Extravagant Abjection: Blackness, Power, and Sexuality in the African American Literary Imagination

By Darieck Scott | Go to book overview

2
“A Race That Could Be So Dealt With”
Terror, Time, and (Black) Power

The Black Male Body Abject

The figure of the Negro, Fanon says, is “woven … out of a thousand details, anecdotes, stories.”1 Blackness is lived, but it is a representation. Even if, as we believe, all identities and subjectivities are falsities of this sort, imagos as hollow as old bones that language or father or the forces of economic production generate, blackness is a representation of rather recent historical vintage, unlike far older and presumably transcultural representations such as “woman.” The historical proximity of its provenance makes tangible to us, visible, the operation of sociogenesis by which all of our human world comes into being. If blackness functions as the dark distorted mirror of the (thus whitened) Western self, reflecting its fears and obsessions concerning the body, sexuality, and mortality, then that blackness exists and that it is possible to historicize it mirrors for us the process by which the terms of self and socius have been constructed. In this way we can read blackness as a patchwork of narratives condensed on the skin of the blackened and referenced in the images ascribed to them, an articulation of meaning to image, the circulation of which occurs in the symbolic, a realm both collective (as all that we might call culture) and idiosyncratic (as what we deem the individual unconscious). What emerges most forcefully from Fanon’s ruminations in Black Skin, White Masks is the idea that blackness is an artifact of the symbolic, one of the clever deceptions of language as it attempts to give substance to the void that it is and as it vainly attempts to impose order on the riotously excessive world with which it is confronted.

Like all language, then, blackness is code. And as with all language, this encoding can by its proliferating processes of abstraction and association virally replicate itself; it generates more encoded language—and thus more knowledge, more of a something which it codes—otherwise unavailable. Artistry that makes language its primary medium of creation explores and exploits language’s essential coding: it does so through

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