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  • Improper BodiesA Nihilistic Meditation on Sexuality, the Black Belly, and Sexual Difference
  • Calvin Warren (bio)

Sex is so nothing

—Jean Luc Nancy

The Plantation is the belly of the world.

—Saidiya Hartman


black sexuality is a "problem for thought," as Nahum Chandler might call it.1 This phrase "problem for thought" exposes thinking Black sexuality as a particular problem. When thought is unraveled, troubled, interrupted, or impeded, it constitutes a problem for metaphysical reasoning and ontological aspirations. We must engage, then, the proper metaphysical questions Black sexuality both conceals and exposes: How do we think sexuality? Why does Blackness pose particular problems for this thinking? What preconditions thinking and can we proceed with the enterprise of thinking without these preconditions? Can (or must) Black sexuality be unthought? Or is Blackness so inimical to sexuality that positing Black sexuality would place us within a set of tragic foreclosures and exhausting aporias?

The field of Black sexuality is robust with imagination, rigorous methodology, copious texts, and critical insight; however, the thinking of Black sexuality remains largely unexamined. Thinking would require an examination of the metaphysical infrastructure supporting and engendering such thought (What [End Page 35] happens when thought itself becomes the object of Black sexuality?) Within this field, I would argue, Black sexuality has often thought with and through Being. It is being itself that is taken for granted in the noetic enterprise—often under the cover of the human being, agency, freedom, pleasure, etc. Black sexuality often relies on being to proceed. But can we think Black sexuality without a commitment to ontology and metaphysics? Does Blackness necessitate a different protocol of thinking anything—sexuality, sex, gender, bodies, or pleasure?

I will present the proposition that anti-Black violence produces improper Black bodies, and such bodies cannot become the locus of humanist (onto-metaphysical) thinking of sexuality. Black sexuality, as a field of knowledge, proceeds as if the ontological question has been resolved and that the problem of ipseity (making a self proper to itself) is no longer an issue. The critical problem, then, is that this crisis has not been resolved (and will never achieve resolution), and Black bodies, as a result, lack sexual difference and, by consequence, sexuality. Ultimately, if Black thinking is possible, it must strip though the metaphysical infrastructure privileging being's vicious anti-Blackness. Although sexuality, sex, gender, and bodies locate diverse sites of inquiry, they all share a similar problematic as it concerns Blackness—that is, Being.2 I am using the term sexuality to mark the rich lexis of life, of Being, to include reproduction, womb, desire, sexual difference, gender, bodies, etc. These terms are certainly not interchangeable on one level, but I would argue, all share the problem of Being.

As a point of investigation, I foreground the Black belly as a nonplace of improperness. The Black belly locates, then, the spatialization of the problem of thought and Being. Within this nonplace, gender, sex differentiation, relatedness, and being are thrown into crisis. Furthermore, if aspects of feminist philosophy urge us to rethink the space of fluid, tissue, and air, as the necessities of Being (as we find in Luce Irigaray's The Forgetting of Air), then the Black belly would isolate the problem of thinking being and sexuality together, for neither can be thought, as such, within the Black belly. The Black belly, then, becomes the "belly of the world," as Saidiya Hartman would call it—as it provides the condition of possibility for the sexual destiny of being (precisely because it is excluded from Being). I chose the Black belly to make a distinction between the womb infused with Being (the sexual destiny of Being) and the factory space of the Black belly (the abyss of Being, or its exclusion). The womb in Irigaray's thought, in particular, provides the nexus between Being, sexuality, and difference, and because of this I will focus on the Black belly as another nexus—a terrifying one, a nexus that requires procedures of obliteration and destruction.

II. Black Sexuality as a Problem for Thought

The problem of Black sexuality and the problem of thinking sexuality (in general, or the whole...


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pp. 35-51
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