Black Aesthesis and the Critique of Form
Rizvana Bradley



Cruelty is formal.

—Steve McQueen1

Anteaesthetics: Black Aesthesis and the Critique of Form is a book that began from a question: how can we think with the vexed existence and gendered reproductions of blackness, which cannot be represented within modernity’s aesthetic regime, yet are everywhere “bound to appear”?2 I sensed that somewhere in the recesses of this question stirred “a truer word”3 on the black work of art than those discourses that would extol the artwork’s authentic testimony, resistive politics, or reparative potential. Too often, the celebration of black art is tethered to the presumptive affordances of the aesthetic, figured as a domain of the social fortuitously sheltered from or uncorrupted by the antiblack terror that lies just beyond its sanctuary. Or, where the putative autonomy of the aesthetic is regarded with skepticism, black art is overdetermined by the requisitions of a politics invariably predicated on suppressing the riotous emergence, the unmitigated fall that black art ineluctably verges on. Anteaesthetics radically diverges from the axiomatic presumption of black art’s ontological inhabitancy, aesthetic coherence, and political instrumentality. This book is an effort to think philosophically with black art, with the philosophical invention black art necessarily undertakes. More precisely, this book follows (from) black art’s thinking before philosophy—a thinking which precedes, exceeds, and yet is everywhere subject to the violence of philosophy. Anteaesthetics is less concerned with (re)drawing the categorical boundaries of black art than with accompanying black art in its insistent theorization of its own conditions of (im)possibility. Black art cries out, from beyond the brink, for a thought of negativity without recuperation or redress, a negativity whose movement establishes neither dialectic nor voidance, but illimitable descent. Black art turns the world inside out, tracing its absent center and anterior remains. Black art shudders and seethes with contaminative touch, with fleshly impurity, with the ruinous exorbitance it has been made to bear. Black art enunciates in an unspeakable tongue and finds ringing in the ears of those who would listen.

*   *   *

The theoretical project that Anteaesthetics opens begins from the aesthesis of a black existence that is before the metaphysics of the antiblack world and the representational regime which endeavors to secure and sustain this metaphysics. My conception of before—signaled in the title of this book by the prefix ante-—assumes a dual spatiotemporal valence. Black aesthesis is at once vestibular to the antiblack world—its metaphysical threshold and abyssal limit—and always already subject to the violence of that world, even if not reducible to or completely subsumed by it.4 Before names an interminable recursivity. Anteaesthetics asks after a constellation of experimentations and inhabitations that emerge before the antiblack world, as that world’s condition of possibility and inexpungible mar. And though these anteaesthetic practices often evince a singular straining against or even retreat from the ramparts of the world, the fraught existence from which they emerge and which they bear can neither claim a home within the world nor escape it. Such a contention does not suggest that black artistry is either a contradiction in terms or an exercise in futility. On the contrary, Anteaesthetics is an attunement to and defense of what is indefensible in black art—of a tradition of artistry that serially and diffusively constitutes a problem of and for metaphysics.

Black aesthesis, which emerges in the vertiginous cut between black existence and black nonbeing, demands thinking with or toward the unthought.5 Interrogating the difficult entanglements of race, gender, fleshly reproduction, and the (aesthetic) worlding of forms, Anteaesthetics attends to blackness as the bearing of the unbearable.6 Only by lingering with the racially gendered bearings of and in the cut between black existence and black nonbeing, without recourse to the idioms of resolution or redress, might we renew our attunement to the minor dispositions of anteaesthetic invention.

July 21, 2020, Portland, Oregon

A photographer for The New York Times captures an image of a demonstrator waving a Black Lives Matter flag at the base of the front steps of the Multnomah County Justice Center.7 The building became one of the notable flash-points for the protests against racial injustice and police brutality, as it houses courtrooms, the Portland Police Bureau’s Central Precinct, and a nearly 400-cell maximum-security jail. The background of the photograph reveals the building’s facade illuminated by two projections, one stacked above the other (figure 1). The uppermost projection, though partially obscured by cropping and the flag flying defiantly in front of it, reads “POWER TO THE PEOPLE” and is cast in a thick, bright yellow typeface across the center’s boarded-up front windows. Below it, behind the demonstrator’s waving flag, is a video projection of Nina Simone’s performance of “Tomorrow Is My Turn,” from her 1965 concert in Holland.8 In this photograph, the video of Simone appears in saturated dusky blue tones over the building’s front entrance, now sealed off with a concrete barrier installed by the Department of Homeland Security.

Figure 1. Projection of Nina Simone at Portland demonstration. Credit: Mason Trinca for The New York Times, 21 July 2020. Reprinted with permission.

What are we to make of this restaging of Simone’s performance as the image and anthem of freedom’s limit and horizon? How are we to regard this audiovisual projection as a form of political homage, when fashioning its visual and sonic power as diagnostic and panacea for the catastrophes of the present depends upon the preclusion of any attunement to the dissonant refusals which made such black artistry possible? What are we to make of this public projection and projection of a public, in which the audiovisual interface for mobilizing and coordinating political subjectivity and civic space9 moves through the figure of a performer whose persona developed and cultivated strategies of “black feminist distanciation” precisely in order to “signify upon the ideological opacity of white spectators”?10 Is this spectacularized projection not itself a form of containment that disavows Simone’s performances as “crucial epistemic critiques” of “oppressive forms of ‘knowing,’” critiques that “awaken[ed] her audiences to their own abjection”?11

This dramatic New York Times photograph, which would generally be taken to index the spirit of the summer protests in Portland and its dissident political inflections, returns me to another performance by Nina Simone, at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1976. This performance was a return for Simone as well, her first time back at Montreux since she premiered there in June 1968, a moment which could be taken to symbolize the manner in which the High Priestess of Soul came to emblematize and mediate the conjoinment of art and politics not only for black diasporic radicalisms but for the world-historic revivification of that utopian figure of coalitionalism called “the Left.”12 In the eight years that had elapsed, much and little had changed. As Simone put it in her memoir, “The protest years were over not just for me but for a whole generation and in music, just like in politics, many of the greatest talents were dead or in exile and their place was filled by third-rate imitators.”13 Simone herself was now in “voluntary” exile in Barbados and Liberia,14 one expression of a broader set of tribulations that have generally been narrated as the tragic consequences of personal pathology. Indeed, footage from Simone’s 1976 performance at Montreux, which has been widely circulated in numerous formats,15 opens Liz Garbus’s acclaimed Netflix documentary What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015), as if her mercurial return to this stage could be readily taken as an allegory of her fall from grace.16 At the outset, Simone declared that this would be her last time performing at a jazz festival, even though it would not, in fact, be her last.

Notwithstanding this broader tendency to read the strange or disorienting quality of Simone’s 1976 performance at Montreux as merely symptomatic of some woeful spiraling toward personal and professional ruin, Simone’s performance in fact presents a far more complicated scene for interpretation. Throughout the concert, Simone’s ensemble of gestures appears to anticipate and frustrate the audiovisual coordinations of the racial gaze through the cathectic utility of her embodied figure, intransigently signifying upon the orchestrations of sound, silence, and word, of audience and performer, of performer and performed.17 Take, for instance, the fifth song and first encore Simone performed during this concert, her medley rendition of Janis Ian’s “Stars” and Morris Albert’s “Feelings,” which has been discussed by several scholars18 and which appears toward the end of Garbus’s film to cement the documentary’s tragic arc, just prior to its predictably redemptive resolution.19

After being presented with flowers by her hosts, Simone promptly takes her seat at the piano, in accordance with the choreographic expectations of her hosts, audience, and documentarians. Yet no sooner than this dance commences, it is broken. “I’m quite aware that I have left you hanging [laughter from audience] . . . but I’m tired. You don’t know what I mean, so I think I will sing.” Interrupting herself multiple times and drifting through a series of apparently disconnected digressions, Simone holds her audience in an abeyance which signifies upon her own suspension in a set of “orchestrated amusements,”20 the aesthetic dimensions of which her own reinventions of soul21 have been made to catalyze and mediate. Simone made no secret of her contempt for this orchestration. Indeed, earlier in the concert, she allegorized the life and death of Janis Joplin, telling her audience, “I started to write a song about it, but I decided you weren’t worthy . . . Anyway, the point is, it pained me, how hard she worked . . . and she played to corpses.” Ironically, Simone’s indictment of her audience could itself be considered an iteration of what David Marriott, invoking a theatrical idiom, refers to as “corpsing,” or “the violation of rules of prescribed performance under the command of social laws.”22 Simone’s itinerancy insists upon an awkwardness and recalcitrance before her necropolitical spectators,23 as if baiting the foreseeable confrontation.

After Simone’s periphrastic caesura within “Stars/Feelings” has gone on for some time, an audience member attempts to rein in her dereliction while capitalizing upon an opportunity for humiliation: “Sing a song already!” Once seated again at her piano, as a cameraman homes in for his shot on her left side, Simone responds to the heckler: “What you’re talking about ain’t got nothing to do about nothing but show business, and I’m not about show business.” Returning to her encore, Simone declares, “Now, okay, we leave you with this . . . It’s sad, but that’s what you expected anyway.” Throughout her performance, Simone appears unbalanced and off-kilter and yet poised, exhibiting either a willful refusal to focus her gaze on the piano or the audience, repudiating her onlookers’ gaze with indomitable intensity (figure 2). Her unpredictable movements and bewildering looks as she dizzyingly scans her enclosive surroundings seem almost to veer from the negentropic fixations of the spectatorial gaze, before gradually collapsing back into the deranged space and time of a performance that reaches its crescendo halfway through, when Simone pauses to offer her own acerbic formulation about the very song she feels compelled to sing: “Goddamn. I mean, you know, what a shame to have to write a song like that. . . . I do not believe the conditions that produced a situation that demanded a song like that!”

What are we to make of Simone’s performance? Daphne Brooks might suggest that Simone’s rendition of “Stars/Feelings” proffers a “poetics of sonic alienation as coruscating socio-political commentary.”24 For Charity Scribner, Simone’s performance evinces a “calculated set of aesthetic techniques” that deconstruct the concert form itself.25 How are we to interpret the fact that the very aesthetic forms which have been recomposed through Simone’s inventiveness—not least the “freedom song”26—ultimately become instruments of her subjection? And how are we to think through Simone’s strategies of “distanciation” amidst the immediacy and pervasiveness of violence to which she is subject? For the purposes of this book, Simone’s performance foregrounds a set of hermeneutic conundrums which not only pertain to the dynamics of its specific scene of emergence but which, I argue, differentially subtend every nominal appearance of blackness, every instantiation of blackness before the world.

Figure 2. Nina Simone, “Stars/Feelings” medley, Live at Montreux, 1976. Permission granted by the Nina Simone Charitable Trust and Rich & Famous Records Ltd., Courtesy of Mercury Studios and Steven Ames Brown.

The aesthetic uses to which Simone’s appearances are put in 1968 and 2020—in fashioning 1968 and 2020 as world-historic metonyms for an articulable politics, a politics which is inevitably an “extension . . . of the master’s prerogative”27—are both paradoxically haunted by this 1976 performance, notwithstanding the absolutist pretensions of linear temporality. What are the implications of Simone’s foreknowledge of the mediatic afterlives of her performance,28 of knowing that her Montreux performance is not only being watched by her live audience but recorded and filmed? Of her knowledge that the “sovereign spectatorship”29 of her audience will be endlessly redoubled in the subsequent audiovisual reproductions and circulations of her performance? Whether with foresight or in hindsight, when Simone peered through “the spectator-screen nexus”30—a nexus to which she is ubiquitously subject, even as she is never granted the capacity to be among its subjects—would she recognize herself in the image? Would the image of herself she is made to bear at the moment of her performance—her double consciousness of her audience’s racially gendered gaze—be any more or less violent than the image which appears through successive audiovisual reproductions, if both images cohere through the organization of visual technologies and a visual field that are tethered to what Simone Browne would call the “surveillant gazes” of antiblack spectators?31 And if Simone’s performance could be said to emerge within or as a “theater of invisibility,”32 then how are we to understand its implications for a more general understanding of the relationship between blackness and the aesthetic?

This book takes up the irreducibly corporeal dimensions of appearance and non-appearance as a racially gendered aesthetic problematic. I argue that, for the black, every appearance before the racial regime of aesthetics is an instance of violence, at once a conscription and a concealment. In Anteaesthetics, the force of black art is, in part, derived through its return to this scene of violence and the dehiscence it at once sustains and encloses, however incompletely. To be clear, black art exhibits an attunement to and extension of the black aesthesis that is neither apart from nor reducible to this violence. In the theoretical idiom I develop throughout this book, the image Nina Simone confronts and must negotiate is not an appearance of the flesh, but rather a dissimulation of the ‘black body.’ Throughout Anteaesthetics, I place ‘black body’ in single quotation marks in order to emphasize the specious character of the phenomenological operation both the phrase and the figuration perform. This deconstruction of the axiomatic discourse on black corporeality is elaborated at length in the following chapter.

Nina Simone is faced with a vexed and inescapable dilemma, wherein her inhabitation of and labors within a fleshly existence which cannot appear are perversely tethered to a phantasmatic ‘black body’ which is made to appear, by the sweat of her own brow. If the example of Simone would seem to be extraordinary, it is only to the extent to which, paradoxically, it evinces the cruel mundanity of the aesthetic subjection blackness is singularly made to bear. Simone is forced to body forth the very audiovisual economy to which her serial reproductions are endlessly subject and from which her fleshly existence is endlessly barred. In a timeless echo of Frantz Fanon’s theorization of the black’s (non-)encounter with cinema, Simone is forced to wait for herself to appear, without avail.33

The Ontology of the World

In an era in which the aesthetic is generally regarded either as separate from and ancillary to the political or as a curative political space of unfettered imagination and even emancipatory potential, Anteaesthetics is an inquiry that proceeds from a radically divergent premise. Neither autonomous nor innocent, neither peripheral nor unfettered, the aesthetic is in fact constitutive of and indispensable to the modern world, in all its brutality and depredation. As David Lloyd suggests, after Sylvia Wynter and many others, within modernity the aesthetic is above all a “racial regime of representation.”34 This regime of aesthetics is foundational to the antiblack world, to carving its essential antagonisms and to suturing its metaphysical fissures.

Anteaesthetics inaugurates a theoretical project which is not, in the first instance, concerned with elaborating a critique of the racial regime of aesthetics. Rather, this project aims to think with the aesthesis of a black existence that is before the metaphysics of the antiblack world and the representational regime which endeavors to secure and sustain this metaphysics. Inspired by Hortense Spillers’s incomparable declaration that “before the ‘body’ there is the ‘flesh,’” my conception of before assumes a dual spatiotemporal valence: black aesthesis serves as the vestibule for the antiblack world; it is the threshold for and abyssal limit of its racial metaphysics. Yet black aesthesis is also always already subject to the world’s violence, even if it ultimately remains irreducible to worldly depredation. Hence my modification of the word aesthetic with the prefix ante- (meaning “before, in front of; previous, existing beforehand; introductory to”)35 to signal a black aesthesis which is at once vestibular and subject to the impositions and circumscriptions of the racial regime of aesthetics.

Each of this book’s chapters endeavors to think with the enfleshed existence and racially gendered reproductivity of blackness. Blackness, I argue, has no place within the ontology of the antiblack world and cannot be represented within modernity’s aesthetic regime; yet, paradoxically, this regime insatiably demands its labors and appearance. Simone’s example prompts us to ask, How do we think black art against the grain of an aesthetic grammar within which blackness may only ever appear as an aberration, mistranslation, or, more precisely, dereliction?36 How do we begin to approach the splayed, (in)communicable corpus of blackness without recourse to a conceptual grammar for and from which blackness is the ultimate declension? How to attend to an existence that is perennially given, again as before, to an aesthesis which is always already the condition of our affection and affliction? (Affection here bears a dual valence, signaling a question that is woven throughout this book: what modalities of feeling, what sensoriums, affiliations, or affinities are fashioned by those whose affliction is at once an absolute expulsion from and absolute exposure to the world?) This book is one effort to inquire into the racially gendered (re)productions of both blackness and the racial regime of aesthetics for which that existence is both threshold and abyssal limit. And, if the question of black existence is inevitably a question of bearing—of emergence and sustenance, enduring and duration—then it is also a question of the black feminine and the black maternal, irreducibly tethered to the terrors and beauties of reproduction. Within this inquiry, blackness poses a distinctive aesthetic problematic—a problem for and prerequisite of the aesthetic which sustains the semblance of an ordered world, a world formalized in and through its putative remove from chaos and entanglement, from catastrophe.

Simone’s example can help us to understand that the racially gendered bearings of the cut between black existence and black nonbeing can be glimpsed only through an ulterior inquiry into the philosophy of ontology. Anteaesthetics proceeds by troubling, as many recent theorists in black studies have, the ontological foundations of various humanist (and nominally posthumanist) discourses from phenomenology to psychoanalysis. Such excavations and desedimentations of the ontological are crucial for our project, not least because so much of the contemporary criticism on black art commences from the twinned axiomatic presumption of the artwork’s ontological inhabitancy and aesthetic coherence. Yet the implications of a radical critique of ontology’s constitutional antiblackness are not isolated to the black artwork but rather pertain to the entirety of modernity’s order of forms. The black critique of ontology is vital to this book’s methodological deviation from the assumptive logics and categorical inscriptions that undergird the variegated fields Anteaesthetics traverses, fields which include film and media studies, contemporary art and art historical discourses, visual studies, literary studies, and gender studies, among others. In general, blackness is completely occluded from questions of ontology, whether ontology is in fact consciously posed as a question or simply reiterated in the structure of civil society’s political unconscious. Notwithstanding the overwhelming consensus of this malign neglect, I share the contrary assessment of a range of theorists across black studies, generously construed, who have declared that antiblackness is not epiphenomenal to modern ontology but rather its singular condition of possibility.

Critical interrogation of the philosophy of ontology vis-à-vis blackness may be traced at least as far back as W. E. B. Du Bois, whose sociological study, Hortense Spillers tells us, aimed at “trying to discover—indeed to posit—an ontological meaning in the dilemma of blackness.”37 Here I briefly sketch the critique of ontology that has emerged in black studies in recent decades, as a means of thinking further about anteaesthetic practices which cannot be fully understood only with recourse to the conceptual tools or hermeneutics afforded by ontology and the aesthetic regime to which it is bound. As many have gone to great lengths to argue, this is so because the philosophy of ontology cannot think black existence. David Marriott minces no words on this account, declaring “ontology irrelevant for understanding black existence.”38 Differing from this position, Nahum Chandler and Fred Moten emphasize a “paraontological approach to the facticity of blackness.”39 R. A. Judy, in both concert and contradistinction with Chandler’s and Moten’s paraontological emphasis, stresses what he terms “poiēsis in black”—a “thinking-in-disorder” whose method “is indicial of a perennial crisis of ontology,” that is indeed “emergent in that crisis” but is not, nevertheless, “circumscribed by ontology.”40 Axelle Karera, in her careful parsing of Chandler’s, Moten’s, and Judy’s respective orientations, their inheritances, and what she reads as their divergent lines of flight, cautions that “to be ontologically or phenomenologically unreadable is not synonymous with flight or fugitivity.”41

Anteaesthetics contends that, if we can indeed speak of black existence or the existence of blackness, it is clear that neither ontology nor phenomenology can provide the conceptual tools for tending to the inhabitations of this existence which emerges before, but not within, the aesthetic. Making sense of the artistic practices discussed in this book requires a provisional understanding of the theoretical efforts to grapple with the logics that subtend the foundational interdiction of blackness from ontology and the indispensable role of the aesthetic in securing this interdiction. Furthermore, we will need a more precise understanding not only of the gendered distinctions in the aesthetic dispensations and recuperations of modernity’s antiblack ontology but of the racially gendered reproduction of this ontology and its dehiscent anterior. This coerced reproductivity, which sustains the cut between black existence and nonbeing, is central to my theoretical elaboration of the racially gendered aesthesis that subtends the practices I examine in this book.

For some within contemporary black studies, the deduction that blacks have an existence in an antiblack world is accompanied by a critique of ontology’s bearing on such existence. The pursuit of another means of thinking black existence finds myriad expressions. Christina Sharpe speaks of “wake work” as an analytic and “mode of inhabiting and rupturing” the epistemic valences of slavery’s enduring cataclysm “with our known lived and un/imaginable lives . . . [such that] we might imagine otherwise from what we know now in the wake of slavery.”42 Saidiya Hartman, in her ongoing encounter with the limits, gaps, and distortions of the archive, turns to what she terms “critical fabulation,” a method of creative re-presentation that seeks to “jeopardize the status of the event, to displace the received or authorized account,” and to thereby “reckon with the precarious lives which are visible only in the moment of their disappearance.”43 Hortense Spillers has stressed the importance of a hermeneutic attuned to “intramural dynamics of alterity . . . that would account for the ‘secret’ text . . . [of black life] in a world of keen ears, of decisively configured discursive interests.”44 Each one of these critical motifs is differentially taken up in this book in an effort to think the racially gendered vestibularity that is anterior to ontology and bears its various deconstructions.

In attending to the racially gendered reproductions of and in the cut between black existence and black nonbeing, I mean to take seriously Calvin Warren’s suggestion that “the task of black thinking is to limn the distinction between existence, inhabitation, and being.”45 Warren’s Ontological Terror: Blackness, Nihilism, and Emancipation is among the most pointed and compelling of contemporary efforts to “return to the question of Being and the relation between this question and the antiblack violence sustaining the world.”46 Because, for Warren, the ontology of the antiblack world requires the black’s eternal consignment to “the function of embodying metaphysical nothing(ness) for modernity” and thereby necessitates “the systematic concealment, descent, and withholding of blackness through technologies of terror, violence, and abjection,” Warren calls for a black thought that would endeavor “to imagine black existence without Being, humanism, or the human.”47 For the purposes of this book and from the resolute refractions of a black radical critique of the metaphysics of antiblackness that is not only enduring but necessarily perennial, I wish to emphasize the precedence of a black aesthesis that calls for a rigorous understanding of modernity’s aesthetic regime as the violence of antiblack worlding.

The artistic examples I discuss all differentially engage the singularity of this aesthesis, precisely by deconstructing the site of aesthetic imposition and enclosure which conditions their forced (and fictive) appearance within the racial regime of aesthetics. It is important to stress, however, that these anteaesthetic experiments do not supersede the antiblack world nor fashion another but rather move recursively back through the antiblack world in order to deconstruct the racial regime of aesthetics by which they are nevertheless still circumscribed. An analysis of these anteaesthetic experiments could be said to open a different path to thinking the racially gendered, minor registers of refusal insofar as the black anteriority from which these refusals emerge is never completely subsumed by the violent regime it is made to come before. But even more directly, this book reveals a potent black critique of the antiblack metaphysics that continuously ground the world and its reproduction as a thoroughly aesthetic project.

The world—whether in Kant’s sense of “the absolute totality of the aggregate of existing things” or in Heidegger’s sense of the constitutive relation between Being and world (“There is world only insofar as Dasein exists”)48—requires the endless repetition or diffusive reproduction of antiblackness, even as blackness cannot be located within the world. Frank Wilderson succinctly encapsulates this metaphysical parasitism and foundational displacement: “No slave, no world. And, in addition . . . no slave is in the world.”49 The black cannot be in the world, because being-in-the-world would require the ontological being from which the black is interdicted, precisely so that the ontology of the world can cohere. But what I wish to underscore here is that the world is not simply given but always already predicated upon the ongoing “worlding of a world” (to borrow Gayatri Spivak’s “vulgarization” of Heidegger).50 The metaphysics of the world must be reproduced by its “worlding refrains.”51 Throughout this book, I consider the implications of the ways the black feminine is forced to function as “the belly of the world,” to use Saidiya Hartman’s language,52 for a theory of anteaesthetics. Although these conceptual problematics run throughout Anteaesthetics, the matter of black feminine vestibularity to the myriad refashionings of the modern world is taken up most directly in chapter 3, “Before the Nude, or Exorbitant Figuration,” while my critique of the very project of worlding is most pointedly articulated in chapter 5, “Unworlding, or the Involution of Value.” For now, it is crucial to stress that the metaphysical violence through which the (antiblack) world is secured must be understood as a thoroughly, though not exclusively aesthetic set of operations.

Before the Racial Regime of Aesthetics

An analysis of the constitutive imbrication of the antiblack world and the aesthetic requires that we briefly attend to the theoretical partitioning of the political and the aesthetic which too often persists even in radical critiques of political ontology. Indeed, the presumed separation of the political and the aesthetic is one of the founding conceits of the modern world. As Sianne Ngai writes in her study of aesthetic categories under late capitalism, “Art in modernity came to refer exclusively to a class of objects made explicitly for contemplation. In the subsequent rise of aesthetics as a theoretical discourse . . . aesthetic experience became synonymous with contemplative distance,”53 safely sheltered from the vicissitudes of politics. Yet the degree to which the very same Western philosophical traditions that have furnished the theoretical underpinnings of the modern subject, the nation-state, (settler) colonialism, and (racial) capitalism have been eminently preoccupied with questions of aesthetics should at the very least give us pause and prompt a thorough re-evaluation of what has been taken for common sense. As Simon Gikandi contends, “The aesthetic derives much of its authority [precisely] from its ability to claim autonomy from the historical, social, or cultural event and thus from the consciousness of a sovereign subject.”54 David Lloyd tightens the screw: “Aesthetics is a historical discourse that occludes the historicity of its own emergence.”55

There are, of course, various intellectual traditions that have sought to develop radical critiques of bourgeois aesthetic discourse. To cite a prominent example, the Marxist scholar Terry Eagleton argues that “the modern notion of the aesthetic,” far from being some tertiary phenomenon reserved for philosophers, connoisseurs, and dilettantes, “is no more than a name for the political unconscious: it is simply the way social harmony registers itself on our senses, imprints itself on our sensibilities.”56 Partly because of its conceptual elusiveness and definitional indeterminacy, the aesthetic is able “to figure in a varied span of preoccupations: freedom, and legality, spontaneity and necessity, self-determination, autonomy, particularity, universality,” largely without scrutiny.57 Unfortunately, when it comes to the most influential discourses of critical aesthetic theory, raciality has been largely occluded from substantive inquiry, presumed as epiphenomenal and marginal to the most pressing intellectual questions. A central contention of this book is that black existence has from the beginning been an (ante) aesthetic problematic, one which has necessitated the work of “rethinking ‘aesthetics,’” as Sylvia Wynter puts it.58 Those of us who have always lived within the dark corners of the visual, within the “lower frequencies” of the sonic,59 must constantly remind ourselves that the concealments, interdictions, expulsions, and contortions of the aesthetic are neither incidental nor secondary to the exigencies perpetually figured as present. Anteaesthetics emerges from my conviction that now, as always, aesthetics are a matter of life and death.60

In an important study of the constitutive relation between modernity’s aesthetic regime and the racial-colonial world order, David Lloyd argues that the modern aesthetic produces a “racial regime of representation” in which representation functions “not merely [as] the mimetic depiction of the world or [as] a means of securing political advocacy within democratic or republican institutions” but rather as “an activity that articulates the various spheres of human practice and theory, from the most fundamental acts of perception and reflection to the relation of the subject to the political and the economic, or to the social as a whole.”61 From this vantage, Immanuel Kant’s sensus communis, or the shared (a priori) capacity for aesthetic judgment,62 is revealed as a decisively exclusive universality, the borders of which are erected and policed by and through the racial regime of representation. In Lloyd’s summation, “representation regulates the distribution of racial identifications along a developmental trajectory: The Savage or Primitive and the Negro or Black remain on the threshold of an unrealized humanity, still subject to affect and to the force of nature, not yet capable of representation, not yet apt for freedom and civility.”63

The indispensable role of the aesthetic in constructing and sustaining what Alexander Weheliye, in his adaptation of Wynter’s formulation, refers to as “the mirage of western Man as the mirror image of human life as such”64 remains severely understudied. While the full scope of the actual operations of the racial regime of aesthetics cannot be simply deduced from the axiomatic disavowals and interdictions of its canonical philosophical texts (the aesthetic uses to which blackness is put are in fact far more complicated, predatory, and perverse), it is worth repeating a salient example of these foundational dispossessions and debasements. As G. W. F. Hegel infamously remarked in The Philosophy of History, the “Negro . . . exhibits the natural man in his completely wild and untamed state. . . . There is nothing harmonious with humanity to be found in this type of character.”65 As for Africa, “it is no historical part of the World; it has no movement or development to exhibit.”66 The interminable consignment of the black, following Denise Ferreira da Silva, to the “scene of nature”—as a radically affectable thing “whose existence is ruled by violence”67—serves to furnish the fantasy of the disinterested subject of aesthetic judgment, just as the founding “disqualification of sub-Saharan Africa and its populations” (diasporic or otherwise), as the late Lindon Barrett wrote, “organizes the linear progression of historical temporality.”68 The black is both the very “index of the pathological,” as Lloyd declares, and the constitutive negation of historicity which enables the conceit of developmentalist teleology.69 In other words, blackness marks the spatial and temporal conditions of (im)possibility for Kant’s sensus communis and, in turn, the subject this sensus communis presumes and conjures. This is the figure Da Silva and I have elsewhere (after Sylvia Wynter) theorized as homo aestheticus, the aesthetic dispensation of the subject who is coterminous with the “totalizing onto-epistemology of the human.”70 The ongoing onto-epistemic refurbishment of the subject of modernity is always already the aesthetic revivification of homo aestheticus.

The hermeneutic orientation pursued in Anteaesthetics requires an understanding of the aesthetic as foundational to the antiblack world. I argue that the black is at once vestibular to and the terminus of the racial regime of aesthetics. This regime is not ancillary within but rather constitutive of the modern world and the antiblack metaphysics through which this world coheres. However, an anteaesthetic orientation also crucially requires theoretically attending to the racially gendered character, not simply of the myriad representational forms antiblackness assumes but of the material-discursive (re)production of aesthetic form itself. Anteaesthetics argues that the operations which reproduce blackness as threshold for the antiblack world are both irreducibly corporeal and racially gendered, borne singularly by the black feminine. This black feminine fleshly bearing, in turn, involves not only the reproduction of blackness as the constitutive and delimiting threshold of the racial regime of aesthetics but also the reproduction of blackness as a dehiscence that this regime must constantly work to suture. Dehiscence, as Jared Sexton notes, is definitionally polyvalent, “indicating, in surgical medicine, the opening up of a wound along the lines of incision . . . or, in botany, the opening up of plants along a seam at the age of maturity as a means of dissemination, or, in otology, the perforation in the inner ear labyrinth causing chronic disequilibrium or vertigo.”71

Black art compels us to think through the irreducibly corporeal, reproductive cut of this dehiscence. Grappling with the dehiscent anteriority to which black art turns us makes it possible to approach a radically ulterior vantage. The anteaesthetic experiments that comprise this book proceed through a series of racially gendered recursive deconstructions. These practices do not fashion another world nor supersede the world they would refuse; rather, they inhabit the world’s negative underside. One might be tempted to call this underside a netherworld, but only if the etymological emphasis falls on nether—for this inhabitancy is neither worldly nor worlding but an illimitable descent made to come before the world.

From the Anti-Aesthetic to Anteaesthetics

In the introduction to his 1983 anthology of collected essays, The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture, Hal Foster raises the aesthetic as a concept worthy of critical interrogation. While Foster places emphasis on the historicity of forms and the periodization of the aesthetic with respect to both modernism and postmodernism, he alludes to the postmodern as having thrown the very notion of the aesthetic into philosophical and conceptual disarray. Foster stresses that the rhetorical choice to organize the volume’s diverse intellectual concerns under the rubric of the “anti-aesthetic” is emphatically not in order to make “one more assertion of the negation of art or of representation as such.”72 In fact, Foster states, these essays “take for granted that we are never outside representation—or rather, never outside its politics.”73 What Foster terms the “anti-aesthetic” aims at “a critique which destructures the order of representations in order to reinscribe them.”74 In this respect, Foster continues:

“Anti-aesthetic” . . . signals that the very notion of the aesthetic, its network of ideas, is in question here: the idea that aesthetic experience exists apart, without “purpose,” all but beyond history, or that art can now effect a world at once (inter)subjective, concrete and universal—a symbolic totality. Like “postmodernism,” then, “anti-aesthetic” marks a cultural position on the present: are categories afforded by the aesthetic still valid? . . . More locally, “anti-aesthetic” also signals a practice, cross-disciplinary in nature, that is sensitive to cultural forms engaged in a politic (e.g., feminist art) or rooted in a vernacular—that is, to forms that deny the idea of a privileged aesthetic realm.75

Foster’s remarks have the virtue of foregrounding a critique of art that would purport or aspire to an unmitigated, universal purview, as well as a critique of the presumption that aesthetic experience could ever be post-historical. He is also attuned to the ways in which putatively subversive aesthetics are not immune to instrumentalization and thus even a strategy of Adornoian “negative commitment” might have exhausted its utility for defying the encroachments and recuperations of late capitalism. Foster’s term anti-aesthetic is a declaration of the need for and a reaching toward a new “practice of resistance,” with implications for both the means and methods of artistic production as well as critical reception.76 Anteaesthetics, however, proposes and contends with a problematic which is anterior to the critical art historical procedure advocated by Foster, an anterepresentational dilemma from which no amount of revision or rectification of the order of representation can release us.

The homonymic slippage between anteaesthetics and the anti-aesthetic is intentional and accentuates crucial distinctions between my argument and Foster’s proposition, even as they share a sense that the very notion of the aesthetic deserves to be rethought, as well as a concern for the ways that even practices which are draped in the regalia of resistance can reinscribe the prison house they would purportedly endeavor to dismantle or transcend. The black experimentations and inhabitations engaged throughout this book do not emerge in the wake of a conjunctural disordering or troubling of the aesthetic or as a resistance to the enclosure of the aesthetic within an increasingly “administered world.”77 The predicament they confront is perennially before the modern world.

I refer to these experimentations and inhabitations as anteaesthetic practices because of the profound reflexivity evinced by their mode of engagement with this predicament of forced anteriority, particularly in their recursive deconstructions of the relationship between blackness, the aesthetic, and form. Crucially, the relationship of blackness and the aesthetic is not one of “ethnographic locality” but of (ante)metaphysical generality.78 The anteriority of blackness constitutes the condition of (im)possibility for the aesthetic as such. The anteaesthetic practices under consideration in this book ought to be regarded not merely as critiques of but as vestibular to the very racial regime of aesthetics that they would refuse.

The anteaesthetic practices I engage cannot simply “take for granted that we are never outside representation”79 or fashion localized practices that deprivilege the reigning aesthetic regime. For even the most radical forms of black artistic experimentation are always already made to come before the representational violence of the racial regime of aesthetics, even as they emerge from the difficult inhabitations and fleshly labors of an existence without ontology and hence cannot be properly genealogized by the regime to which they are nonetheless subject. In this respect, we might say that these forms emerge from an existence that is neither inside nor outside the racial regime through which representation coheres, but rather an existence which is made to “cut the border,” as Spillers might say.80 It is in this cut—between existence and nonbeing—that black aesthesis emerges. The anteaesthetic practices considered throughout this book may all be said to differentially trace and reproduce this cut, this emergence. In turn, these practices throw into question whether the very notion of resistance might be an impediment to grappling with the immanent (dis)ordering of an aesthesis which is an inescapable fact of black existence.

It must be stressed that while this book takes up contemporary black artworks as sites of anteaesthetic practice, it by no means suggests that anteaesthetic practices are exclusive to the contemporary. My wager is that anteaesthetics as a heuristic device pertains to every relationship between blackness and the aesthetic across the variegated times and spaces of modernity. In some respects, the book’s choice of artists and artworks reflects the idiosyncrasies of my scholarly research, which has largely, though not exclusively, focused on contemporary black artists, variously situated in North Atlantic diasporic milieus, whose practices span experimental film and media, art installation, painting, sculpture, dance and performance, and literature. Although my work across this line of inquiry has always sought to attend to the historical and geographical particularity of a given artist’s practice, it has also consistently aspired to elucidate the ways in which particular black artistic practices disclose general philosophical problematics, all of which differentially cleave to the fraught relationship between blackness and the aesthetic under modernity’s racial metaphysics.

Moreover, although Anteaesthetics takes contemporary black artworks as its points of departure, the book’s argument also moves through nineteenth-century painting and sentimentalist literature, the emergence of cinema at the turn of the twentieth century, and early twentieth-century black literary modernisms. These inquiries across history and geography are not undertaken, however, in an effort to construct definitive accounts of aesthetic lineage, influence, appropriation, or citationality but rather in order to advance philosophical reconsiderations of the compositions, recompositions, and decompositions of form in and through specific anteaesthetic practices. That is, what could at first glance appear as historical or geographical divagations are in fact undisciplined modes of elucidating a theory of black aesthesis as a general critique of form.

It is worth further underscoring this book’s orientation to the historiographical in particular: Anteaesthetics is concerned with that which unfolds before rather than within history. It is concerned, in other words, with the distended temporalities of blackness, which marks history’s anterior. While this book draws from art history and film history, it makes no pretense to being a work of either art history or film history. This book aims not to construct a historical account but rather to deconstruct the racially gendered mechanisms of history’s reproduction and thereby approach a glimpse, no matter how opaque, of that cut of indeterminacy which David Marriott, after Fanon, calls the “tabula rasa”—that which is “radically unwritten, and whose structure is enigmatic, and outside of teleology or eschatology.”81


1. Steve McQueen, dialogue with Stuart Comer, “Steve McQueen: Art and Cinema,” A Walker Dialogue and Retrospective, 31 January 2014, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN,

2. Here I am invoking art historian Huey Copeland’s phrasing and thought in Bound to Appear: Art, Slavery, and the Site of Blackness in Multicultural America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013). Copeland notes that his book’s title was in turn inspired by Cedric Robinson’s formulation in Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000), 28.

3. Hortense J. Spillers, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book,” in Black, White, and in Color: Essays on American Literature and Culture (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2003), 203–29, 203.

4. My formulation is inspired by Spillers’s declaration that “before the ‘body’ there is the ‘flesh,’” which I take up at length in the next chapter. Spillers, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe,” 206.

5. For a brilliant meditation on “the vertiginous blackness of being,” see David Marriott, Whither Fanon? Studies in the Blackness of Being (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2018), xiv, passim. On the unthought, see Saidiya V. Hartman and Frank B. Wilderson III, “The Position of the Unthought,” Qui Parle 13, no. 2 (December 2003), 183–201.

6. See also Rizvana Bradley, “Too Thick Love, or Bearing the Unbearable,” in Gregory Seigworth and Carolyn Pedwell (eds.), The Affect Theory Reader 2: Worldings, Tensions, Futures (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2023).

7. The photographer is credited as Mason Trinca. “Photos: Federal Forces Clash With Demonstrators in Portland: Overnight July 20–21,” New York Times, 21 July 2020,

8. Multiple versions of the video of Simone’s performance are available on YouTube, and it is also included on the DVD Jazz Icons: Life in ’65 & ’68 (Naxos, 2.108002).

9. Cf. David Colangelo and Patricio Davila, “Public Interface Effects: Re-embodiment and Transversality in Public Projection,” in K. Cleland, L. Fisher, and R. Harley (eds.), Proceedings of the 19th International Symposium of Electronic Art (Sydney: ISEA 2013, January 1, 2013),

10. Daphne Brooks, “Nina Simone’s Triple Play,” Callaloo 34, no. 1 (Winter 2011), 176–97, 179.

11. Brooks, “Nina Simone’s Triple Play,” 193.

12. Cf., inter alia, Shana L. Redmond, Anthem: Social Movements and the Sound of Solidarity in the African Diaspora (New York: NYU Press, 2014), 179–220; and Charity Scribner, “1968, take two: The Militancy of Nina Simone,” in Sarah Colvin and Katharina Karcher (eds.), Gender, Emancipation, and Political Violence: Rethinking the Legacy of 1968 (London: Routledge, 2019), 63–75; Ruth Feldstein, “‘I Don’t Trust You Anymore’: Nina Simone, Culture, and Black Activism in the 1960s,” Journal of American History 91, no. 4 (March 2005), 1349–79; Tammy Kernoodle, “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free”: Nina Simone and the Redefining of the Freedom Song of the 1960s,” Journal of the Society for American Music 2, no. 3 (2008), 295–317; Malik Gaines, Black Performance on the Outskirts of the Left: A History of the Impossible (New York: NYU Press, 2017), 21–54.

13. Nina Simone and Stephen Cleary, I Put a Spell on You: The Autobiography of Nina Simone (New York: Da Capo Press, 1991), 135.

14. Scribner, “1968, take two,” 66.

15. Scribner, 67. Most notably, the 2005 DVD directed by Jean Bovon, Nina Simone: Live at Montreux 1976.

16. Scribner, 69.

17. Cf. Scribner, 67.

18. Scribner, “1968, take two”; Brooks, “Nina Simone’s Triple Play,” 194; Gaines, Black Performance on the Outskirts of the Left, 35–56; Scribner, “1968, take two”; Danielle C. Heard, “DON’T LET ME BE MISUNDERSTOOD”: Nina Simone’s Theater of Invisibility, Callaloo 35, no. 4 (Fall 2012), 1056–84, 1073, 1076–79; Julius B. Flemming Jr., “Anticipating Blackness: Nina Simone, Lorraine Hansberry, and the Time of Black Ontology,” South Atlantic Quarterly 121, no. 1 (January 2022), 131–52, 136–37.

19. For a critical discussion of Garbus’s documentary, see Scribner, “1968, take two.”

20. Saidiya Hartman, Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 8, passim.

21. See, inter alia, Emily J. Lordi, The Meaning of Soul: Black Music and Resilience since the 1960s (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2020).

22. David Marriott, “Corpsing; or, The Matter of Black Life,” Cultural Critique 94 (Fall 2016), 32–64, 33.

23. Cf. Achille Mbembe, Necropolitics, trans. Steven Corcoran (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2019).

24. Brooks, “Nina Simone’s Triple Play,” 179.

25. Scribner, “1968, take two,” 67.

26. Kernoodle, “I Wish I Knew.”

27. Frank B. Wilderson III, Afropessimism (Toronto: Penguin Random House, 2020), 251.

28. Cf. Rebecca Schneider, Performing Remains: Art and War in Times of Theatrical Reenactment (London: Routledge, 2011); David Román, Performance in America: Contemporary U. S. Culture and the Performing Arts (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005), 137–78.

29. Ariella Azoulay, Civil Imagination: A Political Ontology of Photography (London: Verso Books, 2012).

30. Deborah Levitt, The Animatic Apparatus: Animation, Vitality, and the Futures of the Image (Alresford, UK: Zero Books, 2018).

31. Simone Browne, Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015), 80, 164.


33. “I cannot go to a film without seeing myself. I wait for me. In the interval, just before the film starts, I wait for me.” Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, trans. Charles Lam Markmann (New York: Grove Press, 1967), 107.

34. David Lloyd, Under Representation: The Racial Regime of Aesthetics (New York: Fordham University Press, 2019). See also Sylvia Wynter, “Rethinking ‘Aesthetics’: Notes Towards a Deciphering Practice,” in Mbye B. Cham, ed., Ex-Iles: Essays on Caribbean Cinema (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 1992), 237–79.

35. Online Etymology Dictionary, s.v. “ante-,” accessed 6 June 2020,

36. For a reading of black dereliction which overturns this aesthetic grammar, in and through its hermeneutics of the vertiginous, see Marriott, Whither Fanon?

37. Spillers, “‘All the Things You Could Be by Now, If Sigmund Freud’s Wife Was Your Mother’: Psychoanalysis and Race,” in Black, White, and in Color, 397. I would suggest that the black critique of ontology is in fact as old as the cataclysm of transatlantic slavery, regardless of whether that critique has assumed forms that would be epistemologically legible to Western philosophy.

38. Marriott, Whither Fanon?, 5.

39. Fred Moten, The Universal Machine (Durham: Duke University Press, 2018), 186; cf. Nahum Dimitri Chandler, Beyond This Narrow Now: Or, Delimitations, of W. E. B. Du Bois (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2022), 185. See also Nahum Dimitri Chandler, X—The Problem of the Negro as a Problem for Thought (New York: Fordham University Press, 2014).

40. R. A. Judy, Sentient Flesh: Thinking in Disorder, Poiēsis in Black (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2020), xiiv, xviii.

41. Axelle Karera, “Paraontology: Interruption, Inheritance, or a Debt One Often Regrets,” Critical Philosophy of Race 10, no. 2 (2022), 158–97, 183.

42. Christina Sharpe, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016), 18. Emphases in original.

43. Saidiya Hartman, “Venus in Two Acts,” Small Axe 12, no. 2 (June 2008), 1–14, 11, 12. See also her creative extensions of this project in Lose Your Mother: A Journey along the Atlantic Slave Route (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2008); and Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval (New York: W. W. Norton, 2019).

44. Spillers, Black, White, and in Color, 297.

45. Calvin Warren, Ontological Terror: Blackness, Nihilism, and Emancipation (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018), 13.

46. Warren, Ontological Terror, 7.

47. Warren, 37, 13, 171.

48. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason [1781], quoted in Judy, Sentient Flesh, 339; Martin Heidegger, The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984), 195. On the “interdependence of Dasein and World,” see Hubert Dreyfus, Being-in-the-World: A Commentary on Heidegger’s Being and Time, Division I (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991), 96–99.

49. Frank B. Wilderson III, Red, White, and Black: Cinema and the Structure of U. S. Antagonisms (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010), 11.

50. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Three Women’s Texts and a Critique of Imperialism,” Critical Inquiry 12, no. 1 (Autumn 1985), 235–61, 260n1.

51. Kathleen Stewart, “Worlding Refrains,” in Melissa Gregg and Greg Seigworth (eds.), The Affect Theory Reader (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010), 339–53, 39.

52. Saidiya Hartman, “The Belly of the World: A Note on Black Women’s Labors,” Souls 18, no. 1 (January–March 2016), 166–173.

53. Sianne Ngai, Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012), 240.

54. Simon Gikandi, “Aesthetic Reflection and the Colonial Event: The Work of Art in the Age of Slavery,” Journal of the International Institute 4, no. 3 (Summer 1997),

55. Lloyd, Under Representation, 38.

56. Terry Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthetic (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1990), 37.

57. Eagleton, Ideology of the Aesthetic, 3.

58. Wynter, “Rethinking ‘Aesthetics.’

59. “Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?” Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (New York: Vintage Books, 1995 [1952]), 581.

60. See Rizvana Bradley, “Picturing Catastrophe: The Visual Politics of Racial Reckoning,” The Yale Review 109, no. 2 (Summer 2021), 155–77.

61. Lloyd, Under Representation, 7,

62. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952 [1790]).

63. Lloyd, Under Representation, 7.

64. Alexander G. Weheliye, Habeas Viscus: Racializing Assemblages, Biopolitics, and Black Feminist Theories of the Human (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014), 45; Sylvia Wynter, “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom: Towards the Human, After Man, Its Overrepresentation—An Argument,” cr: The New Centennial Review 3, no. 3 (Fall 2003), 257–337.

65. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, The Philosophy of History (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1956), 93.

66. Hegel, Philosophy of History, 99.

67. Denise Ferreira da Silva, “The Scene of Nature,” in Justin Desautels-Stein and Christopher Tomlins (eds.), Searching for Contemporary Legal Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 275–89, 277.

68. Lindon Barrett, Racial Blackness and the Discontinuity of Western Modernity (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2014), 76.

69. Lloyd, Under Representation, 14.

70. Rizvana Bradley and Denise Ferreira da Silva, “Four Theses on Aesthetics,” e-flux, no. 120 (September 2021),

71. Jared Sexton quoted in “On Black Negativity, Or the Affirmation of Nothing: Jared Sexton, Interviewed by Daniel Barber,” Society and Space, 18 September 2017.

72. Hal Foster, The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture (Seattle: Bay Press, 1983), xv.

73. Foster, The Anti-Aesthetic, xv.

74. Foster, xv.

75. Foster, xv.

76. Foster, xvii.

77. According to Hans-Ernst Schiller and Lars Fischer, “[Max] Horkheimer and [Theodor] Adorno first publicly introduced the term ‘administered world’ during a radio discussion with Eugen Kogon in 1950.” Schiller and Fischer, “The Administered World,” in Beverley Best, Werner Bonefeld, and Chris O’Kane (eds.), The SAGE Handbook of Frankfurt School Critical Theory (Los Angeles: SAGE Publications, 2018).

78. It is precisely because of this generality that “theoretical formulations by white European thinkers are granted a conceptual carte blanche, while those uttered from the purview of minority discourse that speak to the same questions are almost exclusively relegated to the jurisdiction of ethnographic locality,” as rightly observed by Weheliye, Habeas Viscus, 6.

79. Foster, The Anti-Aesthetic, xv.

80. See Hortense Spillers, “Who Cuts the Border?: Some Readings on America” in Spillers, Black, White, and in Color, 319–36.

81. Marriott, Whither Fanon?, 3. Emphasis in original.