A Twoness of Spirit

Michael Kennedy, leading one class tomorrow writes,

A Twoness of Spirit

“The Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight, in this American world, a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness, – an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.” (pg. 3)

Imitation of Life pursues this idea of a twoness, making tangible the struggle that many African Americans had to accept as part of their life, a damnation by the color of their skin. While the “twoness” that Du Bois explains is the dichotomy between skin color and citizenship, Imitation of Life constructs a twoness between race and skin color. One of the main characters, Sarah Jane is born of mixed race, having had a white father and a colored mother. When we are introduced to her as a character, we realize she hardly, physically, seems African American at all, having inherited most of her father’s traits and skin color. This leads to Sarah Jane attempting to “hide” her African American heritage from society, as well as the nature of her mother. Sarah Jane ostracizes her mother throughout the story, attempting to eradicate any traces of “African American” history from her life. What we are left with at the end of this film is the idea of regret from Sarah Jane; a wish that she had accepted and loved what was most close to her rather than reject her true nature.

            What this film does is put into perspective the idea of race and what each person has to offer as an individual with their own talents and insights. As Du Bois writes, “He would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows the Negro blood has a message for the world.” (pg. 3) This idea of “Americanization” is an important one that begs to be addressed throughout the film, Imitation of Life as well as Du Bois’s work, The Souls of Black Folk. What we realize as the problem is the attempt to “Americanize” African Americans, a failed attempt to bleach un-bleachable skin and brainwash thoughts into becoming something they aren’t. Sarah Jane metaphorically represents this idea of “Americanization” from the pigmentation of her skin and the attempted assimilation into “white” life and culture. She is rejected or “found out” during each attempt to “fit in”.

            “This, then, is the end of his/her strivings: to be a co-worker in the kingdom of culture, to escape both death and isolation, to husband and use his/her best powers and his latent genius.” (pg. 3) The goal is not to fit in when it comes to the world and its inhabitants. The goal as Du Bois so eloquently states, is to contribute to life as we know it and be a “productive” member of society, a term that is flexible in relation to what the individual deems as “productive” and “society”. How each person is to be productive is subjective, as it depends on that certain person’s background, talents, skills, and culture. As Du Bois alluded to, “Negro blood has a message for the world.” We all have our own talents and beliefs. When the world stops trying to quell the nature of specific culture, when we can accept people as they are and the cultures that comes from them and when people can truly accept themselves as a people and race, perhaps that “latent genius” that Du Bois references will shine through even brighter and a greater age will dawn. Until then, we can only learn from our past mistakes. 

What do you think?


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All The Lonely Places

Visp Bus Station, Wallis, Switzerland


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The Empty City

Timothy Morton mentions on his blog this emerging novel called The Empty City by the Norwegian speculative fiction writer, Berit Ellingsen. Essentially an existentialist story of a man who opens to an already opened world, The Empty City is, according to Ellingsen “a story of non-dualities.”

Recent chapters start at 39 but you can back up a bit if you still find yourself linear…

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Levi Bryant’s The Democracy of Objects




I am very excited for Levi Bryant’s The Democracy of Objects which is forthcoming from Open Humanities Press. Here, Bryant discusses his motivations in Democracy and how it is different from Difference and Givenness, his previous book. For Bryant, Difference is a “graduate student” text, a book in where he tried to “police” the world of Deleuzians and correct misinterpretations. Kindly, Bryant claims for The Democracy of Objects a “workbook” status, something filled with arrows from which others can work from. A thousand directions, a thousand suns.

I can’t wait!

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The Adjacent Possible(s)

The adjacent possible is a kind of shadow future, hovering on the edges of the present state of things, a map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself.. Yet it is not an infinite space, or a totally open playing field. The number of potential first-order reactions is vast, but it is a finite number, and it excludes most of the forms that now populate the biosphere. What the adjacent possible tells us is that at any moment the world is capable of extraordinary change, but only certain changes can happen.

Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From

Steven Johnson locates an impetus to creativity in his new book, Where Good Ideas Come From,  in the lacunal spacebetween thinking, between the concrete. His premise is that good ideas never come in discrete packages “shipped direct from the factory” but rather are cobbled together from a history of detritus and the forgotten. Johnson writes that we “take the ideas we’ve inherited or that we’ve stumbled across, and we jigger them together into some new shape.” This is the “adjacent possible,” that space of no space which acts as a shadow to new thought, and which shelters, or incubates, ideas whose time has not quite yet come.

While Johnson is describing a scientific process (which he uses as a metaphor for the social) Heidegger also summons forth a form of the “adjacent possible” (though in not so clear language) when he describes, in What Is Called Thinking?being caught in the “draft” of a thinking which withdraws, and that it is in this moment of surrender that thinking is able to begin thinking. Heidegger writes that “what withdraws from us draws us along by its very withdrawal, whether or not we become aware of it immediately, or at all.” It is by being pulled forward that the being of language actually engages, and that “‘this being in the draft of’ is in itself an essential and therefore constant pointing towards what withdraws.”

DeBeauvoir, in her essay The Ethics of Ambiguity, again calls attention to the liberating necessity of “unhinged” thought, of the creative absolute (which is never an absolute.) Science, she writes, “condemns itself to failure when, yielding to the infatuation of the serious, it aspires to attain being, to contain it, and to posses it; but it finds its truth if it considers itself as free engagement of thought in the given, aiming, at each discovery, bot at the fusion with the thing, but at the possibilities of new discoveries.”

These three thinkers, separated by half centuries and radically different positions in life, all echo a similar thought; that there is a necessity for thought to remain open, to be constantly torn loose from what is know. It is only in this way that we can begin to think. It is a plea for the irresponsible, for the reckless. In an age of certainty and absolutes, of Fukuyamaian non-history,  of known truths and unknown truths (which are even then known) it is the thinking of the non-concrete, of the fluid and flux-filled that points, through a non-pointing withdrawal, a way forward.


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The Difficulty of Naming: On Martin Heidegger

I will be speaking at the University of Maine on Thursday, 2 December in the Maples building as part of their Philosopher’s Colloquim series. This is open to the public.

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Julian Assange and the Computer Conspiracy; “To destroy this invisible government” (via zunguzungu)

“To radically shift regime behavior we must think clearly and boldly for if we have learned anything, it is that regimes do not want to be changed. We must think beyond those who have gone before us, and discover technological changes that embolden us with ways to act in which our forebears could not. Firstly we must understand what aspect of government or neocorporatist behavior we wish to change or remove. Secondly we must develop a way of thin … Read More

via zunguzungu

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