Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Fred Moten Lecture at Rice


Fred Moten: this paper has a polemical edge that I usually don’t like very much
and it goes on too long [he is being extremely polite!]
blackness <> refusal of the refugee
state thought: static (Deleuze)
chuckling at idea of US cosmopolitanism (with Kant)
911 activated and 2008 revived: dream of new African-American cosmopolitanism underwritten by nightmare humanist materialism
Kantian imagination freedom policies itself
racial mark of Kant ... as enclosure of common ground of cosmopolitan thinking + destructive and reconstructive force of race concept
many social theorists believe that dreams imply liquidation of assertive cultural forms that have emerged from transgenerational racial injury
reduction of these forms << operations to disavow injury in the name of identity 
voluntary deracialization
work for blackness to do in undoing the work that race has done
I never liked Obama. There is a direct line between that speech and the way he carries out foreign policy.
the commodity’s theory of elsewhere which comes from nowhere
is consciousness of necessity national? can you be a person without a state? can you do right without one?
nation in dispersion; natality as alienation--fact of being born establishes you as a subject <> state
Orlando Patterson’s Slavery and Social Death << Arendt and Fanon
but what alientation means to me is that birth just is alienation for Moten; irreducible difference of child from mother as condition of possibility for sociality
Dispersion is our natural condition; that doesn’t mean every kind of dispersion is good
states disperse in their own interests; a “brutal and I think evil business”
we shouldn’t be against dispersion but against the ways they are regulated
it’s problematic for state-dispersed people to desire the state for their own protection
some Afro-diasporic scholars align with the state
the state isn’t there to protect but to differentiate “To Protect and Serve”
Kant: we need for a universal jurisdiction of right non-antagonistic external relations between states; there can be no hegemonic state; international law to which states submit themselves
But the cosmopolitanism to which they appeal is very tightly regulated; establishing rigid distinctions between states and non-states and citizens and the stateless
I’m making an argument for statelessness
>> make an argument for justice for the stateless
vs rigid distinction between politics and the social
Transforming Anthropology journal; issue 2/3 years ago with essay by Camari Maxine Clark, “New Spheres of Transnational Formations” 
the necessity of re-evaluating and displacing the fact that the transatlantic slavery and race are the ongoing problem
--indirect attack on DuBois
>> displace centrality of transatlantic slavery for C20
C21: not the color line but the crisis of death and the global complicity to live and let die
Yet the whole point of DuBois’ color line was about how life and death were adjudicated
DuBois: the color line is THE global phenomenon
and the exemplarity of the Afro-American condition within the global formation of the color line
a non-hegemonic exemplarity
DuBois’s concern isn’t in the first place with identity
blackness is always too easily yoked to identity
blackness detachable from identity
“okay then I don’t want an identity--there is another way to be that I want to work out”
a black nation won’t arise
DuBois was beginning to anticipate postcolonial theory, national liberation
>> what are the conditions and possibilities of this statelessness?
Jamaica: gives citizenship to all inhabitants born there; Ghana; Nigeria
what does it mean for anti-colonial aspiration to have to deal with a certain state that can take its legitimacy from the notion that it is the physical instantiation of anti-colonial aspiration
how does that limit politics?
South Africa as a laboratory for the acting out of this very problematic; hence Fanon is more important than ever there because they need anti-colonial theory in the post-colonial state
African American exemplarity is bound up with statelessness; not only the denial but also the refusal of citizenship
Fannie Lou Hamer: at first glance she fights for right to vote; yet also a refusal to the refusal of citizenship
2 years ahead: Sproul Hall against Vietnam War; refusing the citizenship that had been refused to her
so Civil rights movement not just reducible to a desire for citizenship
Obama misses this (as the icon of the telos of civil rights)
insurgent social force of statelessness
diasporic humanism: aid
Kant; no state should exert hegemony over another one (or an individual within it)
yet the anthro essay by Clark says postcolonial states are vulnerable: to protect the capacity for them to protect their citizens
yet postcolonial African states are primarily agents of dispersal
the ongoing generation of the African refugee
not a seamless but still a continuation of the slave trade
Fanon is already operating within a critique of this kind of thing
Clark: the danger is a certain way of thinking about Africa << African Americans
(me: “some Africa of the past”--static conception)
She implies that survivors of slavery think a certain way about Africa that lends itself to international domination of African states from outside
And that the reason why diasporic survivors of slavery think thus is that their formation is part of a pre-Westphalian order, a kind of primitiveness
“before the state, before the modern nation state”
Foucault writes on this in Society Must Be Defended
radical Protestantism (Diggers) etc as insurgency against the state
how European state systems can control their own populations
states protect some of their citizens << regulation of social insurgency within states
transatlantic slavery survives Westphalia for 2 centuries! 
but even if that weren’t the case, the radical insurgency that threatens the Westphalian order undermines how Clark’s formulation that pre-Westphalian = primitive
statelessness doesn’t need to be seen as primitive
Michelle Wright, Northwestern, author of Becoming Black
similar to Clark but without the political purchase that Clark has
Clark: how do we stop the plunder of Africa? Her analysis is faulty but the premise is a good one
Wright is concerned with identity, vs “middle passage epistemologies” << pre-Einstein theory of time
she wants to claim the immigrant’s claim on citizenship
set of critiques of (southern) black identity as provincial, narrow
>> The Physics of Blackness
Heidegger vs “the vulgarity of the timeline” vs clusters of coordinates
vs Aristotelian time
again, the Afro-diasporic is primitive
these criticisms would be hard to make outside the field!
what one loses << disavowing the experience of passage and dispersion
a set of theoretical resources that make more possible something I would like to think of under the rubric of a general insurgency
Obama projects himself as the end of the insurgency

Q&A
Nicole: Why is this politic emerging now? 
A: it’s about class struggle in black studies; it’s a working class intellectual tradition << forced and stolen labor under the protection of a bourgeois professoriat, which produces all kinds of weird effects
you have to claim a tradition even though some of it seems embarrassing
the remedy for the constraints produces negative effects (”you have to be twice as good”)
the harder the conditions the easier in a certain sense it is to fight through them
Wright: Cesaire refuting Hegel (that’s not a bad thing)
there are potentially negative effects to saying “I’m a person just like you”
claiming a fantasy of being a person against another way of being with people in the world
vs those whose subjectivity has been deferred
the conflict is within too between a kind of workerism and a kind of normative intellectuality
Sidney: poetry << leisure, ground rent >> sharp distinction between sophisticated metrics and unsophisticated ballads
intellectuality saying “see I’m just like you”
birth of a delusion (Wright) 

Q: Betty one can never justify literature if you go down the mode of production route
everyone does art including the woman who embroiders a handkerchief
if we go down the labor route I’m not sure how far we can go
if there another way to think eg of a labor of reading

A: for a long time Black Studies did not have access to distinctions between writing and non-writing
what is starting to happen now is that this question is being displaced
Wright: intellectual activity is a kind of thing that writers do and it’s very specific

sad with success, this man

“African American literature was just a Jim Crow phenomenon and now that it’s over we don’t need that category”

Moten: it is still useful. 

I want to argue for a way of broadening our conceptions of writing and of reading. 

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