Black Abstraction

Sometimes: I want

to kill myself

just to see

what’s on

the otherwise.

One of the consequences of metaphysical violence has been: the violent erasure of Black abstraction and ideation and the subsequent (dis)placement of Black thought to the position of the unthought. This violence has prevented not only the activity of Black thought and abstraction, but it has made it relatively impossible for Black abstractions to color the terms and scales of sensibility, legibility and reality itself. The absence of our ideations from the conceptual economy has the circumspect effect of making Black abstraction suspect on sight. Yet, I argue, that we should recognize the way in which all of the suspicion that Black abstraction raises in particular 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 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 scale of immediate terror. Therefore, Black thought, exist within a kind of double bind or, perhaps, better, a parallax view. This parallax concerns the fact that it is the terror of anti-Blackness itself which raises the necessity for radical Black thought, and yet, it is the tenacity and intensity of this terror that justifies the position suggesting that Black abstraction is meaningless, elitist and/or bourgeois activity. For instance, the Afropessimist call for “a new language of abstraction to explain [the] horror”[1] of anti-Black terror – is often misconstrued as ‘bourgeois’[2] or ‘elitist’[3] – as if there can be no genuine investment in the philosophical questions raised by the catastrophe of anti-Black violence that does not amount to mere armchair theorizing.

Nevertheless, the parallax view of the question: “What kind of Thought leads to this terror?” would be a question that would necessarily “go to the heart of the ethico-political, questions of political ontology.”[4] ‘Abstract’ Black thinking raises antagonistic questions at Thought itself while simultaneously being embedded in the violence that produces the logic of its questioning. The Black thinker stands at a crossroads of violence, locked in an insensibly demarcated debate concerning the ‘immediacy’ of needs and the immanence of an anti-Black conceptual schemata. In my view, philosophical views are never outside of materiality. They are inculcated in and as debates about whether or not Black thought should be about ‘the immediate’ concerns of Black life or the more ‘abstract’ concerns about the immanent violence of anti-Black axiology. I call these positions ‘parallax views’ because they need not be set against each other, even though they often are. The Black has always possessed, within its sentient flesh, the will to abstract, and the desire to ideate. This ‘thinking-in-disorder,’[5] – the mad creativity of Black abstraction and idea-production – manifest most aptly in Afropessimist theory itself.

The Afropessimist note that recognition, reciprocity and redress for the Black has never arrived. It is this claim which makes many feel that Afropessimist theorists need 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 any 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 an abstract and complex system of chaos and systemic terror 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 “Black masses’” capacity to learn, grow and possess a ‘creative intellect,’ an ‘intellect-in-action.’[6] Not to mention, such an idea, presupposes that ‘the Black masses’ are not already producing, engaging, and constructing their own abstract analysis to describe the grammar of their suffering in ways that would only be read as anti or non-philosophical in the eyes of academia proper. The 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”[7]? In other words, why is Thought itself not a field of battle?

Indeed, one of the failures of political thought today is the failure to genuinely connect the abstract and conceptual politics of academia to the political and libidinal economy writ-large. This is the function and utility of the concept I’ve been calling: “the conceptual economy.”[8] 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 a perpetuation of the 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 an outright refusal of the alibi which overstates the claim that to be in the academy is to have always come from or officially entered into the middle class. Every nigger with a PhD knows that we are still essentially Rubi Bridges on the first day of school, every day of school. Franco ‘Bifo’ Beradi’s work on and about the ‘cognitariat’[9] gets us close, but does not fully encapsulate what it means to be a thinking Slave. We therefore must connect the terror of the University to the gentrification of the streets. 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. The University is a country-club for the intelligentsia. These resources are more than political economic resources. Reducing the University to financial assessment would repeat neoliberalism’s assumption of equating education and learnedness with economic obtainment. The University is a business, but it is a unique form of business. It is an enterprise of abstraction, a market for the production of hegemonic conceptualization. Black study is an exercise in thought, struggle, ideation 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 is haunted by the afterlives of slavery), get out of the abstract? Almost as if to say, “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 nothing.

[1] Frank B Wilderson III, Red, White & Black: Cinema and the Structure of US Antagonisms (Duke University Press, 2010), 99.

[2] José Sanchez, “Against Afro-Pessimism,” Jacobin, 2022,

[3] Kevin Ochieng Okoth, “The Flatness of Blackness: Afro-Pessimism and the Erasure of Anti-Colonial Thought,” Salvage, 2020.

[4] Wilderson III, Red, White & Black: Cinema and the Structure of US Antagonisms, 3.

[5] Ronald A Judy, Sentient Flesh: Thinking in Disorder, Poiésis in Black (Duke University Press, 2020), 17.

[6] Judy, 17.

[7] Fred Moten, Blackness and Nothingness (Mysticism in the Flesh), South Atlantic Quarterly, vol. 112, 2013, 742,

[8] John Gillespie, “Anarcha’s Science of the Flesh: Towards an Afropessimist Theory of Science,” Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience 8, no. 1 (2022).

[9] Franco Berardi, “What Does Cognitariat Mean?: Work, Desire and Depression.[Paper in: Italian Effects. Healy, Chris and Muecke, Stephen (Eds.).],” Cultural Studies Review 11, no. 2 (2005): 57–63.

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