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The African Diaspora
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Preamble

There is no given horizon of thought or critical practice that is, or can be rendered, in its contemporary formation commensurate with the problematic named under the heading of the African Diaspora.

This, in a word, yields what may be called the problem of theory with regard to what has often been called the African Diaspora.

Within my own formation—which is to say other itineraries and signposts could be privileged—four signal references must be remarked.

In his 1915 text The Negro, expressing an achieved perspective that he had won across the opening decade and a half of the twentieth century, W. E. B. Du Bois essayed what should be understood as an epistemological conception of “the Negro” as a global diasporic ensemble, that is, a “serious synoptic view of Africans around the world” (Du Bois 1915b). Du Bois had noted at the head of the closing section of his little book, titled “Suggestions for Further Reading,” that “there is no general history of the Negro race” (a formulation echoed by George Shepperson in his 1970 introduction to the book as then still appropriate [Shepperson 1970; Aptheker 1989]). It is in all truth in light of this epistemic conception that Du Bois would subsequently develop (in tandem with many others) a far-reaching political conception of a global Africa—in the pan-Africanist movement of 1919–1945 and in his conception of “worlds of color” (already from 1900, but especially from the end of World War I) in which he conceived of colonialism as the twentieth century’s broadest articulation of the “problem of the color line” (Du Bois 1900; 1909; 1915a; 1920; 1925; 1928; 1935; 1945; 1947). Yet, it must be remarked in this context that for Du Bois in his 1915 text (as earlier in his itinerary), there were no stable criteria by which to consistently name the terms of the supposed object of his analysis—for, he explicitly disavowed the concept of race, even as he had no other term by which to bring into view the ensemblic whole in question. This problem remains our own, despite and beyond all manner of disavowals.

It is in this context that one might understand the penultimate challenge of Harold Cruse’s The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual (beyond his ultimate strident categorical challenge to American Democracy) as a call for a new theorization of the African American situation (Cruse 1967). It was a problematic that in fact was exploding in the moment in historically spectacular form with worldwide implication as a matter of political representation, only to reopen in a new way, in its eventuality across the ensuing decades, as a somewhat more intractable dimension of this problem, that is, as a question of epistemic possibility (of power as both resource and economy, of institution, and of techniques of thought).

In this same historical unfolding, Cedric Robinson’s monumental effort and tremendous accomplishment in Black Marxism posed at its core the necessity of a re-theorization of modernity as a whole—specifically, the figure of supposedly replete Europe and a certain dominant discourse of radical thought attendant to it (a radicalism claiming a “European” lineage) and a replacement of the thematization of slavery as located at the root of capital accumulation in its modern form (Robinson 2000 [1983]). This led him to announce a complex and enigmatically difficult figure, or hypothesis, of a certain “black subject” as a theoretical guide for a re-narrativization of contemporary historicity and the possibilities encoded therein. Further, and finally, challenging the “black radical tradition,” even as he avowed it, he can be understood to have also posed the demand for a new theorization of the problematic of the African Diaspora.

Unfolding into our own moment, in a parallel or proximate but distinct manner, the work of Hortense Spillers, in particular as documented in the remarkable project placed under the heading of Black, White, and in Color, has been carrying out the patient, difficult, and insurmountable work of clarifying not only the terms of the announcement of a new subjectivity, or its possibility—especially under the exemplary guidance of the situation of the African American woman—but of simultaneously carrying out a...


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