Winner of the the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Legacy Award, activist, critical theorist, and UCI Professor Frank B. Wilderson III's AFROPESSIMISM, a work of philosophy pitched in the tradition of Fanon and Gramsci, weaving theory with memoir to define the core ideas of a new movement demonstrating that the social constructs of slavery are an ineradicable—even necessary—part of the everyday dynamic of white-black relations, perpetuated in ubiquitous forms of anti-black violence and racial hatred.
Afropessimism & the Ruse of Analogy is the definitive book on Afropessimism, a stunning social theory by prominent award-winning Afro-American scholar Frank Wilderson III on anti-blackness and the irreconcilability of certain experiences in the lives of black people. Afropessimism is a lens of interpretation, a way of analyzing and understanding social phenomena, much like Marxism, feminism, or postcolonial studies. It shares certain affinities with Marxism, radical feminism, postcolonial studies, and radical LGBT theory in that the desire foundational to its inquiry is decidedly revolutionary and not reformist. With the narrative drive of a captivating novel, the immanent critique of critical theory at its best, and a bone-deep commitment to Black liberation, Afropessimism and the Ruse of Analogy illustrates how Black death, both real and symbolic, is necessary for the material and psychic life of the Human species. Few writers have the courage to set fire to the world while soaked in kerosene. Frank B. Wilderson III is one of them. Here is the match.
Afropessimism and the Ruse of Analogy: Violence, Freedom Struggles, and the Death of Black Desire sets forth simply the clearest explanation of the paradigm and experience of Black suffering; how anti-Black violence is not an ensemble of discriminatory acts that can be legislated away, but a series of ongoing rituals both real and fantasized that reproduce the social relations of slavery—relations that most people believe to be a thing of the past rather than the modern day foundation of our civic life. Wilderson offers lucid explanations of key Afropessimist concepts, without over-simplifying or recourse to Afropessimism-Lite. This is not a book for the faint of heart or the overly optimistic devotees of hope and reconciliation. Some readers will experience Afropessimism and the Ruse of Analogy as a high wire act between rage and paranoia. The argument that anti-Black violence is more essential to Human relations than economics, and that kinship, as a generic ensemble of relations, can only be coherent with the aid of violence against Black people will strike some as echoes from the lunatic fringe. Then there are those who will welcome this book as a rare breath of sanity. This is an exciting and controversial subject. Wilderson handles it with aplomb.
About the Author:
In 2010, Duke University Press published Frank Wilderson’s monograph on cinema, politics, and race: Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms. Wilderson’s poetry, creative prose, critical, and film production (Reparations…Now) are predicated on the notion that slavery did not end in 1865; the United States simply made adjustments to the force of Black resistance without diminishing the centrality of Black captivity to the stability and coherence of civil society. This assumptive logic has helped catalyze a new school of thought in the academy and beyond, called Afro-Pessimism.
Wilderson lectures widely in the U.S. as well as Europe and South Africa on race and activism, visual culture and political antagonisms, ethics and artistic practice, and the political stakes of Afro-Pessimism. A prolific and versatile writer, Frank B. Wilderson, III has received numerous writing awards, including The American Book Award 2008; The Eisner Prize for Creative Achievement of the Highest Order; The National Foundation for the Arts Fellowship: Literature; The Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Legacy Award: Creative Nonfiction; The Crothers Short Story Award’ The Judith Stronach Award for Poetry; The Jerome Foundation Artists and Writers Award; The Loft-McKnight Award for Best Prose in the State of Minnesota; The Maya Angelou Award for Best Fiction Portraying the Black Experience in America. His fiction and creative prose, as well as his critical and scholarly work, have been published internationally. In commentary for a book blurb for Incognegro Ishmael Reed called Frank Wilderson’s work “an important contribution to the African and African American canons and a rare American work that bridges two cultures [Black American and Black South African].”
Dr. Wilderson holds an A.B. from Dartmouth College in European Philosophy and Comparative Government; an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University, where he was simultaneously enrolled in Edward Said and Jean Franco’s Cultural Studies Program—consisting of a yearlong, weekly theory seminar, conducted by Edward Said and Jean Franco with 25 handpicked graduate students from across the university(though this is reflected in his transcript and not on his diploma because he was two of 25 students whom Said allowed to participate though they were not in Comp Lit.). The Project was modeled on the research and theoretical concerns of Adorno, Marcuse and the Frankfurt School, the emancipatory urgency of Frantz Fanon and the questions of exile and secular interpretation which the literature of Jean Genet, and criticism of Edward Said, gesture toward. He also received an MA and Ph.D. from the Rhetoric Department, Film Studies Program at UC Berkeley.
His film Reparations…Now is a critical documentary that captures the terror of unnamable loss imposed upon Blacks by the legacy of slavery. His work in digital film, literature, and cultural theory cross-pollinate each other with two ontological points: (1) that accumulation and fungibility, as opposed to work, are the constituent elements of slavery and (2) Black accumulation and fungibility is contemporary, paradigmatic, and essential to the life of the civil society
Today, Dr. Wilderson is a Professor of African American Studies at the University of California, Irvine. He is also the Director of the Culture & Theory PhD Program at UCI.
Outside of academia, Wilderson’s work is viewed as “must-read” material among activists and organizers both within and beyond the black community, particularly but not limited to the Black Lives Matter movement. As revolutionary as Afropessimism’s theoretical framework may be, however, both the trade market and media seem primed to receive it widely. In a time when police shootings of black Americans have become a staple of 24-hour news cycles, the Movement for Black Lives, Standing Rock, and #MeToo have captured the imagination of the world, African refugees are drowning and facing enslavement to reach Europe, online discourse reflects a bitterly divided national psyche and body politic, domestic terrorism is provoking the US President to consider the fine people “on both sides,” and the parallels between Flint, Michigan, and the Gaza Strip are regularly remarked on social media and even the most mainstream media outlets, answers are being demanded and importantly, questions are being formulated ahead of pro-DACA, pro-women, and pro-impeachment rallies: How did this happen, and why? In an atmosphere saturated by a sensibility that can easily be described as apocalyptic, the nation seems to be calling forth its most provocative theorists and commentators to diagnose its malady and with nerves of steel. Afropessimism, thanks in part to its theory’s controversial reception in academic and political circles, seems poised to enter this climate with a ferocious yet refreshingly clear-eyed assessment that will capture the attention of mainstream media, general readers bemoaning (or even in some cases celebrating, as we saw with Richard Spencer’s entering the Coates/West debate—only one example of many demonstrating how closely the radical right attends to theoretical work emerging from the left) the Trump administration, and most definitely the Twitterverse. The stars seem to be aligning…