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What is a Revolutionary Setting?

In periods of widely experienced political depression and frustration, it can be easy to forget that otherwise discouraged, alienated or cynical people do sometimes come together in solidarity to form energetic, hopeful, and demanding collectives, which then engage in transformative political action. In the effort to understand how such revolutionary counter-moods are awakened, the black radical tradition offers a formidable resource. From W. E. B. Du Bois to the Black Lives Matter movement, we find an ongoing preoccupation with the representation and creation of those moments when black people come together as a group for whom political action against the forces of white supremacy seems urgent and obvious. I understand these ways of feeling and knowing the world as “counter-moods” (a term I borrow from Martin Heidegger), because the oppositional “we” they create must be awakened out of what Gwendolyn Brooks calls the “dry hours and the involuntary plan,” the “grayed in” humdrum of everyday life.[1] For the residents of the “kitchenette building” Brooks describes, it is hard to muster the attention to “dream” when preoccupied with “onion fumes” and “yesterday’s garbage ripening in the hall” and when the people you might make dreaming possible with are ahead of you in the line for the bathroom (21).

What matters at a given moment (the thought of “lukewarm water,” now that “Number Five is out of the bathroom,” and “hoping to get in it,” in Brooks’s poem) and the way it matters, the concerns that impinge or engage us in some way or another—these constitute a world in which we have been “set” (21). We might then understand “setting” as this world of things that matter. As Heidegger has it, mood (one translation of the more or less untranslatable Stimmung, also rendered as attunement) is what orients us toward that world; it is our way of being in that world and with the others in it. In the most general sense, for Heidegger Stimmung is the overall atmosphere or medium in or through which our thinking, doing, and acting occurs, a way of being-with and being-in-the-world that shapes our thoughts, our will, and our particular affective attachments to particular objects.[2] Moods bring us to our “there,” locating and orienting us in our specific, situated position in the world. As what shapes our apprehension of the world prior to cognition and volition, a mood directs our attention and makes it possible to care about something. In so doing, the shifting attunements of mood constitute one basic way that “bodies are continuously busy judging the environments and responding to the atmospheres in which they find themselves,” as Lauren Berlant puts it.[3]

Yet Stimmung is not a psychological concept. It is not an interior condition that reaches out to color the world. A mood “comes neither from ‘outside’ nor from ‘inside,’ but arises out of Being-in-the-world, as a way of such Being” (Heidegger, Being and Time, 176). Even as we “feel” them on a subjective, emotional level, moods belong to a shared, public world.[4] They are, in essence, ways of being-with, fundamentally collective. Moods arise from and also are the way we encounter the historical situation into which we have been “thrown” or “set.” We live in the moods that are already in the world, shared by others, and specific to our historical moment. Moods change and shift, sometimes imperceptibly, but we are always in some mood or other (most consequentially when we don’t notice it). But we cannot just decide to be in a different mood; the only way to exert agency in relation to our moods is by awakening or making counter-moods. If “being in a mood brings being to its ‘there,’” as Heidegger writes, then a counter-mood will bring a different “there” (Being and Time, 173). As the mood changes, so too does our setting as a different set of concerns, objects, possibilities, emotions, friends and enemies comes into view.

It makes sense, then, that setting (the description of a world in which something happens) would be central to literary representations of moods or the making of counter-moods. I want here to briefly examine one such effort from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.[5] Midway through the book (in Chapter 13), we find a close, careful study of the transformation of an unhappy crowd watching the eviction of an elderly black couple into a powerful collective which halts the eviction. By way of the narrator’s affective response to the couple’s possessions piled on the Harlem sidewalk, objects full of black history and black feeling, the narrator (the titular “invisible man”) becomes attuned to the crowd he has come to feel a part of, and starts to feel like he can speak in a way that allows the “we” there to come into being. On the spot, he draws on his experience as an “orator” and “rabble rouser” to give an improvised speech, one that engages in a call-and-response with the man and the woman and the crowd.[6] The speech comes to center on the collective shame the crowd feels for and with this old couple whose personal belongings are on the street for all to see. As a revolutionary counter-mood is made, the newly formed “we” comes together in solidarity, “shouting [and] laughing” to bring these “dispossessed” objects back into the couple’s apartment (Ellison, Invisible Man, 281). In a lesson on how revolutionary counter-moods can be made, we see first how the narrator’s mood shifts in relation to the crowd and the objects on the sidewalk, and then how the narrator manages to move the crowd into a new way of being with each other in the world.

I know that it is common to see Ellison’s novel as an attack on the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA), which is apparently represented by the Brotherhood (in the second half of the novel, after the eviction scene). While a critique of the Communist Party might also be presumed to be a critique of Vladimir Lenin, the eviction scene allows us to see that Ellison is also directly engaged with the Leninist tradition, and in particular the Lenin of “What Is to Be Done?” (1902), which is the Lenin of revolutionary agitation and party formation (rather than the later Lenin of state power and the Comintern).[7] There, Lenin argued that collective action was limited to spontaneous, unplanned uprisings when there was no collective with a sense of itself and its power as a collective whose members shared interests and goals. For Lenin, the way to move this “class-in-itself” (one that is not conscious of itself and is thus without political agency) to a “class-for-itself” (a self-conscious class capable of acting in its interest), was by way of the revolutionary party, which would do the work of representing the working class to itself through a variety of means, including speeches, slogans and the party newspaper. [8] In this scene from Invisible Man, we see the narrator do this work of speaking for, speaking to and speaking with a crowd in order to move it to a group that is “for itself,” aware of its power and capable of action. My proposal is that by attending to this scene with the Lenin of “What Is to Be Done?” in mind, it is possible to see Ellison’s Invisible Man as a black Leninist critique of the (Stalinist) CPUSA as failing to properly do this work of representation, rather than as a critique of Lenin and Leninism as such.[9]

The Yam Level

The episode begins with the agitated narrator walking down a cold and snowy Harlem street, where the “biting air” contrasts with his “inner fever” and where he is angered by racist ads for skin-whitening cream (Ellison, Invisible Man, 261). This alienated relation to his setting is interrupted when his sense of being in time and space is interrupted by “a thin spiral of smoke that drifted the odor of baking yams slowly to me, bringing a stab of swift nostalgia” (262). As if “struck by a shot,” the narrator is returned with full feeling to a forgotten past (262). As with Proust’s “involuntary memory” famously evoked by the madeleine, this “intrusion of a forgotten past that disrupts the fictitious progress of chronological time” has the effect of making time seem like it is “endlessly expanded, stretched thin as the spiraling smoke beyond all recall” (263).[10] Yet, even as this past retreats beyond the call of “voluntary memory,” the old feeling recurs with its world-making intensity intact and is, in this sense, fully present: “I took a bite, finding it as sweet and hot as any I’d ever had, and was overcome with such a surge of homesickness that I turned away to keep my control” (Ellison, Invisible Man, 264). In this yam, in which a vividly present memory-world resides, the narrator is also connected to a specific collectivity, others like him who have also migrated to Harlem from the South and who also like yams. [11]

The yam, then, changes his way of being in the world (his Stimmung) by plunging him back into a moment from his past, but at the same time into the materiality of his present. The two are in tension with each other. By way of contrast to the Jim Crow world of his childhood that the yam brings to life, being on the street in Harlem while eating the yam evokes “an intense feeling of freedom” because he “no longer had to worry about who saw me or about what was proper” (264). He is freed from the feeling of being seen and judged by a white (supremacist) gaze that looks on, as Du Bois wrote, with the “personal disrespect and mockery, the ridicule and systematic humiliation . . . the all-pervading desire to inculcate disdain for everything black, from Toussaint to the devil.”[12] Instead of feeling the “self-questioning [and] self-disparagement” (as Du Bois put it) shared by a “a group of people” who could be caused the “greatest humiliation simply by confronting us with something we liked,” the narrator embraces life on the “yam level” (Du Bois, Souls, 13; Ellison, Invisible Man, 264, 267). [13] For the narrator, this newly obvious commitment to liking “without shame” brings with it an avowal of the materiality and outside-one-self-ness such liking entails, and a new feeling of well-nigh black nationalist group existence.[14] For it is the blackness of Harlem as a collectively made and inhabited setting that has suddenly become apparent and available to him—by way of contrast to the world the yam evokes—as it dissolves his shame by making the white supremacist gaze fade from that world of things that matter. Here, the ensemble of senses (Fred Moten might say, borrowing from Marx), in finding and making a new and newly unalienated setting, are in their activity doing the work of theoreticians.[15]

Piled in a Jumble

Manumission Papers, 1826. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

If by way of his encounter with the yam, the narrator feels a new confidence about the blackness of his taste, and an increased capacity for affecting and being affected by the world, this new openness is immediately challenged by his shocking encounter with the old couple’s possessions on the sidewalk. His surprise at seeing things “piled in a jumble” on the sidewalk, surrounded by a “sullen-faced crowd” quickly turns to embarrassment for the teary-eyed woman to whom these objects belong as he sees her being carried out of her house by two white men (Ellison, Invisible Man, 267). Still, he is confused about what he is seeing. When somebody tells him “[t]hey being evicted,” he is surprised: “They can do that up here?” When others in the crowd snicker at his disbelief—“Where did he come from?”—he feels embarrassed again, but this time the feeling is not for someone else’s abjection, but for his own naiveté (269).[16]

He does not know how to feel about this event he finds himself in the middle of. The world has obtruded into his mood; on the yam level, the Harlem streets were not one permeated with the white supremacist gaze; he was not attuned to the possibility that “they can do that up here.” At such moments of feeling out of tune with the world, the partiality of any given mood can become painfully clear, as can the need to find another mode of attunement. Sometimes such situations produce what Lauren Berlant has called “genre flailing,” casting about in different “genres” or ways of being in and making one’s affective attachments in the world, each of which carries with it a set of expectations about “the narrative shape a situation will take.”[17] The narrator here needs to improvise a new genre for his new setting, a task for which he is in some ways well prepared and skilled. Indeed, as the narrator moves through different available genres (related to the desire to pray, for instance, or be “law-abiding”) in his back and forth with the crowd and as he is affected over and again by the objects on the sidewalk, Ellison shows us how (to borrow again from Fred Moten), improvisation is the condition of possibility for the ensemble (Invisible Man, 275). [18]

Having just remembered being ashamed of what he likes, been embarrassed before the woman and her possessions on the sidewalk, and then embarrassed again at being an unknowing newcomer, his mood is attuned to the possibility of being ashamed. He shares this with the crowd. In his experience of shame, “they” becomes “we”: “Now I recognized a self-consciousness about them, as though they, we, were ashamed to witness the eviction, as though we were all unwilling intruders upon some shameful event” (Ellison, Invisible Man, 270). And then the shame at witnessing becomes a sense of being “too ashamed to leave,” since he was now “too much a part” of the crowd (271). As an affect that registers an interruption of positive interaction, what Silvan Tomkins called “the affect of indignity, of defeat, of transgression, and of alienation,” exists where an interesting or enjoyable relation has preceded it or been expected.[19] It thus holds within it a powerful urge toward repairing the interruption and coming back together.[20] The crowd’s group shame brings with it a desire for collective transformation, to repair the injured relation with each other, with the old couple, and with their objects on the sidewalk. Moreover, shame has given the crowd a “self-consciousness.” It transforms the crowd from a sullen jumble into a group that is an aware of itself as a group. At this point, they have “plenty nerve” to stop the eviction, as someone in the crowd says, “All they need is a leader” (Ellison, Invisible Man, 268).

The narrator’s turn back to the “clutter of household objects” on the sidewalk and his openness to the “warm, dark, rising whirlpool of emotion” it draws up enable him to speak with and for the crowd and to become that leader (271, 270). In an echo of his experience with the yam, as he looks at the objects, which range from a portrait of the couple when young and a straightening comb to pots of green plants and the “knocking bones” used in blackface minstrel shows, he feels “strange memories awakening,” as if his own past, too, resides in these possessions (271). In a spilled drawer he sees a newspaper story about Marcus Garvey’s deportation, a greeting card reading “Grandma, I love you,” and an old fragile paper: “FREE PAPERS. Be it known to all men that my negro, Primus Provo, has been freed by me this sixth day of August, 1859. Signed: John Samuels. Macon” (272). This last sight leaves him reeling, dazed, again not knowing how to feel.

The past to which the “FREE PAPERS” belongs—when a white man could “free” “his negro”—feels like a different epoch, discontinuous with the present: “It has been longer than that, further removed in time, I told myself, and yet I knew that it hadn’t been” (272). Yet, even as it seems removed in time, the white supremacist exertion of power evident in that “then” resonates with the “now” of the eviction. This combination of similarity (on the one hand) and temporal discontinuity (on the other) characterizes what Walter Benjamin called a “dialectical image,” where “what has been comes together in a flash with the now to form a constellation,” one “saturated with tensions.” [21] In the FREE PAPERS on the sidewalk amidst the pile of belongings, the long historical struggle and the present crisis collide in a single image, one where the contradiction between freedom and its negation seems unsustainable, urgently needing some kind of response. This may be why the narrator finds that his hands are trembling, his “breath rasping as if I had run a long distance or come upon a coiled snake in a busy street” (Ellison, Invisible Man, 272). That is, his out-of-breathness indicates at one and the same time the exhaustion from the length of the struggle, and the urgency and danger of the moment. The narrator no longer occupies a developmental or progressive temporality where one may achieve a better future through patient effort. Instead, he is focused on his immediate material surroundings with the possibility of redeeming this spectral past right now, as if the entirety of black history is directed toward this moment.


The obdurate, vibrant materiality of the possessions on the sidewalk keep the narrator focused on the urgency of the situation because they place a collective past inside him, where they cause “discomfort so far beyond their intrinsic meaning as objects” (273). Like the speaker in Baudelaire’s “Spleen,” whose cavern-like brain feels like a crammed bureau or a pyramid filled with more anonymous deaths than a potter’s field (“la fosse commune”), the narrator finds that these possessions “throbbed within” him. Looking at the objects “inwardly-outwardly,” he finds “the dark, far-way-and-long-ago, not so much of my own memory as of remembered words, of linked verbal echoes, images, heard even when not listening at home” (273). What he remembers is a world of shared concerns and a way of being with others that has been distributed in the objects of sensation that make up that world. By way of this odd “inward-outward” sensation of objects which bring up memories that are not even his own, the narrator starts to feel like he can speak with a collective voice.

“What has been forgotten . . . is never something purely individual,” Benjamin noted.[22] It is a potter’s field of anonymous shards of affect from the past. When we recover our own past experiences in that field, their simultaneously singular and plural quality is disclosed. So, as the “shabby chairs, these heavy old-fashioned pressing irons, zinc wash tubs with dented bottoms” pulse inside him with uncomfortably excessive meaning, the narrator is puzzled by his own intense memory of his mother “hanging wash on a cold windy day” (Ellison, Invisible Man, 273). By way of the objects on the sidewalk, combined with the “old female mind-plunging crying,” a past, lost maternal mode of caring comes into view. As he finds this maternal presence within him by way of the materiality of the possessions on the sidewalk, the old couple’s dispossession comes to feel like his: “it was as though I myself was being dispossessed of some painful yet precious thing which I could not bear to lose” (273). This female presence which “breaks in upon the imagination” (to borrow from Hortense Spillers), connects him to the crowd and is the locus of his improvised collective voice.[23]

For precisely at this moment of intense personal memory found in the couple’s objects like his mother’s, his experience is mixed with the crowd’s because some version of the same thing is happening to them. All of their “own” memories have been called up by these everyday objects of common concern, and they mingle there, outside themselves, on the sidewalk, in and among the things there. The objects thereby come to “represent” the crowd to itself.

Although we all know what it is like to be recalled with sudden emotional force to a previous moment in time by a sensory object, one does not often hear collective political action discussed in terms of such a feeling. But here, in an apparent rejoinder to Lenin’s “What Is To Be Done?”—directly referenced by the narrator in his speech to the crowd—and like Benjamin, Ellison shows how revolutionary collective action bears the feel and the structure of involuntary memory, a surprising collective return to a past we did not know we had forgotten.[24] These memories reside not in individual heads, but in the material world where we have been “set.”

If the narrator and the crowd come to see these possessions on the sidewalk as something that they are losing as well, that they have been losing, they repair and redeem their own sense of collective dispossession by collectively re-possessing them. These objects belong to us, the narrator asserts, this old man and woman are our people. “[H]ide their shame! Hide our shame!” he shouts to the crowd, urging them on as they carry the objects back into the apartment (Ellison, Invisible Man, 281, emphasis in original). Among other things, Ellison is directing our attention to the importance of shame as “a near-inexhaustible source of transformational energy,” as Eve Sedgwick memorably put it (“Queer Performativity,” 4). The shameful dispossession-negating sense of possession quickly extends outwards, as a parade is excitedly proposed amidst the flurry of joyous activity.  “I feel so good,” one woman exclaims amidst this world-making activity (Ellison, Invisible Man, 281).  The setting, a city-space of sidewalks, streets, shop windows, funeral parlors and offices which seemed previously closed-off and alienating is now a zone of common concern, newly meaningful and feelingful, where the narrator might walk in a group with that same “intense feeling of freedom” that inaugurated life on the yam level.


[1] Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (New York: Harper and Row, 1962), 175; Gwendolyn Brooks, “kitchenette building” (1945), BLACKS (Chicago, IL: Third World Press, 1987), 21.

[2] See Heidegger, Being and Time. For an explication of Heidegger’s understanding of mood, placed within the context of his philosophical project, see Charles Guignon, “Moods in Heidegger’s Being and Time,” What Is an Emotion? Classic Readings in Philosophical Psychology, ed. Cheshire Calhoun and Robert C. Solomon, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), 230–43.

[3] Lauren Berlant, Cruel Optimism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011), 15. To be clear, mood is not Berlant’s key term here; she is working with a distinct set of terms—affective atmosphere, style, genre.

[4] On mood’s essentially public, historical character see also Ben Highmore and Jenny Bourne Taylor, “Introducing Mood Work,” New Formations 82 (2014): 5–12, 8; and Ben Highmore’s Cultural Feelings: Mood, Mediation and Cultural Politics (London: Routledge, 2017), and my own “Reading for Mood,” Representations 140, no. 1 (2018): 137–58.

[5] In thinking about Ellison, I have learned from Fred Moten, In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003); Robert Reid-Pharr, “Ralph Ellison’s Blues,” in Once You Go Black: Choice, Desire and the Black American Intellectual (New York: NYU Press, 2007), 69–95; Barbara Foley, Wrestling with the Left: The Making of Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010), Brent Hayes Edwards, “Ralph Ellison and the Grain of Internationalism,” in Globalizing American Studies, ed. Brian T. Edwards and Dilip Parameshwar Gaonkar (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2010), 115–34, Cathy Bergin ‘Bitter with the Past but Sweet with the Dream’: Communism in the African American Imaginary, Representations of the Communist Party, 1940–1952 (Leiden: Brill, 2015).

[6] Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1947, rpt., New York: Vintage, 1995), 14.

[7] On Ellison’s engagement with Lenin’s ideas and on the frequency with which the phrase “what is to be done” appeared in his early writings, see Barbara Foley’s readings of Ellison’s earlier drafts of in Wrestling with the Left. It might also be noted that this episode seems to have been written while Ellison’s was not yet past his own enthusiasm for Lenin and for communism, that period in the early 40s when he was writing for the New Masses and for a journal he had formed with communist organizer Angelo Herndon, The Negro Quarterly, a period during which the phrase “what is to be done?” was a regular motif.

[8] The distinction between the class-in-itself and the class-for-itself is formulated most famously in Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (New York: International Publishers, 1963), 123–24. It is picked up by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin in “What Is to Be Done? Burning Questions of Our Movement,” in The Lenin Anthology, ed. Robert Tucker (New York: Norton, 1975), 12–114.

[9] Ellison vividly dramatizes, time and again, and right from the beginning, the Brotherhood’s failure to listen to the concerns of the residents of Harlem. As a revolutionary party, following the criteria laid out by Lenin, the Brotherhood thus fails at the most basic level. Instead of representing this collectivity to itself, the hierarchical Brotherhood follows directives from the leadership in complete disregard for the situation and concerns of this collectivity.

[10] Miriam Bratu Hansen, “Benjamin and Cinema: Not a One-Way Street,” Critical Inquiry 25, no. 2 (1999): 306–43, 311. For Proust’s famous description of his narrator’s involuntary memory, see Swann’s Way, trans. By C. K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin, revised by D. J. Enright (New York: Modern Library, 2004), 58–64.

[11] The yam is like a shuttle from the past, carrying with it a whole world and a way of being in it: “At home we’d bake them in the hot coals of the fireplace, had carried them cold to school for lunch; munched them secretly, squeezing the sweet pulp from the soft peel as we hid from the teacher behind the largest book, the World’s Geography” (Ellison, Invisible Man, 262).

[12] W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (New York: Knopf, 1993), 13.

[13] “Continue on the yam level and life would be sweet—though somewhat yellowish” (Ellison, Invisible Man, 267).

[14] On Ellison’s black nationalism, see Nicole A. Waligora-Davis, “Riotous Discontent: Ralph Ellison’s ‘Birth of a Nation’” Modern Fiction Studies 50, no. 2 (2004): 385–410.

[15] See, for instance, In the Break, 11-12, 165. Karl Marx: “The transcendence of private property is therefore the complete emancipation of all human senses and attributes . . . . The eye has become a human eye, just as its object has become a social, human object—an object emanating from human to human. The senses have therefore become directly in their practice theoreticians” (“Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844,” Marx Engels Reader, ed. Robert Tucker [New York: Norton, 1978], 87, emphasis in original).

[16] On evictions in New York City in the 1930s see Mark Naison, “Fighting Evictions During the Great Depression: The Great Rent Strike War of 1932 in the Bronx,” International Socialist Review 81 (January 2012), These evictions were a key locus of Communist Party organizing; see Naison’s indispensable Communists in Harlem During the Depression (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2005).

[17] Lauren Berlant, “Austerity, Precarity, Awkwardness,” (November 2011),, 2. On Berlant as a genre theorist, see Virginia Jackson, “The Function of Criticism at the Present Time,” Los Angeles Review of Books, April 12, 2015, On genre flailing, Berlant writes: “when one’s defenses are shattered by an uncontrollable disturbance in the object’s stability, we do what I’m calling ‘genre flailing.’ Genre flailing is a mode of crisis management that arises after the first gasp of shock or disbelief, or the last gasp of exhaustion. We genre flail so that we don't fall through the cracks of heightened affective noise into despair, suicide or psychosis. We improvise like crazy, where “like crazy” is a little too non-metaphorical” (“Humorless. Serious. Critical,” MLA 17,, 1–2); and “Big Man,” Social Text Online, January 19, 2017, In the case of Ellison’s narrator, “flailing” may not be the right metaphor, since his improvisation is skilled, but also embedded in a mode of collective attunement.

[18] See, for instance, the discussion of improvisation in Moten, In the Break, 82–85 and 92–94, especially: “The tragic political despair of ‘BLACK DADA NIHILISMUS’ is a function of the weakness of its relation to ensemble and to ensemble’s condition of possibility, improvisation” (94).

[19] Shame and Its Sisters: A Silvan Tomkins Reader, ed. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Adam Frank (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1995), 133.

[20] This reparative impulse is indicated even at the level of shame’s expression; in its performative withdrawal from communication (downcast face, eyes averted) it also communicates that very withdrawal, soliciting further communication. For more on shame, see Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, “Queer Performativity: Henry James’s Art of the Novel,” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 1, no. 1 (1993): 1-16, 4. On the difficult politics of queer shame, the ways that it may not lead to political solidarity, see also Heather Love’s discussion in Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007), 13–14. For more on shame, race and racism see Kathryn Bond Stockton, Beautiful Bottom, Beautiful Shame: Where “Black” Meets “Queer”(Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006); Eurie Dahn, “’Unashamedly Black’: Jim Crow Aesthetics and the Visual Logic of Shame,” MELUS 39, no. 2 (2014): 93–114; and Robert F. Reid-Pharr, Archives of Flesh: African America, Spain, and Post-Humanist Critique (New York: NYU Press, 2016).

[21] Walter Benjamin, “N: On the Theory of Knowledge, Theory of Progress,” in The Arcades Project, trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), 456–88, 462, 475. Benjamin also writes that “In order for a part of the past to be touched by the present instant [Aktualität], there must be no continuity between them” (470).

[22] Walter Benjamin, “Franz Kafka,” in Walter Benjamin Selected Writings, Volume 2, Part 2: 1931-1934, trans. Rodney Livingstone and others, ed. Michael W. Jennings, Howard Eiland, and Gary Smith (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), 794–818, 809.

[23] Hortense J. Spillers, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book,” Diacritics 17, no. 2 (1987), 64–81, 80.

[24] In his “Paralipomena to ‘On the Concept of History’” Benjamin writes: “The dialectical image can be defined as the involuntary memory of redeemed humanity” (Benjamin, Selected Writings, Volume 4: 1938–1940, trans. Edmund Jephcott and others, ed. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003), 401–11, 403).