Notes on Pablo

Go directly to the marketplace, to the communication centers, and preach the gospel. That’s the Pauline way. Christian mission was media innovation, media inhabitation, media expansion. Its message and its medium are—as one Catholic media theorist observed—rendered indistinct by a communication center that makes a world in which it’s already too late to distinguish which is the medium and which is the message. The communication centers that screen Katrina likewise screen the Kardashians. And an investment in having an opinion about the distinction of good and bad screens is ultimately an investment in opinion.

The world made by communication owns the leverage that one imagines oneself capable of using against it. What appears as the remainder of the world, and thereby as a possible point of leverage against the world, is already the world. One is not outside the world. Or, better yet, an investment in the distinction between the world and what is outside the world is very world—it is how the world is reproduced. This does not mean one must say yes to the world. On the contrary, it means that one must say no all the more irreparably—all the more pointlessly, according to an essential baselessness.

Paul, considered from a certain vantage, is the name of the world, or at least of its (survivalist) dialectics of downfall and ongoingness.

Is “I” a name or a refusal of name? The equality of I to itself—an empty (or anti-synthetic) claim such as “I am/is I”—seems to refuse the name, even to enact a process of name-dismantling. “And even though I always fuck my life up / Only I can mention me.” The immanence of I to I is enacted as a citability that does not leave itself. Importantly, however, the ability of this citability is enacted precisely through an undoing. In other words, such citability does not proceed from, but instead enacts the ungrounding of, the fucking up of, a support.

It is therefore not a matter of possession, of something possessed by an ontologically distinct I; I appears only as the index of undoing, ungrounding, shattering. The language of possession, of mine—my business, the care for it, the fear of losing half of it—is shattered (or reactively terrified) by the “ability” to accede to shattering. To “See through the veil” is to “forget all your cares,” including the care of the self.

One finds oneself in the neighborhood of Eckhartian detachment. It is exigent, when it comes to cares, to “Throw them / Throw them away.” And prayer, Eckhart claimed, was a process of caring that likewise must be discarded. To pray is to invoke a relation to a thing of the outside, and that outside-thing is not real. God is not the thing outside, nor is God the thing that gives the outside-thing; God is rather the index of an immanent, unthought power of equality.

Is love necessarily care? “Your love is fading / I feel it fade.” A concern for love in terms of its fading is a concern for love as an outside-thing—note that “concern” can be used as a term of business. Love, even when expressed as fading, all the way to evanescence, narrates something for which to care. There is a relation between feeling and the object—even when evanescent—of love; there is something to lose, and hence a narrative to gain.

Yet the track in which this line appears may be understood, sonically, as an atelic loop. A house (or proto-techno) style undermines all this care. Looping is perseverance, but not of the egoic kind. Instead, this an impersonal perseverance, the body moving with a force that is indifferent to the stories of care, a force that does not care about stories. “Oh, the body’s a feeling.” And feeling has no object. The place of feeling is not in relation to something outside. On the contrary, the place of feeling is inside, or according to an inside anterior to inside-outside relation: “Deep inside / Deep deep down inside.”

Dancing, without care, the lover drowns in depths of looping. The space ensconces of smoke, nothing to be seen, a voice: “How can I find you? Who do you turn to? How do I bind you?” This is another lover, but it does not form a pair. It is the voice of the lover of n(o-)one. The impossibility of (its) belonging (to any one) is its hollow, electric sound: an echo without anything organic, anything alive, from which to originate. Lovers, when baseless, are a matter of gnosis rather than being, of freedom failures rather than familial fecundity: “I just wanted you to know / I loved you better than your own kin did.”

Against the kinship of being, the inheritance of names, there is a problem at the essence of communication, of the transmission of news, of any gospel. This is the problem of relation, of finding the path from I to you, of having a base to which one can turn. “How do I bind you?” The force of the problem eviscerates the pretensions of any solution, or of the names of the world.

9 Responses to “Notes on Pablo”

  1. nmsauer Says:

    A fascinating text. I’ll try to respond but I am not steeped in religious studies so my answer might seem silly/superficial. Towards the beginning you mention that Paul is the name of the world. Given your work on naming and your idea of an incessant need of naming – a need that one could construe as the productivism of an immanence that is enabled (capacitated?) by the logic of conversion, that is supposed to alleviate the eternal internal insecurity of Christianity, could one say that this hegemony of the world as Pauline nominalistic conversion prescribes a certain anti-black modality of relationality? A problematic that emerges precisely because of, as afropessimism has argued, the general baselessness/vertigo of the position of the Black person. You then conclude by asking “How do I bind you?”, which might name that problematic of non-relationality, or rather the implications this problem holds. A problem whose force is so powerful that it eviscerates any solution.

    I hope you don’t mind me somehow rephrasing what you basically wrote (it helped me thinking; it might also show where I misunderstood). Following from that interpretation my question for you (if my interpretation is correct) would be then, what you expect evisceration to be? I remember you mentioning it a while ago here on itself, when discussing your most recent work on difference in-itself and I assume you consider this evisceration to be an operation of breaking or shattering? So, I would be interested where you would locate evisceration in its operativity. Since clearly, the implication of evisceration this baselessness of the none (your N(o)one?) holds might also be employed not just as a modality of Anti-Black violence, but also as modality of navigating that space of non-relationality.

  2. danbarber Says:

    Many thanks for the comment. I should say, too, that when I entitled this “Notes,” I really meant that — i.e., these are somewhat scattered thoughts, leaning (perhaps too much, and/or perhaps usefully, on a certain indeterminacy). By way of response, some more (perhaps still scattered) thoughts…

    The world, which as you note for me is defined as/via conversion, is something that exercises its dominion not simply through an explicit / sedimented power, but also through the staging of its capacity to recognize “critiques” posed against it. If I’m on point in making this claim, then a central task of theory / thought / study is to be aware of, and to refuse, the ways in which critique can serve to render the world operative (as you nicely put it).

    Along these lines, my suggestion here is a reading of Kanye’s invocation of Paul as an attempt to “directly” encounter the world, to encounter the world at its essence. Paul, as the power of worldly naming, as the operativity of conversion, is what must be addressed. What is central is not the conflict between dominant names and alternative names (or the difference between good Kanye-opinions and bad Kanye-opinions, between pinkpolokanye and badmoodkanye) but the antagonism between world-naming as such and namelessness.

    Put otherwise, I mean that what is central is not the conflict between bad and good relationality but the antagonism between relationality and non-relationality (which to be clear does not mean atomistic individualism but rather a modality of encounter that is not governed by the given forms of relation, whether defined as economic or gender or religious or whatever spheres — though obv in this instance the sphere of “gender” is perhaps particularly prominent).

    One thing that I have learned from the afropessimist analysis is that what I am here calling “relationality” is something that depends (at least in the ultimate instance) on anti-blackness. For example, the conflict between position of boss and worker remains coherent through anti-blackness, or oedipal conflicts remain coherent through anti-blackness. At the level of what Hortense Spillers would call symbolic “status” there is a denial of an evisceration that is certainly physical but likewise discursive — “sticks and bricks might break our bones, but words will most certainly kill us.”

    In speaking of evisceration, I likewise have in mind Spillers’ notion of the flesh, that which is a zero-point vis-a-vis the discursive coherence of naming, but which is nonetheless real. Such reality, then, is the unthought of the naming of the world. It is that which must be encountered, and this is the exigency that I am trying to get at — the exigency of refusing all those means by which evisceration is denied. I could not say whether there is an operativity to such evisceration, rather it appears to me that it is in the name of operativity that denial tends to justify itself. In other words, baselessness, shattering, ungrounding, etc. are meant as (no doubt inchoate) means of refusing the denial, of insisting on evisceration against a coherence that is possessed — and that possesses — through such denial.

  3. danbarber Says:

    And of course sound, and/or the technologies thereof, are a means of studying, analyzing, and ultimately displaying the sort of discursive violence I’ve just mentioned. For what it’s worth, I tend to see Kanye as a rather profound practitioner of such means, especially when he functions as “producer” (in the broadest sense of the term). The aspects of some of his rapping in which he invokes a masculine power that is divinely coherent — and he marks his awareness of this of course — often seem to me to perform a (hyper-)reaction against the sort of nonrelationality that he is affected by and that he constructs the sound of as “producer.” [This is what i had in mind in saying, above: “The language of possession, of mine—my business, the care for it, the fear of losing half of it—is shattered (or reactively terrified) by the “ability” to accede to shattering.”]

  4. Madeline Says:

    Hi Dan,

    I first want to say that I have always enjoyed your work – most recently, your essay on ‘Non-Relation and Metarelation’
    has been an incredible tool for me to think with vis-a-vis contemporary feminism – but that I can’t help but feel that there’s a somewhat obvious self-defeating tension between your attempt to formulate something like a universalist anti-universalism and your privileging of anti-blackness.

    When you write that “the conflict between position of boss and worker remains coherent through anti-blackness, or oedipal conflicts remain coherent through anti-blackness” I understand how this claim makes sense given a certain radical history but I worry that other radical histories are potentially being shrouded by it just as black history was and is shrouded by white history.

    I mean, to be blunt, there have always been conflicts between individuals, right? So how is it that anti-blackness names the coherence of conflict even within blackness? And how can we ever be sure we’re truly naming the “unthought of the world” as you, following Frederick Wilderson, name blackness? Isn’t the unthought of the world just what’s so unthought as to lack even the beginning of a name?

    I apologize if this comment comes off as underinformed but I just don’t get it.

  5. nmsauer Says:

    Thank you for your very helpful reply!

    So, if I understand you correctly, you would endorse/valorize evisceration? I am reminded here of a passage of one of your most recent essays published as part of a catalog of Rhodes’ artworks. It is right at the beginning where you bring in difference in-itself (which is material) which – you write – refuses reference to the division of things. This operation of division, between the Human and the non-Human (viz. Black person, Native American) for instance, as originary operation of the political ontology of (Anti-)Blackness, is something you oppose right? And you want to deploy evisceration as means of challenging that. I understand most of what you’re saying (I think), though I do not quite understand why youre attributing such importance to evisceration, which strikes me, as well problematic and unpleasant at least from a conventional point of view. Is evisceration useful because it renders impossible the possibility of transit which as performance is integral to the logic of conversion? Do you want to construct this N(o)ne based upon vertigo/baselessness/crack through a re-reading of the matter/form divide (material differentiality and irresolvable repetition) so as to render operative immanent refusals of conversion – and to render them as operative within this world? Perhaps, to this series of questions, I would lastly add the question of narrative. As Wilderson argues, through the genocide of Native Americans and the enslavement of Black people the construction of the “USA” becomes narratable and the “immigrant” narrativizable.

    I guess that conversion which emphasizes the converting person’s past as testimony to their newly found redemption (i.e., “only now do I know how wrong my old ways used to be”). What would interest me in this context is how widely applicable your notion of conversion is. For instance, the stratagem of “becoming-modern” which is deployed throughout islamophobic discourses in Europe clearly invokes conversion as necessary (conversion to modernity, to the secular) and would thus reprise that logic of the “post-“, right? But the phobic object of the muslim is of course different to that one of the Black person, as Wilderson writes somewhere – “we” hate the muslim because they are dangerous, whereas the Black person indexes an ontological absence. An absence which threatens the stability of the world and the psychic life of the White person. What would conversion be in the context of the Black person? A conversion to death (viz., killing)?

    Anyway, that’s me, starting to ramble and throwing together whatever I can think of right now :s Thank you once more for your illuminating first two answers.

  6. danbarber Says:

    I should stress that what is eviscerated are the divisions. Furthermore, since relations, as I’m using the term, depend on the presumption and reproduction of divisions — i.e., a relation between A and B requires that A and B are divided from one another — what is eviscerated are likewise relations, or the given forms thereof. Or, along similar lines, what is eviscerated are the discourses of coherence, whether egoic or social, that are structured (at least in the last instance) via anti-blackness.

    This is important to stress, I think, because I do not want to advance the idea that somehow evisceration stands for some sort of pinnacle of exemplary suffering that ought to be achieved. In other words, evisceration has nothing to do with a moralistic rendering of masochism, which would be its own kind of inverted conversion — the narrative passage from coherence to incoherence.

    Rather, the point is that evisceration is always already there, and that the apparatus of conversion — that is, the operations of divisive relationality — is an attempt to deny this. In this sense, it’s not that I’m endorsing / valorizing evisceration as an option among others that should be chosen. It’s rather that I’m seeking to attend to, to stay with, what is now-here.

    And what is now-here is affect, a being-affected that really exceeds, that in reality already exceeds, the divisive relationality and concomitant conversion narrative that is deployed as a means of immunizing against being-affected. In fact, this conversion narrative is deployed as a means of immunizing against affectability as such. (Evisceration is affectability, which conversion wants to control and overcome.)

    I should emphasize, as well, that evisceration is a kind of pleasure. Or, pleasure, insofar as it is defined by an insistence on or opening / porosity of affect, necessarily refuses, or is enacted in indifference to, the aforementioned divisive relationality. What kills, what murders, what makes live and lets die, etc. — the agent of all this is divisive relationality (the agent is not evisceration). What evisceration names is the marking of the experience of all this as that which is irreducible to the narratives that kill, murder, etc., and as that which calls for the end of such narratives.

    And, w/r/t the specificity of such narratives, historically speaking, my claim would be that conversion, in the Christendom context, calls for passage from non-Christian to Christian; whereas in a secular modern context, let’s say post-1492, what becomes decisive is the encounter with indigenous peoples of the Americas, the constitution of a Black position, and the shifting category of Slave. In such a context, the “proper aim” of conversion is no longer the Christian in a precise sense, or the human according to “in Christ,” it is now the human, in a more generalized, “flexible” sense (even as this human is scaffolded through the Christian).

  7. danbarber Says:

    Hi Madeline, many thanks for your comment (which seems to have been held up in the wordpress queue, and so I’m just seeing now). An initial remark regarding methodology … I’m in agreement with the gist of your question, “how can we ever be sure we’re truly naming the ‘unthought of the world’ … [which is] just what’s so unthought as to lack even the beginning of a name?” This is the difficulty, for sure. What i do think, though, is that one can analyze the structure of the world, and that in doing so one can get a sense of where and how to look for the unthought. In this sense, what i’m trying to do is a sort of “negative” operation, one governed by prefixes such as “de-” or “un-.”

    Put otherwise, i agree that it is not possible to identify the name of the unthought in any positive sense. But what can be done, i’d say, is to articulate how the structure of naming works, and to do so in such a way that one can discern the conditions of possibility for the operation of this structure as well as those points that, by being stressed or insisted upon, might entail the breakdown of this structure, or the conditions thereof.

    If i am privileging anti-blackness, it is because i am convinced by those arguments that claim that such anti-blackness concerns the essence of the structure of the world. In other words, this account would disagree with the idea that all minor or subordinate or oppressed positions belong to the same plane; these positions are not diverse versions of the same kind / quality of subjugation …

    … I think the idea that anti-blackness is being privileged is an idea that presupposes this notion of “diverse versions of the same kind / quality of subjugation” — given such a presupposition, the focus on anti-blackness would then appear as the *reproduction* of exclusion, but now within the field of minorities, i.e. the critique of universalism-as-privileging-of-major-position becomes a critique that, in privileging anti-blackness, privileges one minor position over others.

    That would be true, if in fact blackness named a position that was equivalent to other minoritized positions. However, on the account of anti-blackness that I have found convincing, this is not the case — what is the case (and here i am putting it a bit roughly, but hopefully it has the benefit of clarity) is that the position of blackness would not be a “minor” position so much as a “non-” position. In other words, the position of worker, or woman, or colonized, is a position that has a possibility of narrating a critique of its subjugation in terms that are at least in principle recognizable within the terms of the major position. Whereas the position of blackness is one that does not enter into such analogizable possibility.

    So, in this sense, to speak of anti-blackness is to speak of that which affects and is at play in (and denied by) all positions, the total configuration of positions that is the world. An analysis of anti-blackness would thus be one that is something like what is called the transversal — rather than naming one sphere among other spheres that is in competitive relations over which gets privileged and which does not, it names that which pervades all spheres as their zero-point (rather than that which experiences oppression according to the name of one discrete sphere, i.e. the sphere of capital or oedipus, etc). This is why i say that it gets at the essence of the world.

    An important qualification: precisely because anti-blackness is, on this account, essential and thus pervasive, it does not call for a struggle against anti-blackness in exclusion of struggle against settler colonialism or patriarchy or capital. Rather, it calls for the articulation of these struggles according to — or in superposition with — the struggle against anti-blackness. (In other words, it’s not “trumping” feminism or marxism with analysis of anti-blackness, but rather the superposition of the former with the latter, the articulation of the former according to the latter.)

    The abolition of anti-blackness requires the abolition of capitalism and patriarchy. Yet to stress anti-blackness is to attend to the fact that this statement does not hold in reverse — in other words, at the level of structural positionality, it remains possible within this world to liberate the position of the worker without abolishing the oppression of blackness (#feelthebern). Or, with regard to the *discourse* of feminism, the position of woman, when it is not thought according to blackness, presumes a worldly capacity for recognition that denied to blackness. Here, once again, the work of Spillers provides an indication — it is precisely in the name of feminism that she insists on the centrality of blackness.

    [A couple of citations from Spillers to (very inchoately) point to what I’m thinking of, particularly in terms of how attentiveness to the question of blackness is essential via a kind of zero-point: “The structure of unreality that the black woman must confront originates in the historical moment when language ceases to speak, the historical moment at which hierarchies of power (even the ones to which some women belong) simply run out of terms because the empowered meets in the black female the veritable nemesis of degree and difference. Having encountered what they understand as chaos, the empowered need not name further, since chaos is sufficient naming within itself. I am not addressing the black female in her historical apprenticeship as an inferior social subject, but, rather, the paradox of non-being.” (156, Black, White, and in Color) … “A social subject in abeyance, in an absolute deferral that becomes itself a new synthesis, if born—the African-American, whose last name, for all intents and purpooses, becomes historically X, the mark of his/her borrowed culture’s profound illiteracy. … In this historical instance, the unnatural character of the reproductive process is rendered startlingly clear—reproduction is covered by culture, in culture, at every stage.” (232-3)]

  8. danbarber Says:

    Or, as Christina Sharpe puts it, “while all modern subjects are post-slavery subjects fully constituted by the discursive codes of slavery and post-slavery, post-slavery subjectivity is largely borne by and readable on the (New World) *black* subject.” This is along the lines of what i was trying to get at in speaking of anti-blackness as essential / transversal with regard to subjective spheres defined via labor or gender.

  9. nmsauer Says:

    Just wanted to add to what Daniel said re the question of “what about other struggles” that I found a recent interview with Wilderson on this to be very helpful: http://sfbay-anarchists.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/frank-b-wilderson-iii-were-trying-to-destroy-the-world-antiblackness-police-violence-after-ferguson.pdf

    I think that Wilderson’s “Black, White, Red” also has at least one chapter, dedicated specifically to this topic. Hope that helps, other than that, dan has articulated it perfectly well, I think.


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