In Defense of Black Fatalism Incomplete

Destiny Vol. 1

To be swindled by the phenomenon of breathing. Being is hard and one feels the weight of too much. An exorbitance built into feelings that never flee. It is the case that some bodies come to deeply feel what is known as the weight of the world. They come to feel this weight etched onto the bruises of their bodies, the edges of their skin. Larger than gravity itself. Encompassing its notion. I wonder if the world can hear my breathing, I wonder if the world would even mind?

 

***

 

An archaeologist is someone who weeds through the dead. An archaeologist is a grave digger and a grim reaper. Reaper, a person or a machine that harvests a crop. An archaeologist harvests the dead as crop. The archaeologist harvest the crop of knowledge through its resurrection of the dead. Resurrecting the dead, giving the dead new life. This new life becomes a new story, foretold beyond the grave. It becomes their story, foretold beyond the grave. Who tells the story of the dead, if not the dead themselves? Indeed, it is the archaeologist. And we are all the more better for it, aren’t we? Sylvia Wynter introduced me to Bombos Cave, and for the life of me, I can’t seem to get it out of my mind. 77,000 year old evidence of Human design discovered in South Africa by the archaeologist Christopher Henshilwood and his team. A piece of ochre – clay, earth – sketched with geometric designs discovered to be evidence of “the oldest known example of an intricate design made by a human being.” (Gugliotta) The first example of human art. Wynter goes on to state that these findings were eventually surpassed by findings which located even earlier workshops of roughly 100,000 years old, where the early artist “mixed some of the first known paints.” For as Wynter writes, “Materially and symbolically… Blombos Cave reveals the ritual-initiatory transformation of the biologically born individual subject into that of a now fictively-chartered and encoded, thereby, hybrid, bios/mythos autopoietic form of symbolic life.” (Wynter et al. 68) Or rather, in real terms and discursive ones, the archaeological unveiling of Blombos Cave signifies the birth of the Human as the storytelling animal. This constitutes for Wynter, in Fanonian-adapted terms, the Third Major Event of cosmic history. The First was the Origin of the Universe, the Second was the Origin of Life on the Planet.

But, what the archaeological unveiling signifies to me, perhaps alongside the previous discoveries (who knows?) is an unquenchable thirst for origins, an undying need to start from somewhere with the axiomatic assumption that the beginning holds the key to all that has come after – that the truth all lies in genesis. In addition to this, it also coincides with a general fixation of Western metaphysics about presence. The Human can only become the storytelling animal once the archaeologist has brought their art into representation, into reputable speech and legible discernment. Once the dust has been cleared and the graveyards have been blundered, the question remains: “Had Henshilwood and his team not discovered Bombos Cave, would the Human still be considered homo narrans?” This is a question for science studies of which I haven’t the time right now. But, any reputable scientist would say, Yes right? Well that’s the issue. Sylvia Wynter critiques science’s reputability in defining the Human by way of using science to re-define the Human through fundamentally scientific means, i.e. archaeology. David Marriott’s critique of Wynter is especially poignant at this critical juncture where Bombos Cave comes to function as a mythopoetic grounding wiring for the Wynterian conception of the Human. Put differently, in perhaps Wynterian terms, Sylvia Wynter’s definition of the Human, though critical of bio-centricism, relies upon an over-representation of Science to ground her answer to the “Heideggerian question as to who, what we are.” (Wynter 264)

Fanon’s sociogeny is a critique of science’s biocentricity and science is biocentric, as per Wynter’s own argument. Yet, Wynter’s selection of scientific thinkers, practitioners and philosophers add support to her own position on homo narrans, and is arguably compatible, even if not fully embraced by Fanon himself, with Fanon’s work. Nevertheless, this selectivity allows Wynter to wield the symbolic authority of Science as a field of knowledge production in order to suture her Fanonian-“adapted” conception of the Human to an array of scientific discourses and ideas that precede and exceed him. In this sense, even if Sylvia Wynter’s conception of the Human is freed from homo economicus it is still tied up in what Denise Ferriera Da Silva describes as “homo scientificus.” (Da Silva 93) Indeed, it may be that insofar as the notion retains a hominid it may always maintain a scientificus.

Aside from the empiricist logics which make the observed archaeological findings, objects for meditations on mythopoetics and onto-ethics, archaeology is a shadow of the archive of graves that are the World. To state that archaeology is incomplete is to name the obvious, but the metaphysics of presence serves to mask death at every instant. Focusing on “what is present” or “what can be presented” or “what has been presented” serves to unsee the entire process of archaeology as a defacement of death and a denial of oblivion. Indeed, archaeology is the unwillingness to accept incomplete beginnings. Thou shalt not confess an indeterminate genesis. Beyond the misgivings of empirical knowledge, what becomes absented in Wynter’s fixation on the birth of the Human is that the very article that she sites as introduction to the information on Bombos Cave, “The Great Human Migration,” is more of an annexed testament to the Pandora’s Box being opened in that hole in the World than anything else. For as Guy Gugliotta states:

Henshilwood, an archaeologist at Norway’s University of Bergen and the University of the Witwatersrand, in South Africa, found the carving on land owned by his grandfather, near the southern tip of the African continent. Over the years, he had identified and excavated nine sites on the property, none more than 6,500 years old, and was not at first interested in this cliffside cave a few miles from the South African town of Still Bay. What he would find there, however, would change the way scientists think about the evolution of modern humans and the factors that triggered perhaps the most important event in human prehistory, when Homo sapiens left their African homeland to colonize the world.

 

This great migration brought our species to a position of world dominance that it has never relinquished and signaled the extinction of whatever competitors remained—Neanderthals in Europe and Asia, some scattered pockets of Homo erectus in the Far East and, if scholars ultimately decide they are in fact a separate species, some diminutive people from the Indonesian island of Flores (see “Were ‘Hobbits’ Human?”). When the migration was complete, Homo sapiens was the last—and only—man standing. (Gugliotta)

Bracketing the question on whether or not the Black is Human or Not, what matters to me here is another ineffable consideration in the wake of this knowledge. Bombos Cave, regardless of its cosmo-defining Third-Event, is still an extinction-level event for too many to be valorized. Here, I take into consideration the (non)presence of those that have become “relinquished” and “signaled into extinction” from the Neanderthals in Europe and Asia, to the scattered pockets of Homo erectus in the Far East, and the “diminutive people” from the Indonesian island, and the various other life-forms human, homo, and animal alike. To not consider the Bombos Cave event alongside these epiphenomenal extinctions/genocides wherein “Homo sapiens was the last – and only – man standing,” is to participate, even if nonconsciously, in a symbolic life/death matrix which always already positions the representational value of Life and Presence over that of Death and Absence. Le’ah Kaplan writes in “(Non)presence: The Hole of Metaphysics,” that, “Being Human means that one can be-come present. To be present is to ‘be.’ Thus, the history of philosophical thought has endowed an ‘extraordinary right’ to presence – giving way to the structures of reason, meaning, and the Good.” (Kaplan 8) The Human comes into Being as homo narrans, as homo sapiens, as Human through a metaphysics of presence which is a catastrophic construction of chaos for all and everything its wake.

Destiny Vol 2.

Greetings reader, I threaten to assert a heresy in black theory. The following calls upon what is presented above in defense of the understandably indefensible. For we are, in fact, in dyer and perhaps, apocalyptic, times. In every corner of the World, the cities beckon with war and in every city in America the bodies cower with the fear of death. The plague of crumbling institutions, the karma of centuries of decadence, the replications of the same, the anxieties and traumas of difference, and the imminent promise of violence’s reoccurrence. All of these interlocking deficiencies and agencies of negative autopoiesis serve to raise immense tension upon what Sonia Sanchez says is, “The most important question of the 21st Century,” namely, “what does it mean to be Human?”[i] If Sylvia Wynter’s answer to this question is correct, then I want to be the first to defend a heretical friend of mine. This heretical friend is the friend that says neither “Yes” nor “No” nor “Never” but “Of course.” Far removed from the optimist that sees fugitivity at every juncture, and freedom around every corner. Far removed from the pessimist that knows positionality to be the irrefutable organizing principle of World and Worlding such that one cannot undo one’s position without undoing the World. Far removed from the nihilist that knows metaphysics to be sutured to an ongoing elaboration of violence without end, violence unending. This figure is often confused and conflated with the Pessimist and the Nihilist because it is often an internal movement within them. Yet, I assert and insist that there is a difference. The figure and friend of which I speak is Fatalism. This figure and friend is a heretic because the Fatalist accepts destiny as preconditioned and inevitable. The Fatalist says neither “Yes” nor “No” nor “Never” but “Of course.” The Black Fatalist is slightly different however. Preconditioned as they may be by a certain disposition towards the Human that accepts the Wynterian description, only to ascertain the (non)presence left absented by the Bombos Cave decree. The Black Fatalist looks to extinction as foundational to Humanity as praxis. When the Human extinguishes a species the Black Fatalist says, “Of course,” because it is inevitable. When the Human annihilates an entire population the Black Fatalist says, “Of course,” because it is inevitable. When the Human kills the Black who it has gendered/genred outside of its conception, the Black Fatalist says, “Of course,” because it is inevitable. It is inevitable for anything theorized outside of what the Human sees as internal to its own “fictively charted and encoded” origins. To be Black and Fatalist is to see death as inevitable and extinction as Humanity’s promise to the Earth. Yet, just as Pessimism and Nihilism need not imply passivity, Fatalism need not imply resignation. One can be fated without determination, or rather, one can dwell inside of empty time, aware that a collapse is inevitable yet fully invested in the way one decides to move. But then again: “Why, in our political and intellectual circles, all the pointed concern about activity, why the worry, or fear, about being misunderstood as passive, individually and collectively? And why the close association between being passive and being victim or between passive-being and victim-being?”(Sexton and Barber) Black Fatalism is preconditioned by the extinguishing operations of Humanist logics and axiomatics, by the inevitability of the reproduction of those logics and axiomatics as the praxis of the World. It follows “the science of Wynter” to its Black fatalist conclusion…

 

At the end of times, nothing.

 

People Who Shared Today.

Da Silva, Denise Ferreira. Toward a Global Idea of Race. Vol. 27, U of Minnesota Press, 2007.

Gugliotta, Guy. “The Great Human Migration.” Smithsonian, 2008.

Kaplan, Le. “(Non)Presence: The Hole of Metaphysics.” Propter Nos, vol. 3, 2019, pp. 5–18.

Sexton, Jared, and Daniel Colucciello Barber. “On Black Negativity, or The Affirmation of Nothing.” Society and Space.

[i] Sonia Sanchez, “What Does it Mean to Be Human,” Poem delivered November 17, 2014 at TedxPhiladelphia https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DjY4pNBgMaA

Wynter, Sylvia, et al. “Unparalleled Catastrophe for Our Species? Or, to Give Humanness a Different Future: Conversations.” Sylvia Wynter: On Being Human as Praxis, Duke University Press Durham, NC, 2015, pp. 9–89.

—. “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/ Power/ Truth/ Freedom.” CR: The New Centennial Review, 2003, pp. 257–336, doi:10.1353/ncr.2004.0015.

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