This paper studies the formal—rather than strictly political or ideological—significance of the life and thought of Marcus Garvey. Heeding the deeply ambivalent and often paradoxical reception of “Garveyism” by black intellectuals and writers since the early 1920s, it examines the intellectual significance of Garvey’s speculations. In particular, the essay focuses on the historical forms upon which Garvey’s business practices and organizations were based, from the formation of the Universal Negro Improvement Association to the establishment of the Black Star Line and his subsequent imprisonment for mail fraud. I study how Garvey’s achievements derive from metahistorical and narrative structures that he appropriated from other pan-Africanist thinkers. By instrumentalizing such structures as the speculative basis for new black institutions, Garvey inaugurated a powerful mode of historical speculation whose impact continues to resonate throughout diasporic black literature and thought. I thus make a case for considering Garveyism as a procedural as well as ideological phenomenon in twentieth-century black thought, a form of speculative thinking that derives its transhistorical, even metaphysical charge from the historically specific conditions of Garvey’s life and work, themselves dedicated to redressing deep historical crises of slavery, exploitation, and the legacy of the middle passage.


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pp. 1-19
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