Nothingness-With Incomplete

 … the fact remains nevertheless that true love, real love – i.e., wishing for others what one postulates for oneself when this postulate integrates the permanent values of human reality – requires the mobilization of psychological agencies liberated from unconscious tensions. The ultimate sequels of a gigantic struggle waged against the other have long vanished. Today we believe in the possibility of love, and that is the reason why we are endeavoring to trace its imperfections and perversions [1].

 

Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Mask

 

Like Curtis Mayfield, however, I do plan to stay a believer. This is to say, again like Mayfield, that I plan to stay a black motherfucker [2].

 

Fred Moten, Blackness and Nothingness

 

Through drought and famine, natural disasters // My baby has been around for me // Kingdoms have fallen, angels be calling // None of that could ever make me leave[3]

 

Daniel Caesar, Get You

 

0.

Against the Will to Power

 

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about black love, about romantic love, about romantically loving our black body-beings and romantically loving another black body-being. I’ve been thinking on this and it made me think that much analytic rigor about the paradigmatic positioning of the Black body-beings that we are gets lost in this under investigated relation. Indeed, much analytic rigor was lost in the fact that Frantz Fanon had never written the chapter in his book that I honestly hope to try and write a fragment of here to you now. Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks attends to what he believes to be the psycho-political paradigmatic positioning of Black love solely from within the context of interracial desire. He has two chapters, “The Woman of Color and the White Man,” and “The Man of Color and the White Woman.” But lately, I’ve been thinking about you – who I love so deeply, so dangerously, so black and I’ve been wondering what a chapter on Black love might look like. I’ve been thinking about how difficult Black love is, and yet, how I feel – even with all of my pessimism, my depression, my nihilism, my ideation – that there might not be anything more important in this black life than black love. That this black life might be far too much to bear if and only if black love is not and cannot be here, in time and space and Earth and World. Indeed, if and only if black love is not real, then this cosmic isolation, this deftly coldness that is the burden of body-beings who must bear the ontological weight of gratuitous violence, natal alienation, general dishonor and social death may be unworthy of the struggle. And struggle we do and struggle we must. For struggle is the ground of Black being as non-Being. For in struggle we are what they’ve made us, but we strive to be more.

 

And we fail. Failure is the terms of Black engagement within this endless relation to struggle. Failure is the principle basis of our bond. In this way, Black love is a modality of trauma bonding. Indeed, sometime between the birth of the Nation-State and the birth of Modernity, there was a speciation – an ontological abyss made between Blackness and Being. Fred Moten writes, “The cost of this speciation, which is carried out in invasion and enclosure, accrues to those with whom the ones who would be one say they don’t belong, as a matter of blood and soil—those whose failure to (want to) be exceptional constitutes a sub- or pre-European (southern or eastern or negro or immigrant or terrorist) problem/question.”[4] We are that which fails to want to be exceptional and Frank Wilderson reminds us of our exceptional anti-exceptionalism when he writes:

The violence of the Middle Passage and the slave estate (Spillers), technologies of accumulation and fungibility, recompose and reenact their horrors upon each succeeding generation of Blacks. This violence is both gratuitous, that is, it is not contingent upon transgressions against the hegemony of civil society; and structural, in that it positions Blacks ontologically outside of humanity and civil society. Simultaneously, it renders the ontological status of humanity (life itself) wholly dependent on civil society’s repetition compulsion: the frenzied and fragmented machinations through which civil society reenacts gratuitous violence upon the Black—that civil society might know itself as the domain of humans—generation after generation [5].

Thus, part of this failure to want to be exceptional is a particular imposition that not only already defines what constitutes exceptionalism but forecloses the category from all Black everything. Thus, Black exceptionalism becomes an anomalous artifact of our general dishonor as failures and more importantly, our Black body-being becomes exceptional in its anti-exceptionalism. Fanon again, puts it this way, “There were some who wanted to equate me with my ancestors, enslaved and lynched: I decided that I would accept this. I considered this internal kinship from the universal level – I was the grandson of slaves…” [6]

 

Love, in an anti-Black world, as an affect, as a productive desire, is a power struggle. It is a war of desire between lovers and non-lovers. Lovers armed with emotional, physical, intellectual, social, political, and techno-scientific weapons of mass destruction; lovers caught in a matrix, a web, of interconnected structural-power relations; lovers’ inseparable from that matrix, inseparable from those weapons, inseparable from each other. In Hortense Spillers’ words written in her essay entitled, “The Politics of Intimacy,” she puts the point clearly:

 

What are the terms of the relationship to be worked out between partners when the social and moral condition, given a change of slope in the landscape, conforms to other than traditional life patterns. By implication, the man is also drawn into the inquiry, and whatever changes of status the woman sustains will also affect him in dynamic ways. These changes in the propositions of relationship, the soil from which they spring, lead us to perceive the ‘politics of intimacy’ as a dialectical encounter rather than an antagonism of opposites – in other words, the situates requires conversation, the act of living among others, in all the dignity and concentration that the term implies. It is this tension in our dynamic which shocks mythic expectations.[7] (emphasis in original)

 

Love is and is not romantic because love is always tragedy because love is never singular and the history of the anti-Black world is the tale of the Singularity. This Singularity is the Singularity that Fanon insist that Black body-beings are always already after. The Singularity of Whiteness is the locus point of desire’s reproductive productivity. Fanon writes, “I want to be recognized not as Black, but as White. But – and this is the form of recognition that Hegel never described – who better than the white woman to bring this about? By loving me, she proves to me that I am worthy of white love. I am loved like a white man. I am a white man.”[8]

 

There is something psycho-politically necessary to acknowledge here. The desire for whiteness is not a desire that happens outside of the contingencies and exigencies of the Modern World formation, but rather it is directly intra-active to the production of desire either interracially or intra-racially. Deleuze and Guattari puts this point best when they write, “There is only desire and the social, and nothing else.”[9]

 

But,

I want to suggest that

Black love is the antithesis of Love as a power struggle.

I want to suggest that

Black love is powerlessness.

Black love is anti-Power.

 

If I say that love is powerlessness, the history of heteropatriarchal love may come to mind. A history of Love as submission to the Patriarch of the family. However, Jennifer Nash, reminds us of the black feminist history of black feminist love-politics in her piece entitled, “Practicing Love: Black Feminism, Love Politics, and Post-Intersectionality.” For Nash, black feminist love-politics is interested in the messiness that is love, and the radical potential embedded in the affect. Black feminist love-politics is dedicated to a care for the self, that is not interested in unwavering support for black men-in-pain (which she characterizes as being the politics of Joan Morgan’s Hip Hop Feminism) or in a love that does not engage the question of politics and/or the public sphere. The ultimate goal in black feminist love-politics is a care for the Black self, which is a care for Blackness, which Nash understands to be a radical gesture in the direction of reorienting the public sphere and moving beyond identity politics. Nash writes:

 

If “communal affect” constitutes the “ties that bind utopian communities,” then black feminism’s love-politics creates a public culture based on a collective “public feeling” of love, or what Jordan calls “a steady-state deep caring and respect for every other human being, a love that can only derive from a secure and positive self-love” (Jordan 2003, 272). Love, then, is a practice of self, a labor of the self, that forms the basis of political communities rooted in a radical ethic of care. (Jennifer Nash, 2011, p. 14)

 

If I said Black love is powerlessness then, I am also saying that Black “men” who are unwilling to sit psychically with their extravagant abjection, their paradigmatic fragility and structural vulnerability have never truly loved. Additionally, they, or better, we, as a result of this social death, gratuitous violence, general dishonor and natal alienation have never truly been men at all. It has always only been a false, hypnotic and violent desire for Power and/or for Powers-Release. The former following the logic of assimilation and borrowed institutionality (borrowing the conceptual apparatuses of the Modern World in order to better situate oneself in that World) and the latter following the logic of Freedom through the Master’s Tools (getting out of the World through a Pseudo-Nietzschean ascension – “The Myth of the Black Macho”). For, “Even the most repressive and the most deadly forms of social reproduction are produced by desire within the organization that is the consequence of such production under various conditions that we must analyze.”[10] Black desire is attached to the various material and libidinal conditions which we seek to destroy. Black desire is attached to the various material and libidinal conditions which perpetually destroy. Blackness exists its non-existent performativity within the architecture of the anti-Black world which possesses a constellation of networks which diffuse, diffract, and condition desire. Not only who we love, but how we love are to be understood inside of this psychiatric infrastructure.

 

The limits of Nash’s analysis is at the point where Blackness meets the Political, where Blackness meets the Self, and where Blackness meets Speech. In this regard, Selamawit Terrafe’s Speaking The Heiroglyph” illuminates some of the fundamental conceptual differences between how I am going to be thinking Black love and how Nash’s black feminist love-politics is oriented. Terrafe writes: “Blackness as deathly marker within Symbolic, Imaginary, and Real is so intimately tied to the metaphoric and material reality of the corpse (and we have thousands of bones laying in the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean to support this claim) that [Hortense] Spillers’ elaboration of the reduction of African bodies into flesh illuminates a critical facet: the material and psychic violence attendant to the construction of racial blackness – in and through chattel slavery and its successive iterations – precedes one’s subjective and phenomenological experience.” [11] In this sense, there is no Black Self to Love, only an object of negation. There is no Politics for the Black to participate in, only an entire elaboration of discourse on Civil Society which includes the Black only through a gratuitous mediation with violence. There is no Black speech, only what Terrefe poignantly calls “temporal aphasia” which “operates by way of retraction where what remains unsymbolizable in language – the Real, or the violence that precedes the id for Black people – gives way to speculative theories such as from Spillers who reveals the distinction between searching for communicability versus the rules of order, for understanding and expression versus systems of power: language versus her aim to ‘posit a grammar of a different ‘subject of feminism.’”[12]

If this is the case then, I write this as a speculative theory on Black love, as a performative enactment of Black body-beings who, in the wake of slavery, come to the share intimacy, tenderness and care in an entangled attempt to speak the hieroglyph. Black Love is not political at all but instead it is anti-Political social life in social death – a powerlessness in the face of other powerlessness. Black love abounds outside the Political, where a subjectless being entangled and enmeshed in a social milieu of socially irreparable  “high crimes against the flesh, ”[13] desires against the will to power. Indeed, if Black love is “all we need,” it is because Black love is anti-Power and anti-Power is nothing more than the anti-fascist imperative that one must always position themselves at the base of powerlessness – weightless, absolutely fragile, in the “zone of non-being.”

 

1.

 

Our Gender is Black

 

 

I recently read an article written by Che Gossett, a black trans-femme theorist and PhD Candidate, at Rutgers University entitled, “Zizek’s Trans/gender Trouble,” and in this piece, Gossett writes poignantly and clearly that, “Blackness troubles gender.”[14] In writing this remark, Gossett calls upon the history of Blackness as a positionality of un/gendered gendered flesh in an attempt to critique Slavoj Zizek, the Slovenian-philosopher and psychoanalyst, who gives an ahistorical reading and erasure of transness as a “product of a futuristic ‘postgenderism.’” Gossett turns to Hortense Spiller’s oft-cited essay, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book” in order to resituate the relationship between Blackness, Gender and Transness in such a way as to refuse the recirculation of knowledge production(s) which would refuse to acknowledge the pre-history of transness prior to the modern scientific and technological enhancement and the existence of transness in blackness in specific. It is a certain mishandling of Spiller’s essay which has lead to confusions regarding central questions related to the intersection of blackness, gender, sexuality and the Human. I hope to unsettle some of this mishandling in this letter to you because I found that understanding how we love, why we love, and what constitutes the nature of our love is embedded within a practical understanding of the immanent ways in which Hortense Spiller’s discusses gender, blackness and sociality. What I hope to share with you is how I have been beginning to reckon with the fact of Blackness as an ungendered gendered position. This serves the purpose of situating gender as the prefatory absence through which Black dehumanization occurs. Sylvia Wynter puts this best when she states:

 

Although I use the term “race,” and I have to use the term “race,” “race” itself is a function of something else which is much closer to “gender.” Once you say, “besides ontogeny, there’s sociogeny,” then there cannot be only one mode of sociogeny; there cannot be only one mode of being human; there are a multiplicity of modes. So I coined the word “genre,” or I adapted it, because “genre” and “gender” come from the same root. They mean “kind,” one of the meanings is “kind.” Now what I am suggesting is that “gender” has always been a function of the instituting of “kind.” [15]

 

Blackness is a kind of Negation. In other words, it is through this evental-procedure (as an ongoing process) of ungendering that the Black body-being becomes an ontological negation. This transition from Blackness as a gendered/genre antagonism rather than a racial antagonism serves to get closer to the nature of the paradigmatic figuration of the Black as Slave, or better, as Nothingness. Our questions are ontological. What is the gender/genre of the Black? Hari Ziyad, the Black non-binary author of the forth-coming memoir Black Boy Out of Time and Former Editor-In-Chief of the radical Black thought platform RaceBaitr, puts it poignantly when they write in “My Gender is Black,” that:

 

“My gender is Black” is an argument that is rooted in the understanding that Blackness is not a race, and therefore could never be “race first.” In the afterlife of slavery (hat tap to Saidiya Hartman) Blackness is that which is denied access to humanity, and thus Blackness is denied access to human gender/sexuality identities. Because the Black people we read as queer or as women epitomize this lack of access to gender uniquely, fore-fronting Blackness is actually an attempt to bring these realities into the conversation about anti-Blackness in a necessary way. [16]

 

What is to be done with this information? What has to be deconstructed, reconsidered and unmapped if Blackness is, in fact, a gender/genre and not a race? How might this change how we know each other, how we hold each other, how we love each other? I know, I have talked briefly with you about this, and the implications of what such an idea for you, me and us might be. But I hope that this letter will illuminate some of the consequences of taking this idea seriously, of being-with-this-idea in our everyday intra-actions with each other and with other body-beings formed, shaped and molded by the architecture of anti-Blackness. I hope that this letter will illuminate our meta-relation, our abysmal entanglement, and the bonding of Blackness which is the bondage of Blackness which is the ongoing and accumulating trauma that is our own ongoing and accumulating being-with-Nothingness. What this understanding would hopefully reveal is the concealed collapse of the you and the me in the paradigmatic figuration of our Blackness. This is the historical a prioricity of our Us-ness. Michel Foucault describes the “historical a priori” in The Archaeology of Knowledge as:

 

Different oeuvres, dispersed books, that whole mass of texts that belong to a single discursive formation – and so many authors who know or do not know one another, criticize one another, invalidate one another, pillage one another, meet without knowing it and obstinately intersect their unique discourses in a web of which they are not the masters, of which they cannot see the whole, and of whose breadth they have a very inadequate idea – all these various figures and individuals do not communicate solely by the logical succession of propositions that they have advance, nor by the recurrence of themes, nor by the obstinacy of a meaning transmitted, forgotten, and rediscovered; they communicate by the form of positivity of their discourse; or more exactly, this form of positivity (and the conditions of operation of the enunciative function) defines a field in which formal identities, thematic continuities, translations of concepts, and polemical interchanges may be deploy. [17]

While Foucault gets at something pivotal in this discursive understanding of the way in which conceptual apparatuses and categorical formations begin to cohere what becomes latent in this description is what Frank Wilderson and Patrice Douglass call metaphysical violence. This metaphysical violence is what Wilderson and Douglass insist upon having us – you, I, the World – reflect on. It is this critical reflection which makes the statements made by Wilderson and Douglass particularly important here. They write, “A focus on violence should be at the center of this project because violence not only makes thought possible, but it makes black metaphysical being and black relationality impossible, while simultaneously giving rise to the philosophical contemplation of metaphysics and the thick description of human relations. Without violence, critical theory and pure philosophy would be impossible.” [18] I want to suggest that it is important that we take this seriously in order to be able to better love one another, and while I am open to admitting that this may be a result of my own personal investment in critical theory and pure philosophy and of course, my own personal investment in understanding how I might be able to better care for you; I also want to suggest it is also because critical theory and pure philosophy haunt the constellation of our entanglement. This is because part of what haunts Blackness is the catalogue of concepts available to discern the nature of injury. Put differently, it is the history of critical theory and pure philosophy in conjunction with the explicit and raw materiality of Black death and its cyclical proliferation that makes and unmakes the nature of our Black body-beings. These are the terms of order; the paradigm of anti-Blackness. Frank Wilderson attempts to describe this paradigm when he writes:

In Leftist metacommentaries on ontology (and in the political common sense and the radical cinema in fee, however unintentionally, to such metacommentaries) the subject’s paradigmatic location, the structure of his/her relationality, is organized around his/her capacities: powers the subject has or lacks, the constituent elements of his/her structural position with which s/he is imbued or lacks prior to his/her performance. Just as prior to the commencement of a game of chess, the board and the pieces on it live in a cauldron of antagonisms. The spatial and temporal capacities of the queen (where she is located and where she can move, as well as how she can move) articulate an irreconcilable asymmetry of power between her and a rook or a pawn for example. Vest the rook with the powers of the queen (before the game begins, of course) and it is not the outcome of the game that is jeopardy so much as the integrity of the paradigm itself—it is no longer chess but something else. And it goes without saying that no piece may leave the board if it is to stand in any relation whatsoever (asymmetry aside) to its contemporaries; this would be tantamount to leaving the world, to death. Power relations are extant in the sinews of capacity. [19]

Wilderson, Douglass and Fanon theorize the paradigm – the terms of order – as a structural plane where Black body-beings remain in a positionality of absolute dereliction. This absolute dereliction is the depletion of humanness and the separation of the Black body from Being and henceforth, from Value. Or rather, Blackness becomes valuable precisely for its lack of value. Its only symbolic currency being its fungibility. Blackness is the production of a reproductive lack of value. Hence, Blackness needs non-Blackness in order to accrue value, and it is only through proximity to this non-Blackness that Blackness is able to become valuable. This is why Fanon writes, “We understand now why the black man cannot take pleasure in his insularity. For him there is only one way out, and it leads to the white world.” [20]

This leaves next to no room for Black love. For Black love is no way into the white world. Black love is a dive deeper into the abyss of Blackness, into the absence of Power, against the will to Power. It is a way of sleeping, walking, and dancing with death as the “grammar and ghost of every gesture.” [21] In fact, Frank Wilderson, writes in his memoir, Incognegro, the following response about black love and whether or not he’d ever be with another Black women again. He states:

It is a question that goes to the heart of desire, to the heart of our black capacity to desire. But if we take out the nouns that you used (nouns of habit that get us through the day), your question to me would sound like this: Would nothing ever be with nothing again… [22]

How do we come to desire being-with-nothing-forever? The nothings we are; the nothings we abandon and hold on to, the nothings we cherish and sing for, dance and mumble with. How do we write and share black love as a “till death do us part” that is not cut short by the trauma of generations, the trauma of everyday black life, and the trauma of simply trying to be and be-with blackness and black bodies? Here, I am using black love as a particular articulation of black desire in order to get us to thinking more on how we come to desire a gender/genre of decadent beings. How did I come to accept you against everything that the World has made us? Whereas though I am aware that not all love is romantic, I do believe there’s something about romantic love that is worthy of critical reflection. There is something in the affective realism of romantic love, and the fact of its emotional gravitas that makes the depths and heights of loving and being loved, of caring and being-cared-for, especially desirable while being equally undesirable with an ambiguity characteristic of desire itself. 

These are the pleasures and pains of desire.

Additionally, there is a register of unbelievability in the fact of Black love. Tyrone Palmer calls it the unthinkability of Black affect. He writes, “As a result of the varying modalities of violence—epistemic, material, metaphysical, ontological—which produce blackness as a locus of incapacities, Black affective responses are only legible as signs of pathology, further reifying blackness-as-subhumanity; as a sign of both excess and lack.” [23] How then, do I explain in words, in writing, in theory, in poetry, desires which, in an anti-Black world are unthinkable, illegible and in excess? How do I explain that I desire to be-with-nothing forever? How do I tell that story? I think it starts somewhere first by disassembling the “I” itself. So let us begin there: tell this story.

 

2.

The Black Marxism of Blackness

 

One way of getting at this is reckoning with the restlessness of Blackness. Blackness is never at rest. Movement is the black terms of disorder. In the words of Fred Moten:

 

What is inadequate to blackness is already given ontologies. The lived experienced of blackness is, among other things, a constant demand for an ontology of disorder, an ontology of dehiscence, a para-ontology whose comportment will have been (toward) the ontic or existential field of things and events. That ontology will have had to have operated as a general critique of calculation even as it gathers diaspora as an open set—or as an openness disruptive of the very idea of set—of accumulative and unaccumulable differences, differings, departures without origin, leavings that continually defy the natal occasion in general even as they constantly bespeak the previous [24].

 

This general critique of calculation, that is Blackness, is the incalculable fugitivity of Blackness – the incalculable fugitivity of the being that fundamentally demands a dis/ordering of the terms of order. It is a fugitivity which rest upon a certain performative enunciation which refuses enunciation. Blackness is always moving because blackness refuses to be stopped, refuses to be settled. Blackness resist. Moten, again, writes in a now canonical opening-statement that, “The history of Blackness is a testament to the fact that objects can and do resist. Blackness – the extended movement of a specific upheaval, an ongoing irruption that anarranges every line – is a strain that pressures the assumption of the equivalence of personhood and subjectivity.”[25] Blackness then, is a verb rather than a noun. It’s a going that keeps on going no matter how hard the going gets. This movement destabilizes paradigmatic analysis because, rather than providing a diagrammatic account which is as fixed, rigid and smooth as a game of chess; the paradigm is reconfigured as possessing gaps, wholes, and difference. Cedric Robinson makes this point clear when writing:

 

Systems of conceptualization alternative to the familiar, or as it is presented, the rational, continually do arise. Responses to such systems, of course, are according to their recognizability in the terms of the resident paradigms or epistemologies. They are, therefore, on occasion ignored and/or dismissed, and on other occasions, may reap more active forms of rejection: anger, ridicule, suppression, etc. Nevertheless, the culture of knowledge, in contradiction to appearance, is fundamentally unstable, having not as yet in any text formed a constellation of world knowledge which may be the basis for general human development [26].

 

There is a way in which Black love is at stake in this conversation. Is Black love even possible in an anti-Black world? Was Frank Wilderson’s response to the question of Black love the exact reason why Frantz Fanon left out the chapter of “The Black Man and the Black Woman”? Is Black love nothing more than a psychic fantasy in a paradigm where Blackness is Nothingness? For it is according to the logic of the resident paradigm that Frank Wilderson and Patrice Douglass note that “black metaphysical being and black relationality [are made] impossible.” Nevertheless, a mixed-paradigm is thought to have spatiotemporal consequences that deny any totalizing account of Black impossibility. A mixed-paradigm opens the doors for a fugitivity that always exceeds the hold of Western epistemologies. A mixed-paradigm situates resistance as within-the-World, against-the-World, under-the-World and beyond-the-World. Robinson makes this clear when he sums up the philosophical and political motivation behind his Terms of Order. He writes:

 

I tried to demonstrate that within Western social and conceptual history, a variety of ontological identities existed. There have been brought into realization complexes of understandings concerned with the natures of the relationship between things. This demonstration was meant to expose the possibility and actuality that orthodox Western thought was neither universal nor coherent. I meant to demonstrate that all social and political theories possess this mixed character, specifically all social theories which are themselves expressions of the presumption of the political as the basis of order and authority. At that point the task became conceptual[27].

 

Thus, we are seemingly presented with a binary opposition in Black epistemologies of desire, relationality, love and paradigmatic analysis. Either the Black is a fugitive – always existing in excess of its paradigmatic positioning within abjection and thus resisting in the name of stolen life and stolen love – or the Black is paradigmatically positioned outside of relationality within social death and all Black resistance, all Black love, are simply immanent creations sutured to a paradigm born out of gratuitous black death.  Yet, what seems to rattle the coherence of Wilderson and Douglass’ analysis, more than an inconsistency in the logic of their argument itself, is the inconsistency of its practical application which therefore becomes an inconsistency in the abstraction of its logic. What I mean by this is the Black coupling, the Black relationality which grounds their theoretical text, ostensibly claims the impossibility of the very thing that Wilderson and Douglass’ do, namely, relate. And it is through this relation that they produce a theoretical text that Robinson might note (if he were honest) serves the purpose of destabilizing the always already destabilized mixed-paradigm. It would seem as if Blackness is not socially dead after all.

 

Jared Sexton, however, makes a clarification which might ultimately serve to demystify Wilderson and Douglass’ paradigmatic analysis. This is Sexton’s notion of the social life of social death. Sexton writes, “To speak of black social life and black social death, black social life against black social death, black social life as black social death, black social life in black social death—all of this is to find oneself in the midst of an argument that is also a profound agreement, an agreement that takes shape in (between) meconnaissance and (dis)belief.”[28] Put differently, Black sociality operates within the vacuum in which Blackness is made to be placed outside of sociality. We have no sociality that need be recognized by the World and this is the paradigmatic prohibition situates the nature of how we resist and coexist. In other words, I can love you but there’s nothing about our love that need be recognized by the World. It is Nothing-loving-Nothing. We fundamentally lack the capacity – at an ontological level – to be produce a recognition that connotes Recognition, a reciprocity which connotes Reciprocity, and a relationality that connotes Relationality. Hence, why Wilderson writes, “A Black person cannot offer the gift of life, the gift of recognition and incorporation.”[29]

Yet, there is a deeper meconnaissance that happens in the disbelief in the possibility of Black relationality. It is a meconnaissance which operates in and through Wilderson, Douglass, Fanon and Sexton’s arguments that allow us to get at the unthought elements of our constituency as ontologically dead body-beings. It is certain faithfulness to Orlando Patterson’s constituent elements of slavery and a certain unfaithfulness to the Radical Black Queer Feminist roots of Afro-pessimist thinking that makes Sexton’s demystification of Wilderson’s paradigmatic analysis at the same time a diffractive repositioning of the nature of Blackness from within it.

As the theory runs, Blackness is constituted by social death, general dishonor, natal alienation, and gratuitous violence. Yet, the unthought element of our constitution, is the constitution of this constitution as an Our, as an Us, as an Intimacy. That is to say, the concentrated encampment of the Hold, is the intimacy of being-with-Blackness, of being-with-Blackness as Nothingness. It is in concentration, in our always already concentrated Blackness, that we are always already intimate with each other, as a Nothingness to the World, that in our togetherness as Nothingness, we become corporeal illustrations of alternative ways of being not some-body, but a no-body that nobody can make otherwise. This Intimacy is how we are forced violently, under the brush of bullets, under a hailstorm of assaults, under every instance of active negation, to Be-With-Nothing. Whether we consent to it or not. Whether we say “Yes” to our former Black lovers or not. Whether we resist or not. It is a constituent element of our paradigmatic positioning in the World – the black Marxism of Blackness.

 

The black Marxism of Blackness is the onto-epistemic conclusion preconditioned by the architecture of anti-Blackness that congeals Blackness-with-Blackness in Innumerable Accumulation. The black Marxism of Blackness is the paradigmatic incision which interdicted African life and made Blackness diaspora. Cedric Robinson writes:

 

It is certain that the evolving tradition of Black radicalism owes its peculiar moment to the historical interdiction of African life by European agents. In this sense, the African experience of the past five centuries is simply one element in the mesh of European history: some of the objective requirements for Europe’s industrial development were met by the physical and mental exploitation of Asian, African, and native American peoples. This experience, though, was merely the condition for Black radicalism – its immediate reason for and object of being – but not the foundation for its nature or character. Black radicalism, consequently, cannot be understood within the particular context of its genesis. It is not of Western radicalism whose proponents happen to be Black. Rather, it is a specifically African response to an oppression emergent from immediate determinants of European development in the modern era and framed by orders of human exploitation woven into the interstices of European social life from the inception of Western civilization [30].

 

The black Marxism of Blackness is how we come to dance together even in the face of all that is everything and everything that is all against our Black body-beings. If natal alienation alludes to the fact that you can’t hold what is held in the Hold, that you can only hold-on until the holding won’t hold on any longer, then Intimacy is the paradigmatic fact, the essential and important fact, of the concentrated encampment of the Hold and with its innumerable quantity of deaths held together under the name of Blackness. This Intimacy gets named Community and  is one of the violent and coercive signifiers that holds Blackness together in a dance with each other in this dance with death. From Plantation to Jim Crow to the Ghetto to The Prison Industrial Machine, Blackness is a Nothingness without Singularity. Blackness is a Nothingness-with.

 

This being-with-Nothingness is Blackness

as Intimacy.

Blackness as Nothingness-With.

The Black Marxism of Blackness.

 

What this repositioning of the paradigm does is resituate Wilderson and Douglas’ analysis of the paradigm in a way that is both compatible and consummatory of Robinson and Moten’s fugitivity concerns. To say Blackness is Nothingness-With is to get at “this internal kinship from the universal level” in a way that makes it impossible to say “I was the grandson of slaves…” For there is no “I” in Blackness, there is only a bunch of niggas. And what is a nigga? The question of the Nigga is always an ontological question concerning “What is a Nigga when a Nigga is not”? This repositioning of the paradigm collapses Black fugitivity, resistance, and performance within its architecture bringing to light the meta-relational status of Blackness-with-Blackness in a way that makes Black fugitivity, resistance and performance all performative enactments of the ontological condition from within Blackness as Nothingness-With. In other words, black relation is a meta-relation based on a principled non-relation. We are the beings who relate through this incapacity to build relationality; intimate, in this paradoxical incapacity to build intimacy, one generation after another.

 

Thus, the same thing that forces us to relate to ‘Black Culture’ is the same thing that causes us to relate to the Black Radical Tradition, both of which are just immanent performances of this meta-relation of non-relationality. The same thing that coerces us to being a nigga, to being defined in relation to nigga-ness is the same thing that coerces us into a necessary struggle for existence as a nigga or as anything else we’d rather be – at least until the World ends. Whereas though Robinson might disagree with this since “Black radicalism cannot be understood within the particular context of its genesis,” [31] I want to insist that the historical interdiction of which Robinson is well aware of is one which is principally anchored in ontological negation. This interdiction – unlike any other genre of “Human” – was/is an interdiction which uniquely positioned the Black as “the ostensible missing link between rational humans and irrational animals.”[32] This unique positioning remains the conditions of possibility for the intelligibility of Black fugitivity, resistance, dance and performance as “Black” fugitivity, resistance, dance and performance are render intelligible under the current onto-epistemic regime through a violence and material-discourse which gave birth to the figure of the Nigga as the ontologically absent being. This figure – which has figured who we are within the general terms of the historical a priori for the past five plus centuries – is a figure of ontological death. Or, as Fanon put it, “Ontology—once it is finally admitted as leaving existence by the wayside—does not permit us to understand the being of the black man.[33]

The Nigga is not. It is negated being, and whether we affirm or negate the meta-relational status between the socially dead beings that we are paradigmatically positioned as is never an undermining of the meta-relational status as much as it is a question of performativity/experimentation/invention done from within the paradigm of this non-relation itself. For the fact remains that because of a specific structural configuration, Blackness has come into inseparable meta-relation with the “nigger rung of being human.” [34] Thus, we resist and thus, we mumble. Yet, it is this meta-relational status with nothingness that sets the stage at the paradigmatic level for the social life of social death or rather, the black Marxism of Blackness, the inseparable entanglement of Blackness with Nothingness as always already Nothingness-with-Nothingness-with-Nothingness-with-Nothing. The Nigga is a gender/genre of Nothingness-With.

 

3.

The Eroticopolitical Worlding

 

Let us return now to Black love by bringing together two odd Black pairs in this anti-discipline of Black Studies. bell hooks writes in her book “All About Love: New Visions” that “Contemplating death has always been a subject that leads me back to love. Significantly, I began to think more about the meaning of love as I witnessed the deaths of many friends, comrades, and acquaintances, many of them dying young and unexpectedly.”[35] Thinking these remarks alongside Frank Wilderson I ask: what about thinking black death leads us closer to desiring black love? What if true black love is not an attempt to overcome that death, and the world that requires that death but what if black love dwells within the hold of the ship, inside the box that the fugitive runs within, not as something that exceeds the hold, that dispels the ghost, but as something that learns to dance to the steps of death? What would this understanding of Black love do to our pessimism, our Black pessimism, our Afro-pessimism if we sat with both the disillusioning reality that you can’t hold what is held in the Hold, and the unequally unrelenting fact that we still must hold-on until the holding can’t hold no longer.

How is it that we can desire to “exceed the hold” [36]? We imagine the phantasmagoric idea that we might exceed because we are in the Hold together. We are held in the Hold by each other – coercively and assertively. Coercively through the violence that makes and unmakes us. Assertively through the praxis of being-with-nothing, in the form of experimentation-in-non-being, which gives no certainty of endings that feel like satisfaction. To be liberated is to exceed the hold. But we are held in the Hold by each other, by the World, coercively and assertively. This Hold is a principally Eroticopolitical Hold. It is a Hold which ungenders its detainees, which ungenres them from the genre of Man. Hence, why Spiller writes “Under these conditions, we lose at least gender difference in the outcome, and the female body and the male body become a territory of cultural and political maneuver, not at all gender-related, gender-specific.” [37] The way in which “female” and “male” become territories for cultural and political maneuver are crucial to understanding the microphysics of intramural power relations. For if the architecture of anti-Blackness axiomatically presumes a monopoly over the Cultural and the Political, then the only way to access the Cultural and Political accoutrements of gender normativity for Blackness (in any whatsoever) would be to capitulate to the Will to Power, to borrow institutionality without any alteration to the general condition of being Nothingness-With in the Hold. Jared Sexton’s description of “Female gender in Black” versus “Male gender in Black” are illuminating in this regard. Sexton writes:

Female gender in black, not unlike youth or old age or disability, generally intensifies structural vulnerability and affords none of the traditional protections. Male gender in black inconsistently mediates structural vulnerability but affords none of the traditional entitlements. Power in black is a negative affordance, a capability for immiserating the lives of others without a capacity for ameliorating one’s own, like a seesaw that works in only one direction, down. Dominant claims in black reproduce domination without dominance, except as a force multiplier for borrowed institutionality. There is no familiar figure of speech to describe this strange algebra: x < y but y ≯ x [38].

This strange algebra is a subset of the algebra that Hortense Spillers calls the hieroglyphics of the flesh [39]. These hieroglyphics are the basis of our indecipherable suffering, our incommunicable pain. This hieroglyphic suffering is made possible through the sheering apart of Blackness from the body and the rendering of Blackness as flesh. This fleshliness finds its originary violence in the stripping of gender/genre-difference (which in accordance to the axioms of Man are necessary elements of Humanness) and then, it compounds this violence through the process of (re)gendering which follows. The process of (re)gendering that follows produces different textures of violence – a concept of which I am wholly indebted to from personal conversations with my good Black Feminist Activist Lawyer-Friend, Korey Johnson. Korey’s formulation could be thought as somewhat akin to what Selamawit Terrafe writes when she states, “I contend that this exclusion rests upon differentially affected responses to the effects and displays of antiblack violence against Black women and men…” [40]. But whereas Terrefe goes on to state that these different textures of violence and their differential affected responses are not based “upon the construction of a gender differential in the logic, structure, or practice of anti-Blackness,” [41], I contend instead that the logic of anti-Blacknesss is the logic of Anti-Gender/Anti-Genre. Blackness as gender/genre rather than race/raza gets us closer to a formulation which will allow us to consider the ontological exclusion of Blackness as an exclusion from the Genre of the Human. For Blackness is axiomatically construed as that genre of being which is the missing link between Ape and Man. Yet, against Sylvia Wynter, for whom the Humanist impulse remains, I insist with you, with Afro-pessimism, that rather than being a genre of being Human, Blackness is a genre of non-Being – a genre of non-Being-With. In accordance to the axioms of Man, the Black is more Zero than One, more Nature than Culture, more Nothing than Something.

Thus, Blackness is denied access to Humanness because Blackness is denied access to the Gender/Genre of the Human category and then, Blackness gets reassigned Gender/Genre in accordance to a logic of Humanness in a way that can only exponentialize the violence in the form of textured, affected difference. The reason for this is that the categories of Gender/Genre in the axioms of Man are themselves effects of the anti-Black World. In a way then, it makes sense that Frantz Fanon would not get us to thinking Nothingness-With since his theoretical account of Black body-beings in love operates in accordance to a gender binary that can only function as dysfunction for Blackness. Thus, what Che Gossett writes here about Slavoj Zizek can be stated as well about Frantz Fanon:

Žižek ignores the fact that we can’t think the gender binary outside of the context of racial slavery and colonialism within which it was forged. Žižek also leaves unthought the entire scope of trans studies in general and trans of color critique in particular. He ignores the ways in which the gender binary is imbricated in racial slavery and colonization, and he perpetuates an epistemic erasure of the entire scope of trans studies in general, and queer and trans of color critique especially. He also enacts a historical erasure of queer and trans left theory and praxis — especially of color — as eroticopolitical [42].

 

It is against a certain eroticopolitical worlding that Black love exist within. This eroticopolitical worlding starts at Blackness and Transness not to participate in the liberal multicultural narrative of identity politics by way of the discourse of centering the “most” vulnerable (even if the precarious situation of black trans women in America has enough data and testimonial support to suggest that even a liberal centering might open a much needed discussion in the urgent necessity to “tend to the Black dead and dying”[43] Black trans woman in this country and in the world all over), but instead, in order to get to the foundations and constituent elements of black desire itself. Black desire is unthinkable because black desire is written in the hieroglyphics of the flesh within different textures of violence (Korey Johnson) which ground Blackness as Nothingness-With. Black desire is always written as excess because black desire is always written as queer, as decadence, as anality [44]. Hence, desire for Blackness is always a desire for the Bottom. As Darieck Scott notes:

 

I use bottom to signify the nadir of a hierarchy (a political position possibly abject) and as a sexual position: the one involving coercion and historical and present realities of conquest, enslavement, domination, cruelty, torture and so on, the other involving sexualized or erotic consent/play which references the elements of the former. The connection between the two meanings of bottom (1) shows the correlation between scenes of blackening and of rape and homosexuality, (2) investigates the nature of the black power inherent in such (ostensible) forms of pain and abjection, and (3) ventures the question of the kinds of pleasure that might inhere even in such experiences [45].

 

In order to move away from the negative affordances of Power located in the will to Gender/Genre, the will to Man, the will to Power, I want instead to will to Black love as a will to the Bottom. I want to will to Black love as anti-Power. Yet, I know there will be times, perhaps far too many times, when the Cultural and the Political prerogatives of this anti-Black World might call me to desire exactly that which I do not. Deleuze and Guattari make note of this and state, “That is why the fundamental problem of political philosophy is still precisely the one that Spinoza saw so clearly, and that Wilhelm Reich rediscovered: ‘Why do men fight for their servitude as stubbornly as though it were their salvation?”[46]

 

This is why I am writing to insist that I hear you and your sisters and all the Black queer, trans and non-Binary body-beings who all insist that I, Lucifer’s Nocturne, do better; and, I hope that I can turn fraternal mothering [47] into a way of extending Black love across the fictional and symbolic terrain of the Black fraternal dis/order. In addition to this, I am writing to tell you that I love you in so many words and ways that are difficult to explain, primarily because it is counterintuitive to the anti-Black World’s intuition. In Futures of Black Radicalism, one of the final books that Cedric Robinson had ever participated in writing before passing away, Robinson states, “In a sense, the totalities that we have experienced historically have each, in the moment, seemed unassailable. At each crisis we shouldn’t have survived, but we have. The current ordering of the world is so fragile. That is the lesson: in each historical moment, justice, social justice, and moral authority are questioned. They seem to be on their last legs, but that has never proven to be the case. That’s one of the lasting lessons of Black Marxism.” Black Marxism is not something that the Black has done; Black Marxism is the way the Black is positioned in the World. Black Marxism is our always already togetherness:

 

[48]Through drought and famine, natural disasters

My baby has been around for me

Kingdoms have fallen, angels be calling

None of that could ever make me leave

 

Daniel Caesar is wrapped up in the same Blackness that Curtis Mayfield is wrapped up in and regardless of one’s willing or unwilling participation, their Blackness is always already put in meta-relation to one another as the Black Marxism of Blackness – a meta-relation of our non-relationality and “Like Curtis Mayfield, however, I do plan to stay a believer.”[49] Black Love can be and is because of the paradigmatic necessity that Blackness be-with-Blackness. That Blackness be-with-Nothingness, be-with-the-Bottom, be-with-Trauma as a mode of bondage and bonding. This inseparability is the intimacy of Blackness as a constituent element of Blackness as Nothingness-With. The Black “Man” and the Black “Woman” are tasked with understanding the nature of the ongoing onslaught of this being made to be Nothingness-With. The Black “Man” who in truth is neither Man nor Black must investigate the conditions in which “the black American male embodies the only American community of males which has had the specific occasion to learn who the female is within itself, the infant child who bears the life against the could-be fateful gamble, against the odds of pulverization and murder, including her own,”[50] as for the Black “Woman” who in truth is neither Woman nor Black, her insurgent ground has enumerated many a possibility from within the confines of captivity, as well as being one of the principle architects behind the theory which desires nothing short of the end of the World itself. Indeed: “It is the heritage of the mother that the African-American male must regain as an aspect of his own personhood – the power of ‘yes’ to the ‘female’ within.”[51]

 

[52]

Today we believe

in the possibility

of love, and that is the reason why

we are endeavoring

to trace its imperfections and perversions.

 

With love,

John Gillespie Jr.

 

 

 

 

 

P.S.

 

Reference List

[1] Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (Grove press, 2008), 24.

[2] Fred Moten, Blackness and Nothingness (Mysticism in the Flesh), South Atlantic Quarterly, vol. 112, 2013, 738, https://doi.org/10.1215/00382876-2345261.

[3] Daniel Caesar, “Get You,” released October 20, 2016, track 1 from Freudian. Golden Child.

[4] Gaye Theresa Johnson and Alex Lubin, Futures of Black Radicalism (Verso Books, 2017), 200.

[5] Frank B Wilderson III, Red, White & Black: Cinema and the Structure of US Antagonisms (Duke University Press, 2010), 75.

[6] Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, 2008, 92.

[7] Hortense Spillers, “The Politics of Intimacy: A Discussion,” Sturdy Black Bridges: Visions of Black Women in Literature, 1979, 104.

[8] Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, 2008, 45.

[9] Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, ed. Penguin Books (New York, 2009), 29.

[10] Deleuze and Guattari, 29.

[11] Selamawit D Terrefe, “Speaking the Hieroglyph,” Theory & Event 21, no. 1 (2018): 128.

[12] Terrefe, 129.

[13] Hortense Spillers, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book,” Diacritic 17, no. 2 (1987): 67, https://doi.org/10.2307/464747.

[14] Che Gossett, “Zizek’s Trans/Gender Trouble,” LA Review of Books, September 13, 2016)

[15] Greg Thomas, “PROUD FLESH Inter/Views: Sylvia Wynter,” ProudFlesh: New Afrikan Journal of Culture, Politics and Consciousness, no. 4 (2006).

[16] Hari Ziyad, “My Gender Is Black,” Afropunk, July 12, 2017.

[17] Michel Foucault, “The Archaeology of Knowledge, Trans,” AM Sheridan Smith (New York: Pantheon, 1972) 24 (1972): 127.

[18] Patrice Douglass and Frank Wilderson, “The Violence of Presence: Metaphysics in a Blackened World,” The Black Scholar 43, no. 4 (2013): 117.

[19] Wilderson III, Red, White & Black: Cinema and the Structure of US Antagonisms, 14–15.

[20] Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, 2008, 33.

[21] Frank B Wilderson, “Grammar & Ghosts: The Performative Limits of African Freedom,” Theatre Survey 50, no. 1 (2009): 123.

[22] Frank B Wilderson III, Incognegro: A Memoir of Exile and Apartheid (Duke University Press, 2015), 265.

[23] Tyrone S Palmer, “‘What Feels More Than Feeling?’: Theorizing the Unthinkability of Black Affect,” Critical Ethnic Studies 3, no. 2 (2017): 32.

[24] Fred Moten, “The Case of Blackness,” Criticism 50, no. 2 (2008): 187.

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

[26] Cedric J Robinson, The Terms of Order: Political Science and the Myth of Leadership (UNC Press Books, 2016), 210.

[27] Robinson, 207–8.

[28] Jared Sexton, “The Social Life of Social Death: On Afro-Pessimism and Black Optimism,” InTensions Journal 5, no. 5 (2011): 28.

[29] Frank Wilderson, “Close-Up: Fugitivity and the Filmic Imagination: Social Death and Narrative Aporia in 12 Years a Slave,” An International Film Journal, 2015, 140.

[30] Cedric J Robinson, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition (Univ of North Carolina Press, 2000), 73.

[31] Robinson, 71.

[32] Sylvia Wynter, “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/ Power/ Truth/ Freedom,” CR: The New Centennial Review, 2003, 266, https://doi.org/10.1353/ncr.2004.0015.

[33] Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (Paladin London, 1970), 77–78.

[34] Wynter, “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/ Power/ Truth/ Freedom,” 262.

[35] Bell Hooks, All about Love: New Visions, 2000, xxii.

[36] Christina Sharpe, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (Duke University Press, 2016).

[37] Spillers, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book,” 67.

[38] Jared Sexton, Black Men, Black Feminism: Lucifer’s Nocturne (Springer, 2018), 28.

[39] Spillers, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book,” 67.

[40] Terrefe, “Speaking the Hieroglyph,” 130.

[41] Terrefe, 130.

[42] (Gossett, 2016)

[43] Sharpe, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being, 10.

[44] Jennifer C Nash, “Black Anality,” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 20, no. 4 (2014): 439–60.

[45] Darieck Scott, Extravagant Abjection: Blackness, Power, and Sexuality in the African American Literary Imagination (NYU Press, 2010), 28.

[46] Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, 29.

[47] David Marriott, On Black Men (Sweet & Maxwell, 2000), 113.

[48] Daniel Caesar, “Get You,” released October 20, 2016, track 1 from Freudian. Golden Child.

[49] Moten, Blackness and Nothingness (Mysticism in the Flesh), 112:738.

[50] Spillers, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book,” 80.

[51] Spillers, 80.

[52] Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, 2008, 24.

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