February 2009

The universally accepted ideas and norms of a bourgeois audience represent a wall with which it screens itself from the perils of a developing society, and it is the bourgeois artist’s job to preserve this wall intact. Contact with the richness of the outer world must inevitably be alarming for the bourgeois artist. Whereas with our audience and our artists it is, of course, quite different.

– Vsevolod Illarionovich Pudovkin. Film Technique and Film Acting (1929). New York: Grove Press, 1976, p. 266.

America, you have it better
than our continent, the old one,
you have no ruined castles
and no basalts.

Your inner self is not troubled,
when it is time for living,
by pointless memories
and futile strife.

Use the present fortunately!
And if your children write verses,
may a happy fate protect them
from tales of knights, brigades and ghosts.

– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “To The United States”(1831), Franco Moretti, trans. In Franco Moretti. Modern Epic: The World-System From Goethe to García Márquez. London ; New York: Verso, 1996, 35.

… the world is a multiplicity of worlds, and its unity is the mutual sharing and exposition of all its worlds—
within this world.

– Jean-Luc Nancy. Being Singular Plural. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2000: 185.

It may be important that in [fascist] visual culture, images of power, particularly when manifest in the person of the leader, were uncoupled from the constraint of their natural dimensions. Hitler could be enormous on a cinema screen and then shrink down to the size of a poster or postcard. This elasticity of scale was an essential element in the quality of his calculated, superhuman stature.

– Paul Gilroy. “Hitler Wore Khakis: Icons, Propaganda, and Aesthetic Politics.” In Against Race: Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Color Line, 150. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2000.

Why is ending the silence on Hegel and Haiti important? Given Hegel’s ultimate concession to slavery’s continuance–moreover, given the fact that Hegel’s philosophy of history has provided for two centuries a justification for the most complacent forms of Eurocentrism (Hegel was perhaps always a cultural racist if not a biological one)–why is it of more than arcane interest to retrieve from oblivion this fragment of history, the truth of which has managed to slip away from us? There are many possible answers, but one is surely the potential for rescuing the idea of universal human history from the uses to which white domination has put it. If the historical facts about freedom can be ripped out of the narratives told by the victors and salvaged for our own time, then the project of universal freedom does not need to be discarded but, rather, redeemed and reconstituted on a different basis. Hegel’s moment of clarity of thought would need to be juxtaposed to that of others at the time: Toussaint-Louverture, Wordsworth, the Abbe Gregoire, even Dessalines. For all his brutality and revenge against whites, Dessalines saw the realities of European racism most clearly. Even more, Hegel’s moment would need to be juxtaposed to the moments of clarity in action: the French soldiers sent by Napoleon to the colony who, upon hearing these former slaves singing the “Marseillaise,” wondered aloud if they were not fighting on the wrong side; the Polish regiment under Leclerc’s command who disobeyed orders and refused to drown six hundred captured Saint-Domiguans. There are many examples of such clarity, and they belong to no side, no one group exclusively. What if every time that the consciousness of individuals surpassed the confines of present constellations of power in perceiving the concrete meaning of freedom, this were valued as a moment, however transitory, of the realization of absolute spirit? What other silences would need to be broken? What undisciplined stories would be told?

– Susan Buck-Morss. “Hegel and Haiti.” Critical Inquiry 26, no. 4 (2000): 864-65.