PRINT December 2013

Books: Best of 2013

Fred Moten

Nahum Dimitri Chandler inhabits the question and the fate of thinking in X: The Problem of the Negro as a Problem for Thought (Fordham University Press). (Full disclosure: I served as an anonymous reader for the manuscript.) Chandler deepens and extends an intellectual tradition that assumes the constitutive presence of black folks in the formation, as well as the critique, of modernity. Primarily by way of the unprecedented depth and rigor of his engagement with the work of W. E. B. DuBois, Chandler reveals black presence (often taken for absence, and this absence usually perceived as a problem) as an ongoing event of problematization. An “originary displacement” of modernity, Chandler argues, is carried out in the social and intellectual life of blackness. This life in thought is structured by exclusion, but its exteriority is misunderstood when characterized merely as exclusion’s tragic effect. Blackness is something else, and Chandler’s writing is animated by the insistent return of the centrifugal motifs that mark black thought as a “thought of the outside,” to echo Michel Foucault’s description of Maurice Blanchot. Indeed, the trace of those fugitive adventures of form and content that characterize postwar French thought can be heard in Chandler’s text, though not as clearly as the sound emanating from what poet and scholar Nathaniel Mackey refers to as a “destination out,” the uncharted location from and to which poet and musician Cecil Taylor—Chandler’s most insistent intellectual and aesthetic precursor—is always coming and going. Playing on the edge of these already-edgy idioms, deploying a literary version of Taylor’s complex musical syntax to work the common ground of Derridean deconstruction and DuBoisian (black) reconstruction, X is as invaluable as what it studies.

Fred Moten’s most recent book is The Feel Trio (Letter Machine Editions). He teaches at the University of California, Riverside.