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: 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.