Black Power as Thing Power: The Limits of Bennet’s Eco-Philosophy

Jane Bennet’s renowned book, “Vibrant Matter” puts the reader in contact and conversation with things. With a Frankensteinian echo, Bennet philosophically invites her reader’s to think through the notion that, “It’s alive.” In other words, Bennet attempts to challenge the normative discussion of philosophical materialist that looks to matter as an inert factor/function of life and seeks to argue for the vitality of the thing. The it is not simply a thing that is moved by persons, but the it reacts, enacts, and interacts with persons. In doing so, Bennet conceives of the idea of Thing-Power. Thing-Power is, “the curious ability of inanimate things to be animate, to act, to produce effects dramatic and sublime.”[1]

In an attempt to mobilize her thoughts, Bennett tells the reader a “speculative onto-story” of five things: a black plastic work glove, a mat of oak pollen, a dead rat, a plastic bottle cap, and a stick of wood. For Bennett, these five things mesh together to perform an assemblage of vital materiality. The assemblage comes together to form a connection of reactants that engage in-the-World with life.  Bennett writes, “When the materiality of the glove, the rat, the pollen, the cap and the stick start to shimmer and spark it was in part because of the contingent tableau that they formed with each other, with the street, with the weather that morning, with me.”[2] This tableau is the assemblage that connects and continues to connect nonhuman things with human persons. To Bennett, these things are not simply scattered across the street; these things are forming relationships, circulating and spreading information and possibilities to each other, with each other, and with Bennett herself. The way they do so is through conatus – a concept crucial to Bennett’s New Materialism. Conatus is the “active impulsion” or trending tendency to persist. This concept, initially articulated by the philosopher Baruch Spinoza, is important for Bennett’s conception of materiality. The work glove, the oak pollen, the dead rat, the plastic bottle cap, and the stick insist on persisting even as they begin to decay, even as they lose significance as human instruments. The power of the thing is the power to persist.

Whereas Bennett’s philosophical intervention is an important critique of old materialist discourse on matter, especially in the age of the Anthropocene, her new materialist philosophy of vital materiality still operates through a problematic that has plagued the “New World” since its inception. As Bennett witnesses this vitality, she is at awe by what she sees. However, what starts as a seeing turns into a gazing as Bennett, quoting Maurice Mearleau-Ponty says, “our gaze, prompted by the experience of our own body, will discover in all other ‘objects’ the miracle of expression.”[3] It is at this point that Bennett begins to raise eyebrows. Our gaze is prompted by the experience of our own body. If this is true, we cannot discuss Bennett’s seeing without an analytics of the white gaze. For Bennett’s white body positions, stations, and situates her seeing. Philosopher George Yancy in his book Black Bodies, White Gazes describes the white gaze as, “that performance of distortional seeing that evolves out of and inextricably linked to various raced and racist myths, white discursive practices, and centripetal processes of white systemic power and white solipsism.”[4] Bennnet’s gaze is not an objective gaze; Bennet’s gaze operates within an empirical lens that optically situates the thing in accordance to “various raced and racist myths, white discursive practices, and centripetal processes of white system power and white solipsism.”

There is no better portrayal of this specific “white discursive practice” than when blackness enters into Bennett’s eco-philosophy. The Black enters Bennett’s conversation only through a disavowal, a disavowal that showcases the full extent of white blindness that structures Bennett’s gaze. More to the point, Bennett’s eco-philosophy while challenging epistemic norms of traditional Western philosophy, sustains the epistemic norm of anti-blackness in traditional Western philosophy through her inability to grapple with the positionality of black life in an anti-Black World. When Bennett writes, “Not Flower Power, or Black Power, or Girl Power, but Thing Power,”[5] she disavows the intimate connection that has always already figured and positioned the Black as Thing. In fact, the notion of Blackness is inconceivable without this Thing-Ness. Blackness as a signifier for a specifically raced-and-marked-body does not exist without the historical-racial schema that positioned the Black as a sentient commodity to be stolen, shipped, processed and enslaved. The auction block is nothing other than the block where nonorganic life is sold as property to a property owner. The hood is nothing other than the space where nonorganic life breathes in industrial pollution, drinks led-contaminated water, sleeps with rabid rodents, lives to be killed “anywhere, anyhow” by and “from anything” for any reason. Until the World of anti-blackness is ended, Blackness will always exist as an “object among other objects.”[6]

Frantz Fanon, psychiatrist and philosopher, moments after encountering the white gaze and remarks from a child who utters, “Look! A Nigger!” muses on the situation and says, “Disoriented, incapable of confronting the Other, the white man, who had no scruples in imprisoning me, I transported myself on that particular day far, very far, from myself and gave myself up as an object.”[7] Here, one might desire to reach out to Fanon, to hold him, to form relation, to assure him that although the “individual” eyes that stare at his black body turn him into an object, he is not “actually an object.” However, this desire itself relies on liberal notions of individuality that treat the structural problem of anti-blackness as a problem of individual persons with “perverse views” versus a systemic issue crystallized into the fabric of the World. The Black body is positioned as thing, not because individual white bodies have calcified it, but because the brutal history of thingification has calcified it. Only an end to the World that made blackness equal to thingness can resolve this equation. Theorist, Fred Moten, reminds us that, “Things are in, but they do not have, a world, a place, but it is precisely both the specificity of having neither world nor place and the generality of not having that we explore at the nexus of openness and confinement, internment and flight.”[8] The homelessness of being a thing is a homelessness shared by the things Bennett discusses and the thing that Frantz Fanon embodies. What Bennett articulates from above as a Human/White/Universal standpoint, Frantz Fanon articulates from below as a Non-Human/Black/Incommunicable standpoint. These irreconcilable standpoints are attempted to be dealt with by New Materialist like Jane Bennet, but their inability to wrestle with Blackness creates scenarios that resurface epistemic violence onto new “things.”

The resurfacing of epistemic violence is at the heart of George Yancy’s white gaze critique. When Yancy describes the white gaze as being characterized by “white solipsism,” he is attempting to speak to a form of empiricism that locks the World into the ways of white modes of being and knowing. White solipsism is a condition of epistemic blindness that forces one to believe that nothing exists beyond white ideals and the immediate white world. The way that Bennett imbues her object with white liberal ideals and mobilizes their voices as voices in conjunction with the system of white liberalism is indicative of the form of white solipsism that Yancy critiques. Bennett cannot see past this World, and cannot accept that Non-Human/Incommunicable standpoints might have a completely different system of being and knowing; or, in Frantz Fanon words, Bennett cannot see, “their metaphysics, or, less pretentiously, their customs and the sources on which they were based.”[9]

This is evident when Bennet discusses the thing-power of Gunpowder Reside in a courtroom. Bennett, telling the story of a time when she was on jury duty, describes the power of the Gunpowder to bring about a conviction of an attempted homicide trial in Baltimore. Calling the Gunpowder Residue from the shooting an “object/witness,” Bennett writes, “The object/witness had been dabbed on the accuser’s hand hours after the shooting and now offered to the jury its microscopic evidence that the hand had either fired a gun or been within three feet of a gun firing. Expert witnesses showed the sampler to the jury several times, and with each appearance it exercised more force, until it became vital to the verdict.”[10] The implication of this statement is that the object/witness, as an actant, in the trial has a vested interest in offering itself up to the jury in order to eventually convict or acquit. Bennett’s solipsism does not engage with the possibility that the “object/witness” may have an entirely different system of interest that does not include cycling more Baltimore city residents into America’s oppressive carceral system. Nor does Bennett seem to have any interest in interrogating the problems that rest in every attempt to impose a white system of values onto the “Other.” Whereas the implications of such an imposition may seem trivial when the “thing” in discussion is simply Gunpowder Residue, the implications are perhaps made clearer when one listens to the narratives shared by those bodies always already positioned as thing. Frantz Fanon writes, “The black man has no ontological resistance in the eyes of the white man. Overnight the Negro has been given two frames of reference within which he has had to place himself. His metaphysics, or, less pretentiously, his customs and the sources on which they were based, were wiped out because they were in conflict with a civilization that he did not know and that imposed itself on him.”[11] The inability of the thing to have “ontological resistance,” or resistance to the modes of being and knowing enforced as the “logical conclusions” of white empirics, is the inability of the Gunpowder Residue to resist being imbued with Bennet’s system of values. The Gunpowder Residue must then split itself in two as an object, in accordance to its own “metaphysics”, and a witness, in accordance to the metaphysics of Bennett. This is a resurfacing of epistemic violence insofar as Bennett denies the epistemic agency of the thing – even if she attempts to grant it “capacity to act.” This capacity to act, however, does not free the thing as much as it locks into new scenes of subjection. Looking at the way Bennett looks at the Thing while imbuing the Thing with Humanist values and juxtaposing this way of seeing with the objectification Frantz Fanon feels as a result of a similar gazing upon his Black body, we can see how Bennett’s inability to look to the historical-racial schema with rigor does not only recycle anti-Black modes of seeing, but recycles anti-Blackness itself.

The Black as the Non-Human/Black/Incommunicable exist at the nexus point of “openness and confinement, internment and flight” and it is from this nexus point that we have to begin to think our questions of thingliness if we want to avoid recycling historical violence. Any analysis of thingness in this anti-Black world that either decentralizes the Black or outright disavows the Black will enable this form of violence. Donna Haraway reminds us that, “It matters which stories tell stories, which concepts think concepts. Mathematically, visually, narratively, it matters which figures figure figures, which systems systematize system.”[12] And the Black, as that which exist liminally as the Non-Human, must be at the forefront of our New Materialist conversations. For, “The history of blackness is a testament to the fact that objects can and do resist”[13] and to think through that, is to think through what Fanon called, “The Fact of Blackness,” and to see the fact of blackness is to see that Black Power, is always already Thing Power and the history of blackness is nothing more than a testament to the fact and a resistance to the results.

[1] Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Duke University Press, 2009), 6.

[2] Ibid, 5

[3] Ibid, 5

[4] George Yancy, Black Bodies, White Gazes: The Continuing Significance of Race (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2008), xviii.

[5] Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things, 6.

[6] Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (Grove press, 2008), 89.

[7] Ibid, 92

[8] Fred Moten, Blackness and Nothingness (Mysticism in the Flesh), South Atlantic Quarterly, vol. 112, 2013, 751, doi:10.1215/00382876-2345261.

[9] Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, 90.

[10] Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things, 9.

[11] Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, 90.

[12] Donna J Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Duke University Press, 2016), 101.

[13] Fred Moten, In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition (U of Minnesota Press, 2003), 1.

It’s Not Post-Truth, It’s the Zenith of the Post-Modern Condition

You’ve heard it before. The phrase is so commonplace that you don’t really even need to be an expert to have a sense as to what people are talking about when they utter it. It’s been talked about in books, news articles, the media, and even films. Occasionally, it’s a conversation discussed around the dinner table that can leads to major controversies in the family. And no, I’m not talking about “fake news” yet, or what constitutes “fake news” or the phrase “post-truth,” though they have become a frequent phrase in contemporary discourse. What I’m talking about is Nietzsche’s notorious injunction that, “God is Dead.”

Most people familiar or unfamiliar with the work of Nietzsche have heard this phrase before, and it usually is articulated as means to invite shock. If God is dead, then what does that mean for those of us who believe in God, who rely on God, who need God to navigate through time and space? Usually, this injunction is made into a metaphor for what Nietzsche’s entire philosophical project tends to lean towards, namely the rejection of Truth. For God to be dead is for our metanarratives of Truth to be dead. Truth is no longer thought to be transcendental and eternal, the objective subject position is met with harsh skepticism, and the entire Truth-telling apparatus is met with incredulity. Nietzsche is then thought of as the “Father of Postmodernism” and in his philosophical novel Thus Spake Zarathustra, he often makes references, that he “has come to early.” And perhaps, he had. However, the apostles of his work, the Postmodern philosophers like Jean Francois Lyotard and Jean Baudrillard, who revisited his work as a framework through which to describe the condition of postmodernity reveal that if he had come to early, it was still important for him to come. And, if their postmodern enunciations are seen as a sociological descriptions of the (White) World post-WW2, then what is frequently being called the epoch of Fake News, or the Post-Truth era should be better known as the zenith of the Post-Modern condition.

Critics of Post-Modernism often attack it for what is thought to be its aversion to Truth. The idea is that Post-Modern philosophers are philosophers who are against Truth. However, I want to read against this reading even as I seem to equate their philosophical framework with the “Post-Truth era.” I want to suggest that reading Post-Modern philosophers as against Truth obfuscates the sociological trend in their major exponent’s work; it also disavows the white dread that situates the invocation that “God is Dead.” Baudrillard, whose doctorate is in sociology not philosophy, should be read this way. The important distinction between a sociological reading of the World versus a philosophical reading is that the former is attempting describe the World as it is, the latter is attempting to both describe the World as it is and also how it should be. In other words, philosophy itself tends to imply an advocacy for a World, a Truth; whereas social theory tends to advocate only that that which they see in the World is how the World is. The (White) World is Post-Modern, not because Baudrillard and Lyotard want it to be, or because they advocate for this World, as it would seem to imply if one was to say that they (Baudrillard and Lyotard) are against Truth, but because that’s how the World is now. They are not against anything; they are just describing a World that is against metanarratives of Truth. So in a sense, I would say that they believe that “The Truth is that the World is Against Truth.” This matters, and an analysis as to how we got here matters if we are going to really understand what it means to be in the “Epoch of Fake News.”

Jean Francois Lyotard writes in The Postmodern Condition that, “Simplying to the extreme, I define postmodem as incredulity toward metanarratives. This incredulity is undoubtedly a product of progress in the sciences…” Metanarratives used to proliferate everywhere, and they especially proliferated everywhere prior to what Lyotard and Baudrillard saw as WW2. And whereas the breakdown of these metanarratives to Lyotard and Baudrillard is because of WW2, and scientific and technological progress, Sylvia Wynter reminds us, referencing Wlad Godzich, that “the great sociopolitical upheavals of the late 1950s and ’60s, especially those grouped under the names of decolonization and liberation movements, would have had a major impact on our ways of knowledge.” It is undeniable that something happened in the 1950s and 1960s that challenged Truth, and challenged metanarratives. The (White) World’s disorientation towards this challenge is what fosters the condition of postmodernity. However, injecting the importance of decolonization and liberation movements into how Post-modern philosophers have describe the (White) World allows us to return the notion of the Post-modern, of the “epoch of fake news” with a different view. Baudrillard wrote in Simulation and Simulacra that, “We live in a world where there is more and more information, and less and less meaning.” This can hardly be seen as an emphatic celebration of the death of Truth. Nevertheless, this proliferation of information does in fact exist, and this proliferation of information does in fact challenge metanarratives.

For example, there used to be a time where there was a historical metanarrative that concluded that there was one reading of the historical encounter of Christopher Columbus on the Coast of the Americas. Christopher Columbus “founded” America. However, incredulity to this metanarrative is what fostered the delegitimation of this metanarrative. It’s almost commonplace, even among white conservatives, to at least acknowledge that Christopher Columbus didn’t actually “find” America. Another example, the news and the newspaper used to be the only site at which one learned about what was going on around the (White) World. Any and every media source with the money and funds to dictate to the public how events transpired had control of the metanarratives of contemporary events. However, the internet now provides space for everyone to challenge the media. From think-pieces (thoughtful and unthoughtful) to tweets to Facebook post to the creation and construction of alternative online news tablets to satirical news stations to the creation of Fake News tabloids, the internet is the site of an information explosion that is so crucial to the Post-modern description of the World. Lyotard writes, “The “crisis” of scientific knowledge, signs of which have been accumulating since the end of the nineteenth century, is not born of a chance proliferation of sciences, itself an effect of progress in technology and the expansion of capitalism. It represents, rather, an internal erosion of the legitimacy principle of knowledge. There is an internal erosion at work inside the speculative game, and by loosening the weave of the encyclopedic net in which each science was to find its place, it eventually sets them free.”

But what these juxtaposed examples reminds us of, is the fact that post-modern and post-truth, are not exactly synonymous and that post-truth might not exactly be the best way to describe the current state of the (White) World. Post-Truth implies that there was a moment that the Truth was known, and that we now live in a moment after that. However, a metanarrative is not the Truth; it’s just a narrative that sets itself up as Truth. The Christopher Columbus example proves. It’s not true that Christopher Columbus “founded” America; it’s just the metanarrative we were forced to accept. Post-modernism is about the information bomb of our current moment, and the ways that this information bomb leads not to the lack of Truth per se, but the lack of belief in the metanarratives given to us. Fake News is just a minor part of that information bomb. So when CNN says that “Trump relies on Fake News” and Trump responds that CNN is Fake News, we are presented not with the problem of Truth, but the problem of information. Both Trump and CNN present the World with information as a means to challenge a metanarrative, the metanarrative that both at one point would have been able to represent. For Trump supporters, they see Trump as exhibiting an incredulity towards CNN’s metanarrative; whereas CNN supporters see CNN as exhibiting incredulity towards Trump’s attempt to construct a metanarrative. All this just becomes information for people to choose from. And if it feels like the end of the World, then this is why Baudrillard writes, “INFORMATION = ENTROPY.”

We are at the zenith of Post-modernism. The (White) World is falling apart under the proliferation of information. Look at the Russian Conflict, people are incredulous to the FBI’s own reports, people are trusting unverified reports from Buzzfeed, people are skeptical to their own government’s counterintelligence. This is not Post-Truth. This is Post-Modern. This is Post-Modern at its highest point. William Lane Craig critiqued Post-Modernism and said, “The idea that we live in a postmodern culture is a myth. In fact, a postmodern culture is an impossibility; it would be utterly unliveable.” The question is: Does the World feel unlivable yet?

I end by speaking to the dread that subtends the Post-Modern description of the (White) World. This unliveable World, where information exudes everywhere, where there is, as Lyotard put it, a “crisis in metaphysical philosophy” is a blackening of the World. Frantz Fanon writes, “The black man has no ontological resistance in the eyes of the white man. Overnight the Negro has been given two frames of reference within which he has had to place himself. His metaphysics, or, less pretentiously, his customs and the sources on which they were based, were wiped out because they were in conflict with a civilization that he did not know and that imposed itself on him.” The metaphysics of the White World is brought to the point of entropy via this information boom, this forced contact with the rest of the World, with the thoughts, opinions, and theories of the rest of the World. This is an entropy that Black bodies had experience long ago under the excess of gratuitous anti-Black violence and white Enlightenment discourse. Whereas Black Study takes up the discursive field as a means to challenge the white metanarrative, or what Sylvia Wynter calls, “Man’s over-representation of himself;” it also works towards making the White World unliveable. Baurdrillard speaks to the dread of this prospect himself when he writes:

It is thus very naive to look for ethnology in the Savages or in some Third World – it is here, everywhere, in the metropolises, in the White community, in a world completely cataloged and analyzed, then artificially resurrected under the auspices of the real, in a world of simulation, of the  hallucination of truth, of the blackmail of the real, of the murder of every symbolic form  and of its hysterical, historical retrospection – a murder of which the Savages, noblesse oblige, were the first victims, but that for a long time has extended to all Western societies.

It’s for this reason, we should understand the moment as Post-Modern and not Post-Truth, and understand Black Study as a study that to the White World is always already Post-Modern in its always already incredulity to the metanarrative of Whiteness. Lewis Gordon says of Black Study:

Theory in black…is…a phobogenic designation. It occasions anxiety of thought; it is theory in jeopardy. […] There is a form of illicit seeing…at the very beginnings of seeing black, which makes a designation of seeing in black, theorizing, that is, in black, more than oxymoronic. It has the mythopoetics of sin. […] Blackness, in all its metaphors and historical submergence, reaches out to theory, then, as theory split from itself. It is the dark side of theory, which, in the end, is none other than theory itself, understood as self-reflective, outside itself

Blackness as a phobogenic designation. Blackness as an anxiety to thought. Blackness as theory in jeopardy. Blackness as a mythopoetics of sin. Blackness as that which reaches out to theory as theory split from itself. Blackness as the dark side of theory, which becomes theory itself. This reading of the moment allows for the negative of Post-Truth to be transformed into the nadir of the Post-Modern condition. Black Twitter, for example, is a major part of this information boom that has challenged the hegemony of white metanarratives from Trump to CNN to FOX to Hillary and more. This challenge presents Whiteness with the fear of disappearance, or in Frank Wilderson words, “the end of Humanity.” Baudrillard, once again speaks to this fear of disappearance when he states:

Transpolitics is the elective sphere of the mode of disappearance (of the real, of meaning, of the stage, of history, of the social, of the individual). To tell the truth, it is no longer so much a question of nihilism: in disappearance, in the desertlike, aleatory, and indifferent form, there is no longer even pathos, the pathetic of nihilism – that mythical energy that is still the force of nihilism, of radicality, mythic denial, dramatic anticipation. It is no longer even disenchantment, with the seductive and nostalgic, itself enchanted, tonality of disenchantment. It is simply disappearance.

Blackness is the transpolitical par excellence (due to its transatlantic positional formation) that provides the lens through the White Real, the White Meaning, the White Stage, the White History, the White Social, and the White Individual, will disappear. It is the fear of disappearance that elected Trump in the first place. To “Make America Great Again” is simply white bodies wishing for the metanarratives of Whiteness to return to hegemony. For this reason, militant Black studies and Black struggle is more important now than ever. This moment, this unliveable moment, is the moment we’ve been waiting for.

Blackness and Loneliness: Notes On Impossible Possibilities

It has been a long time since I’ve been alone. And the coat of its warmth reminds me of the impossibility of a pure black loneliness. Black loneliness is always interrupted by the interjections of flesh. Flesh taken; flesh turn apart; flesh marred and maned; flesh turned to taxidermy, to spectacle, to fetish. Blackness and loneliness never coexist peacefully. There is always a violence that interrupts the Black that sits alone. It is because the violence is infinite and always expanding. The violence is the infinitely, expanding Universe itself. It is the World that constituted itself upon the murder, rape and plundering of Black life that now secures it functionality, its vitality, its energetic pulse through a continuation of that project of murder, rape and plundering. It is the World itself that allows for every existential experience of a life in conjunction with Blackness to be a life lived in the afterlife of slavery.

But what does this mean? What does it mean to live life in the afterlife of slavery? Sadiya Hartman describes what the afterlife of slavery looks like, saying that it is, “skewed life chances, limited access to health and education, premature death, incarceration, and impoverishment.” But, can what it looks like be what it is? What follows is subtle, but closer to the point of reaching what may be an answer to our question, Hartman writes, “I, too, am the afterlife of slavery.” What, then might it mean to be the afterlife of slavery? What does it mean for one’s being to be best described as, “skewed life chances, limited access to health and education, premature death, incarceration, and impoverishment”? What does it mean for that to be you?

 

Black life is lived in a strikethrough. This strikethrough forecloses access to life proper. The afterlife of slavery in black life is everywhere. The afterlife of slavery finds its way into the houses and homes of the middle-class Black lumpen-bourgeoisie. Those wealthy Black bodies who assumed that economic ascendency would provide the opportunity for their transcendence of Blackness. The afterlife of slavery finds itself, even inside those great white pillars, where a Black President and his Black family sleep atop the blood and sweat of Slaves. That blood and that sweat still stains the floorboards, and even their political ascendency as leaders of the Unfree Universe cannot evade the brush of vigilant anti-black violence that provided the space for their Black-faced neoliberal ascendance. The reason is that Black life is lived in a strikethrough. Black life is lived in the afterlife of slavery. And Black death is the World’s condition of possibility. If Black death is the World’s condition of possibility, then one can acknowledge a moment of singularity. The birth of the Modern World is like the Birth of the Universe. A violent rupture; a big bang, a remapping of space and time, has configured and constructed the World through the violent subjugation of the Black body. The Modern World expands infinitely through its continued project of expansive subjugation; new technologies are utilized, new mechanisms of power are weaponized, new models of the same paradigm – white-over-black, white-over-black, white-over-black – are made. And the World goes on.

And for some reason, that genocidal World-inaugurating moment elucidates a sense of radical possibility for those of us impossibly living in the afterlife of it. What if, “I, too, am the afterlife of slavery” was not a just an affirmative Afro-pessimism, but an affirmative cosmologic Afro-pessimism? And what if, to speak of those bodies who live in the afterlife of slavery, was to speak of those bodies emanating with the narratives, dreams, fantasies, resistances and possibilities of those bodies whose death was responsible for World-creation? What if this is what it means to never be alone, and to be the afterlife of slavery? What if it means to always be-with the flesh stolen on the coast of Africa, the flesh chained and locked on board the ship, the flesh thrown overboard the ship, the flesh put on the auction block, the flesh murdered, raped, and brutalized? And what if to be always with this flesh is not only to live life always in a strikethrough, but always in the afterlife of that slavery that is death, always with/in the afterlife?

In Christian thought, Christ’s death is not an end, but the beginning of life in the afterlife of Christ. When Christ is reborn, he leaves behind his spirit to guide the way of his followers, and reminds them that one day He will return. Whosoever believeth in him, shall have afterlasting life. I would like to think of the ensemble of Black death in analogous way. The Black was subjected to gratuitous violence, not to save the World as Christ was, but to create one. And the rebirth of slavery to which all black flesh is subjected to, through its Jim Crow formulation to its neo-Jim Crow carceral continuum, is nothing more than the spirit of slavery that always encapsulates the Black. In the same way, that the spirit of Christ is thought to always be-with the Christian; the spirit of Slavery is always with the Black. This is the afterlife of slavery. But what makes Blackness such a radical rejection of Euro-Christian values, of Western values, of Whiteness, is that blackness represents an abject positionality that is always already a “bunch” or an “ensemble” So when Hartman says, “I, too, am the afterlife of slavery” the “I” is a collection of black narratives of rape and resistance, death and deviance, violence and vigilance, fear and fugitivity. The “I” is emanating with the originary ensemble of black death, the originary subjection of the Slave that is always the Enslaved (plural). It is for this reason that the only thing worth starting is the End of the World. For the World itself constitutes the continuation of Black death, for the World was made possible through that death.

Whereas Christ returns to life to save the World, the Black returns to life to end it. One of the most provocative claims of Afro-Pessimism is that the World can end, again. (It’s after the end of the world, don’t you know that yet?) And I think it’s very important that we imagine that end, and then imagine black life after the end of the World.  Black death started it, and black life lived without a strikethrough will end it.  For the end of the World looks like, as Frank Wilderson puts it, giving “life itself back to the Slave.” Whosoever believeth in them, shall have afterlasting life. Whosoever believeth in them – believeth in the flesh that will not allow you to be alone, believeth in the flesh that will not allow you to be an “I”, believeth in the flesh that reminds you that ontological resistance in the eyes of the Black is paraontological possibility, the flesh stolen, the flesh through overboard, the flesh put on the auction block, the flesh made into chattel, the flesh lynched, the flesh raped, the flesh murdered, the flesh water-hosed, the flesh that rebelled, the flesh that taught, the flesh that loved, the flesh that struggled, the flesh that cared and built and willed and strove to end the World – shall have afterlasting life. For somewhere in their stories, in their lives, is the way the World was made, the way the World will end, the way black life will be realized as black life, and the reason why blackness is never alone.

Letters to Jonas: The Matrix of Man

Dear Jonas,

I should start by apologizing for taking so long to reply to your letter. The World seems to be spinning faster than ever lately, and finding time to write for writing’s sake has become particularly difficult as of late. Since your last letter, we have elected a white supremacist president, I have led a rally against the white supremacist president, I have assisted latinx students in resisting the white supremacist president, and I have talked and engaged critically at Freedom School with young black peers about how we could resist and survive a white supremacist presidency. With all this being said then, it is safe to safe to say – though the World may appear to be spinning faster – the World continues to spin the same. White Supremacy rules today as it ruled yesterday. Donald Trump doesn’t change that; he only accelerates it. A discussion on this acceleration may be justified, perhaps, at another time.

Aside from an introduction into the general times that we are in, this relates to some of the comments that you made in your letter. What particularly stood out to me is this:

You asked how I could consider myself Christian still. I still ask myself that. Of course, on one hand, the easiest answer is we’re all Christian inasmuch as we’re Western. And, while I think that to be at least generally true, I think it’s an exercise in avoiding the question.

First to answer in this way is not to avoid the question, it is indeed an answer to the question. But it is an answer that is simply incorrect. We are not all Western. I believe that this gets at the root of the structure of the West and why anti-blackness and white supremacy structures the foundational aspects of thought, and the Modern world. If Trump’s wall, if the rise of Eurofascism, if the perfection of slavery with the project of mass incarceration, if the election of Trump itself, provides proof for anything, it provides proof to the fact that we are not all Western. To be Western is to be Human, to have your humanity affirmed, your existence recognized. To live outside of the West, to experience life outside of the West, is to have your existence perpetually questioned or denied to you. Black bodies are those bodies that gave birth to the West through an accumulation of its death. Black bodies are womb-and-tombs, not Western. So the question is still returned to you, in a double, in fact, triple question: 1) Are you Western, like are you truly Western? 2) How can Blackness ever be incorporated into the ontics of a Western “all”? 3) How can you accept that Christianity is Western and that to be Western is to be Human and still accept Christianity? I, of course, am not trying to convert you (divert you, perhaps, is better wording); I am more interested in understanding how this notion that “we are all Western” is justified.

Additionally, I think that your disagreement about my conception of God is, in fact, an agreement. God is like Race. This means that God does have a referent to which it signifies, or to which the name of God is applied. There is no distinction to be made between the socio-institution and the facticity. God is discursively-instituted and factually real. God has Being, God is socio-linguistically-derived, God is objectively real, and God is paradigmatically constructed. However, that signification is not an unification. God is not One. God signifies something different for different people and different bodies and different ideologies, and all of these are real insofar as they create/enforce an action into the immanent World. For different bodies have different conceptions of Being, of Language, of Facticity, and of Historicity.

Lastly, on the difference between intersectionality and the Matrix of Man. I have thought extensively about what constitutes the difference between intersectionality and my concept of the “Matrix of Man.” And I have come to a bit of a conclusion. Intersectionality implies that who I am when I say, “I am a cisgendered, heterosexual black man who grew up in working-class black family in white rural America” is an identitarian claim. Intersectionality teaches that these are identitarian claims that are denied to me through the White Male construction of the Law. However, I wish to cast off the shackles of identity, but not in the sense that the Alt-Left, or better yet, White Marxist would like me to; or in the way that liberal Black folks wishing to frame the “Negro Problem” in terms of a struggle for Civil Rights do either. I want to contextualize my blackness, my cisness, my heterosexuality, my ableness, my working class background, my rural geo-location as positions within the Matrix of Man. I am in all these positions, these locations, across a spectrum of subjection, power and privilege. What separates this from identity is that identity implies a simplistic space-time frame in the position of a subject in relationship to World. Identity says: I am here, as one subject with multiple identities. But, no, in the Matrix of Man, I am in multiple positions in relationship to access and denied access to power and privilege. The Matrix of Man says: We are here at the same time (inside the same paradigm) phenomenologically experiencing that time differently because of our positions, and we are occupying multiple spaces – positions – within that paradigm. Blackness is the position of absolute dereliction. It is the position that gave birth to the universal, globalized “transatlantic” comprehension of the Matrix. It is what orients, structures, stabilizes, and gives vital energy to the Matrix. It is the Matrix’s condition of possibility.

Sincerely from a Friend,

John Gillespie Jr.

Letters to Jonas: On God and Theology

Dear Jonas,

I wanted to write you concerning God. I remember writing to you in an emotional wreck one night while I was working at Sandy Cove. I remember telling you that I couldn’t continue to work there and lie incessantly about my relationship to Christianity. I remember telling you that I didn’t believe in God, and I could no longer hide behind a façade as if I did. I also remember asking you how you could continue to believe in God, or continue to consider yourself a Christian with all that Christians and Christian discourse has imposed on bodies, like ours, that “exist outside the frame of Man.”

It is this “existence outside the frame of Man” that stirred my initial incredulity towards Christianity and Gods in general. Anti-Black children who were anti-Black because “this is how they were raised” caused me to question how I was raised. These lies-told-as-truths about my black body made me question the lies that could have been told-as-truths to me by my own parents. I often framed my questions in a theodicean manner wondering, “How can God be real and racism exist?” I went through many phases of my life attempting to find the answer to this question. I felt an incessant need to not only place a label on my theological convictions (calling myself at one point a Christian Deist, at another point an Agnostic, at another point an Atheist, and at one point via your influence, a Christian Atheist), but also to epitomize a redefined form of blackness as if there was a way I could individually transcend anti-Blackness through better manners, linguistic mastery, and educating people. I often say that this “existence outside the frame of Man” is exactly what encouraged me to pursue philosophy at all. I needed to know the lies, and be able to differentiate who was lying to me and who was telling the truth. I need to be able “know God” beyond the rather frivolous, tranquil relationship that was being encouraged at Churches. I also needed to know why my body always felt outside of my own conception of it, why I always felt like an “object among other objects” and why my black body always fell victim to the crushing objecthood of consistent “look-a-nigger” moments. The former fueled my interest in theology and science, the latter fueled my interest in black studies.

The irony currently, however, is that the very thing that caused me to reject God at first (my blackness) is the very thing that is causing me to believe in God currently. I recently wrote: Everything that’s worth studying philosophically is theological. I say this sincerely, but primarily as a personal tautology. It is the framework I have come to accept for approaching the World. And whereas it might be seen as a statement of irony, especially since we live in a secularized and secularizing World, for me, it is almost certainly the case. I understand theology quite plainly to be the study of God and religious beliefs. I understand God in the same way as St. Anselm with some important caveats. God is “that which there can be no greater than” however, “that which there can be no greater than” is discursively-historically- constituted. In the words of Feuerbach, “theology is anthropology.” In this sense, I believe God is real in the same way as race is real.

When I first came to this conclusion, I thought that this meant that God was “not really real” but God was “real.”  But, I do not believe that to be the case for race. Race is real – plain and simple. There are no lines to be drawn between discourse and the materiality when it comes to being a body marked for death.  Race is not a construct that was made in flippancy and it is not a construct that can be evaporated with flippancy. Race is a socio-politically-instituted concept that symbolically marks differentiated bodies for death. God is a socio-instituted concept that symbolically marks what we socially designate as “that which there can be no greater than.” For this reason, God is real, but God did not have to be and does not have to be. We do not need a “that which there can be no greater than.” Currently Man posits himself as “that which there can be no greater than” and Man posits his Logos (Science) as “that which there can be no greater than.” The religious beliefs of Man are anti-Blackness, settler-colonialism, capitalism, patriarchy, cis-supremacy, heteronormativity, transphobia, and ableism, something I’ve learned to call the “Matrix of Man.”

With this being said, I’ve come to believe in God, but I am a “Fanonian death of God theologian.” Whereas Nietzsche told folks to “break the tablets” I want to tell folks in a Fanonian register to “end the World” of Man. I do not know if God, if “that which there can be no greater than,” is ever good as a universal, perhaps as a particular universal, but as a universal I cannot say for sure. I do know that the God of the Enslaved, the “that which there can be no greater than” of James Cone, the Christian God of black liberation theologians, is a God that I would be willing to worship wholeheartedly. I do not believe that everyone worships Man, but I do believe that everyone is forced to come in contact with the concept of Man-as-God, or the beliefs of the “Matrix of Man” due to Man’s paradigmatic imposition upon the World. Escaping Man-as-God is impossible, in the same way that my black body escaping its being as a being-marked-for-death is impossible. I must live with blackness like we must live with the God-of-Man, Man-as-God.

Sincerely from a friend,

John Gillespie Jr.

The Open Journal – Day 14: To My Brother in the Abyss

Solid Philosophy's Open Journal

To My Brother in the Abyss,

Brother, I cannot write to you right now as if my eyes are not bloodshot red from a night of trying to drink away my senses, as if my mind is still not dizzy in a drunken hangover, as if my body is still not weak from weeks of hunger and my daily attempts to will pass the desire to destroy myself. Brother, I cannot write to you as if I am not listening to your words with suicidal fascination. For when you sing “I’m done – strike three. I got a dark cloud right over me, and if this ceiling is coming down, then it soon would be the end for me.” I sing with you. I sing with you the black boy’s song.

Brother, I cannot write to you in an attempt to save your life. For I too am in…

View original post 497 more words

On Fucking (and Loving).

I want to apologize before I begin if what follows does not make much sense, if what follows is not clear, or if what follows is absolutely incorrect, generalizing, or simply false in its attempt to explain what has escaped explanation since time immemorial. I want to plead with you, whoever you may be, wherever you may be, to follow what follows to its end because what is written is in need of the same kind of consolation as the one, the writer, who writes it. The same love as the one who writes it, with love. What follows is a meditation, a musing, on fucking, and the relationship between fucking and loving. I should be clear that the love that I’m primarily discussing is of a romantic sort, a relationship between two/more partners. My question being: Why must I fuck you in order for me to prove I love you?

To ask this question is not to attempt to return to a Puritanic discourse on fucking where “real” love is ONLY that love which can exist in excess of fucking, but instead it’s to ask for a kind of romantic asexuality that locates itself at the point of the “occasional” or at a “from-time-to-time” where sexuality may go dormant, or where one may decide to scream-shout-yell-sing “I Love Yous” without this fleshly encounter. But it’s also an attempt to push against the former sentences’ attempt at defining “I love you, but I don’t want to fuck you” as an asexual remark. It’s an attempt to redefine the relationship between fucking and loving as something so consensual that it’s not implied that they who love will fuck, as it is not implied that they who fuck will love. I am trying to expand the understanding of love in order to open up the possibility that I may love you, but may not want to fuck you, and may not want to be just your friend. I may want to hold you; I may want to help you; I may want to never go days without you; I may never want to see you suffer, struggle, hurt. But fucking, no, fucking I can’t do. Fucking you will mean nothing, and I may want everything we do to be in a vortex of something; or vice-versa, fucking may mean something horrid, something miserable, and I may want everything we do to be within the context of a perfect nothingness.

Now against what I have written, whoever you are, wherever you are, you will say, “What distinguishes what you have described from being asexual?” And here is where may I lose you, here is where you may begin to think that the secrets, the darkness, or the plague of this piece begins to come to light. But remember, you have promised to hear what I have to say to its end, to its conclusion. You are here now, whoever you are, wherever you are, stay here and hear. What if I love you, and we love each other, and I don’t wish to fuck you, but I wish to fuck other persons that I love? Assuming, as I believe to be true, that our love is capable of loving more than one; and in fact, that our love, and our world would perhaps be better if we all, men, women, and non-binary folks, accepted and transitioned to a polyamorous worldview. Additionally, assuming, staying stuck in this world we are in, that my love for you and my love for this other person is both transparent and consented to by all parties involved.

Is there reason to believe that I love that other person who I most certainly can/do love, more than I love you whom I most certainly can/do love, but don’t fuck? Is there any reason to believe that there is a POSITIVE relationship between loving and fucking?  I know scientist will speak of the adrenaline, the sharing of fluids, and of the mind and bodies in synchronization, and the religious will speak of the consummation of love. But I, the philosopher, will speak of fucking. I will speak of fucking because there is a tendency to conflate “sex” when that sex is with one who one loves as equal with love. That somehow love erases fucking, somehow love has some auto-transformative quality that makes all fucking with the one who one loves “love-making” or “sex.” This auto-transformative quality in “love” makes the word “fucking” or the act of “fucking” not just undesirable, but impossible when the body in contact with fucking is one whom one loves. But, I am skeptical of this separation. In fact, I believe this is an attempt to make all sex with a lover a “sexuality from the heights,” or, “a sexuality that recreates the moral ideals of the oedipal family, or the subjectified couple, founded on promises, principles, and mutual expectations” as Phillip Goodchild put it. Versus a “sexuality from the depths,” or a sexuality based on “sordid carnal pleasures,” as Jared Sexton put it. But following this thinking we would be right back at where we trying to avoid – a kind of Puritanism that occludes “fucking” to the depths and love somewhere far away from it close to some transcendental morality.

But I have the tendency to believe that each sexual encounter is always fucking, by which I mean, is always a “sexuality of the depths.” The question is more about whether or not that fucking includes love or excludes love. But to fuck is always carnal, it is always desire, it is always what we have psychosocially come to see as improper, wrong, or “immoral.” Love does not occlude that, no matter how much we’d wish to act as if it does. Love does not negate “fucking.” Love, and love-making, includes fucking. If one wished to debate the question, allow two lovers to fuck in public and see if their “love” is enough for us to psychosocially see it as “decent” behavior. We have been tutored, trained, forced into a kind of “anti”-fuck that I believe has ultimately hurt the very thing we wished to save it for, namely, love.

Somewhere against/with this background where we’ve learned to name love, we’ve learned to place it within this field of desire. We’ve learned to unconsciously mathematicise love with an equation that reads: (Love + Fucking = Love-Making). Thus, making [(Love – Fucking = Love) < (Love + Fucking = Love-Making)]. “Real” love has, with an almost inverted Puritan logic, become for us the place where fucking and love meet, disguised and distorted as the location where “love-making” and love meet. However, I would like to believe that love could supersede fucking or that love can supersede the love one has with a different lover that they fuck. Not because there is something wrong with fucking, but because there can be a love stronger than a love-that-fucks. There can be a love-that-holds, a love-that-helps, a love-that-cares, a love-that-struggles-with, a love-that-grows-beside, a love that is absent of fucking, but in excess of any kind of love-that-fucks. A love, whatever “love” may mean, beyond fucking.

I think here I shall conclude. I do not know if what I have mentioned here makes complete sense. What is written is a part of a stream of conscious writing, beginning at 3 am, attempting towards some kind of logic that may have only obscured something that is already obscure. I hope there was something here that you have understood, whoever you are, wherever you are, and I hope that you don’t see me as crazy, but as someone attempting to save love and to make love in a million ways, sometimes through fucking, sometimes through struggling, and sometimes, as in right now, through thinking and writing.