- Hardcover: 368 pages
- Publisher: Liveright; 1 edition (May 29, 2020)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 163149614X
- ISBN-13: 978-1631496141
- Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.4 inches
Combining trenchant philosophy with lyrical memoir, Afropessimism is an unparalleled account of Blackness.
Why does race seem to color almost every feature of our moral and political universe? Why does a perpetual cycle of slavery―in all its political, intellectual, and cultural forms―continue to define the Black experience? And why is anti-Black violence such a predominant feature not only in the United States but around the world? These are just some of the compelling questions that animate Afropessimism, Frank B. Wilderson III’s seminal work on the philosophy of Blackness.
Combining precise philosophy with a torrent of memories, Wilderson presents the tenets of an increasingly prominent intellectual movement that sees Blackness through the lens of perpetual slavery. Drawing on works of philosophy, literature, film, and critical theory, he shows that the social construct of slavery, as seen through pervasive anti-Black subjugation and violence, is hardly a relic of the past but the very engine that powers our civilization, and that without this master-slave dynamic, the calculus bolstering world civilization would collapse. Unlike any other disenfranchised group, Wilderson argues, Blacks alone will remain essentially slaves in the larger Human world, where they can never be truly regarded as Human beings, where, “at every scale of abstraction, violence saturates Black life.”
And while Afropessimism delivers a formidable philosophical account of being Black, it is also interwoven with dramatic set pieces, autobiographical stories that juxtapose Wilderson’s seemingly idyllic upbringing in mid-century Minneapolis with the abject racism he later encounters―whether in late 1960s Berkeley or in apartheid South Africa, where he joins forces with the African National Congress. Afropessimism provides no restorative solution to the hatred that abounds; rather, Wilderson believes that acknowledging these historical and social conditions will result in personal enlightenment about the reality of our inherently racialized existence.
Radical in conception, remarkably poignant, and with soaring flights of lyrical prose, Afropessimism reverberates with wisdom and painful clarity in the fractured world we inhabit. It positions Wilderson as a paradigmatic thinker and as a twenty-first-century inheritor of many of the African American literary traditions established in centuries past.
“A compelling, profoundly unsettling blend of memoir and manifesto that proposes that―by design―matters will never improve for African Americans.... Blending affecting memoir that touches on such matters as mental illness, alienation, exile, and a transcendent maternal love with brittle condemnation of a condition of unfreedom and relentless othering, the author delivers a difficult but necessary argument. Perhaps the greatest value of the book is in its posing of questions that may seem rhetorical but in fact probe at interethnic conflicts that are hundreds, even thousands of years old.... An essential contribution to any discussion of race and likely to be a standard text in cultural studies for years to come.”
- Kirkus Reviews [starred review]
“[Wilderson’s] writing is powerful, nuanced, and lyrical (“Her hair was white and thin as dandelion puffs,” he recalls of a visit to his aged mother.)... [his] passionate account of racism’s malevolent influence is engrossing.”
- Publishers Weekly
“Profound, gripping, unsparing, and compassionate, High Risk offers a nuanced examination of issues that impact so many of us, from a perspective we almost never get to hear. This is an important book that shines a critical light on the medicine and systems surrounding pregnancy and birth.”
- Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, author of Nurture the Wow
“What a gift to find a voice like Dr. Karkowsky's in the literary conversation around birth. Her humility, introspection, self-examination, and expertise is precisely what we need from our most highly trained specialists.… A fascinating dispatch from the front lines of high-risk obstetrics.”
- Elisa Albert, author of After Birth
“Frank Wilderson’s Afropessimism is a brilliant memoir and riveting work of creative non-fiction. He joins the ranks of Claudia Rankine, Saidiya Hartman and Frantz Fanon as one of the boldest and most unflinching theorists of the indispensability―like oxygen to lungs―of anti-Black violence and racism. And nothing since Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Ones Who Walked Away from Omelas has haunted me with the sheer terror of truth that Humanity and the world itself are defined by and feed on Black suffering and death. The greatest challenge in reading this Afropessimist coming-of-age story is seeing a reflection of yourself and finding the will and the words to prove him wrong.”
- Khalil Muhammad, author of The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime and the Making of Modern Urban America
“There are crucial books that you don’t agree with, but one still comes to understand the importance of the thought experiment. Afropessimism is one of those books.”
- Claudia Rankine, author of Citizen: An American Lyric
“Dr. Karkowsky knows her subject from the inside, and shows us, both through her narratives and her wise reflections on them, just why such 'knowledge is powerful and painful and damaging, but it's also powerful and healing and wonderful.'… Every doctor, medical student, and prospective parent should read it.”
- Terrence Holt, author of Internal Medicine
“I am awed by this beautiful and compelling book Afropessimism and its ability to combine a growing up (Black) memoir with Frank Wilderson’s own unerring and poetic interpretation of critical race theory to inexorably install in all the ways that only great story telling can the pithy truth that without Anti Blackness there would be no America. Can you handle that. Can I?”
- Eileen Myles, poet and author of Chelsea Girls
“An edifying and utterly enthralling meditation on the joys and sorrows of being a doctor at the frontlines of high-risk pregnancies. Dr. Chavi Eve Karkowsky is a clinician who loves what she does, who grapples with tough decisions and who cares deeply about women’s reproductive health… This book should be mandatory reading for any woman who has been pregnant or considering pregnancy and everyone who provides health care to women.”
- Randi H. Epstein, author of Aroused
“Dr. Karkowsky unflinchingly probes the expectations, precedents, myths, realities, and curveballs of modern pregnancy and delivery. This book is a significant contribution to the discourse about women’s health and medicine today.”
- Danielle Ofri, MD, PhD, author of When We Do Harm
About the Author
Professor and chair of African American studies at the University of California, Irvine, and author of Incognegro: A Memoir of Exile and Apartheid, Frank B. Wilderson III has received an NEA Literature Fellowship and a Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Legacy Award for Creative Nonfiction, among other awards.