Those who know anything about black history and culture probably know that aesthetics has long been a central concern for black thinkers and activists. The Harlem Renaissance, the Negritude movement, the Black Arts Movement, and the discipline of Black British cultural studies all attest to the intimate connection between black politics and questions of style, beauty, expression, and art. And the participants in these and other movements have made art and offered analyses that wrestle with clearly philosophical issues. In _A (...) Philosophy of Black Aesthetics_, I propose to identify and explore the most significant philosophical issues that emerge from the aesthetic dimensions of black life. The book will consist of eight short chapters, each of which will discuss a complex of related themes and phenomena. Every chapter will begin with one or two illustrative real-world examples, and then use the complexities of these opening cases to introduce the relevant issues. Many people in several fields have explored various bits of the terrain that I’ll cover. But none has surveyed the entire terrain in the name of aesthetics, and none has conducted this survey from an explicitly philosophical perspective. Setting up the project in this way means that its main conclusions will come in two forms. One kind of conclusion will emerge from the way I frame the issues. The two most important points here are that the field of aesthetics ought to cover more than the study of western fine art, and that the field of black aesthetics allows and requires the sort of comprehensive and philosophical analysis that I’ll offer. Another set of conclusions will emerge from my treatment of the specific issues in each chapter. In each case the aim will be to defend, albeit briefly, some position on the major issues raised in each chapter. (shrink)
Paul C. Taylor provides an accessible guide to a well-travelled but still-mysterious area of the contemporary social landscape. The result is the first philosophical introduction to the field of race theory and to a non-biological and situational notion of race. Provides the first philosophical introduction to the field of race theory. Outlines the main features and implications of race-thinking; asks questions such as: What is race-thinking? Don’t we know better than to talk about race now? Are there any races? What (...) is it like to have a racial identity? Engages with the ideas of such important figures as Linda Alcoff, K. Anthony Appiah, W.E.B. Du Bois, Howard Winant, and Naomi Zack. Explores the enduring significance of race in relation to culture, personal relationships and social justice. (shrink)
This essay uses the concept of reconstruction to make an argument and an intervention in relation to the practice and study of black aesthetics. The argument will have to do with the parochialism of John Dewey, the institutional inertia of professional philosophy, the aesthetic dimensions of the US politics of reconstruction, the centrality of reconstructionist politics to the black aesthetic tradition, and the staging of a reconstructionist argument in the film, Black Panther (Coogler 2018). The intervention aims to address the (...) fact that arguments like these tend not to register properly because of certain reflexive and customary limits on some common forms of philosophical inquiry. The sort of professional philosophy I was raised to practise and value tends not to be particularly inclusive and open-minded, especially when it comes to subjects that bear directly on the thoughts, lives, and practices of people racialized as black. black aesthetics, by contrast, is an inherently ecumenical enterprise, reaching across disciplinary and demographic boundaries to build communities of practice and exchange. Hence the need for an intervention: to create the space for arguments and the people who work with them to function across disciplinary and demographic contexts. (shrink)
As legal scholar Ariela Dubler notes, the institution of marriage casts a long shadow across contemporary social life. Much more than a way of conferring social sanction on sexual and romantic relationships, marriage unlocks a wide range of social goods, from inheritance rights to medical records access. In addition, though, and as generations of feminists, queer activists, and others have made clear, this institution is part of a wider network of power relationships that it helps to shore up and conceal. (...) Critics most often point to the way the marital regime quietly reinforces patriarchal, bourgeois liberal, and heteronormative assumptions, hiding them in the shadow of putatively benign, private, and natural social structures. This article brings the overlooked connections between marriage and race out of the shadows and more fully into view. Using and refining a fourfold notion of racial invisibility developed in Taylor’s Black Is Beautiful, we consider two respects in which this ocularcentric metaphor for racialized epistemic short-circuiting is particularly appropriate for discussing the marital regime. (shrink)
Was W. E. B. Du Bois a pragmatist? Does it matter? This essay argues that reading Du Bois as a pragmatist highlights aspects of his work and life that might otherwise go unnoticed, while also highlighting aspects of pragmatism that often go unappreciated. In addition, this double revelation may help restore to us some important resources for dealing with current social problems.
Belief in substance dualism, the idea that mind and matter are two different kinds of substances, has been found to be a strong predictor of belief in free will. Why? Here, we test whether believing that mind and matter are different kinds of substance correlates with differences in how people think of free will and/or differences in how people interpret the scenarios used to test their conceptions. We provided participants (N = 515) with two hypothetical scenarios where the world was (...) presented either as deterministic or not and asked them whether they thought that a given decision could be free in that world. Incompatibilist free will requires that determinism, the idea that at any instant only one possible future can follow from the state of the world, is false. Compatibilists hold that free will is possible even if determinism is true. In this study, we investigate if substance dualists are more compatibilist. We find that they are not, and that both dualists and physicalists agree that free will is incompatible with determinism. In addition, we show that dualists and physicalists are equally likely to commit bypassing, i.e., to misinterpret determinism as excluding mental causation. We also show that dualists have a stronger tendency to commit intrusion, i.e., to misinterpret determinism by importing indeterministic metaphysics into their interpretation of deterministic descriptions. (shrink)
Vida Guerra is a Cuban model from northern New Jersey. She made her name in hiphop videos and in "gentlemen's magazines" but quickly became in intermediate supermodel, with her own calendars, making-of-the-calendar DVDs, official website, fan websites, television show, and controversy over a "leaked" nude photo. . . . Vida's popularity has caused one writer to suggest "You may now move over J-Lo, and make way for Vida;" in short, tiene culo, to borrow the Spanish slang that adorns one of (...) her virally distributed Internet images. . . .this information about Guerra's body explains her popularity by raising additional questions. If the shape of her body makes her popular, what makes that shape popular? Specifically, what accounts for the shift in body fashions that raises the stock of female cults--"rumps with bumps"--at the expense of "stick figures"? And what further shift requires J-Lo to "make way for Vida"? These are questions specifically about the conditions that make Vida Guerra a public figure and that constitute her body as beautiful. (shrink)
The complexities of black hair care provide a useful point of entry to the problem of theorizing, experiencing, judging, and pursuing bodily beauty in racialized contexts. This chapter aims to catalogue and clarify some of the philosophical questions that arise from the negrophobic somatic aesthetics. It provides answers to the most pressing questions, questions that demand the attention not just of aestheticians and ethicists, but also of students of natural science and the philosophy of existence. The chapter focuses on cases (...) that emerge from Afro‐US life‐worlds. Richard Shusterman's determination to contest the centuries‐long denigration of the body that infects western philosophy and culture leads him to employ the Greek term soma to name his approach, which he defines as the study of the experience and use of one's body as a locus of sensory‐aesthetic appreciation and creative self‐fashioning. (shrink)
White men pretending to be black men by blackening their faces and performing, on stage, the peculiar antics that constituted their vision of blackness. This chapter explores how black people sustain themselves under conditions of racial terror, exclusion, and oppression. Eric Lott's point goes beyond shaming and repudiation, though, to suggest that minstrelsy is more, and more interesting, than a garden variety expression of racism. The men who donned blackface did so in an attempt to work out their own identities (...) as Americans, and some chose blackness as a vehicle for this because of a genuine, if paternalistic and complicated, respect for black culture. The point of the work has been to assemble black aesthetics as an object of philosophical study, using the resources, broadly speaking, of analysis, pragmatism, and genealogical cultural criticism and social theory. (shrink)
On Obama examines some of the key philosophical questions that accompany the historic emergence of the 44th US president. The purpose of the book is to take seriously the once-common thought that Mr. Obama had ushered in a post-historical age. Three questions organize the argument of the book. Has the US become post-racial? Does Obama’s pragmatism show the way to a post-partisan approach to politics? And does the reining in of US power and ambitions signal the emergence of a post-imperial (...) moment? The book does not answer these questions directly, but considers how Mr. Obama’s public image and career raise the questions, and experiments with some lines of thought that emerge in their light. (shrink)
Contemporary analytic aestheticians have little interest in the old paradigm of expression theory. They observe that expression theorists tend to locate the essence of art in the externalization of emotion, and they argue persuasively that this tendency is unfortunate. Then they consign expression theorists like Dewey; Collingwood, and Croce to the dustbin of history. This dismissive posture has become standard in aesthetics, for some good reasons. But at least in the case of Dewey, the reasons don't apply. The burden of (...) my dissertation is to make a case for this claim. ;While Dewey does help himself to the vocabulary of expressionism in Art as Experience, he uses it to make arguments less appropriate to a fin-de-siecle expression theorist than to a contemporary cultural critic. He never claims that art is essentially the expression of emotion; he doesn't even agree that emotion is what's expressed in art. His account of expression in art is about the production and reproduction of culture by means of individual agency. It is what Charles Taylor calls expressivism, not expressionism. ;My interpretation of Dewey's aesthetics diverges radically from the one in Alan Tormey's The Concept of Expression, which has become a kind of controlling precedent for the analytic approach to expressionism. I avoid and reject Tormey's reading by locating Dewey's musings on expression in the broader contexts of his conception of the aesthetic, his pragmatist philosophical system, and the tradition of expressivist thought that includes Hamann, Herder, Hegel and Marx. Proceeding in this way not only reveals certain motivations and themes that would otherwise remain obscure, but also highlights certain insights that point toward new, more culturally grounded modes of aesthetic theorizing. I try to recover Dewey's work as a step toward this new aesthetics, an approach that I call, following Cornel West, prophetic aesthetics. (shrink)
In this essay I want to consider how Penola's (character in Toni Morrison's novel, The Bluest Eye) circumstance es motivate her petition--"asking for beauty"--and two others, after which I will offer my own petition concerning the practice of aesthetics.
This article introduces some of the key philosophical contributions of W. E. B. Du Bois. Du Bois studied with Santayana and William James (among others), but chose social science, social theory, journalism, and activism over academic philosophy. Despite this detour, the philosophic depth of his work has won the attention of scholars in fields such as history, English, post‐colonial theory, African‐American Studies, American philosophy, and Africana philosophy, and it has belatedly begun to attract the interest of philosophers more generally. This (...) brief overview will explore the philosophical dimensions of some of Du Bois’s best‐known positions – his claims about the ‘color line’ and the Talented Tenth, his argument with Booker T. Washington, and his account of double‐consciousness. These positions open onto a rich constellation of views in social ontology, epistemology, political theory, existential phenomenology, and more besides. (shrink)
The author's fascination with Me'Shell NdegeOcello's Leviticus: Faggot, is turned into an investigation in this chapter involving three basic questions. The first question interrogates the common thought that there is such a thing as black music, and asks what this music is, and what constitutes its blackness. The second question asks what this blackness is supposed to mean for music, by interrogating the familiar thought of Leopold Senghor: that blackness is somehow bound up with rhythm. The third question deals with (...) the way music's rhythms move us. Taking up Peter Kivy's questions in relation to rhythmic music is helpful, as it helps close the gap between the how‐possible and the how‐wondrous, and locate the point at which the preoccupations of analytical aesthetics overlap with the concerns of critical race aesthetics. The key to both moves lies in Kivy's argument against what he calls “the stimulus theory” of musical enjoyment. (shrink)
It has become fashionable to claim that Barack Obama is a philosophical pragmatist, committed to Deweyan convictions rather than to the vulgar practicalism of political expediency. This reading is meant to explain certain aspects of Mr. Obama's public life, and to demonstrate the coherence of his ethical vision. I'll suggest that the appeal of the reading has less to do with the evidence in its favor, which is equivocal at best, than with the deeper desires that it seems to satisfy.
In his contribution to Cheryl Misak's New Pragmatists volume, David Bakhurst considers the "prospect of a fruitful alliance between [ethical] particularism and pragmatism." 1 In an attempt to show that members of the two camps can "profit from critical engagement with each other's works" (124), he considers how pragmatists might help resolve three outstanding problems for ethical particularists. Unfortunately, his generosity outpaces his imagination, and he does not really find a great deal that pragmatists can contribute. So Bakhurst's potential alliance (...) ends up being a case of convergent evolution. He finds that he and his fellow particularists now occupy positions—positions against, among other .. (shrink)
This chapter begins with a narration of a slave ship's arrival from the Dutch Gold Coast, today's Ghana, to a South American seaport, Suriname, with about 40 blacks. The uprooted Africans used what was at hand, both culturally and materially, to cobble together the beginnings of an African American culture. It appears that these cultures are not so much born as assembled. This introductory chapter attempts to answer four preliminary questions: to paraphrase cultural theorist and sociologist Stuart Hall: what is (...) the black in black aesthetics; in the same spirit: what is the aesthetic in black aesthetics; what good is a philosophy of black aesthetics; and why discuss any of this in terms of assembly. The idea of assembling black aesthetics presupposes that there is a responsible way of appealing to racial blackness. The chapter also indicates the content available in other chapters of the book. (shrink)
Black political actors across the ideological and organizational spectrum have routinely used expressive culture to do their work and advance their causes. However, the proper relationship between cultural and political work has remained controversial, with different views becoming ascendant in different traditions and communities, and at different times within the same traditions and communities. This chapter addresses some questions register in the black aesthetic tradition. It explores W. E. B. Du Bois's iconic arguments about art and propaganda by translating the (...) arguments into the language of more or less mainstream Anglophone academic philosophy. Political questions about matters other than autonomy come to mind when one studies black aesthetics. Notions like authenticity, solidarity, identity, ownership, and memory loom large in this tradition, and each has its own web of connections to questions of power, justice, citizenship, and freedom. (shrink)
This chapter starts with a narration from the film Far From Heaven, where a white man at a party being held at Connecticut, claims that there are no Negroes in the city, disregarding even the presence of blacks who are serving drinks. It shows that the tradition of reflecting on black invisibility provides the resources for identifying and working through a particular kind of problem case. The cases are the race‐specific casting decisions in film and theatre, exemplified by the controversy (...) over the casting of Zoe Saldana in the Nina Simone biopic. The chapter argues that many central features of black racialization can be thought of as forms of invisibility, and related to persistent disregard for black presence, personhood, perspectives, and plurality. The problems of black invisibility and visuality are woven into the issues of politics and authenticity, ambivalence and appropriation, bodies and beauty, and the like. (shrink)
The tight connection between racial identities and roots has been called into question in recent years. The tensions between roots and routes and between authenticity and instability frame one of the central problem‐spaces in the black aesthetic tradition. In light of the role that appeals to authenticity have played in the tradition, and in light of the complications that come with those appeals, the following questions emerge: what kind of work can appeals to authenticity appropriately do; are they grounds for (...) criticism, as Lorraine Hansberry seems to think; or are they something else. This chapter addresses these questions by considering some cases such as: Sidney Kasfir's account of Germans in Yorubaland, and designs involving kente cloth. It explains at least five grades of authenticity discourse, all with their roots in the Greek word for principal or genuine (authentikós). (shrink)
I once planned to write an essay detailing the advantages of a Deweyan approach to philosophical race theory. This essay would have developed my views in a way that highlighted their distinctly Deweyan resonances and debts. A recent essay by Ron Mallon gave me the opportunity to set this plan in motion, as Mallon’s reflections on social constructionism seemed likely to benefit from Deweyan insights. Unfortunately, or fortunately, setting to work on the project led to the distressing but edifying realization (...) that this plan carried with it certain risks, risks made particularly dire by the race-theoretic context. “The Influence of Dewey on Race Theory” will credit this background with an argument that unfolds in two intertwined registers. It will interrogate the impulse to work through Dewey, and it will use the lessons from this exercise—lessons, broadly, about parochialism and politics—as resources for critically engaging Mallon’s argument. (shrink)