Photo Digital Painting by JT Creswell
entitled, “Sentient Flesh”
I shall began at the end. The end of the world that is. Some say such an end has already begun. Others say that this end is on its way. Then there are those who think that the end is only the end if it ends all recourse to a discourse of new beginnings. This latter idea is the idea working at the bottom of the notion that the end of the world must mark the finitude of after finitude. This is the notion that this ordinary note will seek to survey very briefly. In other words, this note is about the end of new ends and the question of the ‘final’ beginning. Tyrone Palmer’s recent essay published in Qui Parle entitled, “Otherwise than Blackness: Feeling, World, Sublimation,” is a work that analyzes the concept of Worlding, Otherwise Worlds, and the End of the World in a way that is exemplary of the point at which our current philosophical debates in Black Studies on and around the End of the World have finally begun to reach their parallax view. This is to say, Palmer’s essay brings us to the brink of an impasse that can no longer be obscured but must be clarified – seeing as though what is at stake in the clarification is perhaps, everything. Palmer’s writing on the End of the World states:
Césaire’s phrasing renders this a foregone conclusion: “The End of the world of course,” as if to suggest that knowledge of the necessity of the World’s end is commonly held or patently obvious. However, on close reflection, it is a radical assertion that raises a number of essential questions worth deeper consideration: What, if anything, comes “after” the End of the World? Must it necessarily be another world, or might the End of the World be the end of anything we could ostensibly call a world; the end of everything? (Tyrone Palmer, “Otherwise Than Blackness: Feeling, World, Sublimation,” 253)
Palmer’s work on the end of the world exemplifies the tension that lies under the demand for the end of the world and the construction of an otherwise. The notion of ‘otherwise worlds’ comes under fire precisely due to the limitations placed on and upon an imagination structurally conditioned by the very abject structures necessary of destruction. Palmer critiques ‘otherwise worlds’ because the residual longing for ‘a world’ in and of itself is a desire situated squarely within the context of ‘world-making’ violence which always already remains a longing-for the ontological violence necessary to every project of making worlds. Palmer again states, “This writing of Blackness as antithetical to World is a consistent often unacknowledged — trope within the foundational works that build the concept as it circulates within critical-philosophical vocabularies and therefore forms the very architecture of the World. World(ing) is an achievement, a capacity, that Blackness is rendered, time and again, as fundamentally lacking by definition,” (Tyrone Palmer, ““Otherwise Than Blackness: Feeling, World, Sublimation,” 259). The desire to create a ‘world’ then becomes wrapped up in not only the desire to exit this one, but to generate a capacity that Blackness is consistently thought to be-without and in dire need of. Yet, the violence, latent and manifest, within this desire is the desire for ontology as such. The desire for being and world then becomes a constituent element of exactly what produces and reproduces Black death and illegibility.
At this point, the pessimistic precision of analysis, is often met with the optimistic irritation of action, the question becomes: Well then, what should be done? If we should not ‘make an otherwise world’ since the desire for World is either implicitly or explicitly anti-Black desire then what should be done? For the moment, I want to concede to the Afropessimist insistence on the meaninglessness of that question in the aftermath of an analysis with implications and consequences which, if true, is not a matter of generating political paralysis as much as it is a matter of providing explanatory power for the reasons why political paralysis has come into existence in the first place. Here, I defer to the idea that what ‘should’ be done is less important in part because all that can done, has been done, can be done again, and, if there is more unknown things to do ‘in the future’ then neither the repetition of previous courses of action with new vanguards nor the ‘invention’ of new modes of resistance unbeknownst to us today evade the essential problematic that Palmer’s analysis raises. This is because Palmer’s analysis – after the death of ‘otherwise worlds’ – presents us with the possibility that all one can do, cannot, overcome ontological violence. The consequence of this claim, in my opinion, does not urge the necessity of the question: What should be done? but, perhaps, it urges a slightly more naïve question. This question, if taken seriously, allows the question of ‘what should be done’ to fall back into its most obvious answer which might be somewhere in between Cesaire’s ‘end of the world’ and Lorraine Hansberry’s imperative that the Negro: “concern themselves with every single means of struggle: legal, illegal, passive, active, violent and non-violent… they must harass, debate, petition, give money to court struggles, sit-in, lie-down, strike, boycott, sing hymns, pray on steps—and shoot from their windows when the racists come cruising through their communities.” This ‘naïve’ question I ask is: What is going to happen to Blackness?
If explanatory power manifest its analytical precision in its capacity to provide grammar for the suffering of the Black assuring, predicting, and providing clarity around the way, the means, and the why (or lack-there of) for Black death then the explanatory power of Afropessimism lies in the clarity through which it can explain the prelogical violence of anti-Blackness. It provides depth to the unique positioning of Black suffering with an analysis of that suffering that displaces prescriptive gestures in favor of descriptive honesty and analytical exactitude. Afropessimism is “real” because it is a theory that provides immense explanatory on “What is going to happen to Blackness?” What is going to happen is natal alienation, gratuitous violence, social death and fungibility. Yet, in the absence of ‘otherwise worlds’ – in the presence of gratuitous violence without end – the accumulation of death and warehousing stabilized only through the fungibility of the flesh makes the question: What is going to happen to Blackness, one that when raised at the highest level of abstraction, becomes a question of Black extinction. The speculative realist dilemma of Afropessimism is a question about if this anti-Black horror will either extend itself ad infinitum until the end of which there is no ends at all or will the anti-Black horror end itself as the end of the end itself.
This problematic is a problematic I call the Tripartite Parallax of Black Studies. If we take the Afropessimist analysis as ‘Real’ then what we face then is a trinity of speculative happenings for Blackness: Terror ad infinitum, Black extinction, or an Otherwise World. The end of the world then either produces an after which is nevertheless a construal of an Otherwise World or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t produce an ‘after’ or a difference understood as a non-repetition then, at the limits of gratuitous violence at the event horizon of fungibility, when there are no more socially dead bodies left to warehouse since their accumulation has ‘flourished’ at the funeral parlor, the Afropessimist must speculate on the question of Black extinction. The Fanonian thought-experiment around whether or not the Black would be considered Black in the aftermath of the tabula rasa of the World does take the legitimacy of the question far enough. Especially since the concept of ‘tabula rasa’ too owes its critical-philosophical vocabulary to an often unacknowledged trope within Locke’s foundational works of philosophy which circulates within critical-philosophical vocabularies and therefore already [in]forms the very architecture of this anti-Black World. The question of Black extinction must be taken materially to mean the point of no return from the door of no return for which is there no Black flesh left to return to fungibility. Black extinction is the end of returns, the end of new beginnings, and the end of ends.
In conclusion, there still remains, a more horrifying parallax view available to Blackness. There is the possibility that there is no end at all – no otherwise nor extinction, no difference nor tabula rasa. Instead, what one has is terror without end, where each revolution revolts permanently against an antagonism that insist on its persistence into eternity. This long durée of anti-Black destruction would, could and does exist regardless of the animated sentiments and desires for the contrary. Lest we forget, we have already been in the hole of ontological terror without end for at least 400 years. What exactly, would another 400 years be but a blip on the radar of Human catastrophe, a blip on the radar that is continuously ‘known’ as a non-event? Indeed, this is where I find us to be, on the precipice of another, much darker trinity: Terror ad infinitum, Black Extinction, or an Otherwise World.