Critique of Black Reason
Achille Mbembe is Research Professor in History and Politics at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. He is coeditor of Johannesburg: The Elusive Metropolis, also published by Duke University Press, and the author of On the Postcolony as well as several books in French.
Laurent Dubois is Marcello Lotti Professor of Romance Studies and History and Director of the Forum for Scholars and Publics at Duke University.
The Little Secret
Black forms of remembering the colony have included commemoration, forgetting, repression, appropriation, and instrumentalization. Canonical African texts construct the colony as a site of loss—of both the authentic self and sovereignty. Colonial violence consisted in everyday aggressions, but it also robbed the colonized of their pasts by figuring the subjugated as indebted and the potentate as eternally present. Time and the body in the Black text thus become contingently present, simultaneous, and numerous. Race was, then, more than a fiction: it was gaze, affect, sexual desire, fantasy, fear, and transgression. The potentate’s secret power lay in the commodification of life, in the creation of desires fulfilled only by killing and sacrifice. The narrative of loss in the Black text refuses or forgets the enchantment of the subjugated by the promise of the material. Colonial statues and monuments stand as sculptural reminders of an era of cruelty, terror, and theft.