in progress

“Orality and the Slave Sublime”

This essay discusses the theoretical question of orality in terms of an aesthetics and memory of sound. I begin with two aural sites:  Douglass’ recollection of hearing slaves singing in Narrative and Du Bois’ famous account of the sorrow songs in Souls. With  Gilroy’s notion of the slave sublime, developed in his book The Black Atlantic, I deploy sound and memory as a way of understanding both the necessity and possibility of orality as a foundation of tradition, resistance, and cultural transformation.

“Césaire’s Apocalyptic Word”

This essay proposes a reinterpretation of Césaire’s theoretical work around the distinction between the prophetic and apocalyptic registers. The prophetic register, I argue, is how Césaire’s Négritude is traditionally read, but that reading covers over a more provocative and experimental proposal: the apocalyptic. Working from Césaire’s declaration that he wants “the End of the World” in Notebook, the essay explores other expressions of the apocalyptic word in his early work and argue, in the end, that this is the unexpected proximity of Césaire to Fanon. Both want a new beginning, eschewing history, and so free of the memory of abjection. But with this proximity comes one and the same problem – a failure to see the profound meaning of vernacular forms of cultural expression.

“Martinique Between Fanon and Naipaul”

At first glance, they are two very different, if not outright opposed, thinkers. Naipaul, for all of his writerly brilliance, has long been known for his critical dismissal of the Caribbean as a non-place. This dismissal underlies the melancholy of his essays, travelogues, and much of his fiction. Naipaul, writer of the spiritually homeless. Fanon, for all of complexity as a thinker, has long been known for his radical anti-colonial politics, his commitment to the future of black people (and the oppressed more broadly), and his commitment to a new future for the human. These commitments add an important flair to his rhetoric and plenty of urgency to his arguments. Fanon, the revolutionary.

The problematic of the essay is framed by Glissant’s remark in Caribbean Discourse that Fanon acted on his ideas – which means not that Fanon was a praiseworthy man of action, but instead chose to leave Martinique for Algeria because he, like Naipaul, saw only abjection in the Caribbean cultural landscape. In this essay, I will argue against this first glance and claim that the difference between the early Naipaul and Fanon is largely at the level of affect and rhetorical sensibility. And, in fact, Naipaul and Fanon are in fundamental agreement about the character of the Caribbean – Martinique in particular. For both, the Caribbean is abject space. I mean by “abject space” here the shared commitment between Naipaul and Fanon to the claim that the Caribbean has no history and has to either be abandoned (Naipaul) or completely made new (Fanon).

 

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