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Dissociative States: The Metaphysics of Blackness and the Psychic Afterlife of Slavery


This manuscript is an attempt to attend to the dead and dying, to Black people who are always already socially dead and living out their dying alone—whether on or off camera—in the US and Africa. I question the libidinal demands placed on Black cultural producers, revolutionary figures, and Black folks who simply want to ‘be’— which is to say, Black bodies turned to flesh—as I ask, what fantasies must be harnessed to obscure racial violence into narratives of possibility, of redemption?

Dissociative States: The Metaphysics of Blackness and the Psychic Afterlife of Slavery elaborates what I call a metaphysics of Blackness: a psychic, ontological, and political architecture marked by what I’ve termed temporal aphasia and onto-thanatology. Enumerated by the Black female body as its nodal point, the metaphysics of Blackness reveals an ontology catalyzed by violence as its sole cohering agent. For to speak of the psyche—and the psychic afterlife of slavery, in particular—is to speak of metaphysics. And to speak of the metaphysics of Blackness is to broach the mining of the Black psyche and the location of Blackness within metaphysics as psychoanalysis.

In pursuit of such reading, I break radically from the scholarly tradition of theorists of Black life, as well as comparative scholarship on Africa and its diaspora, to argue that ontological death comprises the metaphysics of Blackness. Tracing a raced psychic plane engendered by the trans-Atlantic slave trade, I demonstrate the inadequacy of a comparative analysis to account for the continuum of psychic violence imposed by racial slavery upon African descended people. Rather than the cultural continuity experienced through social practices, performative gestures, or racial identification, I contend that a rupture in the fabric of speech, comprehension, and thus, figuration suspends Blackness in general and the Black female imago in particular within a series of dissociative states. Through an exploration of the relationship between Blackness and ontological death, my manuscript reflects the (im)possible project of elaborating agential possibility when the evidence betrays the contrary—Black (non)ontology as a site of irremediable absence.

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