“Fragment as Form” (UT Austin lecture, 25th Sept 2020): audio + slides

Last week I gave a lecture at UT Austin (via zoom) entitled “The Fragment as Form.” This drew on my recent research on fragments of Latin poetry in the Ciceronian corpus, but also reflected on the ancient fragment more broadly. You can listen to audio of the lecture (recorded earlier that day) here:

Note on Frédéric Neyrat “The Black Angel of History” // leukocentric perception

Frédéric Neyrat, translated by Daniel Ross (2020) “THE BLACK ANGEL OF HISTORY: afrofuturism’s cosmic techniques.” Angelaki Journal of the Theoretical Humanities, Vol. 25, Iss. 4. p123.

What this impoverished cosmology represses is the dark space between the planets, interplanetary and interstellar space, the overwhelming darkness that is predominant throughout the universe: observable matter constitutes only 5 per cent of the universe, to which dark matter adds 27 per cent and dark energy 68 per cent, both of which can be detected only indirectly via their effects. At the cosmological level as at the anthropological and political levels, what is Black is repressed, ejected from the centre, scotomized or subjected to the Anthropocene and its crutch called New Space.

In his recent article, Frédéric Neyrat identifies (p122) three ways in which both science fact and science fiction are impacted by perceptive obstacles: 1) anthropocentrism (humans are the centre, and the measure, of reality); 2) geocentrism (the earth is the centre of reality, and a focus point of recursivity: “the Anthropocene is incomprehensible without the reversal of the Frontier”); 3) leukocentrism: Greek λευκός = “light”, “bright”, “white” (human cosmology extends the constructions of whiteness, foreclosing and negating Blackness, into the universe). Essentially, when we imagine ourselves beyond planet earth, we cannot help but extend what we already are into a space which is more unknown to us than known: we bring with us the prerehearsed conflicts of planet earth, and mirror earth back to itself in these cosmic performances.

“Dark matter” is more than material or metaphor: it testifies to existences that are not perceptible via the ways of seeing that we already have; its presence is implied. The presence of dark matter in the universe — as the majority, in fact, of what exists (“observable matter constitutes only 5 per cent of the universe”) — implies not simply alterity (i.e. “otherness”), but deep, systemic misperceptions and misconceptions. What we canonize, what we study, what we know: these are the things that are accessible to us with the tools which we have at the moment (tools which derive from a tradition which is inherently recursive); but these data points, which we treat as a totality — as the most important — nonetheless cannot help but imply the existence of a vast system of experiences beyond those which our objects of study record.

Neyrat writes of “scotomization”, a term developed by the psychoanalytic tradition, which ultimately derives from the Greek word σκότος (“darkness”); while the psychoanalysts used it to describe a process of internal repression (“blotting out” harmful experiences), Neyrat activates the blackening, i.e. perceptively negating aspects, of scotomization: the process of making Black, and therefore removing from the centre people and things which cannot be made sense of by a leukocentric metaphysic. What is essentially missing from the tripartite perceptive trap — generated out of the imagination of white terrestrial humanity — is an embrace of the universe as a continuum within which earth exists, rather than a figuration of alien land ripe for conquering. On earth, this script plays out in the perceptive failure to see the “wake” of violence against Black people, as Christina Sharpe (2016: 12) writes in In the Wake: On Blackness and Being:

The means and modes of Black subjection may have changed, but the fact and structure of that subjection remain.

That is, the same perceptive failure that would see the earth outside of the universe, even in the act of trying to situate it as such, (“observable matter constitutes only 5 per cent of the universe”) is echoed in the perceptive failure to see the current state of Black subjection as not simply an outcome, but a metaphysical simultaneity, of original acts of violence now deemed “historic”, rather than ongoing, or contemporaneous; as Sharpe (2016: 41) quotes Toni Morrison: “Everything is now. It is all now.”