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.