Baldwin, language, spirituals

December 4, 2013 § Leave a comment

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 « Read the rest of this entry »

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Baldwin, language, blackness

December 3, 2013 § Leave a comment

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. « Read the rest of this entry »

Introducing Naipaul and Fanon

November 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

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. « Read the rest of this entry »

Sighs and history

November 19, 2013 § Leave a comment

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. « Read the rest of this entry »

Fanon’s Martinique

November 18, 2013 § Leave a comment

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). « Read the rest of this entry »

Writing, place, tradition

November 17, 2013 § Leave a comment

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. « Read the rest of this entry »

Fanon and audience

November 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

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. « Read the rest of this entry »

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