“It is in the motherlands of democracy rather than in fascist Europe that racial hierarchies first defined the modern world”

NYT Opinion pp. 9, 11 1 September 2018. Pankaj Mishra.

The religion of whiteness becomes a suicide cult

“White men,” an obscure Australian academic named Charles Henry Pearson predicted in his 1893 book “National Life and Character: A Forecast,” would be “elbowed and hustled, and perhaps even thrust aside” by people they had long regarded as their inferiors — “black and yellow races.” China, in particular, would be a major threat. Pearson, prone to terrors of racial extinction while living in a settler colony in an Asian neighborhood, thought it was imperative to defend “the last part of the world, in which the higher races can live and increase freely, for the higher civilization.” His prescriptions for racial selfdefense thunderously echoed around the white Anglosphere, the community of men with shared historical ties to Britain. Theodore Roosevelt, who held a complacent 19th-century faith, buttressed by racist pseudoscience, that nonwhite peoples were hopelessly inferior, reported to Pearson the “great effect” of his book among “all our men here in Washington.” In the years that followed, politicians and pundits in Britain and its settler colonies of Australia, Canada and the United States would jointly forge an identity geopolitics of the “higher races.” Today it has reached its final and most desperate phase, with existential fears about endangered white power feverishly circulating once again between the core and periphery of the greatest modern empire. “The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive,” President Trump said last year in a speech hailed by the British journalist Douglas Murray, the Canadian columnist Mark Steyn and the American editor Rich Lowry. More recently, Mr. Trump tweeted (falsely) about “large-scale killing” of white farmers in South Africa — a preoccupation, deepened by Rupert Murdoch’s media, of white supremacists around the world. To understand the rapid mainstreaming of white supremacism in Englishspeaking liberal democracies today, we must examine the experience of unprecedented global migration and racial mixing in the Anglosphere in the late 19th century: countries such as the United States and Australia where, as Roosevelt wrote admiringly in 1897, “democracy, with the clear instinct of race selfishness, saw the race foe, and kept out the dangerous alien.” It is in the motherlands of democracy rather than in fascist Europe that racial hierarchies first defined the modern world. It is also where a last-ditch and potentially calamitous battle to preserve them is being fought today. This “race selfishness” was sharpened in the late 19th century, as the elites of the “higher races” struggled to contain mass disaffection generated by the traumatic change of globalization: loss of jobs and livelihoods amid rapid economic growth and intensified movements of capital, goods and labor. For fearful ruling classes, political order depended on their ability to forge an alliance between, as Hannah Arendt wrote, “capital and mob,” between rich and powerful whites and those rendered superfluous by industrial capitalism. Exclusion or degradation of nonwhite peoples seemed one way of securing dignity for those marginalized by economic and technological shifts. The political climate was prepared by intellectuals with clear-cut racial theories, such as Brooks Adams, a Boston Brahmin friend of Roosevelt, and Charles B. Davenport, the leading American exponent of eugenics. In Australia, Pearson’s social Darwinism was amplified by media barons like Keith Murdoch (father of Rupert and a stalwart of the eugenics movement) and institutionalized in a “White Australia” policy that restricted “colored” migration for most of the 20th century. Anti-minority passions in the United States peaked with the 1924 immigration law (much admired by Hitler and, more recently, by Jeff Sessions), which impeded Jewish immigrants and barred Asians entirely. By the early 20th century, violence against indigenous peoples, immigrants and African-Americans reached a new ferocity, and nativist and racist demagogues entrenched a politics of dispossession, segregation and disenfranchisement. Seeking to maintain white power globally, Roosevelt helped transform the United States into a major imperialist power. Woodrow Wilson, too, worked to preserve, as he put it, “white civilization and its domination of the planet” even as he patented the emollient rhetoric of liberal internationalism that many in the American political and media establishment still parrot. At the post-World War I Paris Peace Conference, which Wilson supervised, the leaders of Britain, the United States, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Canada not only humiliated the many Asians and Africans demanding selfdetermination; they also jointly defeated an attempt by Japan, their wartime ally, to have a racial equality clause included in the Covenant of the League of Nations. The exposure of Nazi crimes, followed by decolonization and civil rights movements, generally discredited quasi-scientific racism and stigmatized overt expressions of white supremacism. In our own time, global capitalism has promised to build a colorblind world through economic integration. But as revolts erupt against globalization in its latest, more disruptive phase, politicians and pundits in the Anglosphere are again scrambling to rebuild political communities around what W. E. B. Du Bois in 1910 identified as “the new religion of whiteness.” The intellectual white web originally woven in late-19th-century Australia vibrates once more with what the historians Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds termed “racial knowledge and technologies that animated white men’s countries and their strategies of exclusion, deportation and segregation.” Mr. Trump, for instance, has chosen Australia’s brutal but popular immigration policies as a model: “That is a good idea. We should do that too,” he said in January 2017 to Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s prime minister at the time, as he explained his tactic of locking up refugees on remote islands. “You are worse than I am,” Mr. Trump told Mr. Turnbull. If right-wing Australian politicians were among the first to mainstream a belligerent white nationalism, the periodicals and television channels of Rupert Murdoch have worked overtime to preserve the alliance between capital and mob in the Anglosphere. Indulged by Mr. Murdoch’s newspapers, writers like Bernard Lewis, Niall Ferguson, David Frum, Andrew Sullivan and Andrew Roberts repeatedly urged American neoconservatives after the Sept. 11 attacks to take up the aging white man’s burden and quell mutinous natives. A broad range of figures in the Anglosphere’s establishment, including some of Mr. Trump’s most ostentatious critics today, contributed manure to the soil in which Trumpism flourishes. Cheered on by the Murdoch press, Tony Blair tried to deepen Britain and America’s “special relationship” in Iraq. Leaders of Australia and Canada also eagerly helped with the torture, rendition and extermination of black and brown brutes. Not surprisingly, these chieftains of white settler colonies are fierce cultural warriors; they are all affiliated with private donors who build platforms where political correctness, Islam and feminism are excoriated, the facts of injustice and inequality denied, chests thumped about a superior but sadly imperiled Western civilization, and fraternal sympathy extended to Israel, the world’s last active settler-colonialist project. Emotional incontinence rather than style or wit marks such gilded networks of white power. For the Anglosphere originally forged and united by the slave trade and colonialism is in terminal crisis today. Whiteness denoted, as Du Bois wrote, “the ownership of the earth forever and ever.” But many descendants of the landlords of the earth find themselves besieged both at [page break] home and abroad, their authority as overlords, policemen and interpreters of the globe increasingly challenged. Mr. Trump appears to some of these powerful but insecure men as an ablebodied defender of the “higher races.” The Muslim-baiting British Conservative politician Boris Johnson says that he is “increasingly admiring of Donald Trump.” Mr. Murray, the British journalist, thinks Mr. Trump is “reminding the West of what is great about ourselves.” The Canadian YouTube personality Jordan Peterson claims that his loathing of “identity politics” would have driven him to vote for Mr. Trump. Other panicky white bros not only virulently denounce identity politics and political correctness — code for historically scorned peoples’ daring to propose norms about how they are treated; they also proclaim ever more rowdily that the (white) West was, and is, best. “It is time to make the case for colonialism again,” Bruce Gilley, a Canadian academic, recently asserted and promptly shot to martyrdom in the far-right constellation as a victim of politically correct criticism. Such busy recyclers of Western supremacism, many of whom uphold a disgraced racial pseudoscience, remind us that history often repeats itself as intellectual farce. The low comedy of charlatanry, however, should not distract us from the lethal dangers of a wounded and swaggering identity geopolitics. The war on terror reactivated the 19th century’s imperial archive of racial knowledge, according to which the swarthy enemy was subhuman, inviting extreme and lawless violence. The rapid contraction of suffrage rights witnessed in early-20th-century America is now mimicked by Republican attempts to disenfranchise nonwhite voters. The Australian lawmaker who recently urged a “final solution” for Muslim immigrants was only slightly out of tune with public debate about immigration in Australia. Hate crimes continue to rise across the United States, Britain and Canada. More ominously, demographic, economic and political decline, and the loss of intellectual hegemony, have plunged many long-term winners of history into a vengeful despair. A century ago, the mere suspicion of being thrust aside by black and yellow peoples sparked apocalyptic visions of “race suicide.” Today, the “preponderance of China” that Pearson predicted is becoming a reality, and the religion of whiteness increasingly resembles a suicide cult. Mr. Trump’s trade wars, sanctions, border walls, deportations, denaturalizations and other 11th-hour battles seem to push us all closer to the “terrible probability” James Baldwin once outlined: that the rulers of the “higher races,” “struggling to hold on to what they have stolen from their captives, and unable to look into their mirror, will precipitate a chaos throughout the world which, if it does not bring life on this planet to an end, will bring about a racial war such as the world has never seen.”


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On teaching in the smile economy

Why is it important to refuse the idea of treating students like customers?

Someone said:

Uneven and neglects US studies of managerialism, going out of her way not to cite Aronowitz, Ross, Slaughter, Rhoades, etc. Readings’ work was out of date when published. And it only lightly touches on the smile economy and the vast literature on affective labor. But where it’s good, it’s great.


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Academic advice

Here is one of my favorite pieces on the Ronell case, and here is the other. Both writers are far better deconstructors and are tackling a far more difficult topic than are Ronell and Butler chatting on a line from Aretha Franklin. On her scholarship, I like this piece by Martin Jay.

The MLA wrote us a letter saying they had accepted Judith Butler’s apology for the letter she wrote, and were committed to justice for all. I responded:

Dear Professor Gere,

It was disappointing that so many colleagues signed that unseemly letter – I would have expected better judgment from them. As people who have been in the profession as long as Butler and her friends have should know, such letters tend to be detrimental and not helpful to people under investigation. I do also note the professional harm its circulation will have done the student. I regret that people this indiscreet have so much power in the MLA now.

[P Z Realname]
[Membership Number]

As we know, I don’t like the words procrastination and avoidance, I like the word strike, and I don’t think anyone who has managed to get a degree is a procrastinator or an avoider. Still, after a few traumatic experiences on the tenure track I froze in fear. We are told to be cautious. I still fear that if I allow myself to get lost in the work, and to truly do the best I can in it, I will be forced to a death more painful than any torture I have suffered heretofore. I try to move ahead without really jumping in. In obedient attempts to avoid “perfectionism” I try to rush, skipping steps, and then accuse myself of “procrastination” when I trip and fall because of the step I did not build. We must take advice, but only standard advice, and not our own.

I have, however, finally found a piece of writing on procrastination that I like, because it speaks to fear, because it speaks to the issue of loss of voice.

Procrastination is a form of resistance to the flow of life. When we procrastinate, we are in resistance to our own flow, in other words in resistance to the call of our soul, to the energy of the Universe.

The piece is about living, not about producing, and about love, not self-control. It’s not from a refereed journal, just from someone’s website, and I find it quite interesting.


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Texts I do not have

…not available in Vichy State’s JSTOR.


Denise Ferreira da Silva
Critical Ethnic Studies
Vol. 1, No. 1 (Spring 2015), pp. 33-38
DOI: 10.5749/jcritethnstud.1.1.0033

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How did I say it then

El otro elusivo: la teoría racial de Denise Ferreira da Silva

Abstracto original

This paper will discuss some implications of Denise Ferreira da Silva’s work for the analysis of discourses of mestizaje and exceptionalism in modern Latin American literature, focusing on her concepts of transcendental poesis and the scene of engulfment in Toward a global theory of race (2007). In the modern period mestizaje became a key justification of cultural exceptionalism in Latin America, as well as a foundational myth serving to limit the analysis of race and racisms. Da Silva shows how mestizaje produces the recognizable, yet subordinate racial other on whose ground the modern subject is sustained. Transcendental poesis is the process whereby the spectre of race or radical alterity is at once evoked and elided; the mestizo is produced as the authentic subject while recognition of deeper-hued others is interdicted, or driven underground. This moment of evocation and elision, the scene of engulfment, is dramatized repeatedly in nineteenth and twentieth century Latin American writing. Da Silva’s work elucidates these narrative thickets in a new and theoretically rigorous way. Its insistence on the racial system as a global one enables a new look at race and racisms in Latin America, ­allowing for specificity but not confusing specificity and exceptionalism. The paper will also aim to engage its audience on the question of possible limits to the universalizing claims of da Silva’s theory. Are there aspects of the emergence of race it does not explain?­

Abstracto nuevo

This presentation will discuss some implications of Brazilian critical race theorist Denise Ferreira da Silva’s analysis of discourses on race in Latin America. In Toward a global theory of race (2007) Da Silva argues that racialization is implicit in the construction of modernity and the modern subject. This model enables a new look at race and racisms in Latin America, allowing for specificity but not confusing specificity and exceptionalism. “Transcendental poesis” is the process whereby the spectre of race or radical alterity is at once evoked and elided; the mestizo is produced as the authentic Latin American subject while recognition of deeper-hued others is interdicted. This moment of simultaneous evocation and elision, the “scene of engulfment,” is dramatized repeatedly in modern writing. The paper will consider the value of da Silva’s global paradigm for the local interpretation of racism and racial meaning, and also critique some philosophical bases of da Silva’s theory.

Abstracto en español 1—Usar este

En este trabajo consideraremos algunas implicaciones del trabajo de la teórica Denise Ferreira da Silva para el análisis del discurso racial en América Latina. En Toward a global theory of race (2007) propone da Silva que la racialización está implícita en la construcción de la modernidad y del sujeto moderno. Este modelo ofrece una perspectiva nueva sobre raza y racismo en el continente, teniendo en cuenta situaciones específicas sin justificar lecturas excepcionalistas. La “poesis trascendental” es el proceso en que la raza, o la alteridad racial se evoca y se esquiva simultaneamente; se produce al mestizo como el sujeto auténtico y se ocultan los rastros de otros más oscuros. Este momento de evocación y elusión, “la escena de engullición”, se dramatiza de manera repetitiva en la escritura moderna. Analizaremos el valor del paradigma global de da Silva, y de sus bases filosóficas, para la interpretación local del racismo y los modos de signifación racial.

Abstracto en español 2

El trabajo considerará algunas implicaciones del trabajo de la teórica Denise Ferreira da Silva para el análisis del discurso sobre mestizaje y excepcionalismo en América Latina, enfocándose en los conceptos depoesis trascendental” y “escena de engullición” elucidados en Toward a global theory of race (2007). En el período moderno ha servido el mestizaje como justficación del excepcionalismo cultural y como mito fundacional que encubre la persistencia del racismo. Da Silva muestra cómo en realidad produce el otro racial en el que se sostiene el sujeto moderno. El espectro de la raza, o de la alteridad radical se evoca y esquiva al mismo tiempo; se produce al mestizo como sujeto auténtico y se oculta la faz del otro más oscuro.

Puntos: what I said then, but will this order work?

0. Numerous 19th century texts (e.g. Ma., C.V.) raise, and do not resolve, questions of race.
These don’t get “solved” until Vasconcelos, Freyre, “color cubano,” etc.

1. Como han señalado Angel Rama, Jean Franco, Doris Sommer y muchos otros, desde principios del siglo XIX han intervenido los letrados para legitimizar narrativas ejemplares de la formación e integración nacionales. Al mismo tiempo han trabajado para forjar las nuevas naciones como entidades constituidas por discursos, símbolos, imágenes y ritos (aquí parafraseo a Arias, 703).

2. Uno de estos discursos es el mestizaje, término con múltiples significados e implicaciones, pero que ha servido como discurso nacional y continental, sobre todo a partir de los años 1920 y 1930 (con la obra de Vasconcelos, Freyre y otros). Ha funcionado la idea del mestizaje como herramienta ideológica para la unión nacional, como arma de combate contra la hegemonía norteamericana, y como rechazo al racismo. Sabido es, sin embargo, que mestizaje y racismo también coexisten (de la Cadena, Portocarrero, otros). Como mito fundacional, el mestizaje también ha servido para limitar el análisis de raza y racismo, y para justificar el excepcionalismo cultural.

3. Este trabajo comenta algunas implicaciones del trabajo de Denise Ferreira da Silva en Toward a Global Theory of Race para el análisis de la representación de la racialización y jerarquización racial en ciertos textos literarios claves (“ficciones fundacionales”) latinoamericanos.

4. Trabajo con Ferreira. da S. porque necesito una base teórica para un proyecto mayor que es secuela a

Foundational Fictions de D. S. [Explain what Sommer’s book is; it has has conciliatory view]

5. Lo que noto en novelas como Maria y CV es que retratan (tienen como tema) la diferencia racial y dan todos los elementos para analizarlo, pero luego esquivan el tema: matan personajes, mudan la familia a la ciudad, etc. Sommer ve esta literatura como conciliatoria, mestiza, nation-building pero yo lo que veo es desgarre, violencia, etc. o sea la no-resolución. En parte, quieren forjar patria SIN resolver el problema racial y en parte es que están yuxtaponiendo diferentes discursos de la época, y no han tomado una decision

6. Lo que sí hacen es proponer, forjar sujeto mestizo latinoamericano, latinoamericano como entre-lugar, y/o latinoamericano como sujeto cruzado por conflictos raciales. Este sujeto existe en un contexto en que la problemática racial se evoca y se esquiva, se plantea y se reprime o se silencia;

ello no es solamente (como alguna vez dijo M. de la Candena) porque raza en A.L. es cultura (por lo cual la discriminación se justifica en términos culturales y lo racial se define por prácticas culturales, sino porque se está intentando definir el entre-lugar del sujeto de las nuevas naciones (filosofías subalternas, etc.)

7. Por eso es que son interesantes e iluminadores las ideas de transcental poesis y scene of engulfment en Da Silva, porque describen ese momento de formación.

8. Da Silva: teoría; teoría global; idea de lo global que incluye A.L., BIEN. Ahora: el problema segun ella es la modernidad/colonialidad y el sujeto cartesiano u occidental. Es una lectura posmodernista del sujeto (y he tenido dudas porque creo que esa lectura descontextualiza un poco y culpa un poco demasiado, pero bueno).

9. Poesis trascendental: el proceso en que la raza, o la alteridad racial se evoca y se esquiva simultaneamente; se produce el mestizo como el sujeto auténtico y se ocultan los rastros de otros más oscuros. ES la creación del yo trascendental (y es inestable porque el yo trascendental latinoamericano se compara al europeo) [EJEMPLO]

10. Scene of engulfment: momento de evocación y elusión. El otro tiene que estar allí pero tiene que estar subordinado. [EJEMPLO]

A. Hay 2 aplicaciones:
1. el proceso de formación del sujeto (como sujeto mestizo, sujeto élite masculino entre-lugar), y 2. el hecho de que los textos sugieren que este hecho es problemático pero postergan un enfrentamiento directo con el problema. (El otro tiene que aparecer y desaparecer—y la dificultad de este proceso tiene que hacerse visible y luego ya no)
B. Soluciones: hay otros mestizos y otros híbridos, no solamente este mestizo élite; y otras formas de identidad/subjetividad no trascendentales.

Obras citadas

Arias, Arturo (2016). Article on Jean Franco, PMLA 131.3.



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Pushkin House-Musuem 23.VIII-16.IX


Here is the poster for my cousin Alexei Aizenman’s centenary exhibit at the Pushkin House-Museum on Arbat, in Moscow. You should really go if you are in town.

In other news Gukira is a good blogger with an interesting post on Freire; I am told he is also the author of the best piece on Avital Ronell. A good writer and courageous.



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I have started paying $30/year for this site, to get the ads off it, and I am going to clean it up. I will be one of the last bloggers.

I have discovered this poet, Silvia Goldman, who turns out to be the author of this piece I read some time ago and liked, as well as the author it is on and the site, Vallejo & Co., that reproduced it.

I have seen that not all professors are as badgered as I, and remember there was a time when I was not, either. I am trying to channel it.

August 2018 marks the quincentenary of the beginning of the Atlantic slave trade.

This is one of the professors who apparently has new, as yet unpublished research on it. Another is David Richardson and he is at the University of Hull. There is also David Wheat at Michigan State (I should have been an economic historian).


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