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On Alfred Frankowski’s Postracial limits…

November 18, 2017 Leave a comment

Here is the text of the talk I gave today at the American Society for Aesthetics’ book session on Al Frankowski’s The Post-Racial Limits of Memorialization: Toward a Political Sense of Mourning

Before offering a commentary on Alfred Frankowski’s sublimely monumental book, The Post-Racial Limits of Memorialization: Toward a Political Sense of Mourning, let me first share my reading of it by taking up the key elements of its title. I will then offer a Freudian account of the melancholic aspects of the very memorial culture that Frankowski describes without ever using the word melancholia.

Post-Racial

The term post-racial occurs throughout the book as a modifier for all manner of matters: post-racial discourse, post-racial politics, post-racial society, post-racial violence, post-racial memorialization, and post-racial memory; yet it is never taken at face value. Rather, in every use of the term, Frankowski sets it in italics. While he does not comment upon the typography, the meaning becomes clear: post-raciality is not a fact but a trope, one used to hide the reality of ongoing racism, a trope that attempts to erase what needs to be remembered. Its use always marks a contradiction: “The contradictions of post-raciality are clear,” Frankowski writes, “the bodies of the racialized are prefigured in their exploitation and create the material symbols that hold up a society that appears to be post-race and yet are politically thoroughly racist” (9). The effect of this contradiction is material, it leads to “a transition of meaning, in which violence is learned, adapted to, and framed out of thought both in terms of what counts as knowledge and whose lives count as world-historical” (9).

Post-racial discourse,” he writes, “is always already implied within the ways we represent oppression and implicit in how we perceive and come to know both the oppression of the past and the oppression of the present” (107). Usually this is by way of depicting past oppression as over and reconciled and by neglecting ongoing phenomena of oppression. The past is neatly relegated, the present context neglected.

Limits of Memorialization

Whenever memorials, however well-meaning, are erected in an attempt to reconcile with the past, to announce that things are better now, to provide closure, Read more…

Deliberation and the Work of Mourning

I’ll be giving a talk in May 2016 in Prague on the following themes.

There are many languages of reason, but perhaps the most powerful and insidious one is the unconscious logic that emerges during political, ethnic, and religious conflict. What may at first seem madness, is, if looked at with the right lens, a very cool calculus of justice aimed at righting past wrongs — no matter how out of scale the “solution.” The unconscious is not mad. It keeps careful tally. It never forgets insults, injuries, traumas, or wrongs. It waits for its moment to set matters straight. And the unconscious of a people traumatized and bereft will bide its time for centuries, if need be, waiting for an opportunity to set matters right. Consider what lay behind the shot that set off World War I: six hundred years of grievance and political melancholia. Psychoanalytic hermeneutics can help make sense of the effects of political traumas. Might it also help people work through them? With his all-too-vague notion of “working through,” which shows up in dream work and the work of mourning, Freud thought he found an antidote to traumatic remembering and repetition, a process that could calm and bind the psychical excitations that trouble the organism. Considering a political body of restless people haunted by past traumas and injustice, what kind of Arbeit can help political communities deal with buried traumas and insults before they explode in vengeance? Without some kind of work, politics becomes an enactment of fantasied, unrealistic expectations; demonic projections; and persecutory anxieties. In this paper I draw on and move beyond Freud’s model toward a post-Kleinian one that can be tethered to the political process of public deliberation. In my account, political deliberation is not just a process of reason giving and consideration, which many political philosophers think it is, but an affective process that helps people work through fantasies of denial, splitting. and revenge and toward a position that can tolerate loss, ambiguity, and uncertainty, that is, the human condition.