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06.05.2019

Decolonization as an apocalypse

Artist Jota Mombaça questions the concept of decolonization posed by Frantz Fanon and deepens in the potencies that emerge out of the idea of destroying the world as a medullary axis in order to repose the coloniality and, along that, imagine other spaces which diverge from discourses of this nature.

Se prepara, mona, que a gente tá na pista [1]
—Tati Quebra-Barraco

Eu sou bem pior do que você tá vendo [2]
—Mano Brown

Frantz Fanon, in his 1961 book, The Wretched of the Earth, refers to decolonization as “a program of absolute disorder” [3], whose operation cannot occur without articulating a fundamental abolitionist dimension. Decolonization is, inevitably, to tear down the colonial world and, by extension, the point of view according to which colonization is plausible. In other words, the demand for decolonization is also a demand for the end of a world, in particular, the world invented and presented in a totalitarian way, through the gazes, epistemologies, and fictions of the modern-colonial-racial power.

This relationship between colonization and the end of the world is not, however, exclusive to the decolonization program articulated by Fanon. After all, colonialism itself—with its invasions, genocides and systematic plunders—can be understood as a reproduction machine of the apocalypse of people, knowledge, networks, and colonized ways of life. The colonial-modern world, anchored by global racial capitalism, is built and sustained by the end of many worlds, including those that are to come.

Thus, to decolonize—to continue with the term chosen by Fanon—acquires the radical sense of an opposition whose orientation is to bring the colonial world to its limit. Only from this point of inflection is it possible to articulate and elaborate other possibilities of the world beyond the colonial ones. Without decolonization, any imagination around “other possible worlds” is in danger as coloniality and capitalism are extractive regimes (from an economic, epistemic and ontological point of view). What would it imply to say that—at the limit—any world project, formally articulated in a colonial situation, is subject to the same destiny of the pre-colonial worlds.

From the part of the world understood today as Latin America, to think of the date October 12, 1492, is extremely significant in terms of knowledge of the end of the world. Taking into account, the colonial invasion of these lands by the European—with its own Christian and human mythology and its moral and ontological superiority—is officially registered on this date. The colonial invasion, when thought of in those terms, is nothing more than the inaugural apocalyptic event of a particular mode of world production through the destruction of other worlds. It is a brutal representation of a concrete process of extinction, in favor of the arbitrary installation of a monocultural and genocidal project whose meaning was, and is, to consolidate a unique and generalized way of existing as a human.

The Fanonian formulation of decolonization as a program of absolute disorder, must certainly be considered in the context in which it was produced and published; in direct reference to the struggles for national independence and decolonization that took place in various parts of the world during that period of colonial history. Undoubtedly, this constituency informs, and in some way limits, the elaboration of possibilities enclosed by that text. Which in no way means that there are no possibilities and powerful modes of resonance of that formulation in the present.

What’s at stake now is not so much the adherence to a project of national restructuring based on the expulsion of the colonist from the colonized lands; I believe that it is possible that we deviate that notion of decolonization towards a formulation that better involves life after the death of coloniality, and therefore animated by other senses, attentive to other diagrams of force, but carrying with it the same abolitionist vocation that the Fanonian program of absolute disorder teaches.

The destruction of the world as we know it is the event that precedes and anticipates the decolonized world and can only be presented by the creatures that the history of colonization, domination, and capitalism constructed as opposites of the world.

Denise Ferreira da Silva, in her essay Sobre diferença sem separabilidade (2016), argues that “only the end of the world as we know it will be able to dissolve the idea of collectivities as ‘foreign.’” Since “the end of the world as we know it,” to repeat Denise’s formulation, necessarily implies an intervention on the ways of knowing, identifying, and governing bodies and things. In that sense, to reach the “difference without separability” we must open an ethical gap that gives way to modes of feeling, knowing, and existing that, in the ruin of the world as we know it, instead of reproducing the desire to restructure it, they face the risk of destroying it in favor of the emergence and liberation of the immeasurable forces that the government of modern-colonial-racial fiction condemned to death.

Such an end of the world, would, therefore, have to undo the identification of blackness as an object, without dismantling the “rough fraternity” diagnosed by Fanon [4] as a sensitive property of blackness in the face of the violence of collective objectification. That is, to dismantle the subaltern notion of object, an end of the world that would also dismantle the sovereign notion of subject, that finally opens the possibility of a world not reducible to the scenes of ontological polarization and, therefore, full of differences and opacities not reducible to a universalized image of being or of the world itself.

However, as Fanon himself elaborates to a certain point in his chapter “On Violence” in The Wretched of the Earth (1961):

Decolonization, which intends to change the world, […] cannot be accomplished by the wave of a magic wand, a natural cataclysm, or a gentleman’s agreement. Decolonization, we know, is a historical process: In other words, it can only be understood, it can only find its significance and become self-coherent insofar as we can discern the history-making movement which gives it form and substance. [5]

To the extent in which I read decolonization as a program of absolute disorder in Fanon, as a kind of call for the abolition of the world—not of the earth, but of the world as a colonial event and project of extermination of the other (which is the monster, the gender-dissatisfied creature and also the indigenous and the Black—, I know that this historical movement that gives form and content to decolonization (the end of the world as we know it) is the very performance of the destruction of the world, the establishment of an extreme situation in which, in the end, another possible world can eventually emerge. In other words, the destruction of the world as we know it is the event that precedes and anticipates the decolonized world and can only be presented by the creatures that the history of colonization, domination, and capitalism constructed as opposites of the world.

Frank B. Wilderson III [6], when thinking about the analysis of anti-Blackness in tension with other political positions of the left, produces a powerful narrative of how the project of radical Black thinking diverges from other projects that are merely critical of the world, especially that of white progressivism:

[Black radical thinking] wouldn’t say that the White French people living in Algeria have to be destroyed because they are unethical in their actions. They would say that they have to be destroyed because they are present, because they are here. They wouldn’t say, ‘Well you know, there’s some good capitalists and some bad capitalists.’ They would say, ‘the capitalist as a category has to be destroyed.’ What freaks them out about an analysis of anti-Blackness is that this applies to the category of the Human, which means that they have to be destroyed regardless of their performance, or of their morality, and that they occupy a place of power that is completely unethical, regardless of what they do. And they’re not going to do that. Because what are they trying to do? They’re trying to build a better world. What are we trying to do? We’re trying to destroy the world. Two irreconcilable projects.

When, finally, it becomes clear that the racial, as a device for the normalization of the human being, is by definition constructed as a fiction of the ontological superiority of the White and the dehumanization of the Other (Black, Indigenous, Colonized); and when it becomes clear that the colonial, as a standardization device of the World, depends on that dehumanization to be built as a Global Order, the radical formulation of Wilderson extrapolates the record in which he registers it, giving rise to the emergence of one of us—transversal to the corporalities and subaltern positions, massacred, broken, and deeply violated by the constitution of the world that we know as the infrastructure of the White Human life. The anti-human position that Afro-pessimist thought tends to associate exclusively with the position of the black in the face of anti-blackness seems to be, ultimately, transverse to other creatures whose positionality was constructed in opposition to the hierarchical normative framework of the fiction of Human-as-Man. [7]

Ailton Krenak, in a speech given at the seminary Os Mil Nomes de Gaia (2015), unfolds a provocation:

I honestly do not understand why people want to postpone the end of the world. If all the signs we have indicate that we can not achieve to take care of that garden; if all the latest news we hear are about our bad management, why postpone it? We could, at least, have the courage to admit the end of this world and see if we are capable of learning something; and, if we had other opportunities, to see how we are going to behave in a new world, or in a possible other world.

With their due differences, the positions of Krenak and Wilderson converge on the manifestation of the desire to push the current version of this world to its limit, stressing, to its end, the paradigm of the Human-as-Man, the machine that monstrifies the other, the brutal hierarchies, life after the death of slavery and coloniality, the reproduction of death as an expectation of life of entire human and non-human populations, the structuring of the system of injustice as a benchmark for justice, and so many other processes that threaten to throw life—to the extreme, all life—into the world of death.

The courage of the end of the world is, in that sense, the condition for the destruction of the world as we know it, and therefore implies a certain disposition to go through the apocalypse. Returning to the Fanonian perspective, decolonization is both a program of absolute disorder and an intelligence put into practice at the moment in which this program materializes. It is not an end, but a step that Fanon’s apocalypse insinuates as a decolonizing historical process. Thus, every movement of decolonialization, that is to say, every movement for the end of the colonial world implies a movement towards the apocalypse and beyond it. That does not mean, however, that decolonization as a program of absolute order involves a program of reclassification of the world, because that would be to inoculate in the world that is to come to the cursed seed of this one, which we want to end.

If the apocalypse of this world seems to be, at this moment, the only reasonable political demand, it is essential to separate it from the anxiety regarding the possibility of foreseeing what is to happen. It is true that, if there is a world to come, this one is currently in dispute; however, it is necessary to resist the controlling desire to project, from the ruin of this one, what can become the next world. That does not mean abdicating the responsibility of imagining and conjuring forces that inhabit that dispute and that are capable of crossing the apocalypse towards the unknown ground of the future. On the contrary: resisting the projective desire is a bet on the possibility of escaping the capture of our visionary imagination by the reactive forces of the world against which we fight. Refusing to offer alternatives is not, then, a rejection of the imagination, but a gesture in the struggle to make the imagination, not a path for the reorientation of man and the restructuring of the universalizing power, but a force that liberates the world to come from the traps of the world to end.

Notes

  1. “Prepare yourselves, we are on the way.”

  2. “I am much worse than what you are seeing.”

  3. Frantz Fanon. The Wretched of the World (New York: Grove Press, 2004) p.2.

  4. See chapter 5 of Frantz Fanon, Pele Negra, Máscaras Brancas, Salvador: (Editora da Universidade Federal da Bahia, 2008).

  5. op. cit.

  6. Frank B. Wilderson, III. We are trying to destroy the world: Anti-Blackness and Police Violence After Ferguson, (Ill Will Editions, 2014).

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