Afropessimism and Antiphilosophy

I will first copy pages 227 and 228 of Saidiya Hartman’s Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments in order to follow up with a comment on them. 

“Wayward, related to the family of words: errant, fugitive, recalcitrant, anarchic, willful, reckless, troublesome, riotous, tumultuous, rebellious and wild. To inhabit the world in ways inimical to those deemed proper and respectable, to be deeply aware of the gulf between where you stayed and how you might live. Waywardness: the avid longing for a world not ruled by master, man or the police. The errant path taken by the leaderless swarm in search of a place better than here. The social poesis that sustains the dispossessed. Wayward: the unregulated movement of drifting and wandering; sojourns without a fixed destination, ambulatory possibility, interminable migrations, rush and flight, black locomotion; the everyday struggle to live free. The attempt to elude capture by never settling. Not the master’s tools, but the ex-slave’s fugitive gestures, her traveling shoes. Waywardness articulates the paradox of cramped creation, the entanglement of escape and confinement, flight and captivity. Wayward: to wander, to be unmoored, adrift, rambling, roving, cruising, strolling, and seeking. To claim the right to opacity. To strike, to riot, to refuse. To love what is not loved. To be lost to the world. It is the practice of the social otherwise, the insurgent ground that enables new possibilities and new vocabularies; it is the lived experience of enclosure and segregation, assembling and huddling together. It is the directionless search for a free territory; it is a practice of making and relation that enfolds within the policed boundaries of the dark ghetto; it is the mutual aid offered in the open-air prison. It is a queer resource of black survival. It is a beautiful experiment in how-to-live.

Waywardness is a practice of possibility at a time when all roads, except the ones created by smashing out, are foreclosed.  It obeys no rules and abides no authorities.  It is unrepentant.  It traffics in occult visions of other worlds and dreams of a different kind of life.  Waywardness is an ongoing exploration of what might be; it is an improvisation with the terms of social existence, when the terms have already been dictated, where there is little room to breathe, when you have been sentenced to a life of servitude, when the house of bondage looms in whatever direction you move.  It is the untiring practice of trying to live when you were never meant to survive.”

Without in the least minimizing the problematics attendant on the very word, let me ask: can we then speak of the “wayward subject”?  We may want to cross out the word “subject,” put it under erasure, since there is inevitably a dual distortion linked to the word: on the one hand, certainly in modernity, the equivalence of subject with citizen, on the other hand, the pretense that the subject rules absolutely over the object.  The wayward subject (under erasure, crossed out) would reject both determinations—there is no claim to mastery, and there is no vindication of citizenship, which is always premised on subordination to the sovereign. 

In a recent interview Fred Moten says that Frank Wilderson could be taken to be the “last great theorist of the subject.” If I read him correctly, Wilderson’s position would be that blackness is the site of the non-subject that makes subjectivity possible: all subjectivity is parasitic on the black (non)subject. It would then seem that Wilderson’s theory of the subject is rather more like a countertheory, a theoretical destruction whose momentum might well come from waywardness as existential projection. This goes, it would seem to me, beyond the Lacanian theorization of the split subject—the wayward (non)subject does not accumulate in the last instance, does not recoup or redress, finds no passage to itself. 

So, my question: does the wayward (non)subject, whose historical possibility is social death, constitute a “philosophical act”?  Or is it, radically, an act of antiphilosophy? 

In his 1992-93 seminar on Nietzsche Alain Badiou, who calls Nietzsche the prince pauvre et définitif de l’antiphilosophie, links Nietzsche’s final antiphilosophical act—he is talking about the last year of Nietzsche’s writerly life, before his plunge into silence—to the terrible accomplishment of an absolute reduction of the gap between “the one who says and what is said.” This accomplishment is premised on a thorough de-subjectification whereby the very name of Nietzsche becomes “a name without a name, an anonymous name, without the mark of nominal recognition.” The name is only what the name says, and if there is an excess it is only the excess of desire, and it cannot be converted into nominative capital, into subjective accumulation, into identity. But is that not, then, the name of every wayward life? Of every wayward (non)subject? 

I would not think we need to posit any kind of identification, no matter how remote, between Nietzsche’s waywardness, although it clearly existed, and blackness as subaltern form-of-life. Both of them could be forms of what I am calling anti-philosophical existence. Both of them insurgent.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s