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  • Notes on Passage (The New International of Sovereign Feelings)
  • Fred Moten (bio)

Refugees are the keenest dialecticians. They are refugees as a result of changes and their sole object of study is change.1

—Bertolt Brecht

Refugees study change not only because they’ve been put through changes but also because changes are what they want and what they play and what they are. Refugees study a mode of study—the contrapuntal intersection of a set of interstitial fields, dislocation in a hole or a hold or a whole or a crawlspace. Such study is inhabitation that moves: by way of—but also in apposition to—injury, which is irreducible in the refugee though she is irreducible to it. There is, in turn, passage in acknowledging the theoretical practice of the one who emerges as if from nowhere, rooted in having been routed, digging, tilling, working, sounding, the memorial future of a grave, undercommon cell. She is the commodity, the impossible domestic, the interdicted/contradictive mother. Dangerously embedded in the home from which she is excluded, she is more and less than one. The question of where and when she enters—where entrance is reduced to some necessarily tepid mixture of naturalization and coronation, which is an already failed solution that is ever more emphatically diluted in its abstract and infinite replication—is always shaded by the option to refuse what has been refused, by the preferential option not for a place but rather for radical displacement, not for the same but for its change. Blackness is given in the refusal2 of the refugee. [End Page 51]

Cosmopolitanism has more often than not been thought to be an overview of the underground to which blackness is supposed to have been relegated. Overseeing and overlooking are crucial elements of this particular interplay of blindness and insight. The necessary detachment that links and animates these elements becomes even more important as the various officially sanctioned modes of Euro-American cosmopolitanisms, and their Afro-diasporic critical variants, emerge. Perhaps detachment within that diverse set of cosmopolitanist theories is necessary to the illumination of the federated universality of a cosmopolitan drive. Detachment helps to enact a kind of meta-cosmopolitanism to the extent that it redoubles a certain constitution of cosmopolitanism as the “womb in which all original predispositions of the human species will be developed,” a tendency whose subjunctivity persists as we await “the achievement of a civil society universally administering right,” whose own precondition is “a lawful external relation between states.”2 Immanuel Kant tries to tell us why we have to wait for what he calls cosmopolitanism, noting that the safety and sanctity of this womb and its generative capacity is always threatened with deferral by states; and Gilles Deleuze, reading himself into and out of Kant’s conceptual framework, cautions us against state thought such as the paradoxically static and statist conceptions of cosmopolitanism that turn out to ground and sanction those antagonistic external relations that Kant posits both as a natural order and as that which nature drives peoples to transcend. Are lawful external relations between states just as dangerous to the universal administration of right as their unlawful counterparts? What if cosmopolitanism, which is, of necessity, national is, precisely because of this necessity, its own most absolute and eternal deferral? What if cosmopolitanism is not just national, but also racial, as well. Consider that both lawful and unlawful relations between states operate, as it were, in the medium of statelessness—which is also to say upon stateless flesh or, both more generally and more precisely, earthly materiality that is posited as unembodied and figured as unanimated. Racialized and sexualized, but also given in the general distinction between man and dominion, statelessness is interdicted materiality. This is to say that statelessness ought not in any case be seen simply as the field marked out by the difference between the citizen and the noncitizen. On the one hand, statelessness is the field of their convergence and coalescence and its modern determination and adjudication (even and especially as what can rightly and all but generally be called the lived statelessness of the citizen) is enacted in and by ascriptions...


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pp. 51-74
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