Katheryne Bedecarre, Lucia Palmer and Mickey Cox
There are numerous videos of Achille Mbembe’s lectures available online and we find that they present an interesting compliment to his work in The Postcolony. In the interest of time we highlight, “Achille Mbembe: Revolts and Resistance –A Pan African Perspective,” an edited 15 minute clip of a much larger lecture and interview. We suggest watching around 6:48 as the interviewer asks Mbembe to elaborate on his idea of a “Democratic Avant-garde” and Mbembe adamantly rejects the moniker of Afro-pessimism.
Additionally, we recommend the very brief editorial, “A Critical Humanism” by Achille Mbembe and Deborah Posel that better articulates Mbembe’s “politics of hope” and contextualizes his enamorment with the South African project.
As a group we've identified an intriguing tension between such evidence of Mbembe's optimistic commitment to the South African democratic project (where he spent 11 years living and teaching) and his work in The Postcolony. Like Fanon, Mbembe grapples with the question, how can you bring about mutual recognition? How can the colonized refuse to be mediators for the colonizer's subjectivity? In many ways, Mbembe shares a similar productive irresolution with Fanon. On the one hand, he seems to express a sort of undying skepticism that we can ever escape racism and colonialism ---especially when the (post) colonial state, and the way in which its apparatus has infiltrated the everyday, requires the participation in and complicity with a constant production of black death. And on the other hand, his lectures and other publications illustrate his investment in a liberatory praxis and project. Mbembe, however, refuses the insistence on violence as antidote to the colonial relationship. Instead, he insists on the possibility of the (utopic) multiracial/cultural democratic project and calls for a critical analysis of the condition of the enslaved.
In addition to exploring this ambivalence, we would like our seminar discussion to address Mbembe's gender politics. Is it problematic to use rape as a metaphor for colonialism? What do we make of his gendered/sexualized language? Does he adequately engage with women theorists? For example, Jared Sexton’s,“People-of-Color-Blindess: Notes on the Afterlife of Slavery” critiques Mbembe's dismissive reading of Saidiya Hartman’s work in his canonical 2003 article, “Necropolitics.”