Sociogeny and Biology (pt 2)

12Nov20

Wynter’s various essays (often touching on Fanon and Cesaire among others) makes a case that the stage of human life that we still have not properly understood is that of the human as narrative and as a narrative making being. This follows from Cesaire’s science of the word. She concludes her essay on the sociogenic principle via Cesaire:

“It is such a new science that Fanon’s fellow Martinican, the
Negritude poet, essayist, and political activist, Aime Cesaire, coming
from the same lived experience of being both Man and its liminal
Other, had called for in 1946. In a conference paper, delivered that
year entitled Poetry and Knowledge, Cesaire, after pointing out that
the natural sciences, for all their triumphs with respect to the kind of
knowledge able to make the natural worlds predictable, had
nevertheless remained “half-starved” because of their inability to
make our human worlds intelligible, then proposed that, in the same
way as the “new Cartesian algebra had permitted the construction of
theoretical physics,” so too “the word promises to be an algebraic
equation that makes the world intelligible,” one able to provide us
with the basis of a new “theoretical and heedless science that poetry
could already give an approximate notion of.” A science, therefore,
in which the “study of words” would come to condition “the study
of nature” (Cesaire, 1946/1990: xxix).

And yet after immediately after this paragraph Wynter discusses Cesaire’s work in relation to the theoretical dreams of thinkers such as Chalmer’s search for psychophysical laws and Nagel’s objective phenomenology (both are also quoted alongside Fanon at the opening of the essay). All three thinkers as Wynter places them are interested in generalizing conscious experience in a mix of scientific, historical, and philosophical claims. But it is not clear in Wynter’s text which of these take the lead or forms the ground of her human as narrative being or human being as praxis. Wynter seems interested in the co-implication of epistemology and history in terms of certain groups being overrepresented as universal.

This of course is going to pull Fanon between phenomenology and existentialism, between the humanism of his earlier work and the decolonial edge of his later work. This all pervade any attempt at talking about the sociogenic – the generation of social causes and how they can be grasped in a world that is simultaneously colonial, postcolonial, and decolonial. The following from a recent piece by Paul Gilroy points to this:

“Those of us committed to the multidisciplinary study of culture as a primary object of our research, as well as a methodological key to analyses of the interplay of power, language, performance and context, can contribute to interpretation of the nascent forms of this “psycho-politics”. Our attachment to culture points away from the autonomy of race as a category and towards its sedimentation or embeddedness in evolving historical and material conditions. In other words, it underscores the irreducible specificity of cultural life and communication.

Culture is articulated with economic and political structures and flows but they do not determine it. Historical approaches to cultural matters can also foster a distinctive epistemological orientation. Racial difference is not produced by nature, yielding variations that can be misrecognized and thereby transformed into the rational substance of racial hierarchy. Instead, races are assembled, conjured into being, by the–usually violent–workings of racism. Thus races are summoned and animated as political and economic actors.”

Gilroy names and discusses Wynter and Fanon though focuses much of the essay on Du Bois. Similar to his approach in Postcolonial Melancholia Gilroy says the humanities have to be reimagined not abandoned and he often notes how naive this may sound in the current political moment. But he qualifies this account with an argument for a low theory approach on the one hand and challenges, like Wynter, the biocentric models which have come to dominate how thinking about race is a reactive discourse and no longer looks at the the forms of racial discourse changed not only because of colonialism but also post-WW2.

Here we might see a different take on how certain types of histories and speculative fictions operate to over-represent or mythologize (the difference between this is important) the aspects of history we wish to entertain. There is a course a difference between speculative fictions which extend history in order to inflate its importance or strangeness and that which is highlights a forgotten history. The deployment of Drexciya – of the fantastical world that emerged from the children of drowned slaves of course, no matter how hyperfictional, is built upon an all too forgotten history – that of the Zong massacre or the whole bloody enterprise of the middle passage.

This seems quite different (obviously in content but also in function) from the phenomena of ‘stupid jetpack hitler’ where the technological experiments of the nazis lead to stories about nazis on the moon, or all the variants of supersoldiers or clones hiding out in Argentina and so on. While they could be arguably seen to remind us of the horrors of the nazis the speculative element seems to obscure this. Obviously the political and ethical ramifications are vastly different so the question is what are the ethical implications of those modes of world building when posited against one another? If the former posed to critique the latter?

It could be argued that the technological or sci-fi treatment of the nazi legacy serves as a conveint way of critiquing the dangers of science broadly when unchecked by ethics as well as reminding us of how the efforts of nazi scientists benefited the US and other countries after the war. Of course this can also suggest that ethical considerations limit scientific progress and this serves to overlook how much nazi science was bad or pseudo science.

With Drexciya or black quantum futurism the speculative explorations of neglected history point out how are understanding of science fiction is still far too western which is evident with how much is extracted from the nazi program for instance. Other indigenous or minoritarian speculations also serve to show that there was nothing special about the nazi program – that dehumanization had long been a norm of western expansion.

In his Discourse on Colonialism Cesaire talks about the poet Lautreamont’s famous Maldoror:

“[…] I believe that the day will come when, with all the elements gathered together, all the sources analyzed, all the circumstances of the work elucidated, it will be possible to give the Chants de Maldoror a materialistic and historical interpretation which will bring to light an altogether unrecognized aspect of this frenzied epic, its implacable denunciation of a very particular form of society, as it could not escape the sharpest eyes around the year 1865. Before that, of course, we will have had to clear away the occultist and metaphysical commentaries that obscure the path; to re-establish the importance of certain neglected stanzas-for example, that strangest passage of all, the one concerning the mine of lice, in which we will consent to see nothing more or less than the denunciation of the evil power of gold and the hoarding up of money; to restore Then it will be understood, will it not, that the enemy whom Lautreamont has made the enemy, the cannibalistic, brain-devouring “Creator,” the sadist perched on “a throne made of human excrement and gold,” the hypocrite, the debauchee, the idler who “eats the bread of others” and who from time to time is found dead drunk, “drunk as a bedbug that has swallowed three barrels of blood during the night,” it will be understood that it is not beyond the clouds that one must look for that creator, but that we are more likely to find him in Desfosses’s business directory and on some comfortable executive board! But let that be. The moralists can do nothing about it. Whether one likes it or not, the bourgeoisie, as a class, is condemned to take responsibility for all the barbarism of history, the tortures of the Middle Ages and the Inquisition, warmongering and the appeal to the raison d’Etat, racism and slavery, in short everything against which it protested in unforgettable terms at the time when, as the attacking class, it was the incarnation of human progress.”

In part Cesaire is asking after how internal critique is possible without being seen as simply mad or merely speculation or as an aberration. For many years we have seen the attempt to diversify sci-fi met with the claim that there is an attempt to overtly politicize it – as if it were not political before. The question of the shift of what makes the stories seem apolitical is often about the previous whiteness of the cast and the assumption that the battle of good and evil has nothing to do with politics. This seems also to infect stupid jetpack nazis – their inhuman evil seems to be a singularity that expands infinitely into the future. As Cesaire argued Hitler was more of a norm than anyone ever wanted to admit.

It is also worrisome to think that this bloated overdetermination of the nazi figure serves as a roadblock to anyone taking the comparison of any contemporary fascism to them seriously. Similarily, and as Cesaire himself states, it continues to be a problem if the notion of the human as western ‘Man’ (in Wynter’s sense) determines the position of all science as such.



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