This month Duke University Press is excited to be completing Fred Moten’s trilogy consent not to be a single being with the publication of Stolen Life and The Universal Machine. Black and Blur, the first book in the trilogy, was published in late 2017. Moten is Professor of Performance Studies at New York University.
Collecting much of Fred Moten’s aesthetic criticism, social study, and theoretical work from the past fifteen years, consent not to be a single being grapples with contemporary debates in black studies. Brent Hayes Edwards, author of Epistrophies: Jazz and the Literary Imagination, says the trilogy is “a monumental accomplishment: a brilliant theoretical intervention that might be best described as a powerful case for blackness as a category of analysis.” With this trilogy, Moten offers a critical scholarly contribution to issues pertaining to questions of freedom, capture, and selfhood. He recently told Black Agenda Report: “I hope the books can help people see through the grotesque brutality of the present moment to the fact that our current political climate has a long duration.”
The trilogy, writes Jesse McCarthy in Harvard Magazine, is animated by a set of significant questions: “what can one learn from the expression of people who refuse to be commodities, but also once were commodities? What does history look like, or the present, or the future, from the point of view of those who refuse the norms produced by systems of violence: who consent not to be a single being?” Further, “these key concerns,” McCarthy notes, “course through the entirety of Moten’s dazzling new trilogy, which assembles all his theoretical writings since In the Break. At a time of surging reactionary politics, ill feeling, and bad community, few thinkers seem so unburdened and unbeholden, so confident in their reading of the historical moment.”
In Black and Blur—the first volume in consent not to be a single being—Fred Moten engages in a capacious consideration of the place and force of blackness in African diaspora arts, politics, and life. In these interrelated essays, Moten attends to entanglement, the blurring of borders, and other practices that trouble notions of self-determination and sovereignty within political and aesthetic realms. Black and Blur is marked by unlikely juxtapositions: Althusser informs analyses of rappers Pras and Ol’ Dirty Bastard; Shakespeare encounters Stokely Carmichael; thinkers like Kant, Adorno, and José Esteban Muñoz and artists and musicians including Thornton Dial and Cecil Taylor play off each other. Moten holds that blackness encompasses a range of social, aesthetic, and theoretical insurgencies that respond to a shared modernity founded upon the sociological catastrophe of the transatlantic slave trade and settler colonialism. In so doing, he unsettles normative ways of reading, hearing, and seeing, thereby reordering the senses to create new means of knowing.
In Stolen Life—the second volume in the trilogy—Fred Moten undertakes an expansive exploration of blackness as it relates to black life and the collective refusal of social death. The essays resist categorization, moving from Moten’s opening meditation on Kant, Olaudah Equiano, and the conditions of black thought through discussions of academic freedom, writing and pedagogy, non-neurotypicality, and uncritical notions of freedom. Moten also models black study as a form of social life through an engagement with Fanon, Hartman, and Spillers and plumbs the distinction between blackness and black people in readings of Du Bois and Nahum Chandler. The force and creativity of Moten’s criticism resonate throughout, reminding us not only of his importance as a thinker, but of the continued necessity of interrogating blackness as a form of sociality. “Black studies,” Moten writes in Stolen Life, “is a dehiscence at the heart of the institution on its edge; its broken, coded documents sanction walking in another world while passing through this one, graphically disordering the administered scarcity from which black studies flows as wealth.”
In The Universal Machine—the concluding volume of consent not to be a single being—Fred Moten presents a suite of three essays on Emmanuel Levinas, Hannah Arendt, and Frantz Fanon, in which he explores questions of freedom, capture, and selfhood. In trademark style, Moten considers these thinkers alongside artists and musicians such as William Kentridge and Curtis Mayfield while interrogating the relation between blackness and phenomenology. Whether using Levinas’s idea of escape in unintended ways, examining Arendt’s antiblackness through Mayfield’s virtuosic falsetto and Anthony Braxton’s musical language, or showing how Fanon’s form of phenomenology enables black social life, Moten formulates blackness as a way of being in the world that evades regulation. Throughout The Universal Machine—and the trilogy as a whole—Moten’s theorizations of blackness will have a lasting and profound impact.
You can save 30% on any or all of the books in the consent not to be a single being trilogy when you order from Duke University Press and use coupon code E18MOTEN.