Issue #135 The Being of Relation

The Being of Relation

Erin Manning

Arthur Jafa, Mickey Mouse Was a Scorpio, 2016. Courtesy the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise.

Issue #135
April 2023

The door is less a place than a threshold of the brutal history of capitalist modernity.
—Saidiya Hartman1


Cleave: cut, capture; wound, gash, opening, black hole; break, schizz.

Crack: “black mattering, and the promise of the exquisite—a site of looking-away-at, an aesthetic of touch without objects.”
—Bayo Akomolafe2

Parastratum: A geological co-formation that occurs “through transductions that account for the amplification of the resonance between the molecular and the molar, independently of order of magnitude.”
—Deleuze and Guattari3

Ontology: “Ontology—once it is finally admitted as leaving existence by the wayside—does not permit us to understand the being of the black man. For not only must the black man be black; he must be black in relation to the white man. Some critics will take it upon themselves to remind us that the proposition has a converse. I say that this is false. The black man has no ontological resistance in the eyes of the white man.”4
—Frantz Fanon

Paraontology: “The lived experienced of blackness is, among other things, a constant demand for an ontology of disorder, an ontology of dehiscence, a para-ontology.”
—Fred Moten5


“The problem of the inadequacy of any ontology to blackness,” to use Fred Moten’s language, requires not only a profound rethinking of the question of being.6 It demands a new mode. Edouard Glissant calls this mode the being of relation.7 The being of relation is paraontological: it makes relation the motor, not ontology. “Para-,” from the Greek, “beside, amiss, irregular and denoting alteration or modification.”8 Paraontological: between, across, deviant in its angular exposition of ontology’s limit. Parastratum of being.

In an attempt to get to the paraontological, to sidle its logic, Nahum Chandler turns to W. E. B. du Bois’s entangling of the concept of race as a problem for thought:

We approach here the first and most decisive gesture by which [du Bois] will attempt to question the whole dominant epistemic determination of the concept of race at the end of the nineteenth century or, better, to question what is at stake for him in the form of problem for thought that is situated under its heading.9

A double articulation presents itself. First, Chandler’s ontological proposition: “The thought of the concept of race is that a certain order of essence will determine the status and characters of difference or the organization of differences among that order or form of being called human.”10 And then, the problem: the constitution of the human is “understood under the heading of ‘European,’ or subsequently ‘white,’ as a unique and primordial dispensation within an entire system of metaphysics.”11

Slave revolt, St. Domingo, 1791. License: Public domain.

Race as the problem for thought grows out of this impasse: a precomprehension of the idea of race is necessary to engage it, a precomprehension that presupposes ontology or the presence of form. Any “difference” will therefore have to be subtracted from an existing ontological predisposition. Paraontology is the study of that impasse, the commitment to a rethinking of the cleft of Black and blackness, human and field of relation, exposing the parastrata that were there all along.12

If the ontological sediment is the form of the human “itself” as the being of whiteness, ontology itself must be sidestepped. “This is the question, ‘What is (the) human?’ Who, or what, is the human, the human being? Who, or what, are those beings gathered under the name human? What is the essential unity of the form of being called human?”13 But this only thickens the sediment, the ontological ghost still running through the question “what is race?”

Race becomes the cleave, the gash for thought, in thought, that cuts into the sediment. As cleave, race can be said to act as a geological rift in experience that worlds whiteness into being. It produces the ledger of what is owed and what is owned. It is no-thing, however. It has no content. It can’t be found. It is only to the extent that it exposes the bare expressibility of a world cracked open.

The cleave appears in every instance where the ground begins to shake with difference. Whiteness polices the cleave, threatened by the crack, threatened by the difference without separability14 of race as a problem for thought. Another way of saying this: whiteness does not police “the” body, “the” racialized body. Whiteness polices the very possibility that this problem for thought could instantiate the cleave, that it could crack the world wide open. Whiteness polices the threat blackness poses to the very question of being.

It would be tempting to reduce this policing to a form. It wouldn’t be difficult to provide example after example of “the” Black body policed. But this would be to underestimate the force of whiteness. Whiteness doesn’t care for “the” Black body. In the annihilation of “the” Black body, whiteness is engaging in collateral damage. What whiteness polices is the no-body15 that the problem for thought exposes.16

What whiteness imprisons, incarcerates, rapes, kills, and devalues is not first and foremost the person: it is the very thought of non-separability. The necessity to continuously relocate the difference that must be eradicated keeps whiteness nimble: the target can shift at any point. Whiteness must work to un-encounter the geology of a parastratum that mutually includes it. Stakes in the ground must continuously be laid to demarcate the territory, to separate out. War is waged against the possibility of infringement. Less money, less land, less access. Capitalism spurs whiteness on, competition producing conditions for inequality. And throughout, whiteness fights to secure itself despite waging a war against the no-thing race never is. The horror of what cannot quite be grasped makes the pursuit deadly. All or nothing. Everywhere everything. Difference must be annihilated at the expense of the world.

Race is not “a” certain body. It is no-thing. It names a problem, not a person. The racialized person, the Black body, is not, cannot, be reduced to race any more than the white body can. There is no stable phenotype that holds them biologically apart. And so the separation has to be performed, every time anew, across all figurations of lives cut apart from worlds. Whiteness is every move toward overseeing, toward propertying, toward segregation. It is the overseer, with its open maw, unable, except in total violence, to perform a marked differentiation between what possesses and what is dispossessed because difference, paraontologically, refuses both. It is the polite neighbor who watches from the curtained window to keep you in your place.

The policing of the cleave takes many shapes, all of them partitioning.17 But the partition doesn’t hold its shape. Shape-shifting, its expressive terror is that of an abyss, not a passing-through as though a thresholding could expose a world on the other side. “The question arises: how we might exist before the door, before not as an anterior or prior state, but exist in the face of it.”18

“In the face of it” is the rapacious threat of whiteness, in the vacuous “hold of the door” of which Dionne Brand writes with care for the maps that refuse to reveal it, because there are no maps to a dead end. “There is as it says no way in; no return.” “As if the door had set up its own reflection.19

In the frame, in an incessant partitioning that repartitions, a world is made that stinks of race as thing which “colours all moments in the Diaspora.”20 The imposition of difference as distinct shape and form haunts it.

And yet, it is also “the ground we walk.” “Every gesture our bodies make somehow gestures toward this door.”21

Whiteness blocks the threshold. And yet there is movement across the parastrata. Cracks appear, “opening new spaces for something else to materialize.”22 Paths develop that chart indirections. “To travel without a map, to travel without a way. That misdirection became the way. After the Door of No Return, a map was only a set of impossibilities, a set of changing locations.”23

A certain practice of thresholding is made here, in the no-time of no-map where time bends to make itself otherwise. Hartman: “They didn’t know that the hallway and the stairwell were places of assembly, a clearing inside the tenement, or that you love in doorways.”24 The mode of time bent—a leaning-in. “A half-dressed woman, wearing a housecoat over a delicate nightgown, leans against the doorway, hidden by the shadows of the foyer, as she gossips with her girlfriend standing at the threshold.”25

Because while the maw of whiteness remains infinitely all-consuming, aided and abetted by a racial capitalism that “partitions and repartitions,” whiteness “didn’t know that the foyer, the fire escape, and the rooftop were a stretch of urban beach.”26 Bothatonce.

Du Bois, as Chandler reads him, is concerned with the maw, the indelible absence of content. To engage with race “must place it within a certain precomprehension of the ontological, of presence as a form.”27 Any question of content, of “what is?” must be considered a “question of presumptive essence.”28 But given whiteness’s lack of content, the “what is” can only betray the limits of the thought of being itself. Ontology cannot be the standpoint from which the question of difference is unraveled. A paraontological opening onto the question of “what else” must instead be asked. Race is the differential of the question of being, difference the parastratum of the cleave. Because race as a problem for thought creates the cleave, a gash that opens the world to its abyss. This abyss is productive, if deadly. It fosters uneven conditions of existence in its production of an exclusive ontology, a colonialism that properties existence. Identity is born here, in the attempt to secure the zoning, to map the dimensions of thought and being.

Racial capitalism thrives at this interstice where the partitions are more or less intact. Ruth Wilson Gilmore writes:

Capitalist uneven development, its churning production of identity (or sameness) and difference (or otherness), its disintegrating grind of partition or repartition, is racially inscribed at the level of bodies themselves, in an insidious dialectic of the abstract and the concrete: the process of abstraction that signifies racism produces effects at the most intimately ‘sovereign’ scale, insofar as particular kinds of bodies, one by one, are materially (if not always visibly) configured by racism into a hierarchy of human and inhuman persons that in sum form the category of “human being.”29

The category of the human guards the cleave, blocking all thresholds. Human centers existence, maps existence into territory, organizes it into identity. Du Bois writes of “intermingling” in the exploration of how races are differentiated, with the category of the human as a mixture of traits and phenotypes. Hard and fast lines—biological, geological—cannot be demonstrated. And yet difference persists. Chandler proposes a differential articulation as a logic.30 Race cannot be organized into content even as its difference makes a difference. It is no-thing and yet it has effects.

Race as a problem for thought is the expressivity of difference as differential. Inflection: it is vector, not thing; orientation, not content. It lives itself out as difference, not as the form of difference.

The paradox: the invented difference differences thought into a becoming that deontologizes existence.

The paraontological spread of Black and blackness makes this emergent differencing felt. Where Black still marks the organization of being as identity, still operating in the logic of race from the cleave guarded by whiteness, blackness saturates new bodyings with a chromatic31 that hues the world askance. Angling into the crack, blackness thresholds the cleave.

In the whitening of the world that reshapes it through the re-cleaving of its territories and imaginaries, in the form of plantations and bad credit, not everything can be subsumed into the shape of the capture. Because even as the maw is wide open, growing white supremacy from the inside out, deviations detour the walk. They steal away.32

“Intermingling” is perhaps the wrong term for how a difference coextensively expresses itself. There is no adequation between whiteness and blackness. Where whiteness marks the open maw of an appetite to consume difference so as to repartition existence, blackness is the immanent orientation of a way that worlds. Where the former impoverishes existence in the name of the mortgaging of life, the latter rhythms it into a becoming, beyond of any notion of property or propriety, “a fugitive afterlife that falls outside the text of legibility,” in the words of Akomolafe, an afterlife alive in the transversality of a life, that force of life-living that exceeds any one life, any individual.33

A differential articulation schizzes Black and blackness, shifting the orientation toward a logic of an approximation of proximity where the inheritances of existence sidle modes of unpropertied expressibility. Chandler speaks of “forces” and of the “insensible” in an attempt to touch the differential of race as a problem for thought: “The movement of ‘differences’ and ‘forces,’ if there is such, is, perhaps, insensible.”34

Is reveals an insensible quality. What moves in the interplay of the paraontological difference is of another order than that which can be captured by being. Expressibility’s limit is exposed, an unresolvable infra-thin differential. Race is not exactly devoid of content, but its content isn’t. Content becomes intensive magnitude, affective tonality. What moves here cannot be reduced to form or substance. Content is force-of-form, its impossibility the gasp, the cry, the frequency35 of expression.

The frequency of race’s expressibility is in fact more-than insensible, the insensible still too tied to the sensible, to what already makes sense, albeit insensibly, at the limit of sensibility. A step further into the infra-thin differential must be hazarded: “If these ‘forces’ or ‘differences’ have phenomenal status, it is not that of a simple, or simply given, object for thought … They would remain almost nonsensible, almost beyond objectivity, almost beyond representation,” writes Chandler.36 Almost, on the sill, beyond the order of being. “They are not a simple thing in general in any sense … They are not an essence as such. They do not arise from or arrive at an order of pure essential being.”37

If there is no essence, if what is encountered is the nonsensible, it becomes necessary for whiteness to trawl widely, catching all it can in its nets, modifying its appetite for annihilating difference beyond any certainty of recognition. This is to say: what shape the other takes matters less and less. Racial capitalism, after all, is as speculative as it is pragmatic. Whatever blocks the way, whatever intensifies the cleave. All must be destroyed.

But intensity cannot be destroyed. What exceeds the shape things take cannot properly be located. blackness cannot be captured because blackness is not. It moves. Parastratum, it multiplies all ecologies it comes into contact with. “If one supposes that there is a manifestation of such, a movement of forces and differences, then its objectivity for knowledge would be both indirect and partial,” Chandler explains.38 What is made in the cleave is not a person, not a human being, but an indirection. This indirection is a paraencountering of the force of form, which “would never arrive on the mark, its mark.”39 A performative opening is its way, what Moten might call “the break,” a cut that schizzes the very question of what it means to be, to be human. The more-than here emphasized, amplified, is the excess of any accounting of the body as bounded, held, organized, delimited, raced.

The nonsensible is a carrier of the ineffable, infra-thin differential. Its logic is that of nonsensuous perception, of pure experience.40 In the nonsensible, thinking-feeling is relationally orienting, shimmeringly qualifying. It is not, in any conscious sense. The nonsensible that animates the parastratum that is blackness, the paraontological excess-on-itself of a becoming-without-being, is felt. In Whiteheadian vocabulary, it is a “lure for feeling.”41 Deviation, not form, inflection, not object, blackness lives at the hyphenated sill that is the associated milieu—the parastrata—across and through which sedimentations intensively texture experience.

Nonsensible thinking-feeling lurks in the doorways and on the sills, in the between where consciousness hasn’t resolved the separability that blocks the flow of other ways of living. Pure experience is never something we can know consciously, “full both of oneness and of manyness, but in respects that don’t appear; changing throughout, yet so confusedly that its phases interpenetrate and no points, either of distinction or of identity, can be caught.”42

From insensible to nonsensible, what reverberates here is an environmentality, an ecosophical architecting of modalities of becoming that cannot be reduced to the one and only. From Black to blackness is not the same as from white to whiteness. The subtle forces of the double articulation produce their own modes. In the paraontological differential, blackness still carries the germ of the Black door, of the paths taken, of the horrors lived. White marks a different quality of limit, its spread toward whiteness a more straightforward extension of its commitment to ontology, though an ontology that is contentless, empty. Whiteness is only ever feeding frenzy, open maw and empty inside masking as an interior. To act white is to practice whiteness, which is to say, to colonize difference. The only commonality: there is no reduction to phenotype, no pre-given form. Whiteness embodies all tendencies to partition the cleave.

The open cleave of whiteness, in its ontologizing capture, appears to seek commonality, appears to have a predisposition for the “in-common” or at least its representation. If this were so, race could be sequestered. Whiteness is enforcer of separability much more so than gatherer of like-headed. It’s not difference as the opposite of likeness, common’s other, that it hunts. It’s difference with separation. The sentinel of the cleave seeks to keep things apart.

Racial capitalism is the orienting force of the commitment to separation, even as capital itself resists any kind of limit. This double articulation keeps capitalism reinventing itself even as it continues to amplify its gambit of inequality. Individualism, liberalism, democracy, these are placeholders for a commons that stakes out its territory in advance, “monopoliz[ing] the terms of sociality,” as Jodi Melamed emphasizes.43 Capitalism is always racial capitalism when it disenfranchises difference, racializing the other.

In the schizz that produces blackness as excess on itself of any representational, colonial account of a racialized body, in and yet also beyond racial capitalism, beyond competition and all forms of existence that say “I,” a radically empirical seed of existence germinates. This seed, sometimes called “the Black Radical Tradition,” also known as “black study,” produces the site of its emergent intervention. That is to say, blackness comes alive in the renewed movement into the site of its expressibility, opening the path, with each minor gesture, toward other ways of knowing and being known. This undercommoning of thinking-feeling, of life-living, produces those subtle forces out of which a life is made, in the detour of any logic of cause-effect. In the approximation of proximity of life-living, what is activated here is not “a” body but the force of an opacity that worlds.44

John Akomfrah, Vertigo Sea (detail), 2015, three channel video installation. Courtesy of Schirn Kunsthalle.

And yet blackness is also a “problem of and for the body,” as Rizvana Bradley underscores.45 Because while blackness is not, every time the sentinel of whiteness attempts to annihilate it, he makes a body for it, makes Black a body: “The body is principally a racial apparatus, central to the emergence and reproduction of the modern world.”46 At the edge of the abyss, “the” body is unworlded, violently segmented from the ecologies it co-composed. This racializing gesture ensures the Black body’s “strategic generativity within the material-discursive structuration of the world, its indispensability to the ongoing reproduction of subjectivity and subjection, whether the latter are thought through the registers of global capitalism, settler coloniality, or heteropatriarchy.”47

Moten: “What whiteness seeks to separate, blackness blurs by cutting, in touch.”48 Whiteness: systemic devastation that reduces worlds to their bare-individual nightmares; the practice of the viral contagion of the self-same, a reflection of the void.

To repeat: In the sludge of environmental degradation, of settler-colonial clearings,49 whiteness first and foremost polices a logic: to keep us in our place. But even in the difference-with-separation of that logic, it skews: cause-effect has no bearing on it. Because in the logic of racial capitalism, its rapaciousness is not tied to any truth, to any history. Momentum drives it, but this momentum never moves far from the cleave, which never imagines life out of the clearing. On infinite repeat, it captures, never quite metabolizing its prey, always already clearing its next vista. Capitalism spurs it on, gives it the momentum it needs to produce the life-limiting conditions it requires to survive. Melamed expands:

We often associate racial capitalism with the central features of white supremacist capitalist development, including slavery, colonialism, genocide, incarceration regimes, migrant exploitation, and contemporary racial warfare. Yet we also increasingly recognize that contemporary racial capitalism deploys liberal and multicultural terms of inclusion to value and devalue forms of humanity differentially to fit the needs of reigning state-capital orders.50

Racial capitalism, as Ruth Wilson Gilmore emphasizes, is “a technology of antirelationality” at its core, a “technology for reducing collective life to the relations that sustain neoliberal democratic capitalism.” This “partition,” as Gilmore names it, “control[s] who can relate and under what terms.”51

Thinking from the partition is the dead end of an ontological account of race. Because partition is never a stable site of differentiation. It is a moving target that reestablishes, under every new circumstance, the divisions it requires to do the work of holding things apart. The only ontology it produces is its own. This settler ontology is capacious in its appetite for more property, more ownership, more capital. But terrifyingly, its mode is often as speculative as it is pragmatic, which is to say, derivative.

In financial markets, derivatives function as the intensive measure of the surplus value of capital. “Financial derivatives are pure operators of surplus-value of flow,” writes Brian Massumi. Defined by “their ability to abstract themselves from the value or even ownership of an underlying asset,” derivatives have no value in themselves.52 Derivatives have value only in an environment. They are speculative reorientors of a set of conditions, tuning the ecology they are immanently pricing. “Surplus-value of flow” here refers to this speculative edge where an immanent valuation takes place that resets the conditions of value. Volatility is produced in the valuation, gaming the situation.53 The maximization of this surplus value of flow closes the gap between system and process: “Capitalist capture and mutant flow converge.”54

Racial capitalism, the partitions it is continuously setting in place, and the surplus-value of flow produced at the crossing of system and process fashion not so much a body as a mode. In the binary logics of ontological capture, modes are illegible. It is much easier to set up body armor and fight according to its alliances and antagonisms, white on Black, but in the modality of the surplus-value of flow, the enemy is often far less differentiated than it would seem at first to be. Practices must be invented for deviating the partition, detouring the stiffened territoriality it bets into being. Because even in the fight to the death, the partition is moving, and the enemy of life-living is being reincarnated in a different form. No form, it must be repeated, is ever equal to the event, and no event, including the event of the colonial cleave, will clearly re-present the perpetrator. Violence is the protagonist, racial capitalism is its motor.

This is why it’s a false problem to ask “to whom” the writing is oriented when we write about race if we are seen to be writing from the angle of our white skins. To live, to have a life worth living, is to live in the amplification of a mode of blackness that teaches how to refuse the partition. We must all be invested in the movement of thought that is blackness, despite the danger, heard in the interstices, that a paraontological account of life-living, a logic of the approximation of proximity, will de-responsibilize white-skinned folks. That white-skinned people will bask in the capaciousness created by the skirting of ontology. That we will not take stock of the real stakes of racialized existences. That we will get away with it.

False problems are false because they already carry their solutions. The question of “for whom” is a false problem because blackness is irresolvable. No one can own it, least of all those who sidle alongside to better locate its cadences, thus committing to an aesthetics of the earth, as Glissant might say.55 blackness is not a thing, not a being, not a partition, and certainly not an identity. It is not something to be reached, or to expose. It cannot be owned. Or disenfranchised. blackness is a subtle force, an opening toward a modality of thought that cannot be categorized in advance. It promises nothing, reveals nothing, is not. But it is a promise, a certain beacon, a force that keeps the living alive for those always on the cusp of the cleave. So it has to be approached with care, and carried tentatively. A sideways mode is necessary: to engage it in and of itself is to bypass it. Because blackness is a practice. And whoever you are, wherever you are, if you don’t practice practicing it, no living will be possible. Because blackness teaches paraontological modes of encountering experience in the making. In case it is not heard in the halting sill of thought, it must be said again: those closest to blackness, that is, Black people, the problem for thought, are undeniably inheritors of its potential. The question is not, ever, how to become Black. Or how to claim it. The question is how to create conditions for a blackening of the world, for a re-enlivening of the socialities it can produce, for a poetics of relation.

blackness as a practice rewilds the cleave.

To live, to practice, to attune to the more-than of the reduction of life-living to the individual is not to ignore the horrors of the collapse, the dangers of driving-while-Black, the ongoing settler-colonial death knell of ecological degradation. It is not to ignore that ways in which bodies are abused, devalued, or disqualified. It is to opt for the cracks—those modes of existence that are paraontological, modes that refuse to (re)produce the difference-with-separation on which racial capitalism thrives.

Difference without separability moves at the speed of a fabulatory excess, a syncopated extra-rhythm where more-than one way of thinking is carried. In the both-and of two or more things being true at once, a schizz cuts into the fabric of any and all accounts of being.56 From the vantage point of the schizz in its pure expressibility, no world can yet be envisioned. There is only errantry. A world will be made in its acrossness, on the sill, a making that will body itself into existence. The singularity of this bodying and the way it weaves its inheritances forward will matter. The matter of how it came to be will orient how it departitions, how it dances across the slushy standpoints that hold it together apart.

In the cosmology of a mode of life-living called blackness, the false problem of the hard-and-fast separation is seen for what it is: an operation to fix ontology, to make whiteness the place. In the ongoing destruction of our surrounds by whiteness, by its colonial partitioning, blackness does not reveal an opposition. Fanon’s words resound: “The black man has no ontological resistance in the eyes of the white man.”57 The question is never either/or, cause/effect. It’s another mode altogether, another logic. In the approximation of proximity of Black body to blackness, in the paraontological transduction of being to becoming, blackness is always excess on our-selves. blackness is the being of relation, relation the dehiscence of its infinite difference from it-self.

Is there elbow room for a blackening of the earth that includes those who benefit from the afterlives of slavery? The question of who benefits is a thorny one. Capitalism benefits, certainly, and the rich get richer. But the earth is dying and all the settling we continue to do, all the clearing we think we need to see things better, to start “anew,” none of these promise any kind of life-living. On the other hand, whiteness has a history of destroying the very possibility of life. Is it surprising, then, that, as William David Hart reminds us, “Wilderson expresses deep pessimism about the ability of non-Black people, especially Whites, to value Black life … White life feeds on Black death”?58

I have written about the approximation of proximity of black life and neurodiversity.59 Neurodiversity, as I have come to define it, is the refusal of the executive that haunts and organizes life, setting it up according to plan, partitioning it, valuing it in its separability. When autistics talk of the strangeness of “chunking,” of separating things and holding them apart in perception, what perplexes them is how devoid of complexity the world becomes, and how that devaluation of difference is valued. Holding things apart is a shorthand, a back-gridding technology for segregating difference. It is also a go-to in times of stress and anguish, the body closing in for self-protection. The irony: in the anxiety that comes from loss of ground, nothing is needed more urgently than relation.

A non-identitarian proposition, a lure for feeling, blackness is mode of existence, not existence proper. As mode, it is a transversal force. In Akomolafe’s words: “The becoming-black I speak of is an experimentation with new sensorial affinities, new subjectivities, new intelligences. It is a threshold of postures that some bodies, Black-identified or otherwise, may have some proximity to as a result of specific sociomaterial arrangements.”60 Arrangements are immanent orientations motored by subtle forces caught in the interplay of incompossible worlds. Nothing is resolved here, nothing is made, once and for all: these are sites of practice.

Practice requires techniques. An ethos of blackness—because blackness is always ethico-aesthetic in its ecosophic commitment—commits to study. This is a practice of undercommoning, of sidestepping any desire for the in-common, or for any existing site of “inclusion.” Beware of the ways Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion want to trap you into repeating yourself as an individual of your diversity. Techniques for relation have to be honed for the coming into relation beyond the individual, especially when the bodies are brittle because of the ongoing devastation of systemic racism.

blackness is never achieved. Outside the owed and owned, it is no one’s property. Accretion, cadence, rhythm—it is practice, teacher. We come at it from its furthest edges, we who carry the marks on our bodies of the colonizing histories we fight to disavow. Yet we must find the courage to encounter it, to learn from it, to practice it. There need be no fear of appropriation. Only settler ontologies have enough pre-given form to be appropriated. blackness is too mutational, too alive, to be stolen.


Saidiya Hartman, “A Room with History,” Paris Review Daily, January 9, 2023 . This essay is on Dionne Brand’s The Map of No Return.


Bayo Akomolafe, “Black Lives Matter, But to Whom? Why We Need a Politics of Exile in a Time of Troubling Stuckness (Part I),” Democracy and Belonging Forum, January 19, 2023 .


Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massumi (University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 73.


Frantz Fanon, Black Skins, White Masks, trans. Charles Lam Markmann (Picador, 1970), 77–78.


Fred Moten, “The Case of Blackness,” Criticism 50, no. 2 (Spring 2008), 187.


Moten, “The Case of Blackness,” 187.


Edouard Glissant, The Poetics of Relation, trans. Betsy Wing (University of Michigan Press, 1997).


Oxford English Dictionary.


Nahum Dimitri Chandler, “On Paragraph Four of ‘The Conservation of Races,” CR: The New Centennial Review 14, no. 3 (2014): 264.


Chandler, “On Paragraph Four,” 255.


Chandler. “On Paragraph Four,” 256.


Fred Moten, “Blackness and Nothingness (Mysticism in the Flesh),” South Atlantic Quarterly 112, no. 4 (Fall 2013).


Chandler, “On Paragraph Four,” 258.


Denise Ferreira da Silva, “On Difference without Separability,” in Incerteza Viva: 32nd Bienal de São Paulo, ed. Jochen Volz and Júlia Rebouças (Fundação Bienal de São Paulo, 2016). Exhibition catalog.


Denise Ferreira da Silva “No-Bodies: Law, Raciality and Violence,” Griffith Law Review 18, no. 2 (2009).


The no-body also calls forth the “no humans involved” outlined in Sylvia Wynter, “No Humans Involved: An Open Letter to my Colleagues,” Forum N.H.I.: Knowledge for the 21st Century 1, no. 1 (Fall 1994).


Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Abolition Geography: Essays Toward Liberation (Verso, 2022), 177.


Hartman, “A Room with History.”


Dionne Brand, A Map to the Door of No Return: Notes to Belonging (Vintage Canada, 2002), 10, 23.


Brand, A Map to the Door of No Return, 25.


Brand, A Map to the Door of No Return, 25.


Akomolafe, “Black Lives Matter, But to Whom?”


Brand, A Map to the Door of No Return, 125.


Saidiya Hartman, Wayward Lives (Norton, 2020), 26.


Hartman, Wayward Lives, 15.


Gilmore, Abolition Geography, 177; Hartman. Wayward Lives, 15.


Chandler. “On Paragraph Four,” 259.


Chandler, “On Paragraph Four,” 260.


Gilmore, Abolition Geography, 177.


Chandler, “On Paragraph Four,” 270.


In Universal Machine (Duke University Press, 2018), Fred Moten writes: “This is to say that I‘d like to bring the set of questions that is black social life into relief by way of, and by passing through, the notion of chromatic saturation,” which he defines as the intensive overlap of sound and color where all notes are played simultaneously and all colors are present (153, 156). Attuned to the differential of blackness, in the break, Moten speaks of “a certain chromatic saturation that inhabits black as that color’s internal, social life” (168).


Saidiya Hartman, Scenes of Subjection (Oxford University Press, 1997).


Akomolafe, “Black Lives Matter, But to Whom?”


Chandler, “On Paragraph Four,” 281. Emphasis in original.


Tina Campt, A Black Gaze (MIT Press, 2021).


Chandler, “On Paragraph Four,” 278.


Chandler, “On Paragraph Four,” 278.


Chandler, “On Paragraph Four,” 281–82.


Chandler, “On Paragraph Four,” 282.


Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures of Experience (Free Press, 1933); William James, Essays in Radical Empiricism (Harvard University Press, 1906).


Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality (Free Press, 1978).


James, Essays in Radical Empiricism, 93–94.


Jodi Melamed, “Racial Capitalism,” Critical Ethnic Studies 1, no. 1 (Spring 2015): 76.


Glissant, Poetics of Relation.


Rizvana Bradley, “On Black Aesthesis,” Diacritics 49, no. 4 (2021): 21. Emphasis in original.


Bradley, “On Black Aesthesis,” 35.


Bradley, “On Black Aesthesis,” 36.


Fred Moten, Black and Blur (Duke University Press, 2017), 300.


For more on the figure of the clearing, see Erin Manning, Out of the Clear (Minor Compositions, 2022).


Melamed, “Racial Capitalism,” 78.


Gilmore quoted in Melamed, “Racial Capitalism,” 78.


Brian Massumi, 99 Theses for the Revaluation of Value (University of Minnesota Press, 2018), 31, 22.


“The digital automation of financial trading intensifies the role of surplus-value of flow by accelerating data analysis and as a consequence the speed of turnover of financial transactions. This boosts capitalism into hyperdrive. Surplus-value production effervesces. Machinic surplus-value production overall asserts greater and greater autonomy from its would-be human masters’ conscious control.” Massumi, 99 Theses, 37. Emphasis in original.


Massumi, 99 Theses, 53.


Glissant, Poetics of Relation.


See Erin Manning, “Practicing the Schizz,” chap. 5 in For a Pragmatics of the Useless (Duke University Press, 2020).


Fanon, Black Skins, White Masks, 77–78.


William David Hart, Blackness as Black (Lexington Books, 2022), 9.


Manning, For a Pragmatics of the Useless (Duke University Press, 2020).


Akomolafe, “Black Lives Matter, But to Whom?”

Philosophy, Race & Ethnicity
Return to Issue #135

Erin Manning studies in the interstices of philosophy, aesthetics, and politics. 3e is the direction her current research takes—an exploration of the transversality of the three ecologies, the social, the environmental, and the conceptual. An iteration of 3e is a land-based project north of Montreal. Her most recent book is For a Pragmatics of the Useless (Duke University Press, 2020).


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