Black Abstraction

Sometimes: I want

to kill myself

just to see

what’s on the other side.

One of the results of metaphysical violence has been, the violence of preventing Black abstractions and ideations. This violence has prevented not only the activity of Black thought and abstraction, but it has also prevented Black abstractions from coloring the terms and scales of sensibility, legibility and reality. The absence of our ideations from the conceptual economy has the circumspect effect of making Black abstraction suspect on sight. But we should see how the suspicion that Black abstraction raises is no different than the suspicion that the abstract figure of the Black raises in general. Caught somewhere between jester and gesturing, Black abstraction is the butt of every joke and, at the same time, the stage of both a serious investigation and experience of anti-Black terror. Black abstraction raised to the level of Thought itself is ‘meaningless’ because the Black thinker is told to always remain at the level of the immediate terror of Black existence. Therefore, Black thought exist within a double bind or, perhaps, better, a parallax view of the lynching tree. This parallax view of the lynching tree concerns the fact or idea that it is the terror of the lynching tree itself which not only raises the necessity for Black thought, but also forecloses the ‘necessity’ of Black abstraction. But, what if the Afropessimist claim to take the question of anti-Black violence ‘to the highest level of abstraction’ had less to do with ‘elitism’ and more to do with a genuine investment in scales, degrees, accumulations and magnitudes? The other side of the parallax view of the lynching tree is to ask: “What kind of Thought leads to this terror?” Afropessimism develops a kind of thanatological reading of violence that ‘abstracts’ from Black thought to raise questions at ‘Thought’ itself. These ‘parallax views’ stand at the crossroads of violence debating ‘immediacy’ and immanence. These views are never outside of materiality, but they are typified as debates about whether or not Black thought should be about ‘the immediate’ concerns of Black life or these abstract concerns about the immanent violence of anti-Black axiology. These parallax views need not be against each other and they only exist so for careerist academics, intentional misreaders of Afropessimism, and so-called Orthodox Afropessimist who slip ever-so gently into the dark night of seeing misery and immiseration only for the ‘evidence-base’ it provides for claims about ontological violence. For the Black has always possessed within its sentient flesh the will to abstract, and the desire to ideate. The mad creativity of this work is manifest most aptly in Afropessimist theory itself.

It has always only been a question of recognition, reciprocity and redress. The Afropessimist are correct in noting that recognition, reciprocity and redress for the Black has never arrived. It is this ‘correctness’ which makes many feel the “word salad” of Afropessimist theory needs to be able to more concretely express their abstractions in terms that address the immediate concerns of Black death. In the first instance, this dubious claim makes it seem as if the proletariat is reading Marx’s Capital cover to cover without the necessity of critical pedagogy or that Marx’s complex and abstract structural analysis of capital serves no function or purpose in the struggle against capital because “it uses big words.” In the second instance, such a critique forgoes the fact that social theory as an analysis of abstract and complex system of chaos and violence is an abstract and linguistically complex activity. Such an idea is no reason to not learn, educate, summarize, synthesize and popularize in a variety of ways. Such a thing is possible, but it begins with believing in the so-called “masses” capacity to learn, grow and build a ‘creative intellect.’ Third and final point, why should anti-Black terror prevent the activity of Black abstraction – at each and every level of abstraction – and why wouldn’t this philosophical and conceptual praxis of abstraction be important to and for “the absolute overturning, the absolute turning of this motherfucker out”[1]?

One of the failures of political thought today is the failure to genuinely connect the politics of academia to the political writ-large. This is the utility and instrumental function of the concept I’ve been calling: “the conceptual economy.” There is still this tendency to see the problems in academia as problems of the “Ivory Tower” whereas though the problems out in the “Real World” are happening on “the Outside” of academia. However, this is a sincere failure of thought and analysis. It is the perpetuation of a Nature/Culture divide multiplied and enfolded to an unnerving and genuinely incompatible degree. In this Nature/Culture divide, the World outside the University is turned into the ‘Real’ world while the University is deemed a “removed” cultural institution of abstraction. But no. The University is a genuine and real territory of struggle and the history of Black study, and Black struggle is itself a testament to a challenge to both the academic enterprise of the University and its settler-colonial expropriation of the local communities it comes to inhabit yet exclude. From the politics of segregation in education to the history of white terror against Black attempts at reading, the politics of thought, thinking, education, and learning (which the University inscribes at the highest level of abstraction in the West) is a matter of real violence. This real violence is linked to the conceptual economy of the West insofar as the removal of Black abstraction from the education system, the historical annihilation of Blacks who attempted autodidactism as well as the outlawing of Black learning in general are connected. Therefore, it is not an over-exaggeration to state that the history of Black learning and thought is one of violence, erasure and abjection. For in each and every attempt to think and ideate, the Black has had to encounter the Law, and it is this Law itself, that has outlawed Black abstraction.

Part of what must be done is refusing the alibi which overstates the claim that Black graduate students and faculty have always come from or officially entered into the middle class. Every nigger with a PhD knows that we are still Rubi Bridges on the first day of school, every day of school. We therefore must connect the terror of the University to the gentrification in the street. We must connect the high-prices of these institutions to the stripping of resources from communities. We must locate within the Universities’ structural accumulation of debt, the external seeds of a dispersal of reactionary anti-intellectualism. We must refuse and defuse the inside-outside of the University. Black Studies is not an academic enterprise, it is an exercise in Black thought, study, and struggle. The Universe is our University. The University, however, is parasitic upon the Universe, insofar as it marks an enclosure through which its conceptual apparatus architects itself through demarcations of self-righteous access. This is why the solution to the “problem of jargon” in academic Black studies is not “shutting the Black intellectual up” but abolishing the University and opening every lecture hall, classroom, speaker series, discussion and black boxed form of commoditized education to the public for free. The University makes a cut in the Universe, bundles the resources within its apparatus, then measures the learned and the unlearned in accordance to a metric of anti-Black aptitude, only to limit its bundled resources to the self-selected few. These resources are more than political economic resources. Reducing the University to financial value and assessment would repeat neoliberalism’s assumption of equating education and learnedness with economic obtainment. The University is a business ,but it is unique form of business. It is an academic enterprise. Black study is an exercise in thought, struggle and abstraction. Just as many in the past could not see what function or utility a Slave would get out of a book, while simultaneously banning them from reading them, this same logic functions today against Black abstraction. It states: What function or utility would we, we who are Slaves (rather consciously or unconsciously the parallax view of the lynching trees haunts with slavery), get out of the abstract? If it does not feed me, if it does not clothe me, if does not put a stop to the immediacy of my slavery, I will not put up with it. But, let us follow where-ever this dark road leads. Let us see what happens in drivel, mumble, and obtuse obscurity. Let us enter the Blackness of abstraction. Perhaps, we will find that thing we had been looking for all along. Why, nothingness that’s all. Perhaps, we will finally find nothingness.


[1] Fred Moten, Blackness and Nothingness (Mysticism in the Flesh), South Atlantic Quarterly, vol. 112, 2013, 742, https://doi.org/10.1215/00382876-2345261.

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