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  • Place Post-ParadisePoetic Epistemology in The Souls of Black Folk
  • Kevin Thomas Miles (bio)

Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, Between, Epistemology, Poetic, Music

Between the strong-limbed earth and the tracery of the stars, I summon Aristotle and Aurelius.

Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question.

—Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, “Of Our Spiritual Strivings”

Between these two worlds, despite much physical contact and daily intermingling, there is almost no community.

—Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, “Of the Sons of Master and Man”

As I face Africa I ask myself: What is it between us that constitutes a tie which I can feel better than I can explain?

—Du Bois, Dusk of Dawn, “The Concept of Race” [End Page 83]

These abbreviated remarks regarding some of the philosophical implications of “between” in Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk are prompted by Nahum Dimitri Chandler’s “Anacrusis” in X: The Problem of the Negro as a Problem for Thought (Chandler 2014, 1–10); and, for that very reason, what I write here need not be written since I could only hope to offer, at its best, a bad repetition in the sense in which Kierkegaard teaches us to think of such matters. This great Dane is also implicated in how my remarks take a kind of lead from Kierkegaard’s pseudonymous writings by virtue of intentionally belonging to a tradition of “indirect discourse.” Some matters with which one must wrestle are better approached taking the long way around in hope of telling a well-rounded story that facilitates the possibility of learning from the process. Homer does not send Odysseus home directly. Nor does Jesus elliptically make use of parables accidentally. Interestingly enough, if we take the parable of the sower and his seed as an example, the parabolic message is succinctly stated in the exhortation: “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear” (Zondervan NIV Bible 1978, Luke 8:1–15). Parabolic speech is an act of judgment born from a question. “Being able to question means being able to wait, even for a lifetime. But an age for which the actual is only whatever goes fast and can be grasped with both hands takes questioning as ‘a stranger to reality,’ as something that does not count as profitable” (Heidegger 2000, 221). We who are always already between find waiting unfamiliar when reading an indirect discourse, much more so if waiting involves an entire lifetime. But we are between; what else is there for us but to wait?

A Prolegomenous Digression

Warren is a farmer in Frost’s The Death of the Hired Man (1995) who arrives home one day to be intercepted by his wife Mary on their front porch. She informs him: “Silas is back” (Frost 1995, 40). Silas is the hired hand that had run off at a time when Warren most needed help with the farm work. Anticipating her husband’s suspicion that Silas could only be counted on to run off again Mary says, “Warren…he has come home to die: you needn’t be afraid he’ll leave you this time” (43). It’s Mary’s use of the word “home” that arrests her husband’s attention and that with which he takes umbrage, since Silas should [End Page 84] be “nothing” more to them than “the hound that came a stranger to [them] / Out of the woods, worn out upon the trail” (43). “Home,” Mary insists, “is the place where, when you have to go there, / They have to take you in” (43). And, then, reconsidering her own assertion she adds: “I should have called it / Something you somehow haven’t to deserve” (43). Warren’s response is a question: “Silas has better claim on us, you think, / Than on his brother. … Why didn’t he go there?” (44). Silas’s brother lives 13 miles away, and though he has never spoken of his brother to either Mary or Warren, they are aware that he is a wealthy banker. Silas does not go to his brother but seeks a haven in the home of strangers...


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