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Antiblackness and fundamental accumulation: an aesthetic ontology of prohibition and persistence through black arts

Burns, Gust Henry. Antiblackness and fundamental accumulation: an aesthetic ontology of prohibition and persistence through black arts. 2023. University of Washington, PhD dissertation.

This dissertation elaborates an answer to the question, what is antiblackness? Countering understandings of antiblackness as a fundamentally psychic force, the dissertation develops the concept of fundamental accumulation as the antiblack prohibition of aesthetic capacity, a process that is both material and immanent. Antiblackness, as this prohibition of temporal, spatial, and motile capacity to blackness, is read alongside modes of black refusal and antagonism, through five black artistic works from the past fifty years. Chapter 2 examines the antiblack prohibition of temporal capacity, and its refusal as black persistence, through a reading of Sarah Maldoror’s 1972 film Sambizanga. Chapter 3 examines the antiblack prohibition of spatial capacity, alongside black antaesthetics, through a reading of Dionne Brand’s books A Map to the Door of No Return: Notes to Belonging (2001) and Ossuaries (2010). Chapter 4 analyzes the We Still Outside Collective’s 2020 video On the black leadership and other white myths, and Kahlil Joesph’s 2013 short film Until the quiet comes, in order to theorize black motion as an immanently antagonistic movement. The dissertation’s introduction provides a genealogy of afropessimism, outlining and critiquing Frank Wilderson’s structuralist analysis of antiblackness as proper to the symbolic register, and posits the need for a materialist account of antiblackness. Chapter 1 develops the concept of antiblackness as fundamental accumulation via comparison with primitive accumulation as theorized by Marxist thinkers, and a close reading of Marx’s own understanding of slavery as integral to the development of capacity, community, and the self, in a passage from the Grundrisse. The first chapter also outlines the dissertation’s methodology of aesthetic ontology, placing the dissertation’s arguments and stakes within the context of contemporary criticism and analysis of black artistic works and practices.

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