Monthly Archives: May 2019

Moishe Postone

Postone is in the category of people I should have read, and would like to read.


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Cultures of reading

I was going to make note of, and then donate my issue of the January, 2019 PMLA but I think I will keep it, for now. I often do not even read PMLA, it seems boring, but then once in a while it has things of interest.

Here, there’s an article on Fanon’s radio; one by Emily Apter on untranslatability that starts out discussing Auerbach’s correspondence with Benjamin, from Istanbul; one on anticolonial reading and one on Juan Moreira; one on racial imaginaries of reading … and more. I am quite interested in all of this.


How do you get interested in things? I have many thoughts on this question, but sitting in Northern California among trees taking notes on theories of writing and reading is a strong memory in me, and my interest is partly in the material and partly in the fact it is my indigenous activity. I am from here and this is what I do here.


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For Friday, [June 21] June 28

* Contact J.H. on speaker – pick things up from the office before leaving – sign payroll upon return, and visit the library – visit REI and the ASUC store in August – see R.W. June 12 *

I will write and submit the abstract here, and so should you. (The conference starts on a Thursday and I’ll teach my first class, farm the other two out, and go.) // Note that the leyes nuevas (promulgated 1542 although not enforced) abolished indigenous slavery. This gave indigenous persons a right others (Spaniards, Africans) did not have even in Spain, and was done because in the Americas it was so easy to justify enslavement of indigenous persons in the absence of an absolute prohibition. (Slavery had been abolished in France in 1315 and this stuck, although the concept was not applied to the colonies.)

I will finish my book orders for the grant and also work as much as I can on the syllabus and reading for that class. I will clear out at least some of my files and paperwork.

I will make my plans for Florida and beyond. I will look up the Rob Stone books as well.

I will visit the ASUC store and REI. I will see Liz and Susan for work, and maybe others, for fun.

For the abstract, very rough:

Is it Bhabha, Mary L. Pratt, Said, who, how many say that looking at oneself through the eyes of the metropolis is a colonial trope? In Cecilia Valdés Villaverde represents Cuba with New Orleans eyes (Cuba sees itself through other eyes) but the New Orleans through which Cuba is seen is itself a construction based upon Northeastern tourists’ perceptions of Haitian immigrants. What was the French, but also heavily Spanish Louisiana actually like, before Americanization and also before the refrancesamiento created another fantasy image of the state? I will look at C. V. and K. Chopin but also G. W. Cable and A. Carpentier, but also N.O. press and lesser known writers like Charles Gayarré.


On my second grant I need the Galaxia Gutenberg García Lorca complete works in four volumes, and they are available for 200 € plus shipping from La Central. I also need the Cátedra edition of Así que pasen cinco años and El público, and as good an edition of the essays and manifestos as I can get. AND I must check out the volume of the complete works we already have, that has the essays and manifestos in it.

I have to find out how to use my little university grant, to do this. I must also use it to reserve that room, for that talk.

I like this poem and I am going to send six of my translated poems to that journal.

Things to note from Paul Gilroy:

“The effects of that shift are augmented by the uptake of generic conceptions of racial identity sourced from the United States. They have gained significant international currency, even in places barely touched by the signature racial habits of the north Atlantic, which would project the world only in black and white.” THAT MISCONCEPTION AGAIN

“WEB du Bois traced the emergence of what he called personal whiteness.” (Gilroy thinks racial identities have become “generic.”)

“[Rather than confront this rising (racist, anti-immigrant) movement, the political and academic mainstream has sought in vain to steal its clothes in a doomed competition that can enhance neither democracy nor knowledge.]”

“Race and nation are now primary sources of groupness and absolute ethnicity. They are supposedly endowed with a special power to restore certainty and find stability amid the flux of precarious life in increasingly dangerous conditions.”

“As Welsh writer and critic Raymond Williams suggested, we cement our dissenting tradition by selecting the ancestors we need.”

“Du Bois was a Germanophile before he went to live and study in that country. He visited Poland on three occasions and was clear about exactly what he had learned about the world’s “race problems” by placing colonial rule, the Third Reich and the US racial order in historical, moral and conceptual relation.”

One result of that effort, born in particular from his bearing witness to the fate of the Warsaw ghetto, was, he says, “not so much clearer understanding of the Jewish problem, as it was a real and more complete understanding of the Negro problem”.

FANON. Stuart Hall and “inferential” racism.

“Racial difference is not produced by nature, yielding variations that can be misrecognised and thereby transformed into the rational substance of racial hierarchy. Instead, races are assembled, conjured into being, by the – usually violent – workings of racism. Thus races are summoned and animated as political and economic actors.”

Fanon and others argue that an intrinsic eye for racial difference should never be assumed or asserted as a defining feature of our species’ hardwiring. Comparative historical and cultural analysis reveals that those sensitivities are the outcome of iteration and education. 

DuBois in The Souls of Black Folk  asks “How does it feel to be a problem?” This question is one we might ask Cecilia Valdés. [Unpack this.] Gilroy: “That latent question spoke directly to the predicament of the doubly consciousness modern, black subject whose blackness was antagonistically disposed against the possibility and the value of democratic citizenship.”

*Du Bois imagined that escaping ontopolitical emplacement as a Negro would yield the possibility of a dialectical resolution….*

Phrase from Gilroy: “the distorted recursions of racial misrecognition” … (and we need to look for common humanity, not individual identity).

“In scholastic settings, distaste for history increases with increased appetites for sophistry. The resulting combination increases reluctance to approach the central issues of antiracist ambition and hope. Instead, we encounter a simplistic yet tenacious attachment to the idea that the most sophisticated approach to humanism and its ambiguities sees them not as symptoms, but as the fundamental cause of racism in the world.” Think about this.

“Considered against the framework derived from Du Bois’ path-breaking interventions, that response looks and sounds provincial. Paranoid, parochial hostility to humanism and indeed to humanity, resonates most loudly behind fortified campus walls where the hip imperatives of identity politics: docile nihilism, resignation and complacent ethnic absolutism, reign unchallenged while the seductions of the alt-right – to which they are kin – present a growing danger.”

Then Gilroy has a really interesting commentary on Equiano and Melville. Gilroy is talking about a “humanity yet to come”… (consider the “destabilising interrelation and interdependency of varying forms of life: human, infrahuman and non-human. The moveable boundaries between those categories were central to the bloody operations of racial hierarchy in the 19th century and remain so today.”)

“Delivered exactly from the period when whale oil began to be superceded by fossil fuel in the branded form of Kerosene, Melville’s passionate, planetary survey of errant humanity, the life of marine species, weather, capital and objects encompassed a number of arguments about the character and moral integrity of modern racial orders and the elemental significance of racial hierarchy as a repudiation of the claims of humanism, religious or profane.”

“We begin to comprehend what might have made Melville’s work so influential among the rising constituency of mid-20th century black Atlantic radicals.”

“Melville showed them that the racial nomos was implicated in the doom of Atlantic, that is, Western humankind. He pointed the way by being prepared to have Captain Ahab speculate pointedly about the commercial value of a slave boy calculated against that of a whale.”

“Melville presents slavery as pelagic and planetary. Its true character could be revealed in the peculiar theatre of power found at sea. It was an obscure, grey confrontation between the properly human and the supposedly infrahuman – between the white and the black.”

“The mutinous slaves in the novella Benito Cereno who enact the perplexing choreography of their submission while actually being in command of their floundering journey to freedom, were misrecognised in that mist.”

“There is something about the maritime staging of encounters between human, animal and object that presents the core dynamics of that rapacious system with great clarity.”

See also CLR James who wrote a book on Melville: Mariners, Renegades and Castaways. 

“James’ plea to the US government demonstrated how Melville’s literary output could be read for the way it complemented the political efforts and epistemologies of Marx and Douglass by extending their enquiries into deeper and murkier water.”

The question of recognition: how you recognize people as human (or as belonging to a group – although in these cases it is NOT racist or other absolutist categories that are upheld). “[We must accept that the demands voiced by people resisting their consignment to infrahumanity do not boil down conveniently to existing understanding of group identity. They surpass the habits of mind that were derived from acknowledgement of individual selfhood under 18th-century Europe’s favoured rules.”

Today, demands for “equal dignity” operate as part of an appeal for recognition, not as culturally specific but as vitally and mortally human. Those demands have been articulated precisely against the specifications and the effects of racial hierarchy. They arise in circumstances where the acknowledgement of humanity has either been withheld or is explicitly denied, where the passage towards inclusion in species life has been closed off.

*He does say racism has Enlightenment roots*

“The operations of the racial nomos are still uneven. There are significant regional and cultural variations in the intensity of attachment to race, to the idea of whiteness – which has been falling in value. . . .” .

. . . I want to suggest that our responsibility to ourselves and to the people in the water, now and in the future, must show how, against the effects of what Fanon called epidermalisation, something like a “real dialectic between the body and the world” can be reasserted. . . . [I]t is our own humanity that needs to be rescued from the mounting wreckage. . . .

Holberg Lecture, University of Bergen, June 2019.


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Omar Pimienta

Here is one of the poets I discovered.


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On tragedy

My student wrote an essay on Bodas de sangre as anti-tragedy and it was great. I then discovered there is a book by George Steiner on this matter and another very interesting one by Ekbert Faas. I never thought I was interested in theatre as a genre but I think that many of the decisions I made as an early undergraduate had to do with not having a good background in literature from high school. I am for poetry because I am, but the additional reason I was interested in it in college was that I had no training in writing about literature and with poems, I could feel sure I was really covering them and yet more importantly, because I could focus on words, images, language. I did not want to discuss novels or theatre because I did not have the personal confidence I felt I needed to comment on characters or action in the world. I am discovering now that with poetry and the essay, theatre is quite the thing for me. Perhaps when I am truly old I will begin to feel really comfortable with narrative.


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A 2009 article on the Turk

“Jefferson’s universalistic vision of human rights challenged the Anglo-American principle that freedoms flowed from a specific group’s identity (Britons never will be slaves). Jefferson did not believe that Americans were free because they were Americans or Protestant Christians. He could not credibly claim that the values he promoted were truly universal unless he showed that they applied to Muslims as well as to all other men. For Jefferson, deconstructing Orientalist constructs was a precondition for the success of liberty in the United States. . . . ”

Yes, Jefferson had slaves, but the article is talking about how the idea that Europeans should NOT be slaves developed in the context of fascination and also much interaction with things Ottoman, including being enslaved by the Turk, and then how, under the influence of Islam (Jefferson was under the influence of Islam) they started to believe rights were universal. THERE ARE SO MANY TWISTS AND TURNS TO ALL THE LOGIC ABOUT ALL OF THIS THINGS, IT IS FASCINATING AND STRANGE.

Earlier in Europe, the line “Britons never shall be slaves” referred to hopes of not being captured by Muslim seamen and enslaved by the Turk. (The idea was growing that Europeans should not be slaves, and that freedom was based on identity; interestingly Jefferson the slaveholder is the one who worked on the theory of universal and not identity-based rights.)


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