Category Archives: The Philosopher’s Corner

Discussion of concepts pertaining to Afro-lit and the impact these theories have on the genre.

Remembering Amiri Baraka

POETIC: as in, poesis: as in, revealing (and what is revealed); as in, revelation: as in, prophetic—not of ‘truth’ as tradition, but ‘truth’ as disclosedness.

Technically: The poetic as the bearing of witness {that which the English have called, ‘the hue and the cry’, semantically apropos to BLACK DADA}; is the speaking of what is: is a telling—the sort of which reveals, discloses that which it speaks about; and speaks about that which it disclose: the poetic: to speak is to disclose: the poetic is what is: and, being what is, speaks itself {metaphysical, organizing (immanent) principle}; the poetic can only speak that it itself already is.

Specifically: Poetics: as in, specification; as in, the typification of what is known: of ‘word’: poetics—what is known of ‘world’ as what is said of world: that is, ‘word’ captured ‘world’. Poetics reveals ‘world’ as shared venture, as ‘word’, as ‘language’: Poetics implies ethno: as in ethno-poesis; as in, ethno-poetics.

Sylvia Wynter (secondary citation): “…At root ‘Ethnopoetics’ has to do with the essentially ‘local’ incidence of ‘poesis’ or acts of ‘making’…So ethnopoetics is rooted in ‘self-poetics,’ ‘our kind’ of poetics, which by inevitable extension of poesis becomes that activity which has gradually become conscious of itself…What does any local band of people living together do in their poetry? Answer: They say themselves.” In saying themselves they are the living engagement with the world: what that means is precisely this: it is the way in which and through which we experience space and time; the poetic {like the Dadaist, like the Surrealists, from which Baraka’s BLACK DADA emerges, NIHILISMUS} temporalizes ‘time’ in space-matter, bending it towards the manner in which we experience it (and vice versa): the poetic, rather than the quickening of prose, semantic nullification {of the post-modern, -structuralist}, or aphoristic fracturing, speaks itself, speaks its people, speaks its world and sculpts the substance of life into {from} its use-concepts: and, the world shows up, anew.

Poetics, then, is the speaking of a people: that is, of “the operation performed on the language of thought”, specific and general; they are the making of a people and the making of their world:

Interviewer: Let’s talk about the movement {Civil Rights Movement}; it’s been such a part of your life. Some critics would say that it affected your poetry in such a way that the quality was effected…

A.B.: See, the point is this. Like Mao Tse Tung says: “where do ideas come from? Do they drop from the sky?” No, they don’t drop from the sky. Ideas come from the social life. And as your social life changes—your day to day material existence changes—so the focus on what you want to speak about; what becomes important to you changes. So that if you lead some kind of, you know, closed effete circle of…literatures who have no real interest in…the human rights movement to transform society, then they’re going to think that your topics, your themes, your focus changes, that somehow your poetry is diminished; but, quite the contrary, I think this: I think most black people wouldn’t know me if it wasn’t for my own participation—and my wife certainly says this: “they wouldn’t know you if wasn’t in the struggle to transform reality, the struggle for democracy, the struggle for socialism they wouldn’t know you”. And, its true because people are concerned with what changes their lives, with what moves them…(Amiri Baraka, “On his poetry and breaking rules. HoCoPoLitSo. Howard County Poetry and Literature Society: The Writing Life)

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Kendrick Lamar and the Autoethnographic Story


“good kid, m.A.A.d city: Kendrick Lamar’s Autoethnographic Narrative”

Kendrick Lamar, in characterizing good kid, m.A.A.d city as a “short story”, announces, in his second studio album, a public declaration: we, the listening audience, are not hearing another hip-hop album, another autobiography, but something else, we are hearing a mixture of social, cultural and the personal in what will be termed the “autoethnographic”. That is, in addition to a personal declaration, Kendrick offers us a new way to think about hip-hop as a whole, not simply as a capitalistic enterprise, nor merely as a “black news” channel, but as a distinct method for collecting data and understanding the experiences and existence of black people that can be used to understand not only urban Americans, but non-normative persons of color the world over. Along with Kendrick Lamar’s album, I will be analyzing Richard Wright’s Black Boy and his Native Son character, “Bigger Thomas” as textural transcript, which can be mined for methodological purposes. Lamar’s text, along with Wright’s “Black Boy” and Bigger Thomas, can be read beyond the(ir) individual’s narrative, but rather for its [their] collective, auto-ethnographic narrative. Utilizing autoethnographic method, this essay brings together epistemological, ontological, and ethical concerns within sociology of knowledge and phenomenology, operating as both a way of understanding reality and an expression of reality.

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“Philosophical Meditations on Richard Wright” now available in paperback!


Congrats are due to one of our Afro-Librarians!!!!  Dr James B Haile’s Philosophical Mediations on Richard Wright will soon be available in paperback!

The text has been described as “thought-provoking” and “elegant” and esteemed as a compilation of of essays that are integral to the analysis of Wright’s body of work. Haile is not only re-imagining the canon but is creating a new methodology for examining Afro-American literature.  It’s no surprise that, in addition to being used in universities around the country, this text is also read by readers varying from scholars to afro-literature lovers and hobbyists.

I recently read through this compilation and was inspired to re-read Wright’s work in its entirety.  So if you are also interested in digging deeper and gaining a unique perspective on classic Afro-American and American literature, purchase your copy here:

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Does African American Literature Exist?

20140107-005202.jpgWith Kenneth W. Warren’s recent essay, “Does African American Literature Exist” published February 24th, 2011 in the Chronicle Review, a debate, old, continued on the nature and existence of African-Americans, blackness, and the black aesthetic. Once again, this latest version of the ill-fated debate has begun with a set of philosophical assumptions and by one who has little interest in the terms of the debate.

In the space here I wish to address the latter concerns of race, African-Americans, blackness, and black aesthetic production. What I want to focus on is not the potential ahistorical nature of Warren’s essay, nor the hidden assumptions/presumptions of what African and American may mean when brought together. Rather, what I’d like to focus on is the emergence of something like ‘African-American literature’ as a form of aesthetic experience and expression, the kind which brings with it an understanding of history.

Philosophically, what is of interest in Warren’s essay is the status and role of history itself, as an entity, on black aesthetic expression (literature). It is Warren’s assertion that, “Jim Crow and the fight against it gave rise to—and shaped—African-American literary practice as we have come to know it.” For Warren, Jim Crow, as a moment of American history, serves up its artifacts, one of which is African-American literature. Warren, though, goes on to make a stronger claim as to the nature of history itself in the creation of culture and racial identity when he writes, “Like it or not, African-American literature was a Jim Crow phenomenon…” Warren’s latter claim (especially taken with his former claim above), brings to mind philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre’s 1948 essay, “Black Orpheus” which infamously proclaimed black identity and black aesthetic expression (poetry) to be either pain and suffering (under oppression), or to be nothing at all. One wonders aloud with Warren’s essay whether he believes that “what is often called the black soul is white man’s artifact”.

While it may not have been Warren’s desire to weigh in on the intellectual debate on the nature of history and its relation to aesthetic expression generally, black aesthetic expression, specifically—as well as culture and identity—he nevertheless has staked a position. History, in Warren’s essay, is a force: that is, a set of events, exogenous to the life-world of peoples, that acts upon them offering them a series of experiences which help to necessarily shape not only aesthetic expression, but frame their world-view. And, though Warren himself may openly reject the very idea of history as determining or necessary (in any way), his essay seems to enliven a kind of mechanistic materialism, African-Americans, in this case, would be akin to any other physically existing material thing, affected by some force that works to determine and necessitate. In this case, to understand African-American literature all one needs to do is understand the history of racial oppression in America from 1896 to 1970 (though this may seem pejorative, Warren’s essay does lend itself to this reading).

The challenge that Warren’s essay offers is not solely the continuation of what constitutes African-American literature, but also the deeper questions of what constitutes our concept of race, African-Americans, blackness, and black aesthetics. And, what is more, it is a challenge into the nature of thinking about these concepts as they relate to one another.

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The Philosopher’s Corner: Metaphysics in Morrison’s “Bluest Eye”

Quiet as it’s kept, there were no marigolds in the fall of 1941. We thought at the time, that it was because Pecola was having her father’s baby that the marigolds did not grow. A little examination and much less melancholy would have proved to us that our seeds were not the only ones that did not sprout; nobody’s did…For years I thought my sister was right; it was my fault. I had planted them too far down in the earth. It never occurred to either of us that the earth itself might have been unyielding…What is clear now is that of all that hope, fear, lust, love, and grief, nothing remains but Pecola and the unyielding earth.

            There is nothing more to say—except why. But since why is difficult to handle, one must take refuge in how.

In these lines, right up front, Toni Morrison links the relationship between Pecola and her father to that of the earth and its yielding (of marigolds). Morrison establishes a metaphysical condition as the underlying condition of each relationship, one in the other. What is more, Morrison is telling us, up front, that analyzing Pecola and her situation existentially—that is, analyzing her situation in terms of concepts such as, “hope, fear, lust, love or grief”; or, the more traditional existential cognates of anguish, abandonment, and despair—is not her primary concern; rather, what is of concern, what remains, is the metaphysical connection between “Pecola and the unyielding earth.” What we are left with is not the psychoanalytic explanation of why any of “this life” occurs—the psyche or ego individuated making sense of the world—but the voice of a child engaged with existence connecting the seemingly disparate elements of life—a little girl and the hard black dirt. “We had dropped our seeds in our own little plot of black dirt just as Pecola’s father had dropped his seeds in his own plot of black dirt. Our innocence and faith were no more productive than his lust or despair.” 

What is left when the traditional ‘existential philosophy’ has failed is the metaphysical question: not why, but how—how does anything, anyone come to be who or what they are?

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The Philosopher’s Corner: A Brief Review of Richard Wright’s “Haiku”

In the introduction of the 2012 publication of Richard Wright’s posthumous book, Haiku: The Last Poetry of Richard Wright (Arcade Publishing), Wright’s daughter, Julia, referred to the following as his literary enigma: “how the creator of the inarticulate, frightened, and enraged Bigger Thomas ended up leaving us some of the most tender, unassuming, and gentle lines in African-American poetry.” Wright left some four thousand haiku (only a few hundred published), and the question has been left unanswered: what, if any, is the relationship between his haiku poems and his social/political prose and non-fiction?

I have always been drawn to Wright’s interest in nature, in the mysteries of nature, and how this interest influenced and informed the social and political (perhaps protest) work for which he has become strictly known and infamous. What if we rethought the relation of politics to nature, “realism” to “surrealism” such that these haiku are no longer understood as a side-interest, or the ramblings of a sick man at the end of his life, but as evocative of the meaning of human existence, black existence?

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