INTRODUCTION
THE BECOMING BLACK
OF THE WORLD
These heads of men, these collections of ears, these burned houses, these Gothic inva-
sions, this steaming blood, these cities that evaporate at the edge of the sword, are not to
be so easily disposed of.
aimé césaire, Discourse on Colonialism
I envision this book as a river with many tributaries, since history and all
things flow toward us now. Eu rope is no longer the center of gravity of the
world. This is the significant event, the fundamental experience, of our era.
And we are only just now beginning the work of mea suring its implications
and weighing its
consequences.1
Whether such a revelation is an occasion
for joy or cause for surprise or worry, one thing remains certain: the demo-
tion of Eu rope opens up possibilities— and pres ents dangers— for critical
thought. That is, in part, what this essay seeks to examine.
To capture the precise contours of these dangers and possibilities,
we need first to remember that, throughout its history, Eu ropean thought
has tended to conceive of identity less in terms of mutual belonging
(cobelonging) to a common world than in terms of a relation between
similar beings—of being itself emerging and manifesting itself in its own
state, or its own
mirror.2
But it is also crucial for us to understand that
as the direct consequence of the logic of self- fictionalization and self-
contemplation, indeed of closure, Blackness and race have played multiple
roles in the imaginaries of Eu ro pean socie
ties.3
Primary, loaded, burden-
some, and unhinged, symbols of raw intensity and repulsion, the two have
always occupied a central place— si multaneously, or at least in parallel—
within modern knowledge and discourse about man (and therefore about
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