This essay argues that M. NourbeSe Philip’s 2008 book-length poem Zong! offers aesthetic experience as an undetermined exposure toward communality. As readers, we are not merely consuming the poem, which emerges from Philip’s reading of a 1781 court decision regarding a slave massacre; instead, the poem dislocates us and redirects us toward others. In Zong! this means a relation with the dead that does not require their representation but instead puts readers into community with them; we do not ventriloquize their voices but put our voices alongside theirs. The essay’s argument moves through Immanuel Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment to contend that aesthetic experience as such requires this kind of ecstatic movement. The sociality assembled by aesthetic judgment is an ecstatic, de-structured collectivity. Zong!’s sensus communis is not an a priori universality but a radically undetermined collectivity posited nevertheless.
On Ecstatic-Aesthetic Universality—In Zong!
Daniel Benjamin is a PhD candidate in English at UC Berkeley, where he is completing his dissertation, “On Lyric’s Minor Commons.” He is the author of an afterword to a new edition of Jack Spicer’s story The Wasps (2016). He is a coeditor, with Claire Marie Stancek, of Active Aesthetics: Contemporary Australian Poetry (2016), and, with Eric Sneathen, of The Bigness of Things: New Narrative and Visual Culture (2017).
Daniel Benjamin; On Ecstatic-Aesthetic Universality—In Zong!. Small Axe 1 March 2019; 23 (1 (58)): 17–34. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/07990537-7374418
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