Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S.

Chapter T!o
The 'arcissistic Sla(e
A Culture of Politics
In the Introdu&tion and the pre&eding &hapter, we ha1e seen how the aporia
between Bla&k being and politi&al ontology has e3isted sin&e rab and 5uropean
ensla1ement o! !ri&ans, and how the need to &ra!t an ensemble o! Guestions through
whi&h to arri1e at an un!lin&hing paradigmati& analysis o! politi&al ontology is repeatedly
thwarted in its attempts to !ind a language that &an e3press the 1iolen&e o! sla$e/making,
a 1iolen&e that is both stru&tural and per!ormati1e. >umanist dis&ourse, the dis&ourse
whose epistemologi&al ma&hinations pro1ide our &on&eptual !rameworks !or thinking
politi&al ontology, is di1erse and &ontrary. But !or all its di1ersity and &ontrariness it is
sutured by an impli&it rhetori&al &onsensus that 1iolen&e a&&rues to the >uman body as a
result o! transgressions, whether real or imagined, within the 2ymboli& *rder. +hat is to
say, >umanist dis&ourse &an only think a sub"e&t:s relation to 1iolen&e as a &ontingen&y
and not as a matri3 that positions the sub"e&t. @ut another way, >umanism has no theory
o! the sla1e be&ause it imagines a sub"e&t who has been either alienated in language
BLa&anC andHor alienated !rom hisHher &artographi& and temporal &apa&ities B/ar3C. It
&annot imagine an ob"e&t who has been positioned by gratuitous 1iolen&e and who has no
&artographi& and temporal &apa&ities to lose?a sentient being !or whom re&ognition and
in&orporation is impossible. In short, politi&al ontology, as imagined through >umanism,
&an only produ&e dis&ourse that has as its !oundation alienation and e3ploitation as a
grammar o! su!!ering, when what is needed B!or the Bla&k, who is always already a sla1eC
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
is an ensemble o! ontologi&al Guestions that has as its !oundation a&&umulation and
!ungibility as a grammar o! su!!ering B>artmanC.
+he 1iolen&e o! the /iddle @assage and the sla1e estate B2pillersC, te&hnologies o!
a&&umulation and !ungibility, re&ompose and reena&t their horrors upon ea&h su&&eeding
generation o! Bla&ks. +his 1iolen&e is both gratuitous, that is, it is not &ontingent upon
transgressions against the hegemony o! &i1il so&ietyE and stru&tural, in that it positions
Bla&ks ontologi&ally outside o! humanity and &i1il so&iety. 2imultaneously, it renders the
ontologi&al status o! humanity Bli!e itsel!C wholly dependent on &i1il so&iety:s repetition
&ompulsion' the !ren=ied and !ragmented ma&hinations through whi&h &i1il so&iety
reena&ts gratuitous 1iolen&e upon the Bla&k?that &i1il so&iety might know itsel! as the
domain o! humans?generation a!ter generation.
gain, we need a new language o! abstra&tion to e3plain this horror. +he
e3planatory power o! >umanist dis&ourse is bankrupt in the !a&e o! the Bla&k. It is
inadeGuate and inessential to, as well as parasiti& on, the ensemble o! Guestions whi&h the
dead but sentient thing, the Bla&k, struggles to arti&ulate in a world o! li1ing sub"e&ts. /y
work on !ilm, &ultural theory, and politi&al ontology marks my attempt to &ontribute to
this o!ten !ragmented and &onstantly assaulted Guest to !orge a language o! abstra&tion
with e3planatory powers emphati& enough to embra&e the Bla&k, an a&&umulated and
!ungible ob"e&t, in a human world o! e3ploited and alienated sub"e&ts.
+he imposition o! >umanism:s assumpti1e logi& has en&umbered Bla&k !ilm
studies to the e3tent that it is underwritten by the assumpti1e logi& o! White or non-Bla&k
!ilm studies. +his is a problem o! )ultural 2tudies writ large. In this &hapter, I want to
o!!er a brie! illustration o! how we might attempt to break the theoreti&al impasse
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
between, on the one hand, the assumpti1e logi& o! )ultural 2tudies and, on the other
hand, the theoreti&al aphasia to whi&h )ultural 2tudies is redu&ed when it en&ounters the
BnonContologi&al status o! the Bla&k. I will do so not by laun&hing a !rontal atta&k against
White !ilm theory, in parti&ular, or e1en )ultural 2tudies broadly speaking, but by
interrogating Ja&Gues La&an?be&ause La&anian psy&hoanalysis is one o! the twin pillars
that shoulders !ilm theory and )ultural 2tudies.
/y problem with )ultural 2tudies is that when it theori=es the inter!a&e between
Bla&ks and >umans it is hobbled in its attempts to BaC e3pose power relationships and BbC
e3amine how relations o! power in!luen&e and shape &ultural pra&ti&e. )ultural 2tudies
insists upon a grammar of suffering whi&h assumes that we are all positioned essentially
by way o! the 2ymboli& *rder, what La&an &alls the wall o! language?and as su&h our
potential !or stasis or &hange Bour &apa&ity !or being oppressed or !reeC is o1erdetermined
by our ;uni1ersal< ability or inability to sei=e and wield dis&ursi1e weapons. +his idea
&orrupts the e3planatory power o! most so&ially engaged !ilms and e1en the most radi&al
line o! politi&al a&tion be&ause it produ&es a &inema and a politi&s that &annot a&&ount !or
the grammar o! su!!ering o! the Bla&k?the 2la1e. +o put it bluntly, the imaginati$e
labor BJared 2e3ton #440C o! &inema, politi&al a&tion, and )ultural 2tudies are all
a!!li&ted with the same theoreti&al aphasia. +hey are spee&hless in the !a&e o! gratuitous
+his theoreti&al aphasia is symptomati& o! a debilitated ensemble o! Guestions
regarding politi&al ontology. t its heart are two registers o! imaginati1e labor. +he !irst
register is that o! des&ription, the rhetori&al labor aimed at e3plaining the way relations o!
power are named, &ategori=ed, and e3plored. +he se&ond register &an be &hara&teri=ed as
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
pres&ription, the rhetori&al labor predi&ated on the notion that e1eryone &an be
eman&ipated through some !orm o! dis&ursi1e, or symboli&, inter1ention.
But eman&ipation through some !orm o! dis&ursi1e or symboli& inter1ention is
wanting in the !a&e o! a sub"e&t position that is not a sub"e&t position?what /ar3 &alls ;a
speaking implement< or what Donald Judy &alls ;an interdi&tion against sub"e&ti1ity.< In
other words, the Bla&k has sentient &apa&ity but no relational &apa&ity. s an
a&&umulated and !ungible ob"e&t, rather than an e3ploited and alienated sub"e&t, the Bla&k
is openly 1ulnerable to the whims o! the worldE and so is hisHher &ultural ;produ&tion.<
What does it mean?what are the stakes?when the world &an whimsi&ally transpose
one:s &ultural gestures, the stu!! o! symboli& inter1ention, onto another worldly good, a
&ommodity o! styleF Fanon e&hoes this Guestion when he writes, ;I &ame into the world
imbued with the will to !ind a meaning in things, my spirit !illed with the desire to attain
to the sour&e o! the world, and then I !ound that I was an ob"e&t in the midst o! other
ob"e&ts< BBSW( 147C. Fanon &lari!ies this assertion and alerts us to the stakes whi&h the
optimisti& assumptions o! Film 2tudies and )ultural 2tudies, the &ounter-hegemoni&
promise o! alternati1e &inema, and the eman&ipatory pro"e&t o! &oalition politi&s &annot
a&&ount !or, when he writes' ;*ntology?on&e it is !inally admitted as lea1ing e3isten&e
by the wayside?does not permit us to understand the being o! the bla&k$< B114C.
+his presents a &hallenge to !ilm produ&tion and to !ilm studies gi1en their
&ulti1ation and elaboration by the imaginati1e labor o! )ultural 2tudies, underwritten by
the assumpti1e logi& o! >umanismE be&ause i! e1eryone does not possess the D6 o!
&ulture, that is, BaC time and spa&e trans!ormati1e &apa&ity, BbC a relational status with
other >umans through whi&h one:s time and spa&e trans!ormati1e &apa&ity is re&ogni=ed
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
and in&orporated, and B&C a relation to 1iolen&e that is &ontingent and not gratuitous, then
how do we theori=e a sentient being who is positioned not by the D6 &ulture but by the
stru&ture o! gratuitous 1iolen&eF >ow do we think outside o! the &on&eptual !ramework
o! subalternity?that is, outside o! the e3planatory power o! )ultural 2tudies?and think
beyond the pale o! eman&ipatory agen&y by way o! symboli& inter1entionF
I am &alling !or a di!!erent &on&eptual !ramework, predi&ated not on the sub"e&t-
e!!e&t o! &ultural per!orman&e but on the stru&ture o! politi&al ontologyE one that allows
us to substitute a politics of culture for a culture of politics. +he 1alue in this rests not
simply in the way it would help us re-think &inema and per!orman&e, but in the way it &an
help us theori=e what is at present only intuiti1e and ane&dotal' the unbridgeable gap
between Bla&k being and >uman li!e. +o put a !iner point on it, su&h a !ramework might
enhan&e the e3planatory power o! theory, art, and politi&s by destroying and perhaps
restru&turing, the ethi&al range o! our &urrent ensemble o! Guestions. +his has pro!ound
impli&ations !or non-Bla&k !ilm studies, Bla&k !ilm studies, and !ri&an meri&an
2tudies writ large be&ause they are &urrently entangled in a multi&ultural paradigm that
takes an interest in an insu!!i&iently &riti&al &omparati1e analysis?that is, a &omparati1e
analysis whi&h is in pursuit o! a &oalition politi&s Bi! not in pra&ti&e then at least as an
theori=ing metaphorC whi&h, by its 1ery nature, &rowds out and !ore&loses the 2la1e:s
grammar o! su!!ering.
The "ilemmas of #lac$ %ilm Studies
In the wake o! the post-)i1il Dights, post-Bla&k @ower ba&klash a small but
growing &oterie o! Bla&k theorists ha1e returned to Fanon:s astonishing &laim that
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
;ontology?on&e it is !inally admitted as lea1ing e3isten&e by the wayside?does not
permit us to understand the being o! the bla&k man Lsi&M. For not only must the bla&k man
be bla&kE but he must be bla&k in relation to the white man Lsi&M< BB2W/ 114C. +hough
they do not !orm anything as ostentatious as a s&hool o! thought, and though their attitude
toward and a&knowledgment o! Fanon does not make !or an easy &onsensus, the moniker
!ro-@essimists neither in!ringes upon their indi1idual di!!eren&es nor e3aggerates their
!idelity to a shared set o! assumptions. It should be noted that o! the !ro-@essimists?
>ortense 2pillers, Donald Judy, Da1id /arriott, 2aidiya >artman, &hille /bembe,
Frant= Fanon, Iara Ieeling, Jared 2e3ton, Joy James, Lewis Kordon, Keorge 9an&ey,
and *rlando @atterson?only James and @atterson are so&ial s&ientists. +he rest &ome out
o! the >umanities. Fanon, o! &ourse, was a do&tor o! psy&hiatry. Deading them, and
&onne&ting the dots at the le1el o! shared assumptions, rather than the &ontent o! their
work or their pres&ripti1e gestures Bi! anyC it be&omes &lear that though their work holds
the intelle&tual proto&ols o! un&ons&ious identi!i&ation a&&ountable to stru&tural
positionality, it does so in a way that enri&hes, rather than impo1erishes, how we are able
to theori=e un&ons&ious identi!i&ation. +hat is to say that though meditations on
un&ons&ious identi!i&ations and pre&ons&ious interests may be their starting point Bi.e.,
how to &ure ;hallu&inatory whitening< LFanonM, and how to think about the Bla&kHnon-
Bla&k di1ide that is rapidly repla&ing the Bla&kHWhite di1ide L9an&eyMC they are, in the
!irst instan&e, theorists o! stru&tural positionality.
+he !ro-@essimists are theorists o! Bla&k positionality who share Fanon:s
insisten&e that, though Bla&ks are indeed sentient beings, the stru&ture o! the entire
world:s semanti& !ield?regardless o! &ultural and national dis&repan&ies?;lea1ing< as
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
Fanon would say, ;e3isten&e by the wayside<?is sutured by anti-Bla&k solidarity. 8nlike
the solution-oriented, interest-based, or hybridity-dependent s&holarship so !ashionable
today, !ro-@essimism e3plores the meaning o! Bla&kness not?in the !irst instan&e?as
a 1ariously and un&ons&iously interpellated identity or as a &ons&ious so&ial a&tor, but as
a stru&tural position o! non-&ommuni&ability in the !a&e o! all other positionsE this
meaning is non-&ommuni&able be&ause, again, as a position, Bla&kness is predi&ated on
modalities o! a&&umulation and !ungibility, not e3ploitation and alienation.
8n!ortunately, neither Bla&k nor White Film +heory seems to ha1e made this shi!t !rom
e3ploitation and alienation as that whi&h positions Film +heory:s ;uni1ersal< &inemati&
sub"e&t to geno&ide, a&&umulation, and !ungibility as modalities o! gratuitous 1iolen&e
whi&h positions the 2la1e. 6n this respect, %ilm !heor" m"stifies structural antagonisms
and acts as an accomplice to social and political stabilit". 51en the bulk o! Bla&k Film
+heory is predi&ated on an assumpti1e logi& o! e3ploitation and alienation, rather than
a&&umulation and !ungibility, when regarding the ontologi&al status o! the Bla&k.
Film +heory, as &on&erns Bla&k meri&an &inema between 17,. and the present,
is marked by se1eral &hara&teristi&s. 6early all o! the books and arti&les are underwritten
by a sense o! urgen&y regarding the tragi& history and bleak !uture o! a group o! people
marked by sla1ery in the Western >emisphereE this, they would all agree, is the
&onstituti1e element o! the word Black. +o this end, most are &on&erned with how
&inemati& representation hastens that bleak !uture or inter1enes against it. )inema then,
has pedagogi& 1alue, or, perhaps more pre&isely, pedagogi& potential. Broadly speaking,
Bla&k !ilm theory hinges on these Guestions' What does &inema tea&h Bla&ks about
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
Bla&ksF What does &inema tea&h Whites Band othersC about Bla&ksF re those lessons
dialogi& with Bla&k liberation or with our !urther, and rapidly repetiti1e, demiseF
Ki1en the period under &onsideration, the writing o! Bla&k !ilm theorists tends to
share a &ommon an3iety as regards the status o! the !ilmi& te3t and the nature o! its
&oheren&e. But let:s keep in mind a point that I:ll e3pand upon below' the ground o! that
an3iety has to do with the !ilm:s hegemoni& 1alue?as though there are representations
that will make Bla&k people sa!e, representations whi&h will put us in danger,
representations whi&h will make us ideologi&ally aware and those whi&h will gi1e us
!alse &ons&iousness. For many, a good deal o! emphasis is put on the interpellati1e power
o! the !ilm itsel!.
In Representing Blackness: 6ssues in %ilm and :ideo, Nalerie 2mith notes two
dominant trends' the !irst impulse reads ;authenti&< as synonymous with ;positi1e< and
seeks to supplant representations o! Bla&k las&i1iousness and ;irresponsibility< with
;respe&table< ones. +o this end, she notes Kordon @arks: !he 'earning !ree B17,-C and
/i&hael 2&hul=:s Coole" .igh B17.(C. But she adds that one &an also !ind this impulse
mani!est in the !ilms o! &ertain White dire&tors' 2tanley Iramer:s >ome of the Bra$e
B17%7C and 0uess Who4s Coming to 3inner B17,.C, 6orman Jewison:s 6n the .eat of the
#ight B17,.C, and John 2ayles: +assion %ish B177#C. +he se&ond impulse is un&on&erned
with demonstrating the e3tent to whi&h Bla&k &hara&ters &an &on!orm to re&ei1ed, &lass-
&oded notions o! respe&tability. Dather, it eGuates authenti&ity either with the !reedom to
sei=e and reanimate types pre1iously &oded as ;negati1e< Bi.e. the &riminal or the
bu!!oonC or with the presen&e o! &ultural pra&ti&es rooted in Bla&k 1erna&ular e3perien&e
B"a==, gospel, rootworking, religion, et&.C. Duke 5llington:s Black and !an B17#7C is an
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
early e3ampleE then?a!ter the two Kreat /igrations?the urban-as-authenti&
Bla3ploitation !ilms o! the late ,4s and the 17.4s and !inally the ;new "a&k< pi&tures o!
the 1774s' #e& ;ack Cit" B1771C and (enace 66 Societ" B1770C.
2he &laims that not only has Bla&k !ilmmaking been preo&&upied with a response
to negati1e 1isual representation but that this preo&&upation has o1erdetermined &riti&ism
o! Bla&k !ilm, as well' i.e., identi!ying and &ritiGuing the re&urren&e o! stereotyped
representations in >ollywood !ilms, Bogle:s !oms, Coons, (ulattoes* and )ripps: work
;in1entoried the reprodu&tion o! &ertain types o! Bla&k &hara&ters in 1isual media.< 2mith
&alls these te3ts ;groundbreaking< but says, ;they also legitimated a binarism in the
dis&ourse around strategies o! Bla&k representation that has outli1ed its use!ulness.<
Furthermore, she elaborates'
Kranted, despite their &onstru&tedness, media representations o! members
o! histori&ally disen!ran&hised &ommunities re!le&t and, in turn, a!!e&t the
li1ed &ir&umstan&es o! real people. But the relationship between media
representations and ;real li!e< is nothing i! not &omple3 and
dis&ontinuousE to posit a one-to-one &orresponden&e between the
ines&apability o! &ertain images and the une1en distribution o! re&ourse
within &ulture is to deny the elaborate ways in whi&h power is maintained
and deployed B0C.
+he problem with the positi1eHnegati1e debate, as 2mith and a 2e&ond Wa1e Bmy
shorthandC o! Bla&k !ilm theorists like bell hooks, James 2nead, and /anthia Diawara see
it, is !irst that the debate !o&uses &riti&al s&rutiny on the ways in whi&h Bla&ks ha1e been
represented in >ollywood !ilms at the e3pense o! analyti&al, theoreti&al, andHor histori&al
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
work on the history o! Bla&k-dire&ted &inema. 2e&ond, it presupposes &onsensus about
what a positi1e or negati1e Bor authenti&C image a&tually is. >ardworking, middle-&lass,
heterose3ual Bla&ks may be positi1e to some Bla&k 1iewers but reprehensible Bi! only !or
the !a&t that they are totali=ingC to the Bla&k gay and lesbian &ommunity. +hird, ;it
!o&uses 1iewer attention on the e3isten&e o! &ertain types and not on the more signi!i&ant
Guestions around what kind o! narrati1e or ideologi&al work that type is meant to
per!orm< B0C.
Donald Bogle:s !oms, Coons, (ulattoes, (ammies, & Bucks: An 6nterpreti$e
.istor" of Blacks in American %ilms re1eals the way in whi&h the image o! Bla&ks in
meri&an mo1ies has &hanged and also the Bhe would say ;sho&king<C way in whi&h it
has remained the same. In 17.0, Bogle:s study was the !irst history o! Bla&k per!ormers
in meri&an !ilm. Bogle notes that only one other ;!ormal pie&e o! work< had been
written be!ore his, the 5nglishman @eter 6oble:s !he #egro in %ilms, written in the
17%4s. Bogle doesn:t say whether this is an arti&le or a book Bthe impression one gets is
that it is an arti&leC and goes on to dismiss it as ;so mu&h the typi&al, unintentionally
patroni=ing, white liberal Rtaste!ul: approa&h< B#.C. By his own admission !oms,
Coons* is as mu&h a history o! the &ontributions o! Bla&k per!ormers in meri&an !ilm
as it is a statement o! his own e1ol1ing aestheti& and perspe&ti1e.
Bogle:s book is a&knowledged by many as a &lassi& and de!initi1e study o! Bla&k
images in >ollywood. I would pre!er &lassi& and e3hausti1e?lea1ing the ad"e&ti1e
;de!initi1e< !or James 2nead:s three-times-shorter White Screens, Black 6mages. Bogle:s
tome is more o! a histori&al in1entory Band we:re all grate!ul to him !or itC than a history
or a historiography. I! there was a Bla&k person who had a speaking role in a >ollywood
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
!ilm, sHhe is more than likely in1entoried in Bogle:s book. @rior to this in1entory, not
only was there not a published &inemati& re&ord o! so many o! the Bla&k stars in the !irst
se1enty years o! the #4
&entury, but !or many o! them, as Bogle points out in the !irst
hal! o! his book, there was no publi& re&ord o! them as people' ;L+Mhe li1es o! early Bla&k
per!ormers$usually ended up so tragi&ally, or so desperately un!ul!illed, with
>ollywood o!ten &ontributing to their tragedies$.*ne important Bla&k a&tor ended his
days as a red&ap. nother be&ame a notorious >arlem pool-shark. 2ome be&ame hustlers
o! all sorts. t least two 1i1a&ious leading ladies ended up as domesti& workers. *ther
Bla&k luminaries dri!ted into al&oholism, drugs, sui&ide, or bitter sel!-re&rimination< B%#C.
Bogle:s !oms, Coons, (ulattoes, (ammies, & Bucks, +homas )ripps:s well
known Black %ilm as 0enre, and Kladstone L. 9earwood:s Black %ilm as a Signif"ing
+ractice: Cinema, #arration and the African/American Aesthetic !radition are three
early e3amples o! what I &all First Wa1e Bla&k !ilm theory Bwith the notable e3&eption o!
9earwood who began writing almost thirty years a!ter Bogle and )rippsC and de&idedly
emphati& 1oi&es that theori=e the eman&ipatoryHpedagogi& 1alue o! Bla&k &inema from
the te3t to the spe&tator. +hey ;stress the need !or more positi1e roles, types, and
portrayals, while pointing out the intra&table presen&e o! Rnegati1e stereotypes: in the
!ilm industry:s depi&tion< o! Bla&ks B2neadC. >ere, howe1er Bagain with the notable
e3&eption o! 9earwoodC semioti&, post-stru&turalist, !eminist, and psy&hoanalyti& tools o!
the @oliti&al /odernists were negle&ted in their hunt !or the ;negati1e< or ;positi1e<
image. 9earwood:s work is an e3&eption in that he in !a&t utili=es the anti-essentialist
tools o! semioti&s and post-stru&turalism in an e!!ort to &all !or an !ro-)entri&,
essentialist aestheti&.
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
9earwood argues that Bla&k !ilm &riti&ism is best understood as a #4
de1elopment in the history o! Bla&k aestheti& thought. >e maintains that Bla&k
!ilmmakers use e3pressi1e !orms and systems o! signi!i&ation that re!le&t the &ultural and
histori&al priorities o! the Bla&k e3perien&e. In this way, the book resonates with mu&h o!
what is ad1an&ed in Diawara:s 1olume o! edited essays Black American Cinema.
>owe1er, the !ro-&entrism o! 9earwood:s book, at times, seems to try to isolate the
Bla&k !ilm:s narrational pro&esses !rom Bla&k !ilmmakers: positionality under the
despotism o! White suprema&y.
@art *ne o! 9earwood:s book presents an o1er1iew o! Bla&k !ilm and an
introdu&tion to Bla&k !ilm &ulture. It sur1eys the emergen&e o! the Bla&k independent
!ilm mo1ement !rom the perspe&ti1e o! the Bla&k &ultural tradition. +his marks a shi!t
away !rom mu&h o! what takes pla&e in Diawara:s Black American Cinema, whi&h
lo&ates the emergen&e o! Bla&k independent !ilm in relation to &ertain politi&al te3ts Blike
Frant= Fanon:s !he Wretched of the arthC and domesti& and international struggles !or
liberation and sel!-determination. 9earwood:s book gi1es a &lose reading o! !ilms at the
le1el o! the diegesis, but it also betrays a kind o! &on&eptual an3iety with respe&t to the
histori&al ob"e&t o! study?in other words, it &lings, an3iously, to the !ilm-as-te3t-as-
legitimate ob"e&t o! Bla&k &inema. 9earwood writes'
+he term Bla&k &inema des&ribes a spe&i!i& body o! !ilms produ&ed in the
!ri&an Diaspora whi&h shares a &ommon problemati&$ primary
assumption is that Bla&k &ulture is syn&reti& in nature and re!le&ts
hybridi=ed !orms that are uniGue to the meri&as. +his pro&ess o!
&reoli=ation, whi&h is e1ident in !ri&an meri&an &lassi&al musi& BJa==C,
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
represents the !orging o! a new ontology and epistemology. It is the
produ&t o! &ultural pra&ti&es that ha1e de1eloped !rom the e3perien&e o!
sla1ery, the struggle !or !reedom !rom oppression and the re&ognition that
interdependen&e is the key to our sur1i1al. B(C
Later he notes'
s an e3pression that emanates !rom the heart o! the !ri&an meri&an
&ommunity, good Bla&k !ilm &an represent that whi&h is most uniGue and
best in Bla&k &ulture. good Bla&k !ilm &an pro1ide an intelle&tual
&hallenge and engage our &ogniti1e !a&ulties. It &an o!ten present in&isi1e
&ommentary on so&ial realities. B.4C
+hese two Guotes are emblemati& o! "ust how 1ague the aestheti& !oundation o!
9earwood:s attempt to &onstru&t a &anon &an be. What:s great about the book is its
synthesis o! so mu&h o! the literature on Bla&k !ilm whi&h pre&edes it Bin&luding
Diawara:s workC. But in trying to show how Bla&k !ilmmakers di!!er !rom White
!ilmmakers and how the Bla&k !ilm as te3t is a standalone ob"e&t, 9earwood re1erts to
&on&lusions general enough to apply to almost any !ilmography and, !urthermore, his
&laims are underwritten by the philosophi&al, and semioti&, treatises o! 5uropean Bnot
!ri&anC theoreti&ians.
James 2nead, Ja&Gueline Bobo, bell hooks, Nalerie 2mith, and /anthia Diawara
belong to what I &all the 2e&ond Wa1e o! Bla&k !ilm theorists who &ompli&ated the !ield
through the use o! methodologies whi&h BaC e3amine the !ilm as a te3t, a dis&ourse, and
BbC bring into this e3amination an e3ploration o! &inema:s sub"e&t-e!!e&ts on implied
spe&tators. +he emphasis here should be on implied, !or, in most &ases, these books and
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
arti&les are not grounded in o1ert theories and methodologies o! spe&tatorship. +he
ad1an&e, i! you will, o! this body o! work o1er that o! )ripps and Bogle is two!old. First,
these works &hallenged the binarism o! goodHbad, positi1eHnegati1e images o! &inema.
+hus, they opened the spa&e !or the i&onography o! third positions like un-wed Bla&k
women, gangsters, gays, and lesbians to enter into the Bla&k &inemati& ;!amily.<
2e&ondly, by way o! sophisti&ated te3tual analyses, they were able to show ho& Bla&k
images &an be degraded and White images &an be monumentali=ed and made mythi&,
rather than simply making pro&lamations BgoodHbadC based on uninterrogated 1alues Bi.e.
nu&lear !amily 1alues, upward mobility 1alues, heterose3ual 1aluesC already in the room.
+o put it plainly, they repla&ed so&ial 1alues as the basis o! &inemati& interpretation with
semioti& &odes, and in so doing made &entral the Guestion o! ideology?mu&h as White
@oliti&al /odernists were doing on the heels o! La&an.
In ; 6o-+heory +heory o! )ontemporary Bla&k )inema,< +ommy Lott re!le&ts
on the parado3es inherent in the 1ery &ategory o! ;Bla&k !ilm.< >is &laim' the essentialist
&riteria by whi&h a ;Bla&k< !ilm is understood to be one dire&ted by a person o! !ri&an
meri&an des&ent too !reGuently allows biologi&al &ategories to stand in !or ideologi&al
ones. )on1ersely, aestheti&ally grounded de!initions o! Bla&k !ilm risk pri1ileging
independent produ&tions un&riti&ally. With this dire&t politi&al &hallenge to both
9earwood and Bogle, he suggests that the notion o! +hird )inema &ould be appropriated
!or Bla&ks. B2u&h appropriation resembles how White !ilm theorists de1eloped the
&on&ept o! &ounter-&inema through their translations o! La&an:s writings on the
psy&hoanalyti& &ure o! ;!ull spee&h<.C >ere is Lott:s appropriation o! +hird )inema !or
Bla&k meri&ans?his response to the identity politi&s o! Bogle and 9earwood'
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
What makes +hird )inema third Bi.e., a 1iable alternati1e to Western
&inemaC is not e3&lusi1ely the ra&ial makeup o! a !ilmmaker, a !ilm:s
aestheti& &hara&ter, or a !ilm:s intended audien&e, but rather a !ilm:s
politi&al orientation within the hegemoni& stru&tures o! post&olonialism.
When a !ilm &ontributes ideologi&ally to the ad1an&ement o! Bla&k
people, within a &onte3t o! systemati& denial, the a&hie1ement o! this
politi&al ob"e&ti1e ought to &ount as a &riterion o! e1aluation on a par with
any essentialist &riterion. B7#C
2e&ond Wa1e Bla&k !ilm theorists su&h as 2nead, Lott, 2mith, Diawara, and
hooks were able to bring a dimension to Bla&k !ilm theory that stemmed !rom their
willingness to interrogate not "ust the narrati1e in relation to time-worn tropes o! Bla&k
upward mobility, but also !rom their desire to interrogate &inemati& !ormalism as well
Bi.e., mise-en-s&ene, a&ousti&s, editing strategies, lightingCE in other words, &inema as an
apparatusHinstitution in relation to the dereli&t institutional status o! Bla&k people. But
their drawba&k was in per&ei1ing Bla&kness as ha1ing either some institutional status or
ha1ing the potential !or institutional status. +hey were not in&lined to meditate on the
ar&hai& persisten&e o! two key ontologi&al Gualities o! the lega&y o! sla1ery, namely, the
&ondition o! absolute &apti1ity and the state o! 1irtual non-&ommuni&ation within o!!i&ial
&ulture. 2imilarly, I take the re&ent &elebration o! superstars >alle Berry and Den=el
Washington in both the Bla&k press and the White &riti&al establishment as symptomati&
o! a re!usal or inability to &ountenan&e the long shadow o! sla1ery inso!ar as it writes a
history o! the present. +hat is, the heralding o! Bla&k stardom, now disa1owing its
relation to long-standing &inemati& stereotypes, is !ounded upon a belie! in not only the
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
possibility o! redress under White suprema&y, but also its relati1e ease. )entral to this
belie! is an histori&al redu&tion o! sla1ery to the relation o! &hattel and a !ormulation o!
Bla&k eman&ipation and en!ran&hisement limited to the most nominal dimensions o! &i1il
rights and liberties.
5mbra&ing Bla&k peopleTs agen&y as sub"e&ts o! the law Bi.e., sub"e&ts o! rights
and libertiesC, and e1en their potential to a&t as or partner with en!or&ers o! the law Bi.e.,
Den=el Washington in !raining 3a"C, presents itsel! as an a&ting out o! the histori&
parado3 o! Bla&k non-e3isten&e Bi.e., the mutable &ontinuity o! so&ial deathC. >ere, Bla&k
Oa&hie1ementO in popular &ulture and the &ommer&ial arts reGuires the bra&keting out o!
that non-e3isten&e in hopes o! telling a tale o! loss that is intelligible within the national
imagination B>artman, ;@osition<1-.C. +he insisten&e on Bla&k personhood Brather than a
radi&al Guestioning o! the terror embedded in that 1ery notionC operates most poignantly
in the e3amples dis&ussed through the problemati& &oding o! gender and domesti&ity.
In per&ei1ing Bla&k !olk as being ali1e, or at least ha1ing the potential to li1e in
the world, the same potential that any subaltern might ha1e, the politi&s o! Bla&k !ilm
theorists: aestheti& methodology and desire disa1owed the !a&t that'
LBla&k !olkM are always already dead where1er you !ind them. +he
nurturing ha1en o! bla&k &ulture whi&h assured memory and pro1ided a
home beyond the ra1ishing growth o! &apitalism is no longer. +here
&annot be any &ultural authenti&ity in resistan&e to &apitalism. +he illusion
o! immaterial purity is no longer possible. It is no longer possible to be
bla&k against the system. Bla&k !olk are dead, killed by their own !aith in
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
will!ully being beyond, and in spite o!, power. BDonald Judy, ;*n the
Puestion o! 6igga uthenti&ity< #1#C
In short, a besetting hobble o! the theori=ation itsel! is one whi&h the theory
shares with many o! the Bla&k !ilms it s&rutini=es' both the !ilms and the theory tend to
posit a possibility o!, and a desire !or, Bla&k e3isten&e, instead o! taking &ogni=an&e o!
the ontologi&al &laim o! the so-&alled !ro-@essimists that Bla&kness is both that outside
whi&h makes it possible !or White and non-White Bi.e., sians and LatinosC positions to
e3ist and, simultaneously, &ontest e3isten&e. s su&h, not only is Bla&kness Bsla1enessC
outside the terrain o! the White Bthe masterC but it is outside the terrain o! the subaltern.
8n!ortunately, almost to a person, the !ilm theorists in Guestion see Bi.e., their assumpti1e
logi& takes as gi1enC themsel1es as sub5ects?dominated, oppressed, downtrodden,
redu&ed to subaltern status, but sub"e&ts nonetheless?in a world o! other sub"e&ts.
+he assumptions that Bla&k a&ademi&s are subalterns within the a&ademy Brather
than the sla1es o! their ;&olleagues<C, sla1ery was a histori&al e1ent long ended rather
than the ongoing paradigm o! Bla&k BnonCe3isten&e, and that Bla&k !ilm theory &an
harness the rhetori&al strategy o! simile are most prominent in the work o! 2e&ond Wa1e
Bla&k !ilm theorists, who simply &an:t bear to li1e in the impasse o! being an ob"e&t and
so turn to hyper-&oherent arti&ulations o! +hird )inema in order to propose a politi&s !or
&inemati& interpretation. Lott, !or e3ample, short-&ir&uits what &ould otherwise be a
pro!oundly i&ono&lasti& inter1ention, i.e., the proposal that the +hird World &an !ight
against domination and for the return o! their land as people with a narrati1e o! repair,
whereas sla1es &an only !ight against sla1ery?the for-something-else &an only be
theori=ed, i! at all, in the pro&ess and at the end o! the reGuisite 1iolen&e against the
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
2ettlerH/aster, not be!ore BFanon, Wretched 0(-%(C. Despite ha1ing 1entured into the !irst
un!ortunate mo1e?a need to &ommuni&ate with other groups o! people through the
positing o!, and an3iety o1er, Bla&k &oheren&e?Lott:s work does make brilliant
inter1entions. I:m saying, howe1er, that not only does the dri1e toward a presentation o!
a Bla&k !ilm &anon show a desire to parti&ipate in the institutionality o! &inema, but the
work itsel! shows a desire to parti&ipate in the institutionality o! a&ademia. nd
;parti&ipation< is a register una1ailable to sla1es. Bla&k !ilm theory, as an inter1ention,
would ha1e a more destru&ti1e impa&t i! it !oregrounded the impossibility o! a Bla&k
!ilm, the impossibility o! a Bla&k !ilm theory, the impossibility o! a Bla&k !ilm theorist,
and the impossibility o! a Bla&k person e3&ept, and this is key, under ;&leansing< BFanonC
&onditions o! 1iolen&e. *n&e real 1iolen&e is &oupled with representational ;monstrosity<
B2pillers: notion o! a Bla&k embra&e o! absolute 1ulnerability, #440' ##7C, then and only
then is there a possibility !or Bla&ks to mo1e !rom the status o! things to the status o!$o!
what, we:ll "ust ha1e to wait and see.
In thinking the Bla&k spe&tator as e3ploited rather than a&&umulated, the 2e&ond
Wa1e o! Bla&k !ilm theorists !ailed to reali=e that sla1es are not subalterns, be&ause
subalterns are dominated, in the ontologi&al !irst instan&e, by the ma&hinations o!
hegemony Bo! whi&h &inema is a 1ital ma&hineC and then, a!ter some symboli&
transgression, in other words in the se&ond instan&e, by 1iolen&e. Bla&kness is constituted
by 1iolen&e in the ontologi&al !irst instan&e. +his, >ortense 2pillers reminds us, is the
essen&e o! Bla&k being' ;being !or the &aptor< B2pillers C?the 1ery antithesis o! &ultural
e3pression or per!ormati1e agen&y.
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
&acan's Corrective
What is the essential arrangement o! the sub"e&t:s &ondition o! un-!reedomF
51ery !ilm theorist seems to ha1e an answer Bstated or impliedC to this Guestion. +hough
they per&ei1e the !ield o! these ;answers< to be o! a wide 1ariety Bwhi&h they are at the
le1el o! &ontentC we &ould say that the stru&ture o! the sub"e&t:s &ondition o! un-!reedom
is imagined along one or two shared 1e&tors' the dispossession and stagnation within
politi&al e&onomy B/ar3C and the dispossession and stagnation within libidinal e&onomy
BLa&anC?sometimes a &ombination thereo!, but rarely are both weighted eGually. +his is
the rebar o! the &on&eptual !ramework o! !ilm studiesE and I would not be surprised i! it
was the same !or other theori=ations that seek to BaC theori=e dispossession and BbC
theori=e spe&i!i& &ultural pra&ti&es Bi.e., &ounter-&inema or per!orman&e artC as modes o!
a&&ompaniment !or the redress o! said dispossession.
+he remainder o! this &hapter interrogates the e!!i&a&y o! aestheti& gestures in
their role as a&&ompaniments to notions o! eman&ipation within the libidinal e&onomy Bas
opposed to Krams&ian emphasis on politi&al e&onomyC. +his is a high-stakes
interrogation be&ause so mu&h !ilm theory BWhite, or, non-Bla&k?>uman?!ilm theoryC
is in !ee to La&an and his underlying thesis on sub"e&ti1ity and psy&hi& liberation. It does
not seek to dispro1e La&an:s underlying theory o! how the sub"e&t &omes into sub"e&ti1ity
1ia alienation within the Imaginary and the 2ymboli&E nor does it seek to dispro1e his
understanding o! psy&hi& stagnation Bdes&ribed as egoi& monumentali=ationC as that
&ondition !rom whi&h the sub"e&t Band by e3tension, the so&iusC must be liberated. Dather
than attempt to dispro$e La&an:s Band, by e3tension non-Bla&k !ilm theory:sC e1iden&e
and assumpti1e logi& I seek to show how, in aspiring to a paradigmati& e3planation o!
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
relations, his assumpti1e logi& mysti!ies rather than &lari!ies a paradigmati& e3planation
o! relations, !or it has a 1i1id a&&ount o! the conflicts between genders, or, more broadly,
between nar&issisti& &ontemporaries and &ontemporaries who ha1e learned to li1e in a
de&onstru&ti1e relation to the ego?that is to say, it o!!ers a reliable toolbo3 !or
rigorously e3amining intra->uman &on!li&ts Band !or proposing the aestheti& gestures,
i.e., types o! !ilmi& pra&ti&es, whi&h either e3a&erbate L>ollywood !ilmsM or redress
L&ounter-&inemaM these &on!li&tsC but it has no &apa&ity to gi1e a paradigmati&
e3planation o! the stru&ture o! antagonisms between Bla&ks and >umans. I argue that the
&laims and &on&lusions whi&h La&anian psy&hoanalysis Band by e3tension non-Bla&k !ilm
theoryC makes regarding dispossession and su!!ering are BaC insu!!i&ient to the task o!
delineating Bla&k dispossession and su!!ering, and BbC parasitic on that 1ery Bla&k
dispossession and su!!ering !or whi&h it has no words.
In ;+he Fun&tion and Field o! 2pee&h and Language in @sy&hoanalysis< BcritsC,
La&an illustrates what remains to this day one o! the most brilliant and &omprehensi1e
s&enarios !or attaining what some belie1e to be the only bit o! !reedom we will e1er know
B2il1erman, World SpectatorsC. La&an:s 1alue to psy&hoanalysis in parti&ular and &riti&al
theory in general was that he remo1ed !ear and loathing !rom the word ;alienation.<
lienation, !or La&an, is what literall" makes sub"e&ti1ity possible. 8nlike Bre&ht, who
saw alienation Bsome pre!er ;distan&ing<C as the ideologi&al e!!e&t o! !alse &ons&iousness,
La&an saw alienation as the ne&essary &onte3t, the grid whi&h makes human relations
possible and di1ides the world between those with so&iability Bsub"e&tsC and those
without it Binfans<&hildren, say, prior to eighteen months o! ageC. But on the grid o!
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
so&iability, howe1er, it is possible to imagine that one e3ists in relation to signi!i&ation as
though words were windows on the world?or, worse yet, the 1ery things they signi!y.
+hese, o! &ourse are the spee&h a&ts through whi&h the sub"e&t monumentali=es hisHher
presen&e in disa1owal o! the 1ery loss o! presen&e Bla&kC whi&h alienation has imposed
upon himHher in e3&hange !or a world with others. +his is the meaning o! ;empty
$whi&h La&an &onsistently de!ines in opposition to !ull spee&h. L5mpty
spee&hM is predi&ated upon the belie! that we &an be spatially and
temporally present to oursel1es, and that language is a tool !or e!!e&ting
this sel!-possession. But instead o! leading to sel!-possession, empty
spee&h is the agen&y o! an ;e1er-growing dispossession.< When we speak
empty spee&h, we li!t oursel1es out o! time, and !ree=e oursel1es into an
ob"e&t or ;statue< BIbid. %0C. We thereby undo oursel1es as sub"e&ts.
B2il1erman, World Spectators ,(-,,C
2il1erman goes on to e3plain empty spee&h:s ;re!usal o! symboli=ation in a se&ond sense
LasM what the analysand literally or metaphori&ally utters when he responds to the !igural
!orms through whi&h the past returns as i! their 1alue and meaning were immanent within
them< B,,C. In short, the analysand &ollapses the signi!ier with that whi&h is signi!ied and
in so doing seeks to ;Renti!y: or R!ill up: the signi!ier?to make it identi&al with itsel!<
B,,C. +his enti!i&ation Bor monumentali=ationC is the sub"e&t:s re!usal to surrender to
temporality, ;the !a&t that e1ery psy&hi&ally important e1ent depends !or its 1alue and
meaning upon re!eren&e to an earlier or a later one. +he analysand also !ails to see that
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
with his ob"e&t-&hoi&es and other libidinal a&ts he is speaking a language o! desire. 5mpty
spee&h is what the analysand &lassi&ally utters during the early stages o! analysis< B,,C.
But "ust as language, on the grid o! alienation, &an be assumed as the method
through whi&h signi!iers are enti!ied and egos are monumentali=ed, so that the sub"e&t is
;shielded< !rom the !a&t o! alienation, so language &an also be that agen&y through whi&h
the sub"e&t learns to li1e in a de&onstru&ti1e relation to this alienation?learns to li1e with
la&k. Dather than monumentali=ing the image o! a present and uni!ied sel!, the sub"e&t
&an learn instead to comprehend the s"mbolic relation that has positioned him=her.
+he later stages o! the analysis ideally bring the sub"e&t to !ull spee&h. +he
analysand engages in !ull spee&h when he understands that his literal and
metaphori& words are in !a&t signi!iers?neither eGui1alent to things, nor
&apable o! saying ;what< they are, but rather a retroa&tion to an
anti&ipation o! other signi!iers. Full spee&h is also spee&h in whi&h the
analysand re&ogni=es within what he has pre1iously taken to be the ;here
and now< the operations o! a 1ery personal system o! signi!i&ation?the
operations, that is, o! what La&an &alls his ;primar" language.< B,,C
s a description of suffering and a prescription for emancipation !rom su!!ering, the
La&anian notion o! !ull spee&h was a brake on what, in the 17(4s, was be&oming
psy&hoanalysis:s slippery slope toward idealism and essentialism. La&an &ited three basi&
problems with the psy&hoanalysis o! the 17(4s' ob"e&t relations,
the role o! &ounter
trans!eren&e, and the pla&e o! !antasy BJonathan Lee 0#-00C. In all o! them, he noted ;the
temptation !or the analyst to abandon the !oundation o! spee&h, and this pre&isely in areas
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
where, be&ause they border on the ine!!able, its use would seem to reGuire a more than
usually &lose e3amination< Bcrits 0,C.
+he ;wall o! language< is a wall that, !or La&an, &annot be penetrated by the
analysand e3&ept in hisHher a-sub"e&ti1e state, that is, either as an infans Bthat state o!
being prior to alienation in the 2ymboli&C or as a &orpse Bthat state o! being after
alienation?DeathC. Within the analyti& &onte3t, there is nothing meaning!ul on the other
side o! language. ;Beyond this wall, there is nothing !or us but outer darkness. Does this
mean that we are entirely masters o! the situationF )ertainly not, and on this point Freud
has beGueathed us his testament on the negati1e therapeuti& rea&tion< Bcrits 141C. +he
analysand "ettisons hisHher pro"e&ted and imaginary relation to the analyst and &omes to
understand where sHhe is !inally in relation to the analyst Bwhi&h is outside o! herHhimsel!C
and !rom the pla&e o! the analyst Ba stand-in !or the 2ymboli& *rderCE sHhe &omes to hear
hisHher own language and be&omes an auditor in relation to hisHher own spee&h. ;+he
analysis &onsists o! getting him to be&ome &ons&ious o! his relations, not with the ego o!
the analyst, but with all these *thers who are his true interlo&utors, whom he hasn:t
re&ogni=ed.< ll these *thers are none other than the La&anian &ontemporaries or, in the
1erna&ular most salient to the sla1e, Whites and their "unior partners in &i1il so&iety?
>umans positioned by the 2ymboli& *rder. ;It is a matter o! the sub"e&t progressi1ely
dis&o1ering whi&h *ther he is truly addressing, without knowing it, and o! him
progressi1ely assuming the relations o! trans!eren&e at the pla&e where he is, and where
at !irst he didn:t know he was< BLa&an, Seminar 66 #%,C.< gain, there is no lo&ating o!
sub"e&ti1ity within onesel!. La&an is &lear' one &annot ha1e a relationship with onesel!.
Instead, one &omes to understand one:s e3isten&e, one:s pla&e outside o! onesel!, and it is
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
in &oming to understand one:s pla&e outside o! onesel! that one &an hear onesel! and
assume one:s spee&h?in other words, assume one:s desire.
Finally, La&an was alarmed at how psy&hoanalysis was be&oming more and more
&on&erned with e3ploring the analysand:s !antasies?a pra&ti&e whi&h, again,
subordinated e3ploration o! the 2ymboli& to e3ploration o! the Imaginary BLee 00-0%C.
+he Imaginary relation puts the analysand in an identi!i&atory relation to the other,
whether that other be hisHher own image, an e3ternal representation, or an outside other.
+his relation is one in whi&h the analysand allows the other to ha1e only a !ra&tion o!
;otherness<' the analysand &an barely apprehend the otherness o! the other, be&ause the
psy&he says, ;that:s me.< But this is the worse kind o! ruse and indu&es !eelings o!
disarray and insu!!i&ien&y, putting the analysand in an aggressi1e relation o! ri1alry to the
other, !or this BimaginaryC other o&&upies the pla&e the analysand wants to o&&upy.
+hrough su&h pro&esses, analysis intensi!ies rather than diminishes the analysand:s
Ki1en that so many psy&hoanalysts in 5ngland and meri&a e3tolled the 1irtues
o! an analysandHanalyst en&ounter whi&h &ulminated in an emboldened ego that !orti!ied
the monument o! a strengthened psy&he able, as these &laims would ha1e it, to bra&e itsel!
against the 1ery onslaughts whi&h had produ&ed its &rippling !rustrationE and gi1en the
rhetori&al s&a!!olding o! &ommon sense and, so it seemed, empiri&al ;e1iden&e< o! &ured
analysands, what made La&an so stead!ast in his &on1i&tion to the &ontraryF
+his ego, whose strength our theorists now de!ine by its strength to bear
!rustration, is !rustration in its essen&e. 6ot !rustration o! a desire o! the
sub"e&t, but !rustration by an ob"e&t in whi&h his desire is alienated and
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
whi&h the more it is elaborated, the more pro!ound the alienation !rom his
5ouissance be&omes !or the sub"e&t Bcrits %#C$L+Mo identi!y the ego with
the dis&ipline o! the sub"e&t is to &on!use imaginary isolation with the
mastery o! the instin&ts. +his lays open to error o! "udgment in the &ondu&t
o! the treatment' su&h as trying to rein!or&e the ego in many neuroses
&aused by its o1er !or&e!ul stru&ture?and that is a dead end. Bcrits 14,C
+he pro&ess o! !ull spee&h, then, is a pro&ess that &ataly=es disorder and
de&onstru&tion, rather than order and unity, ;the monumental &onstru&t o! Lthe
analysand:sM nar&issism< Bcrits %4C. +o 5go @sy&hology:s pra&ti&e o! !orti!ying the ego
in an e!!ort to end the !rustration o! neurosis, La&an proposed a re1olutionary analyti&
en&ounter in whi&h the analysand be&omes'
engaged in an e1er growing dispossession o! that being o! his, &on&erning
whi&h?by dint o! sin&ere portraits whi&h lea1e its idea no less in&oherent,
o! re&ti!i&ations that do not su&&eed in !reeing its essen&e, o! stays and
de!enses that do not pre1ent his statue !rom tottering, o! nar&issisti&
embra&es that be&ome like a pu!! o! air in animating it?he ends up by
re&ogni=ing that this being has ne1er been anything more than his
&onstru&t in the imaginary and that this &onstru&t disappoints all
&ertainties$ For in this labor whi&h he undertakes to re&onstru&t for
another, he redis&o1ers the fundamental alienation Lmy emphasisM whi&h
made him &onstru&t it like another, and whi&h has always destined it Lthe
egoM to be taken !rom him by another. B%#C
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
+his notion o! ;labor< whi&h the analysand ;undertakes to re&onstru&t for
another< and thereby redis&o1ers ;the !undamental alienation whi&h made him &onstru&t
it like another, and whi&h has always destined it Lthe egoM to be taken !rom him by
another< returns us to the thorny issue o! ;&ontemporaries.< 6ow we must take it up, not
in a &onte3t o! uni1ersal, unra&ed sub"e&ts BWhitesC nor in a &ulturally modi!ied &onte3t
o! spe&i!i& identities B;dark< Whites and non-Bla&ksC, but rather in a &onte3t o! positional
polarity whi&h stru&tures &i1il so&iety and its nether region?namely, the polarity o!
>uman and Bla&k, the &onte3t o! masters and sla1es.
+he analyti& s&hema o! Ja&Gues La&an:s breakthrough known as ;!ull spee&h<
posits a sub"e&t whose su!!ering is produ&ed by alienation in the image o! the other, or
&aptation within Imaginary, and whose !reedom must be produ&ed by alienation in the
language o! the other, or interpellation within the 2ymboli&. +he sub"e&t is &onstituted as
sub"e&t proper only through a relation to the other. For La&an, alienation, either in the
Imaginary or in the 2ymboli&, is the modality produ&ti1e o! sub"e&ti1ity !or all sentient
beings. In other words, sub"e&ti1ity is a dis&ursi1e, or signi!ying, pro&ess o! be&oming.
@sy&hi& disorder, by way o! the death dri1e, is that me&hanism in La&anian
analysis that brings the analysand to hisHher understanding o! himHhersel! as a 1oid. For
La&an, the problems o! spee&h and the death dri1e are relatedE the relationship presents
the irony ;o! two &ontrary terms' instin&t in its most &omprehensi1e a&&eptation being the
law that go1erns in its su&&ession a &y&le o! beha1ior whose goal is the a&&omplishment
o! a 1ital !un&tionE and death appearing !irst o! all as the destru&tion o! li!e< Bcrits 141C.
But La&an is &lear that though death is implied, it is li!e through language whi&h is the
aim o! analysis. B+his too bears hea1ily on what, I argue below, is the po1erty o! !ull
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
spee&h:s politi&al or eman&ipatory promise.C *nly by being alienated within the Big ,
language, or the 2ymboli& *rder, does the moi, small a or ego, &ome to be the 5e, the
sub"e&t o! la&k, the sub"e&t o! a 1oid. @rior to the analysand:s reali=ing !ull spee&h, sHhe
pro"e&ts onto the analyst all o! the !antasms whi&h &onstitute hisHher ego. +he
eman&ipatory pro&ess o! La&an:s psy&hoanalyti& en&ounter is one in whi&h the analysand
passes !rom positing the analyst as the small a, to one in whi&h the analyst o&&upies, !or
the analysand, the position o! the Big , a position synonymous with language itsel!. For
La&an, these two mo1es &omplement ea&h other. It bears repeating that this
intersub"e&ti1ity, alienation in the other, e3ists whether the sub"e&t grasps it or not,
whether or not sHhe is the sub"e&t o! !ull spee&h or empty spee&h. But we are still le!t with
alienation as the stru&turing modality !or sub"e&ti1ity. Whether, by way o! description,
we posit the analysand as being either alienated in the Imaginary Bego, small aC or as
being alienated in the 2ymboli& Blanguage as stru&ture, as the un&ons&ious o! the *therC
? or e1en i!, in addition, we re&ogni=e the !a&t that !ull spee&h as prescription demands
alienation within the 2ymboli&?we remain le!t with the !a&t that, where becoming is
&on&erned, alienation is sub"e&ti1ity:s essential modality o! e3isten&e. lienation is, !or
La&an, an essential grammar o! politi&al ontology.
s I stated abo1e, I am not arguing that the un&ons&ious does not e3ist. 6or am I
&laiming that sentient beings, whether >uman or Bla&k, are not indeed alienated in the
Imaginary and the 2ymboli&. I am arguing that whereas alienation is an essential
grammar underpinning >uman relationality, it is an important but ultimately inessential
grammar when one attempts to think the stru&tural interdi&tion against Bla&k re&ognition
and in&orporation
. In other words, alienation is a grammar underwriting all manner o!
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
relationality, whether nar&issisti& Begoi&, empty spee&hC or liberated B!ull spee&hC. But it
is not a grammar that underwrites, mu&h less e3plains, the absen&e o! relationality.
%anon and %ull Speech
Ja&Gues La&an and Frant= Fanon grappled with the Guestion &hat does it mean to
be freeF and its &orollary &hat does it mean to suffer> at the same moment in history. +o
say that they both appeared at the same time is to say that they both ha1e, as their
intelle&tual &ondition o! possibility, Fran&e:s brutal o&&upation o! lgeria. It is not my
intention to dwell on La&an:s la&k o! politi&al a&ti1ism or to roll out Fanon:s
re1olutionary war re&ord. /y intention is to interrogate the breadth o! !ull spee&h:s
descripti$e uni1ersality and the depth o! its prescripti$e &ure?to interrogate its
!oundation by staging an en&ounter between, on the one hand, La&an and his interlo&utors
and, on the other hand, Fanon and his interlo&utors. +o this end alone do I note the two
men:s relation to Fren&h &olonialism, as the !or&e o! that relation is !elt in their te3ts.
Frant= Fanon:s psy&hoanalyti& des&ription o! Bla&k neurosis, ;hallu&inatory
whitening,< and his pres&riptions !or a &ure, ;de&oloni=ation< and ;the end o! the world<
BBSW( 7,C resonate with La&an:s &ategories o! empty spee&h and !ull spee&h. +here is a
monumental disa1owal o! emptiness in1ol1ed in hallu&inatory whitening, and disorder
and death &ertainly &hara&teri=e de&oloni=ation. For Fanon the trauma o! Bla&kness lies
in its absolute *therness in relation to Whites. +hat is, White people make Bla&k people
by re&ogni=ing only their skin &olor. Fanon:s Bla&k patient is ;o1erwhelmed$by the
wish to be white< BBSW( 144C. But unlike La&an:s diagnosis o! the analysand, Fanon
makes a dire&t and sel!-&ons&ious &onne&tion between his patient:s hallu&inatory
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
whitening and the stability o! White so&iety. I! Fanon:s te3ts rat&het 1iolently and
unpredi&tably between the body o! the sub"e&t and the body o! the so&ius, it is be&ause
Fanon understands that ;outside LhisM psy&hoanalyti& o!!i&e, Lhe mustM in&orporate LhisM
&on&lusions into the &onte3t o! the world.< +he room is too small to &ontain the
en&ounter. ;s a psy&hoanalyst, I should help my patient to be&ome &ons&ious o! his
un&ons&ious and abandon his attempts at a hallu&inatory whitening$< >ere we ha1e a
dismantling o! all the !antasms that &onstitute the patient:s ego and whi&h sHhe pro"e&ts
onto the analyst that resonates with the pro&ess o! attaining what La&an &alls !ull spee&h.
But Fanon takes this a step !urther, !or not only does he want the analysand to surrender
to the 1oid o! language, but also to ;a&t in the dire&tion o! a &hange$with respe&t to the
real sour&e o! the &on!li&t?that is, toward the so&ial stru&tures< BBSW( 144C.
s a psy&hoanalyst, Fanon does not dispute La&an:s &laim that su!!ering and
!reedom are produ&ed and attained, respe&ti1ely, in the realm o! 2ymboli&E but this, !or
Fanon, is only hal! o! the modality o! e3isten&e. +he other hal! o! su!!ering and !reedom
is 1iolen&e. By the time Fanon has wo1en the des&ription o! his patient:s &ondition Bi.e.,
his own li!e as a Bla&k do&tor in Fran&eC into the pres&ription o! a &ure Bhis &ommitment
to armed struggle in lgeriaC, he has e3tended the logi& o! disorder and death !rom the
2ymboli& into the Deal.
De&oloni=ation, whi&h sets out to &hange the order o! the world, is,
ob1iously, a program o! &omplete disorder$LIMt is the meeting o! two
!or&es, opposed to ea&h other by their 1ery nature$+heir !irst en&ounter
was marked by 1iolen&e and their e3isten&e together$was &arried on by
dint o! a great array o! bayonets and &annons$L+Mhis narrow world,
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
strewn with prohibitions, &an only be &alled in Guestion by absolute
1iolen&e. B!he Wretched of the arth 0,-0.C
+his is be&ause the stru&tural, or absolute, 1iolen&e or what Loi& Wa&Guant &alls
the ;&ar&eral &ontinuum,< is not a Bla&k e)perience but a &ondition o! Bla&k ;li!e.< It
remains &onstant, paradigmati&ally, despite &hanges in its ;per!orman&e< o1er time?
sla1e ship, /iddle @assage, sla1e estate, Jim )row, the ghetto, the prison industrial
+here is an un&anny &onne&tion between Fanon:s absolute 1iolen&e and
La&an:s Deal. +hus, by e3tension, the grammar o! su!!ering o! the Bla&k itsel! is on the
le1el o! the Deal. In this emblemati& passage, Fanon does !or 1iolen&e what La&an does
!or alienation' namely, he remo1es the negati1e stigma su&h a term would otherwise in&ur
in the hands o! theorists and pra&titioners who seek &oheren&e and stability. >e also
raises within La&an:s s&hema o! su!!ering and !reedom a &ontradi&tion between the idea
o! uni1ersal un-ra&ed &ontemporaries and two !or&es opposed to ea&h other, whose !irst
en&ounter and e3isten&e together is marked by 1iolen&e. In short, he di1ides the world not
between &ured &ontemporaries and un&ured &ontemporaries, but between &ontemporaries
o! all sorts and sla1es. >e lays the groundwork !or a theory o! antagonism o1er and abo1e
a theory o! &on!li&t.
I! La&an:s !ull spee&h is not, in essen&e, a ;&ure< but a pro&ess promoting psy&hi&
disorder, through whi&h the sub"e&t &omes to know herHhimsel!, not as a stable relation to
a true ;sel!<?the Imaginary?but as a 1oid &onstituted only by language, a be&oming
toward death in relation to the *ther?the 2ymboli&?then we will see how this symboli&
sel!-&an&ellation B2il1erman, (ale Sub5ecti$it"*,0-,(, 1#,-1#-C is possible only when
the sub"e&t and ;his &ontemporaries< BLa&an, crits %.C are White or >uman.
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
pro&ess o! !ull spee&h rests on a tremendous disa1owal whi&h re/monumentali=es the
BWhiteC ego be&ause it sutures, rather than &an&els, !ormal stagnation by !orti!ying and
e3tending the interlo&utory li!e o! intra->uman dis&ussions.
I am arguing that B1C &i1il so&iety, the terrain upon whi&h the analysand per!orms
!ull spee&h, is always already a !ormally stagnated monumentE and B#C the pro&ess by
whi&h !ull spee&h is per!ormed brokers simultaneously two relations !or the analysand,
one new and one old, respe&ti1ely. +he pro&ess by whi&h !ull spee&h is per!ormed
brokers a BnewC deconstructi$e relationship between the analysand and hisHher !ormal
stagnation &ithin &i1il so&iety and a Bpre-e3isting orC reconstructi$e relationship between
the analysand and the !ormal stagnation that constitutes &i1il so&iety.
Whereas La&an was aware o! how language ;pre&edes and e3&eeds us<
B2il1erman #444' 1(.C, he did not ha1e Fanon:s awareness o! how 1iolen&e also pre&edes
and e3&eeds Bla&ks. n awareness o! this would ha1e disturbed the &oheren&e o! the
ta3onomy implied by the personal pronoun ;us.< +he tra"e&tory o! La&an:s !ull spee&h
there!ore is only able to make sense o! 1iolen&e as &ontingent phenomena, the e!!e&ts o!
;transgressions< Ba&ts o! rebellion or re!usalC within a 2ymboli& *rder. >ere, 1iolen&e, at
least in the !irst instan&e, is neither sense-less BgratuitousC nor is it a matri3 o! human
BimCpossibility' it is what happens a!ter some !orm o! brea&h o&&urs in the realm o!
signi!i&ation. +hat is to say, it is &ontingent.
Implied in this gesture toward La&an:s tra"e&tory on 1iolen&e are se1eral Guestions
regarding !ull-spee&h. First, &an La&anian !ull-spee&h, so wedded as it is to the notion that
there is no world to apprehend beyond the realm o! signi!i&ation, adeGuately theori=e
those bodies that emerge !rom dire&t relations o! !or&eF Whi&h is to ask, is the logi& o!
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
!ull spee&h too imbri&ated in the institutionality o! anti-Bla&kness to be des&ripti1ely or
pres&ripti1ely adeGuate !or thinking Bla&k positionalityF In trying to read >uman
su!!ering and its e!!e&ts Bwhat La&an &alls empty spee&hC as well as >uman !reedom and
its e!!e&ts Bwhat he &alls !ull spee&hC through the !igure o! a Bla&kened position &an one
simply assume that, despite relations o! pure !or&e whi&h distinguish one ;epidermal
s&hema< BBSW( 11#C !rom another, relations o! signi!i&ation ha1e the power to &ast
webs o! analogy between su&h disparate positions, webs o! analogy strong enough to
&ir&ums&ribe relations o! pure !or&e, so that all sentient beings &an be seen as ea&h others:
;&ontemporaries<F @ut another way' is !ull spee&h !or the master !ull spee&h !or the
sla1eF What would it mean !or a master to li1e in a de&onstru&ti1e relation to his moiF Is
;liberated master< an o3ymoron or, worse yet, simply redundantF +hrough what agen&y
B1olitionF willFC does a sla1e enti!y the signi!ierF Whi&h is to ask, &an there be su&h a
thing as a nar&issisti& sla1eF *r, what is !ull spee&h !or a sla1eF La&an seems to take !or
granted the uni1ersal rele1an&e o! B1C the analyti& en&ounter, B#C the &entrality o!
signi!i&ation, and B0C the possibility o! ;&ontemporaries.< But &an a Bla&kened position
take up these &oordinates with merely a !ew &ulturally spe&i!i& modi!i&ations, or is to
bla&ken these &oordinates pre&ipitous o! &rises writ largeF
I &ontend that the web o! analogy &ast between the sub"e&t o! analysis and her
;&ontemporaries,< in the pro&ess o! !ull spee&h, is rent asunder by insertion o! the Bla&k
position, who is less a site o! sub"e&ti!i&ation and more a site o! desub"e&ti!i&ation?a
;spe&ies< BFanonE >artmanC o! ;absolute dereli&tion< BFanonC, a hybrid o! ;person and
property< B>artmanC, and a body that magneti=es bullets B/artinot and 2e3tonC. I intend
to s&ale upward Bto the so&iusC the impli&ations o! La&anian !ull spee&h to illustrate its
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
pla&e as a strategy whi&h !orti!ies and e3tends the interlo&utory li!e o! &i1il so&iety, and
s&ale downward Bto the bodyC the impli&ations o! Fanonian de&oloni=ation to illustrate the
in&ommensurability between the Bla&k !lesh and the body o! the analysand. Full spee&h
is a strategy o! psy&hi& disorder, within >uman limits, and de&oloni=ation is a strategy o!
&omplete disorder, without any limits.
+he impli&ations o! this dilemma are e3tremely
high, !or it suggests that La&anian !ull spee&h?like Film +heory, so mu&h o! whi&h
stands on its shoulders?is an a&&ompli&e to so&ial stability, despite its &laims to the
t the &ru3 o! this &ritiGue is BaC the unbridgeable gap between the ethi&al stan&e
o! La&anian !ull spee&h and the ethi&al stan&e o! Fanonian de&oloni=ation?in other
words, the method by whi&h La&anian !ull spee&h intensi!ies a disa1owal o! a 1iolen&e-
stru&turing matri3?and BbC the Guestion o! the analysand:s ;&ontemporaries,< the
language o! whi&h, a&&ording to La&an, the analysand speaks when sHhe shatters the
monuments o! the ego:s ;!ormal stagnation.< +o what e3tent &an the analysand be&ome
the sla1e:s &ontemporary as the latter seeks to shatters &i1il so&ietyF +o whi&h &all to
arms would the analysand be &ompelled to respondF
What &onstitutes the ground on whi&h the analysand is able to do the
de&onstru&ti1e work o! !ull spee&hF /y &ontention is that prior to, and &ontemporaneous
with, the analyti& en&ounter, the Bla&k body ;labors< as an ensla1ed hybridity o! person
and property B>artmanC so that the analysand may ;labor< as a liberated sub"e&t.
Furthermore, it is the matri3 o! 1iolen&e whi&h di1ides the ensla1ed !rom the unensla1ed,
"ust as the matri3 o! alienation di1ides the infans !rom the sub"e&t' 1iolen&e 1ones the
Bla&k whereas alienation =ones the >uman. But whereas ;be&oming towards death,<
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
whi&h results !rom the La&anian analyti& en&ounter, allows the analysand to de&onstru&t
hisHher monumentali=ed presen&e in the !a&e o! alienation and a li!e papered o1er by
language, analysis additionally allows the analysand to take !or granted Bbe obli1ious toC
the matri3 o! 1iolen&e whi&h =oned his terrain o! ;generali=ed trust< BBarrettC, that terrain
euphemisti&ally re!erred to as ;&i1il< so&iety. ;Kenerali=ed trust< Bra&iali=ed WhitenessC,
along with relati1e stability, are the pre&onditions !or the analyti& en&ounter, or any other
;&i1il< en&ounter. Fanon makes &lear how some are =oned, a priori, beyond the borders
o! generali=ed trust'
+his world di1ided into &ompartments, this world &ut in two is
inhabited by two di!!erent spe&ies$When you e3amine at &lose Guarters
the &olonial &onte3t, it is e1ident that what par&els out the world is to
begin with the !a&t o! belonging to a gi1en race, a gi1en species Lmy
emphasisM. In the &olonies the e&onomi& substru&ture is also a
superstru&ture. +he &ause is the &onseGuen&eE you are ri&h be&ause you are
white, you are white be&ause you are ri&h. B07-%4C
When I say that the analysand &an take !or granted the matri3 o! 1iolen&e whi&h
=oned his terrain o! ;generali=ed trust,< I mean that unless the world is par&eled out?
unless there are two spe&ies?sHhe &annot &ommen&e the work o! be&oming toward death
?nor &ould La&an ha1e theori=ed the work. In short, 1iolen&e?the ;spe&ies< di1ision,
the =oning, o! the ensla1ed and the unensla1ed?is the condition of possibilit" upon
&hich sub5ecti$it" Bempty-, !ull spee&h paradigm' the Imaginary 1s. 2ymboli& diale&ti&C
&an be theori=ed Bi.e., the writing o! critsC and per!ormed Bthe analyti& en&ounterC. But
this theori1ation and performance, b" ignoring its relation to the species 1oning &hich
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
,labors- for its condition of possibilit", deconstructs the monuments of the anal"sand4s
ego, &hile simultaneousl" fortif"ing and e)tending the ramparts of ci$il societ" &hich
circumscribed those monuments. 6n short, the tra5ector" of disorder to&ard full speech
deconstructs that &hich prohibits relations bet&een the anal"sand and his
,contemporaries- &hile simultaneousl" entif"ing and unif"ing that &hich prohibits
relations bet&een species 7bet&een masters and sla$esC. Despite La&an:s radi&al
inter1entions against the pra&ti&al limitations o! *b"e&t Delations and the ideologi&al
pit!alls o! 5go @sy&hology, the pro&ess o! !ull spee&h is nonetheless !oundational to the
1erti&al integration o! anti-Bla&kness.
I said abo1e that I wanted to s&ale upward the impli&ations o! La&anian !ull
spee&h to illustrate its pla&e as a strategy whi&h !orti!ies and e3tends the interlo&utory li!e
o! &i1il so&iety, and s&ale downward the impli&ations o! Fanonian de&oloni=ation to the
le1el o! the body to illustrate the in&ommensurability between Bla&k !lesh and the body
o! the analysand?how those two positions subtend ea&h other but, like a plane to an
angle, mutually &onstru&t their triangulated &onte3t. Be!ore unpa&king, at the le1el o! the
body, what this relationship makes BimCpossible, I am &ompelled to e3tend the
&artography o! this 1ery intimate en&ounter, that is, to rat&het the s&ale up !rom the body
to the so&ius?where &i1il so&iety subtends its nether region.
Civil Societ( and Its "iscontents
s noted abo1e, be!ore the ;healthy< ran&or and repartee that represent the
&ornerstone o! &i1il so&iety Bbe it in the boardroom, at the polling booth, in the bedroom,
or on the analyst:s &ou&hC &an get underway, &i1il so&iety must be relati1ely stable. But
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
how is this stability to be a&hie1ed, and !or whomF For Bla&k people, &i1i& stability is a
state o! emergen&y. Frant= Fanon BWretchedC and /artinot and 2e3ton B;+he 1ant-
garde o! White 2uprema&y<C e3plain why the stability o! &i1il so&iety is a state o!
emergen&y !or Bla&ks. Fanon writes o! =ones. For our purposes, we want to bear in mind
the !ollowing' the =one o! the >uman Bor non-Bla&k?notwithstanding the !a&t that Fanon
is a little to loose and liberal with his language when he &alls it the =one o! the
Lpost&olonial nati1eMC has ;rules< within the =one that allow !or e3isten&e o! >umanist
intera&tion?i.e., La&an:s psy&hoanalyti& en&ounter andHor Krams&i:s proletarian
struggle. +his stems !rom the di!!erent paradigms o! =oning mentioned earlier in terms o!
Bla&k =ones B1oid o! >umanist intera&tionC and White =ones Bthe Guintessen&e o!
>umanist intera&tionC.
+he =one where the nati1e li1es is not &omplementary to the =one
inhabited by the settler. +he two =ones are opposed, but not in the ser1i&e
o! higher unity. *bedient to the rules o! pure ristotelian logi&, they both
!ollow the prin&iple o! re&ipro&al e3&lusi1ity. 6o &on&iliation is possible,
!or o! the two terms, one is super!luous$+he settler:s town is a town o!
white people, o! !oreigners. BWretched 0--07C
+his is the basis o! his assertion that two =ones produ&e two di!!erent ;spe&ies.< +he
phrase ;not in ser1i&e o! higher unity< dismisses any kind o! diale&ti&al optimism !or a
!uture synthesis. Fanon:s spe&i!i& &onte3t does not share the same histori&al or national
&onte3t o! /artinot and 2e3ton, but the settlerHnati1e dynami&, the di!!erential =oning and
the gratuity Bas opposed to &ontingen&yC o! 1iolen&e whi&h a&&rue to the bla&kened
position, are shared by the two te3ts.
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
/artinot and 2e3ton assert the prima&y o! Fanon:s /ani&hean =ones Bwithout the
promise o! higher unityC e1en when !a&ed with the !a&ti&ity o! meri&an integration'
+he di&hotomy between white ethi&s Lthe dis&ourse o! &i1il so&ietyM and its
irrele1an&e to the 1iolen&e o! poli&e pro!iling is not diale&ti&alE the two are
in&ommensurable whene1er one attempts to speak about the paradigm o!
poli&ing, one is !or&ed ba&k into a dis&ussion o! parti&ular e1ents?high
pro!ile homi&ides and their related &ourtroom battles, !or instan&e
Lemphasis mineM. B/artinot and 2e3ton ,C
It makes no di!!eren&e that in the 82 the ;&asbah< and the ;5uropean< =one are
laid one on top o! the other, be&ause what is being asserted here is the s&hemati&
inter&hangeability between Fanon:s settler so&iety and 2e3ton and /artinot:s poli&ing
paradigm. BWhites in meri&a are now so settled they no longer &all themsel1es settlers.C
For Fanon, it is the poli&eman and soldier Bnot the dis&ursi1e, or the hegemoni& agentsC o!
&olonialism that make one town White and the other Bla&k. For /artinot and 2e3ton, this
/ani&hean delirium mani!ests itsel! by way o! the 82 paradigm o! poli&ing whi&h
BreCprodu&es, repetiti1ely, the insideHoutside, the &i1il so&ietyHBla&k 1oid, by 1irtue o! the
di!!eren&e between those bodies that don:t magneti=e bullets and those bodies that do.
;@oli&e impunity ser1es to distinguish between the ra&ial itsel! and the elsewhere that
mandates it$the distin&tion between those whose human being is put permanently in
Guestion and those !or whom it goes without saying< B/artinot and 2e3ton -C. In su&h a
paradigm White people are, ipso !a&to, deputi=ed in the !a&e o! Bla&k people, whether
they know it B&ons&iouslyC or not.
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
8ntil the re&ent tapering o!! o! weekly lyn&hing in the 17,4s, Whites were &alled
upon as indi1iduals to per!orm this deputation.
+he 171% @h.D. dissertation o! >. /.
>enry Ba s&holar in no way hostile to sla1eryC, !he +olice Control of the Sla$e in South
Carolina, re1eals how 1ital this per!orman&e was in the &onstru&tion o! Whiteness !or the
2ettlers o! the 1,44s, 1.44s, and 1-44s, as well as !or the 2ettler-s&holar B>enry himsel!C
o! the 1744s'
+he e1olution o! the patrol system is interesting. +he need o! keeping the
sla1es !rom ro1ing was !elt !rom the 1ery !irst. mong the earliest o! the
&olonial a&ts in 1,-, is one that ga1e any person the right to apprehend,
properly &hastise, and send home any sla1e who might be !ound o!! his
master:s plantation without a ti&ket. +his plan was not altogether e!!e&ti1e,
and in 1,74 it was made the dut" o! all persons under penalty o! !orty
shillings to arrest and &hastise any sla1e L!oundM out o! his home plantation
without a proper ti&ket. +his plan o! making it e1erybody:s business to
punish wandering sla1es seems to ha1e been su!!i&ient at least !or a time.
But today this pro&ess o! spe&ies di1ision does not turn Bla&ks into spe&ies and produ&e
Whites with the e3istential potential o! !ully reali=ed sub"e&ti1ity in the same spe&ta&ular
!ashion as the spe&ta&le o! 1iolen&e that >enry wrote o! in 2outh )arolina and that Fanon
was a&&ustomed to lgeria. In !a&t, /artinot and 2e3ton maintain that attention to the
spe&ta&le &auses us to think o! 1iolen&e as &ontingent upon symboli& transgressions rather
than thinking o! it as a matri3 !or the simultaneous produ&tion o! Bla&k death and White
&i1il so&iety'
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
+he spe&ta&ular e1ent &amou!lages the operation o! poli&e law as
&ontempt, poli&e law is the !a&t that there is no recourse to the disruption
of LBla&kM people4s li$es b" these acti$ities. B,C
By ;no re&ourse< the authors are suggesting that Bla&k people themsel1es ser1e a 1ital
!un&tion as the li1ing markers o! gratuitous 1iolen&e. nd the spe&ta&ular e1ent is a s&ene
that draws attention away !rom the paradigm o! 1iolen&e. It !un&tions as a &rowding out
s&enario. )rowding out our understanding that, where 1iolen&e is &on&erned, to be Bla&k
is to be beyond the limit o! &ontingen&y. +his thereby gi1es the bodies o! the rest o!
so&iety B>umansC some !orm o! &oheren&e Ba &ontingent rather than gratuitous
relationship to 1iolen&eC'
In !a&t, to !o&us on the spe&ta&ular e1ent o! poli&e 1iolen&e is to deploy
Band thereby a!!irmC the logi& o! poli&e pro!iling itsel!. ?et, &e can4t a$oid
this logic once &e submit to the demand to pro$ide e)amples or images of
the paradigm Lon&e we submit to signi!ying pra&ti&esM. s a result, the
attempt to articulate the paradigm of policing renders itself non/
paradigmatic, reaffirms the logic of police profiling and thereb" reduces
itself to the fraudulent ethic b" &hich &hite ci$il societ" rationali1es its
e)istence Lemphasis mineM. B,-.C
;+he !raudulent ethi& by whi&h white &i1il so&iety rationali=es its e3isten&e<
endures in arti&ulations between that spe&ies with a&tual ;recourse to the disruption< o!
li!e Bby the poli&ing paradigmC and another member o! the same spe&ies, su&h as the
dialogue between news reporter and a reader, between a 1oter and a &andidate, or
between an analysand and hisHher &ontemporaries. ;De&ourse to the disruption< o! li!e is
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
the !irst &ondition upon whi&h a &on!li&t between enti!ied signi!i&ation and a true
language o! desire, a non-egoi& language of contemporaries, !ull spee&h, &an be staged'
one must !irst be on the poli&ing side, rather than the poli&ed side, o! that di1ision made
possible by the 1iolen&e matri3. In other words, where 1iolen&e is &on&erned, one must
stay on this side o! the wall o! &ontingen&y B"ust as one must ;stay on this side o! the wall
o! language< by operating within the 2ymboli&C to enable !ull spee&h. Both matri3es,
1iolen&e and alienation, pre&ede and anti&ipate the spe&ies.
Whiteness, then, and by e3tension &i1il so&iety:s "unior partners, &annot be solely
;represented< as some monumentali=ed &oheren&e o! phalli& signi!iers but must, in the
!irst ontologi&al instan&e, be understood as a !ormation o! ;&ontemporaries< who do not
magneti=e bullets. +his is the essen&e o! their &onstru&tion through an asigni!ying
absen&eE their signi!ying presen&e is mani!est in the !a&t that they are, i! only by de!ault,
deputi=ed against those who do magneti=e bullets' in short, White people are not simply
;prote&ted< by the poli&e, they are the poli&e.
/artinot and 2e3ton &laim that the White sub"e&t-e!!e&ts o! today:s poli&ing
paradigm are more banal than the White sub"e&t-e!!e&ts o! Fanon:s settler paradigm. For
/artinot and 2e3ton, they &annot be e3plained by re&ourse to the spectacle o! 1iolen&e.
;@oli&e spe&ta&le is not the e!!e&t o! the ra&ial uni!ormE rather, it is the poli&e uni!orm
that is produ&ing re-ra&iali=ation< B/artinot and 2e3ton -C. +his ;re-ra&iali=ation< e&hoes
Fanon:s assertion that ;the &ause is the &onseGuen&e. 9ou are ri&h be&ause you are white,
you are white be&ause you are ri&h< BFanon Wretched$%4C. Whereas in Fanon:s settler
paradigm this WhiteHri&hHri&hHWhite &ir&ularity mani!ests itsel! in the automati& a&&rual
o! li!e produ&ing potential, in /artinot and 2e3ton:s paradigm o! poli&ing it mani!ests
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
itsel! in the automati& a&&rual o! li!e itself. It marks the di!!eren&e between those who are
ali1e, the sub"e&ts o! &i1il so&iety, and those who are !atally ali1e B/arriott 1,C, or
;so&ially dead< B@attersonC, the ;spe&ies< o! ;absolute dereli&tion< BFanon, Wretched*C.
gain, the sub"e&t o! &i1il so&iety is the spe&ies that does not magneti=e bullets,
though sHhe does not ne&essarily perform any ad1o&a&y o! poli&e pra&ti&es or o! the
poli&ing paradigm the way sHhe had to in the >./. >enry:s 17
&entury 2outh )arolina.
s /artinot and 2e3ton argue, the &i1i& stability o! the #1
&entury 8.2. sla1e estate is no
longer e1ery White person:s duty to per!orm. In !a&t, many Whites on the Le!t a&tually
per!orm progressi1e opposition to the poli&e, but ea&h per!orman&e o! progressi1e
opposition en&ounters what /artinot and 2e3ton &all
$a &ertain internal limitation. $+he supposed se&rets o! white suprema&y
get sleuthed in its spe&ta&ular displays, in pathology and instrumentality,
or pawned o!! on the !igure o! the ;rogue &op.< 5a&h approa&h to ra&e
subordinates it to something that is not ra&e, as i! to &ontinue the noble
epistemologi&al endea1or o! getting to know it better. But what ea&h ends
up talking about is that other thing. In the !a&e o! this, the le!t:s anti-
ra&ism be&omes its passion. But its passion gi1es it away. It signi!ies the
passi1e a&&eptan&e o! the idea that ra&e, &onsidered to be either a real
property o! a person or an imaginary pro"e&tion, is not essential to the
so&ial stru&ture, a system o! so&ial meanings and &ategori=ations. It is the
same passi1e apparatus o! whiteness that in its mainstream guise a&ti1ely
!orgets Lin a way in whi&h settlers o! the !irst three &enturies simply &ould
notM that it owes its e3isten&e to the killing and terrori=ing o! those it
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
ra&iali=es !or the purpose, e3pelling them !rom the human !old in the same
gesture o! !orgetting. It is the passi1ity o! bad !aith that ta&itly a&&epts as
;what goes without saying< the postulates o! white suprema&y. nd it
must do so passionately sin&e ;what goes without saying< is empty and
&an be held as ;truth< only through an obsessi1eness. +he truth is that the
truth is on the sur!a&e, !lat and repetiti1e, "ust as the law is made by the
uni!orm. B.-7C
truth without depth, !lat, repetiti1e, on the sur!a&eF +his unrepresentable sub"e&t-e!!e&t
is more &omple3 than >./. >enry:s early 2ettler per!orman&es o! &ommunal solidarity in
part be&ause'
+he gratuitousness o! its repetition bestows upon white suprema&y
an inherent dis&ontinuity. It stops and starts sel!-re!erentially, at whim. +o
theori=e some politi&al, e&onomi&, or psy&hologi&al ne&essity !or its
repetition, its unending return to 1iolen&e, its need to kill is to lose a grasp
on that gratuitousness by thinking its per!orman&e is representable. 6ts
acts of repetition are its access to unrepresentabilit"E they dissol1e its
e3&essi1eness into in1isibility as simply daily o&&urren&e. Whate1er
mythi& &ontent it pretends to &laim is a priori empty. 6ts secret is that it
has no depth. !here is no dark corner that, once brought to the light of
reason, &ill unra$el its s"stem$LIMts truth lies in the rituals that sustain its
&ir&uitous &ontentless logi&E it is, in !a&t, nothing but its 1ery pra&ti&es
Lemphasis mineM. B14C
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
+o &laim that the paradigm o! poli&ing has no ;mythi& &ontent,< that its
per!orman&e is ;unrepresentable,< and that there is no ;politi&al, e&onomi&, or
psy&hologi&al ne&essity !or its repletion< is to say something more pro!ound than merely
;&i1il so&iety e3ists in an in1erse relation to its own &laims.< It is to say something more
than what the authors say outright' that this in1ersion translates today in the poli&e
making &laims and demands on the institutionality o! &i1il so&iety and not the other way
around. +he e3tended impli&ation o! 2e3ton and /artinot:s &laim is mu&h more
de1astating. For this &laim, with its emphasis on the gratuitousness o! 1iolen&e?a
1iolen&e that &annot be represented but whi&h positions spe&ies nonetheless?
rearti&ulates Fanon:s notion that, !or Bla&ks, 1iolen&e is a matri3 o! BimCpossibility, a
paradigm o! ontology as opposed to a performance that is &ontingent upon symboli&
lienation, howe1er, that La&anian matri3 o! symboli& and imaginary &astration,
on whi&h &odes are made and broken and !ull Bor emptyC spee&h is possible, &omes to
appear, by way o! the psy&hoanalyti& en&ounter, as the essential matri3 o! e3isten&e. We
are in our pla&e, La&an insists, on this side o! the wall o! language. Bcrits 141C It is the
grid on whi&h the analysand &an short &ir&uit somati& &omplian&e with hysteri&al
symptoms and bring to a halt, howe1er temporarily, the egoi& monumentali=ation o!
empty spee&h. +hus, the psy&hoanalyti& en&ounter in general, and La&anian !ull spee&h in
parti&ular, work to &rowd out the White sub"e&t:s reali=ation o! hisHher positionality by
way o! 1iolen&e. It is this &rowding-out s&enario that allows the analysand o! !ull spee&h
to remain White, but ;&ured< Ba liberated masterFC. nd, in addition, the s&enario itsel!
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
weighs in as one more o! &i1il so&iety:s enabling a&&ompaniments Blike 1oting, &oalition
building, and interra&ial ;lo1e<C !or the produ&tion o! the sla1e?that entity'
$insensible to ethi&sE he Lsi&M represents not only the absen&e o! 1alues,
but also the negation o! 1alues. >e is, let us dare to admit, the enemy o!
1alues, and in this sense he is the absolute e1il. >e is the &orrosi1e
element, destroying all that &omes near himE he is the de!orming element,
dis!iguring all that has to do with beauty or moralityE he is the depository
o! male!i&ent powers, the unconscious and irretrie$able instrument of
blind forces BFanon, Wretched %1C
8nlike Fanon:s base-line Bla&k, situated a priori in absolute dereli&tion, La&an:s
base-line analysand is situated a priori in personhood and &ir&ums&ribed by
;&ontemporaries< who are also persons. La&an:s body o! sub"e&ti!i&ation is not o! the
same spe&ies as Fanon:s body o! desub"e&ti!i&ation. I am not suggesting that Bla&k
people:s psy&hes are !ree !rom ma&hinations o! the moi and there!ore ha1e no
impediments in a pro&ess o! ;be&oming towards death.< What I am asking is' how are we
to trust a La&anian assessment o! Bla&k nar&issismF >al! o! this &ontradi&tion &ould be
sol1ed i! we simply re-named !ull-spee&h ;White spee&h< Bor >uman spee&hC and
atta&hed to the analyst:s shingle Blacks need not appl". ;+hey may not need apply but
they are still essential in positing di!!eren&e.<
But &oupled with this gesture o! !ull-
dis&losure regarding !ull-spee&h, we would ha1e to a&knowledge that e1en in the White
analysand:s be&oming toward death, that is to say, e1en a!ter the stays and de!enses that
hereto!ore had kept hisHher ego !rom tottering are all stripped away, yes, e1en a!ter the
nar&issisti& embra&es o! !ormal stagnation are hewn into kindling, and e1en a!ter the
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
labor through whi&h the analysand has redis&o1ered hisHher !undamental alienation, there
will still be a nigger in the woodpile.
)hat *asters +ediscover in Slaves
+he di!!eren&e between Jesus and Buddha is that, though some people may
be&ome )hrist-like, the &hur&h does not take kindly to the idea o! Jesus being mass-
produ&ed. +here is only one Jesus. >e &ame on&e. *ne day, so goes the legend, he will
&ome again. men. In the meantime we will "ust ha1e to wait. psy&hoanalysis modeled
on )hristianity would ha1e a hard row to hoe. But by be&oming toward death in a most
un!lin&hing manner anyone can be&ome a Buddha. 2mall wonder La&an:s pres&ription
!or the analyti& en&ounter looks toward this BnonCreligion with neither a &hur&h nor a god.
+oward the end o! ;+he Fun&tion and Field o! 2pee&h and Language in @sy&hoanalysis,<
La&an a&knowledges the debt !ull spee&h owes to Buddhism, but he adds, &uriously, that
psy&hoanalysis must not
$go to the e3tremes to whi&h LBuddhismM is &arried, sin&e the" &ould be
contrar" to certain limitations imposed b" @our techni2ueA, a discreet
application of its basic principle in anal"sis seems mu&h more a&&eptable
to me$in so !ar as LourM te&hniGue does not in itsel! entail any danger o!
the sub"e&t:s alienation.
For LourM te&hniGue only breaks the dis&ourse in order to deli1er
spee&h. Bcrits 144-141C
8nlike ego psy&hology, and more like Buddhism, La&an embra&ed the death dri1e as the
agen&y that &ould de&onstru&t dis&ourse in order to deli1er spee&h and thereby disrupt the
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
&orporeal integrity, presen&e, &oheren&e?the egoi& monumentali=ation?o! stagnated
sub"e&ti1ity Bor empty spee&h, a belie! in onesel! as o&&upying a position o! mastery in
the Imaginary rather than a position o! nothingness in the 2ymboli&C. /any White !ilm
theorists and White !eminists, su&h as /ary nn Doane, )onstan&e @enley, Ia"a
2il1erman, Ja&Gueline Dose, Janet Begstrom, and Lu&e Iigaray, embra&e the utility o! the
death dri1e as well, !or it is only through an embra&e o! the death dri1e that ;normati1e<
male sub"e&ti1ity, the bane o! women:s liberation, &an !ree itsel! !rom the idiopathi& as
opposed to heteropathi& identi!i&ations o! !ormal stagnation. s 2il1erman points out,
psy&hi& death or sel!-&an&ellation is no small matter. >er des&ription o! the pro&ess as a
kind o! e&stasy o! pain is noteworthy'
/aso&histi& e&stasy…implies a sublation o! sorts, a li!ting o! the psy&he
up and out o! the body into other sites o! su!!ering and hen&e a sel!-
estrangement. It turns…upon a narcissistic deferral and so works against
the consolidation o! the isolated ego Lemphasis mineM. B(ale Sub5ecti$it"
For 2il1erman, the eman&ipatory agen&y o! this kind o! psy&hi& death enables ;a
kind o! heteropathi& &hain-rea&tion …LasM the Lsub"e&tM inhabits multiple sites o!
su!!ering.< +hus the ;e3teriori=ation o! one psy&he ne1er !un&tions to e3alt another and
identity is stripped o! all Rpresen&e:< B#,,C.
+his e3teriori=ation o! the White male psy&he in a Guest to inhabit multiple sites
o! su!!ering, i.e. White women, has its &osts. +he politi&al &osts to White men stripped o!
all presen&e in relation to White women are death-like but not deadly. 6or do most White
!eminists wish it to be deadly. 2il1erman:s &aution, ;I in no way mean to propose
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
&atastrophe as the antidote to a mass meconnaissance< B,%C, di1erges dramati&ally !rom
Fanon:s demand that ;morality is 1ery &on&reteE it is to silen&e the settler:s de!ian&e, to
break his !launting 1iolen&e?in a word, to put him out o! the pi&ture< BWretched %%C.
+he same settler won:t weather both storms in Guite the same way. Fanon:s brand o! ;!ull
spee&h< makes this &lear' ;+he 1iolen&e whi&h has ruled o$er the ordering o! the &olonial
world$will be claimed and taken o$er by the nati1e at the moment when, de&iding to
embody history in his own person, he surges into the !orbidden Guarters< B%4C. For
!eminists like 2il1erman, !ull spee&h is that pro&ess through whi&h the analysand has
;&laimed and taken o1er< the alienation whi&h rules o1er the ordering o! her world. +he
analysand &omes to hear and assume her spee&h, in other words, as she assumes her
desire. +his is not simply a Guest !or personal liberation but instead the assumpti1e logi&
that underwrites two Bimbri&atedC re1olutionary pro"e&ts' the politi&al pro"e&t o! B!or
2il1erman et alC institutional, or paradigmati&, &hangeE &oupled with an aestheti& pro"e&t
Bi.e., &ounter-&inemaC that a&&ompanies the politi&al pro"e&t?the two, then, work in relay
with ea&h other, a mutually enabling diale&ti&. In !he Acoustic (irror: !he %emale
:oice in +s"choanal"sis and Cinema, 2il1erman unders&ores the 1ulnerability in the
armor o! the *edipal paradigm Bthat point most 1ulnerable to atta&k in what !or her is a
world ordering paradigmC. >er &lose reading o! Freud:s go and the 6d reminds us that
there are ;two 1ersions o! the *edipus &omple3, one $whi&h$works to align the
sub"e&t smoothly with heterose3uality and the dominant 1alues o! the symboli& order, and
the other $whi&h is &ulturally disa1owed and organi=es sub"e&ti1ity in !undamentally
Rper1erse' and homose3ual ways:< B1#4C. *edipus, there!ore, &an be claimed and taken
o$er !or a re1olutionary !eminist agenda.
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
Fanon, howe1er, demonstrates how the tools o! spe&ies di1ision are ;&laimed and
taken o1er< by that spe&ies o! absolute dereli&tionE how 1iolen&e is turned to the nati1e:s
ad1antage. +his notion o! embodying ;history in his own person< &an be likened to a
sub"e&t be&oming lost in language Bre&ognition o! the 1oidC. But it:s important not to lose
sight o! the di!!eren&e between the Fanonian impli&ations o! ;spe&ies< and the La&anian
impli&ations o! ;sub"e&ts< be&ause history, !or Fanon, is in e3&ess o! signi!i&ation. In
addition, !or the La&anian sub"e&t, the grid o! alienation holds out the possibility o! some
sort o! &ommuni&ation between sub"e&ts?a higher unity o! &ontemporaries. Whereas !or
+o break up the &olonial world does not mean that a!ter the
!rontiers ha1e been abolished lines o! &ommuni&ation will be set up
between the two =ones. +he destru&tion o! the &olonial world is no more
and no less than the abolition o! one =one, its burial in the depths o! the
earth. B%4-%1C
+o say, as 2il1erman does, ;I in no way mean to propose &atastrophe as the
antidote to a mass meconnaissance< is, I &ontend, to say that the two antagonists are o!
the same spe&ies?they ha1e been =oned not apart but together. 2o, they are not reall"
antagonists. +o be pre&ise, 1iolen&e as it pertains to and stru&tures gender relations
between White men and White women Band it doesAC is o! a &ontingent nature' White
women who ;transgress< their positionality in the 2ymboli& order run the risk o! atta&k.
But as 2aidiya >artman Band FanonC makes &lear, &ontingen&y is not what stru&tures
1iolen&e between White men and Bla&k women, White women and Bla&k women, White
women and Bla&k men, or White men and Bla&k men. +hese White on Bla&k relations
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
share, as their &onstituent element, an absen&e o! &ontingen&y where 1iolen&e is
&on&erned. +he absen&e o! &ontingen&y eliminates the ne&essity o! transgression whi&h is
a pre-&ondition o! intra-settler BWhite men to White womenC 1iolen&e.
/ore is at work here than the monumentali=ation o! White suprema&y through the
imposition o! &ultural signi!iers. Important Guestions emerge regarding the possibility o!
!ull spee&h, the possibility o! an analysand speaking in the language o! his
;&ontemporaries< when the !ield is made up o! Whites and Bla&ks. @ut another way, how
does one de!er the nar&issism o! a Deal relationF >ow &an spee&h alone strip Whites o!
all presen&e in the !a&e o! Bla&ksF What is the real danger entailed in li!ting the White
psy&he up and out o! the body into Bla&k sites o! su!!eringF In short, what kind o!
per!orman&e would that beF We ha1e &ome up against La&an:s &aution not to take
Buddhist te&hniGues beyond ;certain limitations imposed b" @ps"choanal"sisA,- the
limitations o! spee&h.
In e3amining the spe&ta&les o! the sla1e &o!!le, plantation sla1e parties, the
musi&al per!orman&es o! sla1es !or masters, and the s&enes o! ;intima&y< and ;sedu&tion<
between Bla&k women and White men, 2aidiya >artman illustrates how no dis&ursi1e a&t
by Bla&ks towards Whites or by Whites towards Bla&ks, !rom the mundane and
Guotidian, to the horri!ying and outlandish &an be disentangled !rom the gratuitousness o!
1iolen&e that stru&tures Bla&k su!!ering. +his stru&tural su!!ering, whi&h undergirds the
spe&trum o! Bla&k li!e, !rom tender words o! ;lo1e< spoken between sla1e women and
White men to s&reaming at the whipping post, is imbri&ated in the ;!ungibility o! the
&apti1e body< B>artman 17C. Bla&k ;!ungibility< is a 1iolen&e-e!!e&t that marks the
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
di!!eren&e between Bla&k positionality and White positionality and, as >artman makes
&lear, this di!!eren&e in positionality marks a di!!eren&e between &apa&ities o! spee&h.
+he 1iolen&e-indu&ed !ungibility o! Bla&kness allows !or its appropriation by
White psy&hes as ;property o! en"oyment< B#0-#(C. What:s more remarkable is that Bla&k
!ungibility is also that property whi&h inaugurates White empathy to&ard Bla&k su!!ering
B#0-#(C. We might say Bla&k !ungibility &ataly=es a ;heteropathi& &hain-rea&tion< that
allows a White sub"e&t to inhabit multiple sites o! su!!ering. But, again, does the
e3teriori=ation o! one psy&he B2il1erman #,,C, enabled by Bla&kness, su&&ess!ully strip
White identity o! all presen&eF >artman poses this Guestion in her &ritiGue o! a 6orthern
White man:s !antasy that repla&es the body o! sla1es with the bodies o! himsel! and his
!amily, as the sla1es are being beaten'
LBMy e3porting the 1ulnerability o! the &apti1e body as a 1essel !or the
uses, thoughts, and !eelings o! others, the humanity e3tended to the sla1e
inad1ertently &on!irms the e3pe&tations and desires de!initi1e o! the
relations o! &hattel sla1ery. In other words, the &ase o! Dankin:s
empatheti& identi!i&ation is as mu&h due to his good intentions and
heart!elt opposition to sla1ery as to the !ungibility o! the &apti1e body$
In the !antasy o! being beaten$Dankin be&omes a pro3y and the other:s
pain is a&knowledged to the degree that it &an be imagined, yet by 1irtue
o! this substitution the ob"e&t o! identi!i&ation threatens to disappear. B17C
>artman &alls into Guestion the eman&ipatory &laims B!or both the indi1idual
psy&he and the so&iusC o! heteropathi& identi!i&ation and maso&histi& sel!-&an&ellation
Bloss o! sel! in the other, a pro&ess germane to !ull spee&hC when these &laims are not
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
&ir&ums&ribed by a White so&ial !ormation?when they &laim to be more than intra-
>uman dis&ussions. For no web o! analogy &an be spun between, on the one hand, the
!ree body that mounts !ungible !lesh on an eman&ipatory "ourney toward sel!-&an&ellation
and, on the other hand, that !ungible being that has "ust been mounted. +he two positions
are stru&turally irre&on&ilable, whi&h is to say they are not ;&ontemporaries.< >artman
puts a !iner point on it'
$the e!!ort to &ountera&t the &ommonpla&e &allousness to bla&k su!!ering
reGuires that the white body be positioned in the pla&e o! the bla&k body in
order to make this su!!ering 1isible and intelligible. 9et, i! this 1iolen&e
&an be&ome palpable and indignation &an be !ully aroused only through
the maso&histi& !antasy, then it be&omes &lear that empathy is double-
edged, !or in making the other:s su!!ering one:s own, this su!!ering is
o&&luded by the other:s obliteration. B17C
It:s worth repeating the lessons o! &ultural historians' that the Bla&k e3perien&e is
a ;phenomena without analog< BKeno1eseCE that ;natal alienation< is a &onstituent
element o! sla1ery B@attersonE >artmanCE that Bla&k people are so&ially deadE and natal
alienation endows the spe&ies with a past but not a heritage B@attersonC. +here!ore, e1en
i!, through the i&ono&lasm o! be&oming toward death, the analysand dismantles his
monuments, e1en i! he de&onstru&ts his heritage, he will still e3ist in a relation to
heritage, howe1er de&onstru&ted, and it is the possibilit" of heritage itself, a li!e o! not
magneti=ing bullets B/artinot and 2e3tonC, a li!e o! &ontingent Brather than gratuitousC
1iolen&e, whi&h di1ides his spe&ies !rom those with a li!e o! gratuitous 1iolen&e. By
si!ting through the ob"e&t &hoi&es o! his meaning-!ull heritage, rather than a Bla&k and
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
sense-less past, he &omes to assume his desire where he is Bthe goal o! !ull spee&hC. But
though where he is may not be where he began in his relationship Bbe!ore heteropathi&
identi!i&ation with Bla&knessC to his ;&ontemporaries,< it is indeed e1en more intensely
where he began in his relationship to Bla&ks.
nti-Bla&kness mani!ests as the monumentali=ation and !orti!i&ation o! &i1il so&iety
against so&ial death. ;6ar&issism &an be de&onstru&ted in pursuit o! sub"e&ti1ity but &i1il
so&iety remains strengthened.<
Whereas La&an:s analyti& en&ounter, the pro&ess o!
!ull spee&h, is de&onstru&ti1e o! nar&issism internal to &i1il so&iety, it is one in a wide
range o! en&ounters B!rom 1oting to &oalition building to ;inno&ent< !ilial en&ountersC is
re-&onstituti1e o! &i1il so&iety:s !orti!i&ation against so&ial death. I!, on the other hand,
White suprema&y:s !oundations were built solely on a grid o! alienation, where enti!ied
signi!i&ation wards o!! the en&roa&hment o! de&onstru&ti1e signi!i&ation, then !ull spee&h
would hold out the re1olutionary promise o! White suprema&y:s demise mu&h the way
many White !ilm theorists and !eminists ha1e demonstrated !ull spee&h &an hasten the
demise o! intra->uman patriar&hy. But, as Fanon so 1i1idly warns, White suprema&y:s
and >umanism:s !oundations are also built on a grid o! 1iolen&e, where positions o!
&ontingent 1iolen&e are di1ided !rom positions o! gratuitous 1iolen&e B!rom the sla1e
positionC. >ere two kinds o! ;spe&ies< are produ&ed and =oned beyond the pale o! spee&h.
+he so&ial distin&tion between Whites Bor >umansC and Bla&ks &an be neither assessed
nor redressed by way o! signi!ying pra&ti&es alone be&ause the so&ial distin&tion between
li!e and death &annot be spoken. ;It is impossible to !ully redress this pained &ondition
Red, White, & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms
without the o&&urren&e o! an e1ent o! epi& and re1olutionary proportions* the
destruction of a racist social order< Lmy emphasisM B>artman ..C. In li!e, identi!i&ation is
limited only by the play o! endless analogies, but death is like nothing at all. @erhaps
psy&hoanalysis and the promise o! !ull spee&h are not ready !or the end o! the world.

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