"I see the expansion of heart and compassion. I don't see a counter to organized terror."— Joy James, "The Architects of Abolitionism: George Jackson, Angela Davis, and the Deradicalization of Prison Struggles"
"[A]ny desire to save oneself from social death is already proof that the sacrificer is socially dead."— David Marriott, "On Revolutionary Suicide"
"Hence, as a black child threatened with the loss of love, a threat lived out in relation to the mother's voice, Fanon knows why a wish to be avenged poses itself in opposition to her."— David Marriott, Haunted Life: Visual Culture and Black Modernity
"Law and punishment cannot be reconciled, but they can be transcended if fate can be reconciled […] But love reconciles not only the trespasser with his fate but also man with virtue."— G. W. F. Hegel, "The Spirit of Christianity"
"I've long marveled at how all this going on about love succeeds in alchemizing a legacy of lynchings…"— Nathaniel Mackey, Bedouin Hornbook
As an anti-social queer theorist of racial slavery, I speculate on what opens up when we investigate love—its attendant terms, social queues, and intellectual historicity—as a part of the assumptive logic and libidinal architecture of anti-blackness. This entails an open set of questions regarding whether—and if so, how; to what extent—love is a vehicle for negrophobic violence and in-and-for-itself an expression of racial fetishism. Joy James's In the Pursuit of Revolutionary Love compounds the salience of these questions for black studies and afro-diasporic expressive cultures.
Revolutionary Love is an exposure and exfoliation of love's indispensable intellectual and sociopolitical labor for black folks on the move in the midst and aftermath of global liberation struggles. James takes particular interest in early U.S. civil rights to late black lives matter periods as they demonstrate the evolution and ethos of black leveraging strategies vis-à-vis genocidal nation-states. Revolutionary Love maintains that by attending to how black political planning in the West ebbs between abolition and revolution, a consistent—even if at some points contradictory—collective axiom flows: love [ἀγάπη].
Currently, "love-politics" are assumed in lockstep with black radical movement-making.1 However, I want to draw attention to James's turn to agape as it appears to offer a problem for thought for a contemporary political-intellectual context in which the love attended to or tended toward has decidedly been erotic [ἔρως]—and for good reason.2 The cisheteropatriarchal problematics that infiltrate and form movements on "the left" continuously return black social thought to how love/eros/ἔρως—the sinews and structure of unforced affiliation—affords political-intellectual responses to paramilitary and/as intramural antiblack trans-misogyny and racialized sexual hegemony.3 I find this to be another way of reading bell hooks's prolific love trilogy, which, at the "end" of the culture wars, worked out a black feminist prescription for her previous two decades worth of structural diagnosis. Admittedly, the (to my knowledge) singular mention of "eros" in the trilogy appears in hooks's citation of John Sanford's description of it as a relative "capacity for love and relatedness" which one possesses and puts into action.4 That is to say, though hooks does not deal directly with the linguistic history of the word or attempt to redeploy it as Audre Lorde does, I present hooks's analysis alongside and within the rubric of the erotic insofar as love/ἔρως, for her and Lorde, avails a forgotten place of repair through intramural self-reflection and reconciled relation.
Given their sheer citational legacy, on this point, I hope it becomes clear the ways in which love is overdetermined by eros and the erotic in black popular culture and political thought, the overall denominative aim of which is alleviating the crises of and in community. It would not be a stretch to say that for contemporary black feminist thinking, love is a social salve as much as it is a site of struggle. Agape, on the other hand, is what introduces community in the divine-physical form of its crises. Agape aggravates all intramural antagonisms. Moreover, in the agape of Oshun, as James interprets it for us, god itself becomes the racial source of social problems.
For this reason, I want to point out the pitfalls of a socio-symbolic ecology that performs—at least on its own account—its political attention to love by way of the erotic rather than the agapic. There has not been enough thinking done around how the erotic has also made black romance and pleasurable relation a political refuge or recourse of action. In this cultural imaginary, erotic love marks relays and ways of relating that prepare and prove the possibility for ontological repair and relief through black performances of sexual self-determination and autocritical amorous capacity.5 Black romance becomes an aspirational analogy for when and where erotic love functions as a source of self-regard that ushers in—and even invents—new ways of being with one another.
As renowned black feminist Jennifer Nash writes, "I am drawn to the vision of love as a space of vulnerability, nonsovereignty, and radical relationality."6 I want to suggest that in these practices, concepts, and reference points, such a "vision of love" is only enacted and articulated as such within an amatory calculus effectuated in slavery's long-term libidinal economy. Black romanticism, ramified in particular by some strains of contemporary black feminist thinking, describes a political-aesthetic agenda not only performatively oblivious to such a calculus; but, furthermore, names that which in itself acts as an obstacle to asserting the sheer existence of such a libidinal structure of exchange. Agape, on the other hand, here serves as an analytic for adjudicating love's anti-black conceptual identity, propositional import, and cultural-political purchase.
Such an approach is deeply inspired by the way eros fails to be acknowledged in Revolutionary Love and, therefore, operates as something potentially repressed for the text. I argue that in Revolutionary Love, eros, even in nominal absence, cannot but be concealed as epistemically exhausted by neoliberal sexual life, even especially whilst it remains presently called upon for black political-aesthetic purposes. More than that, I want to offer that the intellectual preeminence of eros in contemporary black politics, pedagogy, and culture signals a kind of collective fatigue made palpable in positing erotic love as a zone of relief in and for an antiblack world.
On this note, I will insist particularly on this as a politics of reprieve for reasons that become apparent a little later. James invites us to ask what is in the desire to delay dying for the people—the agapic provocation. As it shall be seen, "reprieve" is exactly where the identity between desire and law, eros and agape, social death and revolutionary suicide raises a set of temporal stakes incapable of resolution. What is most important for me is that when consulting outside of the academy, with mass media and its stereotypical aesthetics, the erotic register of the politics of reprieve will also be where the terms of the romantic may be met out.
Reprieve's conceptual organization of erotic politics explains how love—a modality of socio-political redress and legico-juridical remonstration—structures the relays between non-sovereign intimacy and shared precarity. I take this to be akin to what Nash might call a mutual and radical vulnerability, which, on my account, the black subject can neither call romance nor murder, but rather the lethal life of black libido on which all relation relies. This desire for respite, rescue, intervention and its opening out in the form of new ways of being together is the indivisible romantic identity of eros—the romance of relation simply being relation as romance. It falls prey to what James's strategic deployment of agape implicitly critiques when defining the latter as a suicidal and spiritually antagonistic political volunteerism that sustains instead of escapes or reduces struggle on every scale of social life. Agape is what substitutes social conciliation for a divinely/indefinitely deferred dying.
This reading of Revolutionary Love attempts to heed an unstated (because, even for James, unconscious?) instruction to call into further question the ontology of love to which black study and diasporic culture attends as if standing in contradistinction to social death or despair via the erotic. James's analysis of agape goes against the grain of love, as it is most commonly or comfortably defined by black study and socius as a means whereby we, to hold on to hooks, "confront the pain of abandonment and loss…speaking what may have once been unspeakable."7 If, as Freudian psychoanalysis might agree, eros is another name for when love is a reparative way of reckoning with a violent limit or loss of one's self; it is this assumption that portends and produces romance, which is nothing if not the calming of contradictions in mirages of wish-fulfillment. On this account, I turn RL to an analysis of romance as a way into love's erotic, which is to say reconciliatory ontology, which works opposite and alongside agape—a love that, for James, operates and animates the agon of all social antagonisms.
Queer/trans studies, critical legal studies, and afropessimisms continue to illuminate the liberal state apparatuses' vested interest in more sexually incorporative, romantically permissive makings of legal personhood.8 It, in fact, has never been more clear that the anti-black violence of ungendering definitive of racial modernity means that the political body illustrative of the liberal citizen-subject has always already possessed a pansexual potential, the name for which is slave or black flesh or Sapphire or Rufus or…9 "Before the body, there is the flesh."10
It is my argument, therefore, that this queer faculty constitutive of the globalized western nation-state corresponds with an Euroamerican sexual culture whose aesthetico-political imaginary accommodates and creates, even marginally, black subjects with the speculative capacity for romance and/as erotic relation. Such subjects are envisioned—or, better, irrealized—via an array of significative techné identified in the term black romance media. Beyond a racial account of the sexual revolutions of the mid-20th century, which deprivatized sex via aesthetic mediums that, at once, plasticized and hyper-financialized erotic desire. Black romantic aesthetics is an assemblage [agencement] for reading this aforementioned aesthetico-political imaginary immanent to the matrix of meaning, metaphor, and metonymy that makes black romance media a multimodal method whereby attempts are made to reckon with and repair, through black performances of self-possessed pleasure or erotic autonomy, what Sharon Patricia Holland might call the erotic life of racism.11
Multimedia—the architectonics of aesthetics in general—is a space where performances filled with promises of recognition and reckoning unfold in a subjunctive mood that mystifies, for the sake of relation, the many rhetorical reflexes of the pornotrope that provides the irreducible, discursive-material meeting ground of meaning and matter in the libidinal afterlife of slavery.12 If we, then, take seriously racial slavery as the first sexual revolution—to follow Holland further, this apparatus [dispositif] that is black romantic aesthetics also stands to clarify and consolidate an ongoing cultural vocabulary and art/media practice that intends racial redress through black romanticism. It, therefore, forms and disavows all at once the specifically sexual longue duree of slavery as social death.1314
What, after all, is sexual freedom for the slave?
Oshun—fertility and sweetwater Orisha—James suggests, has some answers. A little more on that later.
For now let's attempt to bracket the private and institutional iterations of "black" romance media, as they share greater proximity to academic or more immediately intellectualized venues of expressive culture, i.e., museums, symposia, syllabi. Let's insist, instead, along the line of the provincial and mundane as it corroborates an ostensibly grey economy of images that nonetheless—or more matter-of-factly—traffic in and co-construct the neoliberal libidinal axioms (black romantic aesthetics-cum-black romance media) under current consideration.15
A more than cursory look at match-making game shows or dating and domestic reality television, for instance—original exports of popular American romance multimedia, I must add—only elucidates how mass representations of the "romantic" orchestrate and open up a sexual commonsense inseparable from the psychic infrastructure of the colony with le nègre at its core. Furthermore, I take what Stuart Hall and Richard Iton have respectively taught us about popular culture, on one hand, and Sylvia Wynter and Zakkiyyah Iman Jackson about national narrative on the other, to ring true, all at once: network television participates as much as the novel in mass producing national identity.16 Hence, under the well-evidenced assumption that sexual imperialism is nothing without its "soft" power or "super" structural appendage, black romantic aesthetics, ultimately, invites us to ask where and why romance media en masse implicates blackness.17 It is there that we find the social manufacturing or symbolic re-emergence of the liberal black sexual subject to simply be the dis/closure of romance as racial fetish.18 This, to be sure, will be the grounds from which Oshun must take fatal flight, thereby unsettling love's relationship to revolution.
Let me flesh this out.
In Summer 2020, a month after the murder of George Floyd, ABC Entertainment President Karey Burke announced the first Black lead of The Bachelor, Matt James.19 "We know we have a responsibility," she claimed "to make sure the love stories we're seeing onscreen are representative of the world we live in."20 Although "A Campaign For Anti-Racism in the Bachelor Franchise" was launched the year before on Change.org, nationwide uprisings for black lives apparently presented a more apt opportunity for the diversity and inclusion sector of the franchise. In his new memoir, First Impressions: Off-Screen Conversations With a Bachelor on Race, Family, and Forgiveness, Matt James articulates with an inarguable expertise exactly what I am after in these examinations of the ways romance in multimedia remark upon a set of political protocols attendant to an erotic interpretation of love—also animating black intellectual publics in the present. In reflection on his time as The (first black) Bachelor, Matt describes his experience on the show as "my conversion from person to prop."21
Read Part II:
Is abolition a love language? Is care a synonym for violence? In the case of the first Black Bachelor Matt James and establishing the difference between Black erotic and Revolutionary Love, "we are not as far off from Joy James as it may seem."
Matt's statement illuminates what black romance media—or, romance media that employs the black subject—refers to while frustrating that on which black romantic aesthetics most rely—black sexual self-determination and the performances thereof. Though black romance writers with a penchant for intramural authorship would not agree on a Black lead in the Bachelor franchise as constituting "black romance," the jury is still out, as I see it, on the possibility of any black self-writing at all.22, 23 The black subject of speech [l'énonciation] is undecidable and unforeseeable sans lactification by or enslavement to the universal (same thing); therefore, what makes for an intramurally manufactured romance in the first place seems foreclosed.24
That is to say, although Season 25 still constitutes "Settler/Master [television]" insofar as it is neither produced nor distributed by Black folks; the attempt to "embrace ethical dilemmas predicated on the destruction of civil society," by choosing a Slave/Black (Matt James) as the central figure to shoulder said dilemmas confounds differences between slave and master commercial art and the psychic comportments to which we may wish they discretely correspond.25 Pursuing Matt's own account further helps us here. More than what it might mean to be complicit in one's own commodification, James recounts his realization that he and his search for love were the means for not only the stereotypical antics of reality TV melodrama but for addressing the political climate of the police abolitionist movement at the time. "I became a proxy for so many of the important conversations Americans were already leaning into—racial justice, interracial relationships, history, and prejudice… [A]s weeks turned to months, it felt suffocating at times."26
The answer might seem to be that Matt was just naïve. If we listen, we might want to take him more seriously. The instance of suffocation for Matt is not the inclusionary labor of his season, per se; or, the way Settler/Master media writ large now mobilizes the slave to accommodate the question of racial difference and diversification. There is nothing wrong, as he sees it, with being The Bachelor. Rather, his multicultural quest for love must bear the rhetorical weight of his very own ("mixed") race is what makes for another kind of noose. Because this rhetorical work of race precedes his celebrity—as he himself admits—it is safe to assume that these feelings also run prior to the predatory neoliberal preference for a black bachelor in its initial instance. What I am interested in, therefore, is how Matt's proverbial asphyxiation is an empirical enunciation of how erotic love extends in every aesthetico-political context to the analogical availability of black flesh in slavery's long-term. From here, I must insist that Matt is not necessarily nor simply suffering a false consciousness exposed to its own bad faith—either in the franchise or its aesthetic apparatus vis-a-vis erotic love and the romantic. A strung-up narcissism announces itself beyond and before any belief in the DEI industrial-complex of mass romance media if we look at how its microcosmic corroborant may first be found in the libidinal economy that organizes the inter-racial politics of (his) home and heritage.27
On his first episode, Matt narrativizes for the show's host the all-too-familiar trope of African American paternal truancy. Ironically, we begin with a black man as analysand, which is not unlike the confessional posture of the sinner. Near season's end, Matt is televised confronting his father for his absence and out of a stated fear for how failures in paternal function affect his romantic future. It is here that we will put a pin. To even briefly speak about something called black love in erotic register, I want to mine this as Matt's attempt to traverse the primal fantasy of family romance, which inheres in what a present, which is to say proper paternity supposedly provides a priori: access to eros. Matt suggests as much with his language of demand, the rhetorical register of the in-fans whose relation to the past is its unconscious repetition: "When I needed you, you weren't there to have those conversations. You made other families… I need to know where your head was at, so I don't make those same mistakes going forward."28 Here, Matt desires a reckoning with his pre-egoic appeals [l'appel] for paternal love, which, apparently, would pause the repetition of his un-paternal past particularly as it partitions him from the love he wishes to realize. With this we see, as previously suggested, the racial constrictions on eros pre-date the anti-black re-transcriptions of the screen, so much so that to make this an example of how tending-towards-love appears in black pop culture as reparative priority, though it seems counterintuitive, works precisely at the core of the question of black inheritance and history that persist exactly from within a romance in the multiracial aftermath of late modern anti-black aesthetic regimes. Nevertheless, on the other side of this romantic grammar a more robust erotic futurity for Matt lies—allegedly.
But if what Spillers says about black paternity is true—that it is as mocked as it is, in result, doubly removed—then these primordial fantasies of paternal return/reconciliation imply something increasingly perverse. What puts love at stake in the instance of black paternal absence and inheritance is the maternal mark/molestation, "[being] touched, therefore, by the mother, handed by her in ways that [the African American male] cannot escape, and in ways that the white American male is allowed to temporize by a fatherly reprieve."29 As aforementioned, it is the word "reprieve" that I want to relate to both the juridical and romantic, which, as Spillers makes clear, relies on the psychic time of paternal power as corporeal protection. What Matt reminds us is that if a father is present, erotic incapacity, gratuitous touch, apparently should not happen to me. Therefore, I find it profitable to point out that the word reprieve is comprised from the French repris, where we get reprise, as in to begin again, and the Middle English reprive, "to take back to prison."30 Scholars seem uncertain regarding how by the end of the same century in which it initially emerged, reprieve, finally, defined the "suspension of the execution of a criminal's sentence."31 They speculate that "this sense evolved probably because being sent back to prison was the alternative to execution."32 This detour into etymology helps determine the Spillerian stakes of a proper Fatherhood that, if undermined by the Mother "in ways that he cannot escape," undoes for the psyche the very temporal difference between an unsovereign death sentence (a state execution that can be escaped and therefore consented to: suicide) and a mens rea on repeat (an incarcerating unconscious: social death).33 I'll try to work out what that means. Reprieve as a white man's inheritance—the penal capacity to interdict capital punishment; the power to redirect a death sentence to a state of suspended dying (prison)—describes a power over time where temporality determines psychosomatic integrity.
The Father decides who is ready-at-hand and who is beyond reach through a paternal arrest of the temporal. However, what is most useful to me here is the internal contradiction that defines fatherly reprieve as such. A power over suspension/escape and incarceration/recidivism cannot be rigorously distinguished, as I see it, from a power over suspension as incarceration. Here is the purchase of thinking "reprieve" etymologically, given it illuminates repris (new start) and reprive (re-incarcerate) in their conceptual consanguinity. We move by way of this term not only because we are accessing the same negrophobic fantasy of the father (paternal absence) with Matt that Spillers describes, but moreover because Spillers clarifies time itself as a casualty for black flesh that subsequently outstrips the father's racial power over life and death (time itself) by being endlessly available to maternal touch. The incapacity to temporize the mother's touch, rein it into time tells us that what paternal protection means for time—a suspended life in exchange for unsovereign death—is always placed back in its originary referential confluence when one is Black. The black subject not only suffers the lack of reprieve but moreover the lack in reprieve, reprieve's constitutive insufficiency, its circularity, which it remains caught up in by its desire for erotic sovereignty or to be untouched by the pansexual meanings of the mother's mark. Eros, from here, is, in fact, too late to its own predications on a paternity that is, after all, never in time for le nègre; but instead helps constitute blackness in its libidinal fluidification, its capacity to be everything, everywhere all at once particularly for any given sexual scenario.
It would serve us to remember how Matt's questions are contingent on the when and where of the Father, whose answer he also understands as already given in his father's infidelity. What remains remiss by Matt is how making romance reliant on a proper paternity only perfects the impossibility of a love partitioned from the blackness that perverts it. In fact, on my reading, fatherly reprieve as what the black man is disallowed, itself performs its own deconstruction when placed under philological pressures. This should suggest to us that in order to liberate love from its darkly Oedipal preemptions, as Matt so desires, one must, in the first instance, be incorporated into time so as to enjoy the father's death-dealing forms of decision-making. In this way, the inescapability of the mother's touch is fatherly reprieve's temporal suspension, that is, its lethal undecidability as it is immanent to the word already. This is also what forecloses love-choice or amatory autonomy and the erotic sovereignty it suggests or simulates.
Matt's un-paternal past, then, is present only and, therefore, most enigmatically in his anticipation of its repetition which is disclosed in his very desire for a paternal figure responsible for lost time; and the death-dealing, eros-ending "despair induced by the lack of one."34 Love and natal alienation, after all, cannot coexist. But, in this same way, Matt only reaffirms infidelity as his inherited future, which he wishes to both forget and forestall. A natally alienated love is bound by no promise. Hence, and here's the Jamesian rub on romance, it is up to the (black) son, wishing to avoid such guilt-to-come—"so I don't…"—to simply take flight. Flight here, however, is not a means of escape or form of fugitivity. Oshun's flight is Oshun's suicide. Agape presents an answer to eternal romantic damnation: an impossible self-mortification.
This is where, for me, Matt—and all contemporary black romance—must confront the captive maternal as erotic love's limit. Choose to die and never be loved or live a love that, eo ipso, lies—these are the terms of agape and eros. And, in case we've lost sight of my ultimate goal, James's opening explanation of agape is given in Oshun's self-sacrificial ascent to the Sun to petition Olódùmarè on behalf of the people whom she's spent her time helping marry, multiply, and move into the sweet life. (Though their gender is yet in scholarly question, the ontological originarity, creative sovereignty, and complete sufficiency to which the name Olódùmarè refers forms quite familiar metaphors of The-Name-of-the-Father, which would explain the frequent use of masculine pronouns in extant literature.35) Therefore, it should come as no surprise that here, again, we are dealing with a return to the un-paternal whose god-given right is something more than a mere eroticized affirmation of necropower. A reconciliation with one's racial fate (fatherlessness), which only love can evidence after the fact, proves more resistant than death itself. It should not be lost on us, then, that it is as an Orisha of love that Oshun makes a decision to die. However, Oshun's suicide decides on a dying with whom a divine deal will always be re-struck.36 In her flight, a fate is also being worked out with and against the father fatally. But because she can never die, to follow agape, Oshun never stops dying. This, again, is love's fatal relationship with reprieve particularly as politics racially disbursed.
I want to suggest that this is the omen over every erotic definition of black love, which Matt is the disavowed demonstrator and Oshun the unconscious orchestrator of. Might the goddess of generational increase and romantic relation commit to taking her own life because there is something always corrosive at the core of the commons she facilitates, of the love she allows? This brings another tone to the words death and doula. What else is Matt reckoning with, returning to besides being born into a certain kind of dispossession that overdetermines or decides on life and love in the land of the living?
1 My thinking of "love-politics" here is lifted from Jennifer Nash; see: Nash, Jennifer C. "Love in the Time of Death ." Black Feminism Reimagined: After Intersectionality, Duke University Press, Durham, 2019, pp. 111–131. We can also think of the work of Adrienne Marie Brown for instance; see: Brown, Adrienne Maree. Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good. AK Press, 2019.
2 For the erotic register of love most often referred to in black cultural studies, see: Lorde, Audre. "Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power." Sister Outsider, The Crossing Press, Freedom, CA, 1984, pp. 53–59; Horton-Stallings, LaMonda. Funk the Erotic: Transaesthetics and Black Sexual Cultures. University of Illinois Press, 2015; Gill, Lyndon Kamaal. Erotic Islands: Art and Activism in the Queer Caribbean. Duke University Press, 2018.
3 For what I mean by sexual hegemony, see: Chitty, Christopher. Sexual Hegemony: Statecraft, Sodomy, and Capital in the Rise of the World System. Edited by Max Fox, Duke University Press, 2020.
4 Hooks, Bell. All about Love: New Visions . HarpersCollins, 2001.
5 Amorous capacity is a concept I am working through in my upcoming dissertation. Thank you to Ebony Oldham who with their work returned me to capacity as an afropessimist concept. For the latest on afropessimism's critique of capacity see: Sorentino, Sara-Maria. "Slave/Animal/Labor: Marxist Incapacity and the Direction Analogy Flows." The Comparatist, vol. 46, no. 1, 2022, pp. 29–51.
6 Nash, Jennifer C. Black Feminism Reimagined: After Intersectionality, Duke University Press, Durham, 2019, pp. 117.
7 Hooks, Bell. Salvation: Black People and Love. Harper Perennial, 2001.
8 Pollard-Durodola, Charlie. "Deadly Desires: The Juridical Birth of Queer Humanism Amidst Slavery's Afterlife." UCLA Law Review, 28 Nov. 2022, pp. 878–926.
9 On pansexual potential and the figurative consubstantiality of slave, flesh, Sapphire, see: Spillers, Hortense J. "Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: An American Grammar Book." Diacritics, vol. 17, no. 2, 1987, p. 64.
11 Holland, Sharon Patricia. The Erotic Life of Racism. Duke University Press, 2012.
12 My understanding of the discursive-material relies on the work of Zakiyyah Iman Jackson; see: Jackson, Zakiyyah Iman. Becoming Human: Matter and Meaning in an Antiblack World. New York University Press, 2020. My emphasis on the tropological element of the pornotrope is indebted to Selamawit Terrefe; see: Terrefe, Selamawit D. "The Pornotrope of Decolonial Feminism." Critical Philosophy of Race, vol. 8, no. 1-2, 2020, pp. 134–164.
13 Holland, Sharon Patricia. Raising the Dead: Readings of Death and (Black) Subjectivity. Duke University Press, 2000, p. 120.
14 A primary aim of my forthcoming dissertation is the development of a critical theory and systematic critique of what I am calling "black romanticism." The terms black romantic aesthetics and black romance media are attempts to condense what black romanticism as a concept for critique is after. With all due respect, this should not be confused with La Marr Jurelle Bruce's upcoming work on afromanticism, insofar as an initial premise of my project is what critical theorist Tyrone S. Palmer demonstrates to be the impossibility or unthinkability of black affect. As I hope to make clear, there is no sensate-sensorial relay whereby any black "structure of feeling" can be discerned indivisible from its own psychic manipulability. For more on black affect, see: Palmer, Tyrone S. "Otherwise than Blackness." Qui Parle, vol. 29, no. 2, 2020, pp. 247–283.
15 On what I mean by neoliberal, see: Spence, Lester K. Knocking the Hustle: Against the Neoliberal Turn in Black Politics. Punctum Books, 2016.
16 Hall, Stuart. Essential Essays: Foundations of Cultural Studies. Edited by David Morley, Duke University Press, 2019; Iton, Richard. In Search of the Black Fantastic: Politics and Popular Culture in the Post-Civil Rights Era. Oxford University Press, 2008; Wynter, Sylvia. "Novel and Nation, Plot and Plantation ." Savacou, 5 June 1971, pp. 95–102., Jackson, Zakiyyah Iman. Becoming Human: Matter and Meaning in an Antiblack World. New York University Press, 2020.
17 On sexual imperialism, see: McClintock, Anne. Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Conquest. Routledge, 1995.
18 My use of the term "racial fetish" is borrowed from the work of David Marriott in Whither Fanon?: Studies in the Blackness of Being. I will quote his very clear definition here at length with bracketed addendums that establishes a direct line to this paper's general argument: "The durability of racial sovereignty in the colony, as The Wretched of the Earth very clearly teaches, depends chiefly upon the language of fetishism, but it is not so easy to ascertain why commodity-language is so consistently racialized in the colony. As a way of approaching this distinction, let us therefore return to the trope that seems almost synonymous with racial fetishism: the stereotype. You are rich because you are white, you are white because you are rich: the language of racial capital not only speaks through the figure of chiasmus, but its thought-form is governed by an equivalence that imprints the time of labor with the historical character of racial value and imprints the relations amongst producers and consumers with the stereotypical character of an essential truth. But why are people inclined to give stereotypical speech social validity as objective truth? Fanon's answer is both semiotic and psychopolitical. Anyone with any experience of the terrors and anxieties of dif erence can be seduced by the language of stereotypes, which of ers both the rule by which others are to be judged and the promise of rule by which the alien and unknown can be made representable and so ruled over; indeed, to the extent that a person knows that everything summed up and judged in this way is imaginary [here, we can think of Matt's full awareness of his quest for romance being adjudicated on reality TV, that is through national narrative–language.], this does not prevent him or her from believing in the stereotypical truth of certain representations ["true love"], and precisely because they offer the pleasure of both producing and knowing difference as such [fatherly infidelity], and regardless of whether this "knowledge" is a mystification or a secret [blackness's phantasmatic father]. The racial stereotype [paternal absence] seduces not because it defends a secret [a racially present un-paternal past], but because it represents, in fantasized form, the power of a disavowed sameness [Matt's future of infidelity], whose image is indif erent to the contradictions of ered it by experience and social reality [Matt as, in existential fact, not "only" black and therefore not entirely beholden, or so it would seem, to its immoral compulsions]" (144-145; emphasis added).
19 No familial relation to Joy James.
20 McHugh, Erin. "'The Bachelor' Names Matt James as Show's First Black Bachelor." abc10.Com, KXTV, 12 June 2020.
21 James, Matt. First Impressions: Of Screen Conversations with a Bachelor on Race, Family, and Forgiveness. Worthy Pub, 2023. emphasis added.
22 Although I agree with neither Mbeme's current political affiliations nor the grammar of African-as-intramural responsibilization; what I glean from him here is how what he calls African stylizations of self are facilitated and confounded by the "sacrificial dimensions of war" that, wielding and risking sovereign power, opens out on "zones of indistinction" marked by what violence does to memory (temporality) and/as the object of desire in the colony: autonomous black subjectivity, nation-based liberation, decolonial futurity. For Mbembe gratuitous "post"-colonial violence determines the collective African imaginaire in which practices of the self are emergent. In this way, Mbembe makes clear that mutilation and mass murder manumits African self-fashioning as such; contrary to the respectively instrumentalist and nativist assessments of pan-african marxism and post-structuralist cultural studies, which would either accord such practices of the self to class resistance or a deconstructed indigeneity. I interpret this to mean that the colonial ecology of violence leaves absolutely incorrigible (divine violence) or fundamentally incomplete (interminable abolition) any coherent account of slavery, colonization, or apartheid with which pan-africanism or poststructuralism wishes to work so to theorize resistance. An account of colonial conditions, that is, as it were, either total or impossible would be one whereby colonisé would operationalize sovereign violence as its racial non-identity–that is, as something other than its own wretchedness or colonial birthright—sovereign violence, afterall, being lactifying as much as it is lytic, if we follow Fanon. The at once deracinating and petrifying results of colonial violence, which precludes proper historicization and, thereby, any sound/decolonial subjectivization (disalienation) constitutes a kind of daily derangement of black speech and identity insofar as the practices of a sovereign selfhood, the autonomous poetics of the self, are endlessly undone by the colonial subject's very enactment of them since the signs and symbols of sovereignty that would be the revolutionary subject's historical yield or political horizon remain violently entrenched in the national-cultural or world-historical interdiction of the self that preconditions its colonial status and racial self-recognition; see: Mbembe, Achillee. "African Modes of Self-Writing." Public Culture, 1 January 2002; 14 (1): 239–273; Karera, Axelle. "Writing Africa into the World and Writing the World from Africa:" Critical Philosophy of Race, vol. 1, no. 2, 2013, pp. 228–241.
23 On black romance writers, see: Hendricks, Margo. "Black Romance: Past, Present, and Future." YouTube, Center for Black Diaspora, DePaul University, 28 Sept. 2021.
24 Marriott, David S. "Ontology and Lalangue (or, Blackness and Language)." Critical Philosophy of Race, vol. 10, no. 2, 2022, pp. 220–247.
25 Wilderson, Frank B. Red, White & Black Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms. Duke University Press, 2010, p. 26.
26 James, Matt. First Impressions: Of Screen Conversations with a Bachelor on Race, Family, and Forgiveness. Worthy Pub, 2023.
27 Narcissism is being used in a strictly psychoanalytic sense here. See: Wilderson, Frank B. "The Narcissistic Slave." Red, White & Black Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms. Duke University Press, 2010, pp. 54–93; Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: the Ego in Freud's Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis, 1954-1955. Translated by Jacques-Alain Miller, W.W. Norton & Company, 1991.
28 "Matt James Breaks down after Confronting His Dad about Being Absent." Entertainment Tonight, Entertainment Tonight, 10 Mar. 2021.
29 Spillers, Hortense J. "Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: An American Grammar Book." Diacritics, vol. 17, no. 2, 1987, p. 80, (emphasis added).
30 "Reprieve (v.)." Etymology, https://www.etymonline.com/word/reprieve#etymonline_v_47936.
33 Spillers, Hortense J. "Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: An American Grammar Book." Diacritics, vol. 17, no. 2, 1987, p. 80.
34 Hartman, Saidiya. Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-making in Nineteenth-Century America. Oxford University Press, 1997.
35 Idowu, Emanuel Bolaji. Olódùmarè: God in Yoruba Belief. African Tree Press, 1999; on the many names of the Father, see: Lacan, Jacques. On the Names-of-the-Father, translated by Bruce Fink, Polity Press, 2013.
36 This formulation of striking a deal is indebted to Rei Terada; see: Terada, Rei. "Looking at the Stars Forever." Studies in Romanticism, vol. 50, no. 2, 2011, pp. 275–309.
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