Saying Black Suffering. A Comment on Frank Wilderson’s Afropessimism (Norton 2020).

It is not clear whether the indictment of narrative for Afropessimism refers only to political narrative or encompasses every kind.  In any case, if narrative is organically anti-Black, this has two difficult implications.  Political narratives would always be about contingent violence, not about the gratuitous violence that assails Black life.  For Blacks, violence is always already totalizing, which “makes narrative inaccessible.” If the Human is “a construct that requires its Other in order to be legible,” all narrative coherence evaporates:  Human narrative is inconsistent as it avoids and preempts, or falsifies, a thematization of the abjected Black other: this absence spectralizes and destroys narrative form even if narrative form remains unaware of its fundamental and constitutive exclusion or precisely because of it.  And Black narrative is also impossible because there can be no narrative of epistemological catastrophe.   There can be stories, but they will not be conceptually coherent.  They will be broken stories.  Or let us put it this way:  narrative subjects, particularly those in a political narrative, are always parasitic on Black suffering.  A liberation from all social fictions, but particularly from the one that constitutes the fulcrum of Human life, namely, Black social death, implies a radical denarrativization.  Narratives may be deemed to be always already (insufficiently) political, but this can only refer to Human narratives.  Saying the structure of Black suffering, that is, cannot be political.  “It actually takes the problem outside of politics.” It is infrapolitical. 

No wonder seeing this prompts a nervous breakdown.  There is “sadism” as “a generalized condition . . . in that pleasure, as a constituent element of communal life, cannot be disentangled from anti-Black violence.”  The exit from sadistic narrative is a difficult one, as it does require an epistemological catastrophe, that is, the end of world.   If so, then Afropessimism is an attempt to think, to use a phrase borrowed from Alain Badiou, “le reel impensé de l’epoque.”  Its condition is to undo shackles: “The Black people were shackled to the cognitive maps of their well-meaning masters.”  But undoing the shackle brings no redress, no redemption, as there is nothing (thinkable) to be put in place; there are no alternative cognitive maps.  The “absolute dereliction” of Black life “cannot be made legible through counter-hegemonic interventions.”  “Without the Black, one would not be able to know what a world devoid of redemption looks like—and if one could not conceive of the absence of redemption, then redemption would be inconceivable as well.”

This is what Afropessimism proposes to us non-Blacks:  Given hegemonic and counter-hegemonic terror, the latter no less “essential,” “if a social movement is to be neither social democratic nor Marxist, in terms of its structure of political desire, then it should grasp the invitation of social death embodied in Black beings.”

Even non-blacks, on occasion if not structurally, have had to contend or must contend with hostile and violent events that cannot be turned into any kind of conceptual coherence.  These are times when consignment to social death, if not the physical one,  is administered to you or to me because of some transgression, real or imaginary.  Still, those events, traumatic, are never under the principle of sufficient reason.  They exceed it.  Through a sadistic cathexis.  The claim is that a sadistic cathexis rules every moment of Black life and organizes ceaseless social death. 

Saying it, through which act the Blacks become “worthy of [their] suffering,” is something.  Once said, the issue of how it should orient our lives, politically and infrapolitically, is a matter of thought. 

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