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
Laurent Dubois is Marcello Lotti Professor of Romance Studies and History and Director of the Forum for Scholars and Publics at Duke University.
Requiem for the Slave
In early capitalism, power harnessed the excess or surplus of the real to engender, transgress, and possess, to allow life and mete out death. Yet nocturnal power—as killing power, arising from a pact with the dead—was antagonized by the ghostly figure of the Black slave as both unfinished humanity and shadowy presence. The human, plastic in body and spirit, survived by metamorphosis, by becoming someone other than himself. Tansi’s La vie et demie and Tutuola’s The Palm-Wine Drinkard and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts reveal the potential for both destruction and regeneration residing within the ghost. The human body as meat, the rag-human under torture, still refuses to die a death not of its choosing. The othered subject at work finds in the shadows of night a community of the dead and a means of escape through doubling, reflection, imagination, and bodily detachment.