Koleka Putuma’s Collective Amnesia enabled a philosophical meditation on Death. The following poem, “Index,” in specific is the index for this precis and “art installation” project performed in text below. A combination of performance poetry as the articulation of philosophical theory functions to immanently perform the deconstruction of the axioms of thought that ground the grammar of death to “systems of logic” and “Life” sciences. Collective Amnesia reveals how poetry can be useful in the destabilization of the law of excluded middle which obscures the horror of death while mystifying its negative capacity for generativity.
Every time someone dies,
God is committing suicide.
I think God suffers from suicidal thoughts, too.
I mean, what’s with all the
and natural disasters, anyway.
Unless God is really pissed off.
Or old and forgetful.
Or the Hulk in spirit form.
Or a child learning how to walk.
Or an adolescent figuring shit out.
Or an artist recreating their work from scratch.
Or in a coma.
I’d commit suicide, too.
But I wish God would leave a
For some, including and following Fanon, that future effectively means the end of the world. And perhaps black and trans’ lives mattering in this way would end the world, but worlds end all the time.
– C. Riley Snorton, “Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans-Identity”
Allow me to reconcile with your indeterminacy. Bring me beyond my fear. Allow me to theorize in the void that is this zone of non-being. I accept that I am You, that Life is elsewhere, somewhere beyond the parameters of this epidermal schema. From the bowels of my travels and immanent transgressions, allow me to encounter the possibility of considering death differently. To say: Death is no End – without qualifying that there is more Life. To argue that there need not be more Life for there to be deathly satisfaction.
Death repudiates the whole of life, it is the violent manifestation of the self in this limited and self-created world, the unavoidable collapse of the Tower of Babel which man in his vanity had built for himself.
– L.E.J. Brouwer, Life, Art, Mysticism
If I am Death, then Death is no End at all. Death is the repudiation of Life, the transformation of its meaning into meaninglessness. The transformation of meaninglessness into value = mumble theory. All the precious values through which the Maxim of Life has thrived, fall out of sense, beyond comprehension, left alone to be unveiled as endless speculation and efficiency. To build a system upon an unthought void, to move along the trail without much consideration of the meaning of non-being and the place it has within the structure of “Being itself.” Or, as Calvin Warren puts it, to render nothing, “a monstrous thing, which, paradoxically, provides the condition of possibility for scientific thinking,” (Warren, 110). Why might nothing provide the condition of possibility for scientific thinking? Why might nothing be a monstrous thing? There must be a metaphysical landscape through which science can build its knowledge of Life upon. But why must this metaphysics constitute Life and Being as value? There must be an answer to the question: Why is there something rather nothing? Why is there Life rather Death? But, why must the axiom under-writing this distinction presuppose a process of purification which positions something and nothing in an antagonistic onto-ethico-epistemological (non)relation? Frank Wilderson writes:
Here two kinds of ‘species’ are produced and zoned beyond the pale of speech. The social distinction between Whites (or Humans) and Blacks can be neither assessed nor redressed by way of signifying practices alone because the social distinction between life and death cannot be spoken. It is impossible to fully redress this pained condition without the occurrence of an event of epic and revolutionary proportions… the destruction of a racist social order’ [my emphasis] (Hartman 77). In life, identification is limited only by the play of endless analogies, but death is like nothing at all. Perhaps psychoanalysis and the promise of full speech are not ready for the end of the world,” (Wilderson, 91).
Death is a kind of ending the World. Death is a transition to a non-Beginning. But a non-Beginning is neither a new Beginning nor a finished limitation. We must leave open the im/possibility that there are some transitions to Nowhere at all. There are some transitions from something to nothing, from somewhere to nowhere. There are some are transitions that are transitions to an aporia in grammar, language and syntax where the words cease to stick no matter how scientific, philosophical or mystical. That there can be no-thing seems to be counterintuitive to all Reason, and yet, it was the great Dutch Intuitionist Mathematician, L.E.J. Brouwer, who spent much time critiquing the precious Law of Excluded Middle on the basis of the limits of analogy. Alonzo Church writes the following on Brouwer’s position, “L. E. J. Brouwer proposes that the law of excluded middle should not be regarded as an admissible logical principle,* and expresses, as a basis for his proposal, doubts concerning the truth of this law. He says, for example, that the law of excluded middle has been extended to the mathematics of infinite classes by an unjustified analogy with that of finite classes. He says also that to assert the law of excluded middle is equivalent to asserting the doubtful proposition that every proposed theorem can be either proved or disproved if the proper method be found,” (76). I am reading Brouwer’s critical example of the mathematics of the infinite as relying on the claim that the quality of classes considered to be infinite are distinctively different from the quality of classes considered to be finite in such a way that any analogy between the two on the basis of the law of excluded middle would only result in a mis/representation or a form-of-axiomatizing the Real or both*. We see a similar effect in the function of the law of excluded middle within the metaphysics of Life and Death itself. In other words, although the law of excluded middle is regarded as a primary logical principle, it has been assumed to ground the basis of an analogous relationship between Life and Death as conceptually in contradiction.
But it is the beauty—the fantastic, celebratory force of Wilderson’s and Sexton’s work, which study has allowed me to begin more closely to approach—of Afro-pessimism that allows and compels one to move past that contradictory impulse to affirm in the interest of negation and to begin to consider what nothing is… (Moten, 741)
And the same must be said of Death, too. For the horror of Afro-pessimist theory is the beauty of its willingness to dance with Death. Doing so, however, requires understanding the distinction between Life and Death to be a social distinction presupposed by the Maxim of Life which always already asserts the priority of Life over Death while simultaneously rendering any philosophical consideration of the onto-ethico-epistemological implications of Death to be, on one hand, too nihilistic to take seriously, too pessimistic to be real, or on the other hand, too mystic to be knowledge, too pseudo-philosophical to be intellectually respected gnosis. Following Denise Ferriera Da Silva, any study of Death qua Blackness or Blackness qua Death would have to insist upon a death that is not merely negation nor a Life that is not merely affirmation. One would have to not only “move past that contradictory impulse to affirm in the interest of negation” but also move past the image of thought which sequesters death to the concept of negation and negation itself to a concept of negativity. In fact, once one dispenses with the Law of Excluded Middle entirely one comes to understand that the entire schemata through which we’ve come to theorize Life and Death has operated in accordance to a system of logic that produces forms-of-axiomatizing the Real that resulted in the sociogenic distinction between Life and Death, the Subject and Object, and the Human and the Black.
Taking this point of view, we may accept a system of logic in which the law of excluded middle is assumed, a system in which the law of excluded middle is omitted without making a contrary assumption, and a system which contains assumptions not in accord with the law of excluded middle as all three equally admissible, unless one of them can be shown to lead to a contradiction. If we had to choose among these systems of logic, we could choose the one most serviceable for our purpose, and we might conceivably make different choices for different purposes (Church, 77).
The schematization of Life and Death as excluded category absolutely opposite of another “consist in another rehearsal of Hegel’s narrative of ‘Spirit,’ which writes being, self-consciousness, as that which always already is everything that is not itself,” (Da Silva, 27). It acquiesces to the script of Life as necessary rather than radically contingent, and treats death as a “limit at the core of the transcendental I,” (Da Silva, 76). This sustains the transcendental I as an always already present figure even as one critiques or attempts to modify it. Indeed, by holding on to what the hyper-chaos theorist and speculative realist Quentin Meillasoux holds on to, namely the law of contradiction, one withdraws from thoroughly entering into the demonic ground that death unveils and radical indeterminacy delivers. Neither death’s negativity nor life’s affirmation is necessary, nor negation’s negativity or affirmation’s productivity but rather all of these combinations and complexes of thought are “systems of logic” that have been chosen to serve the purpose of grounding the axiomatic coherence of the currently available material-semiotics given to answer the questions and answers stemming from: Why is there something rather than nothing? Why is there Life rather than Death?
But, if Afro-pessimism requires the end of the World it is because it is also requires that we unravel the presumptive logics of the axioms of thought which ground the grammar and syntax of the World. It requires that we ask about Death too with a firm understanding that, “We need a new language of abstraction to explain this horror,” (Wilderson, 55). In addition, it offers understanding that maybe, death itself is always already the end of a World, a transition to No-Where, or Other-Where’s impossible to be known, valued, and/or ontologized. Understanding this would enable a deconstruction of death as an operation of experience at the limit of Life and rather, death would permeate and persist in Life over and over again as an infinite encounter. Death is everywhere and nowhere at all. For just as there are many deaths in a Life, there are many ends in a World. For Life, like the World itself, following behind C. Riley Snorton, “ends all the time,” (Snorton, 198). Death, like the end of the world itself, is everywhere around us.
*I have a lot more to learn about Brouwer’s ideas around mathematics and logics which will require a lot more reading. If anyone reads this and I’ve misread please note that I’m working through ideas in this piece and none of this is completely worked out yet.
The People I Am Thinking With In This Piece:
L.E.J. Brouwer, Life, Art, Mysticism
Alonzo Church, “Law of Excluded Middle,” https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/1289/b69233f0d9b9753f564777e04f5edf68125f.pdf
Calvin Warren, Ontological Terror
Frank Wilderson, Red, White and Black
Fred Moten, “Blackness and Nothingness”
Denise Ferriera Da Silva, Towards a Global Idea of Race
Snorton, Black on Both Sides