Symposium Introduction

Panelists

Vincent Lloyd

Neda Atanasoski

Charlene Sinclair

Kalindi Vora

Calvin Warren

 

Overview

In Critique of Black Reason eminent critic Achille Mbembe offers a capacious genealogy of the category of Blackness—from the Atlantic slave trade to the present—to critically reevaluate history, racism, and the future of humanity. Mbembe teases out the intellectual consequences of the reality that Europe is no longer the world’s center of gravity while mapping the relations among colonialism, slavery, and contemporary financial and extractive capital. Tracing the conjunction of Blackness with the biological fiction of race, he theorizes Black reason as the collection of discourses and practices that equated Blackness with the nonhuman in order to uphold forms of oppression. Mbembe powerfully argues that this equation of Blackness with the nonhuman will serve as the template for all new forms of exclusion. With Critique of Black Reason, Mbembe offers nothing less than a map of the world as it has been constituted through colonialism and racial thinking while providing the first glimpses of a more just future.

 

“With Critique of Black Reason, Achille Mbembe reaffirms his position as one of the most original and significant thinkers of our times working out of Francophone traditions of anti-imperial and postcolonial criticism. His voyages in this book through a painstakingly assembled archive of empire, race, slavery, blackness, and liberation—an archive that Mbembe both reconfigures and interrogates at the same time—produce profound moments of reflection on the origin and nature of modernity and its mutations in the contemporary phase of global capital. A tour de force that will renew debates on capital, race, and freedom in today’s world.” — Dipesh Chakrabarty

“Achille Mbembe speaks authoritatively for black life, addressing the whole world in an increasingly distinctive tone of voice. This long-anticipated book resounds with the embattled, southern predicament from which its precious shards of wisdom originate. There is nothing provincial about the philosopher’s history it articulates. Mbembe sketches the entangled genealogies of racism and black thought on their worldly travels from the barracoons and the slave ships, through countless insurgencies, into the vexed mechanisms of decolonization and then beyond them, into our own bleak and desperate circumstances.” — Paul Gilroy

“Achille Mbembe has placed the discourse of ‘Africa’ squarely in the center of both postmodernism and continental philosophy. Every page of this signifying riff on Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason is a delight to read. African philosophy is currently enjoying a renaissance, and Mbembe is to its continental pole what Kwame Anthony Appiah is to its analytical pole. Every student of postmodernist theory should read this book.” — Henry Louis Gates, Jr

“A captivating and simultaneously vexing mixture of historical lecture and political-philosophical manifesto.” — Andreas Eckert, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

“A very demanding yet incredibly powerful book.” — Augsburger Allgemeine

“Achille Mbembe’s Critique de la Raison Nègre . . . [is] a book that you want to shout about from the rooftops, so that all your colleagues and friends will read it. My copy, only a few months old, is stuffed with paper markers at many intervals, suggesting the richness of analysis and description on nearly every page. . . . This is certainly one of the outstanding intellectual contributions to studies of empire, colonialism, racism, and human liberation in the last decade, perhaps decades. . . . A brilliant book.” — Elaine Coburn, Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society

“Achille Mbembe is one of the paradoxical optimists who predict the worst without ever losing their faith in the future. . . . Admittedly, slavery has been abolished and colonialism is a thing of the past. But today new forms of alienation have arisen, the Other continues to be stigmatized, and the monster of capitalism reaches for its dream of an limitless horizon. An inevitability? Not necessarily, shoots back this thinker, who invites us to reimagine the geography of the world.” — Maria Malagardis, Libération

“A lucid, thoughtful and sometimes poetic work, with phrases you want to underline on every page. Mbembe is a voice that needs to be heard, in the current discussion about racism and immigration in Europe.” — Peter Vermaas, NRC Handelsblad

“For me the most important African thinker today, Achille Mbembe has published the Critique of Black Reason. A very great book, encompassing the perspectives of the African continent as well as the political challenges facing the whole world.” — Jean-Marie Durand, Les inrockuptibles

“Achille Mbembe has returned with a work that will surely prove provocative: Critique of Black Reason. This nod to Kant’s philosophic classic is, however, devilishly well-chosen since this work speaks to the never-ending tendency to place Europe at the world’s ‘center of gravity.’ Achille Mbembe . . . fights against established ideas and lazy thinking.” — Am Magazine

“[I]ncontrovertible reading on the complex dynamic between race and belonging in twenty-first century societies. Though global in reach, the work is primarily infused with insightful analysis and perspectives on the United States, South Africa, and France, spaces in which the historical legacies of slavery, apartheid, and colonialism remain of pertinence to this day, while also being locations in and from which, the author himself has gained particular familiarity as integral components of his intellectual journey and trajectory. . . . [B]rilliant and pioneering. . . .” — Dominic Thomas, Europe Now

 

Achille Mbembe is Research Professor in History and Politics at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. He is coeditor of Johannesburg: The Elusive Metropolis, also published by Duke University Press, and the author of On the Postcolony as well as several books in French.

Laurent Dubois (translator) is Marcello Lotti Professor of Romance Studies and History and Director of the Forum for Scholars and Publics at Duke University.

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