An African American Studies professor at University of California presents the tenets of an increasingly prominent intellectual movement that sees Blackness through the lens of perpetual slavery. Drawing on works of philosophy, literature, film, and critical theory, he shows that the social construct of slavery, as seen through pervasive anti-Black subjugation and violence, is hardly a relic of the past but the very engine that powers our civilization.
Its seven chapters and epilogue convey through vignette, critical theory, poetry, ruptured memory, and prosaic madness the stories of one’s Black self as a constantly absented object ... a complex shift in Wilderson’s literary corpus...merging elements of political memoir...with the conceptual rigor of his theoretical text Red, White, and Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms (2010) ... as much a theory of narrative as it is evidence of the constant state of disequilibrium that Wilderson describes as barring Black people from narrative ... Wilderson’s text achieves an insurmountable feat, articulating a meta-memoir against the antiblackness of narrative. Black suffering as a fact of everyday Black life and social death endures narrative fissures and gaps, the routeless mapping of madness within the syntax of events: the piercing and woundedness it takes to craft a theoretical landscape in this genre-confounding project ... the profundity of Wilderson’s interventions in memoir and theory come closest to matching The Souls of Black Folk, and the contemporary interventions of philosophical biography, metabiography, and the deconstructionist collaboration between Maurice Blanchot and Jacques Derrida in The Instant of My Death.
Wilderson...blends expressive accounts of his experiences from adolescence through middle age, a roller coaster of highs and lows, with an intellectually sophisticated exposition of his philosophy of life, race, and the world ... a highly charged combination of memoir, criticism, and reflection ... A hard-hitting and mind-expanding introduction to a new way of viewing the past and the present.
Wilderson’s ambitious book offers its readers two great gifts. First, it strives mightily to make its pessimistic vision plausible. Anyone unconvinced by the vision may find this a dubious contribution, but enough people have been convinced by the view to make an accessible introduction to it a valuable resource just for understanding contemporary intellectual life. Second, the book depicts a remarkable life, lived with daring and sincerity ... The main challenge of the book may be that it offers both these gifts at once. It wraps its critical theory in a memoir, in a way that means for both elements to be mutually supporting. The narrative vividly establishes the need for theoretical intervention, and the theory provides keys to understanding the narrative ... This simultaneous commitment to analysis and to narrative sometimes pulls the book in opposite directions. Paragraphs that could have helped develop a scene instead crank up the theoretical machinery. Energy that could have been spent translating jargon into normal prose goes instead into setting up a metaphor. One can almost hear the gears grinding as the book shifts from one mode to the other ... Reading the book felt a bit like returning to the culture wars of the late 20th century ... I confess that Afropessimism strikes me as a refusal of the possibilities that make 'fighting on' conceivable ... If so, I’ll simply commit to admiring the economy and the poetry of his provocations.