conclusion to my essay “Vernaculars of Home,” in which I explore James Baldwin’s conception of language. In the essay, I argue that Baldwin’s defense of what he calls “black English” works as an epistemological and ontological account of African-American subjectivity. This account links black English to the sorrow songs, and so to long-standing accounts of how sound and musicality function as the foundation of the African-American intellectual tradition – which, in turn, links Baldwin to Douglass, Du Bois, Locke, and others. The full essay can be found HERE (in draft form, of course, with all those caveats in place). Photos in this post are not in the essay, but are included here just for decoration. Continue reading “Language, race, memory, home”

Solidarity and cultural politics

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”