- “The Blackness We Leave Behind . . .”: Speculative Approaches to Time and Space in Black Critical Theory
Recent works in Black studies have increasingly focused on the dynamic role played by Black speculation in fiction as well as on using speculation as a way to interrogate the possibilities of Black art and culture in the past, present, and future. As scholars pose new questions and generate lines of inquiry that allow us to think about Blackness, and specifically how we periodize and thematize Black art, in ways previously unavailable, theories of speculation, fabulation, affect, nonlinearity, and quantum physics have increasingly made their way into the study and theorization of Black life and culture. Speculative thought offers a path to reflect critically on impossibility, silence, dreams, latent potential, across and between temporalities. As such, speculative thought has the capacity to generate new thought and images even when fixed toward unthinking, unbecoming, death, and stasis. Recent critical and theoretical scholarship is invested in articulating multiplicity, both relationally and temporally, and in exploring forms of being and Blackness that present critiques for traditional [End Page 507] Black historiography. While historiographical methods were central to the founding and expansion of Black studies programs and thus framed the scope and context of scholarship out of Black studies, recent scholarship has taken to refiguring the relationship between Blackness and Black history as well as offering new insights for the study of Black literature and culture in the twenty-first century.
The study of Black life during the current moment seems to be defined by contradiction between the constant acknowledgment and sensation that Blackness as a collective can only be determined by our relationship to and the reproduction of stories that affirm our collective loss and mourning while remaining insistent that Blackness is a site for possibility and for life. Framing slavery as an analogue to the present or as the singular method of defining Blackness creates limits to what, who, and when Blackness is in the world. Furthermore, the ways in which elements of Blackness that at one time signaled radical possibility have continued to be co-opted and reincorporated within the logic of global capitalism necessitates an acknowledgment of the need for strategies of becoming and relationality that protect the opacity of Black life and culture while still allowing for Blackness to serve as a critical cite of possibility, expression, creativity.
Recent monographs by Stephen Best, Michael Gillespie, Kara Keeling, and Tavia Nyong’o all offer new approaches and perspectives on the trajectory of Black studies with particular attention to how questions of temporality and speculation can allow for new and perhaps more stable foundations from which to engage in Black study. Simultaneously engaged with past and future scholarship, these scholars are invested in figuring and interrogating the opaque residues of Blackness in the archive, art, and culture through an understanding of Black and queer temporalities and an acknowledgment of moments of fugitivity and fabulation. Furthermore, each of these texts demonstrate what Black critical theory has to offer in a world that continues to posture as postracial, post-Black, and posthuman. These four texts model methods of historical and aesthetic analysis that are polytemporal, ambivalent, and speculative and demonstrate the way Blackness continues to figure centrally in contemporary digital and technical discourse, film, performance, and notions of humanity. Furthermore, each of these texts questions the extent to which slavery and the Middle Passage can or should function as the single unifying event of Blackness.
Nyong’o’s Afro-Fabulations and Gillespie’s Film Blackness have a more primary interest in art, literature, and...