Black Tensors

The Slave in/as the Libidinal Economy

Commissioned by Active Cultures

Presented at the premiere of TJ Shin’s Malaria, Devouring Mother

Documentation by Roadwork Studios 

For TJ

Special thanks to the work of Frank Wilderson III, Saidiya Hartman, Calvin Warren, and David S. Marriott


Taylor Adkins and Cooper Cherry from Machinic Unconscious Happy Hour


Commissioned by Active Cultures

I have prepared for us the oldest of vanishing acts, whose secret I will disclose at the dawn precisely by articulating a string of ciphers that conceal what could never be said as such. And so the prestige is perhaps the least interesting stage of the magic trick and perhaps our investments lie not with the unspoken fourth stage but the fifth, that moment following one’s endless hunger for the secret, the moment wherein the tempest of the trick’s dissimulated key is immobilized into the domain of representation or property. Eventuating as the blissful disappointment of knowing once and for all how obvious it was, how undeniable this ‘treachery’ is. If only certainty did not invite the painful hunger for another secret to master. If only disappointment were not the sister of infatuation and if only they were not, together, the daughters of repetition.

So let us begin. I write from pain that, to be sure, is not painful for me but for you. It is property of and vestibular to your enjoyment. I write with the inevitable or enforced desire to provide for this pain, for you, a volume, through a kind of deception that sustains you. Keeps you out of the kitchen at night. The trick is to make voluminous that which appears as an afflux of lacerated negations without a language, occasioning the hunger pulsing through it. Language hungers for the abyssal passage of difference from which the volumes of its system emerge and toward which their lethal frustrations, produced as a consequence of this very hunger, are directed. A price whose exaction the passage of difference pays for with its indiscernibility from the function of pain, the a priori confusion (less a contradiction) of Eros and Thanatos. Put another way, pain feels too easy or too full or too assumptive as the sensate experience upon which we might build a proprietary and discursive defense if it is indeed, at the same time, no less safe from and constitutive of the plantation's cruel routines of making property of Nothing. Pain is no longer proof, it would seem. Pain is not reducible to either the common designation of those sensations which arrest the flesh with a spate of torment nor the social function in philosophy or psychoanalysis which signals, in the Lyotardian sense, the difficulty of differentiating or the desire to differentiate, through the conceptual, instances of renewal and destruction, but circulates here as the a priori singularity of both. I suggest that this indissociable precondition is now indissociable from the paradigm of anti-Blackness. The Subject, who is also the Master, inevitably desires its own unspeakable, which is to say pre-linguistic, intensities to the extent that it makes every attempt to flee from them, eventuating as the disappearing act or deceleration of speech and sign. Thus willing them into presence (as absence), and in so doing, these dissimulated intensities call to the Subject with the most exquisite of disharmonies which necessarily harmonize the suicidal with the regenerative, the theorist with the masochist, the ecologist with the destroyer of worlds. It is a hymn of the viscera we dare not name lest we are willing to endure the total force and thrashing of its flows.

"This affirmation of the [libidinal] band," as Jean-Francois Lyotard writes, "is written in a pain which makes the hand tremble." Pain, here, is not occurring upon a moral telos. It is a pain, according to Lyotard, neither good or bad but inevitably there as an index for the incipient rush of intensities before they are regulated by the order of language, organized into instances of pleasure and anguish, by the disjunctive force of and that lies not only between words but within them. As Lyotard writes, seemingly in anticipation of critique, that "the concept [written with the pained hand] will will its own extension [or elsewhere], to master what it had left at the gates of its territory." However, this will for Lyotard leans toward a will in the negative, it is a retreat from which is congruous with a movement toward the intensities prior to the disjunctive and labyrinthine synthesizing of the Subject's signifying sense. The intensity is "not willed by a deliberate decision but is on the contrary avoided, fled from in the panic and nostalgic terror, and therefore truly desired.” I note this to mark how Lyotard and black nihilism are perhaps in agreement about the will’s bondage to the intensities in a libidinal economy insofar as it, for both, is not an event synonymous with the event of choice but rather where the drive, in the Lacanian sense, articulates itself as a totalizing force that we cannot help but refer to in an attempt at regulating its devastating confusions through language. Will is not what we source agency from but rather is precisely where agency finds itself subordinate to the forces of the unbounded drive. Will is the expression of the libidinal dispositif for which we are not the authors but its participants—unevenly of course. In the Hold of this, Calvin Warren portends that, “Black resistance encounters a problem if the will that preconditions it belongs to another or is incapacitated-even worse, if one wills the will of an oppressive Other (in a devastating Lacanian formulation).”

However, Lyotard and Warren are, to be sure, not theorizing toward the same crisis of the will. Lyotard is referring to a will of the psyche which corresponds to a neurotic or voluminous Subject who suffers from the libidinal operation which manufactures will as, at the same time, betrayer and confidant of/to its hunger. Whereas Warren elaborates a mutilated psyche to which no Subjectivity, no form, can correspond. A mutilated psyche that cannot flee or go toward the horror of intensity if its will has been annihilated precisely because it is the horror itself. Warren's articulation of will, proposes an analytic of black nihilism that is, of course, not of an objectified Human whose will ought to be retrieved or defended but of the pre-linguistic intensities which, in their great and a priori confusions, horrify the Subject, and are, following the semiotic or metaphysical rupture of the Middle Passage, inextricably linked to Blackness. And so, the Slave does not join the Subject in its crisis of the will in our libidinal economy; the Slave is the will-less function that is subordinate to and productive of the Subject's inaugural investment in articulating itself as an (empty) volume. The crisis of the will shapes the Subject’s paranoia not from the question alone—of if one's will is indeed one's own—but against the latent corollary which completes the query but is left unsaid: if one's will is indeed one's own, then they are once and for all not a Negro.

The liberal or voluminous Subject has fulfilled (or prevented) its hunger (for freedom or the total access to the elsewhere it has severed itself from in its becoming voluminous) insofar as it has selected an object onto which the jouissance of its search can be exercised: the Slave/the Negro/the Black. This singularity is the immaterial demonstration of the elsewhere proscribed from the appeasement of becoming voluminous; for which Lyotard's disjunctive bar can never slow down, slacken, or lessen its libertine incandescence into something which resembles the distinct body, narrative, sign, time, or Human; an abyssal passage the pained hand would certainly assign as the object of its continuously insufficient mastery and the cause of its tremble.

The Slave, here, is not an identity formation but, to put Frank Wilderson and Warren together, a paradigmatic impossibility in the World, not a Being but a function: the giving form (or volume) to that which is formless, Nothing. To assign the terror of metaphysics, a vestibule through and against which metaphysics and its Human can begin the fabrication of their connatural volumes via rituals which mean to return brutality and ecstasy to an indiscernibility through Slavery or the analysis which is slave to the postponed mastery of the signifier.

Writing, then, is my fixation this evening. I am writing not necessarily in pain but as pain, as the function of pain, an enslaved analysis or the analysis produced by the Slave. That afflux of lacerations shimmering like bombs detonating recursively in ouroboric routes. Incandescent openings from which fathoms of blood rain onto the tongue that excite it and the jaw to slither and produce the volume of the mouth and render or rend a sign by which one could exchange the unfathomable gore of its intensities for the little gift of delimitation; transforming the tongue into a concept, a specified region which melts all the other regions into differential specificity (via the great dance of langue, lalangue, and parole) when it is able to not only sense the heat of this sanguine flood but to utter or write how it tastes not of lemon or meat but of iron.

The deceleration of the bar is something the Slave does not have access to at the level of ontology or paradigm precisely because it is left at the gates of their limits, or, more accurately, in the Hold of their ships. So I write this not necessarily through a contradiction or a dialectic but a kind of irony. In Lyotard’s words, "this effect is not of duality but of duplicity." It is not that I am another Subject who stages yet another critique of the representational limit but proceeds anyway unto the gambit of semiosis but more that I am coerced into a usage of language as if it is dissimilar to the function or effect of minstrel fare. And so, what if this Lyotardian theatrical volume (which is to say the one he critiques), is indissociable from the minstrel stage or the auction block? What if the drive of modernity to immobilize intensities irreparably inherits its structure from the routines of making chattel?

If the theatrical volume follows only the “immobilization of the bar into stable disjunctions,” which works to fix and distill intensities into necessarily racialized (settled) significations, then we should not be reticent in taking up Lyotard’s own prognostic that the concept “will will its own extension” and locate (precisely by sacrificing the ability to) the extension of this very concept that is always already a signification in itself, meaning there is an impossibility it holds captive. At hand is the extension extension, as such, holds captive.

“The captive body,” as Saidiya Hartman tells us, “was [is] an extension of the imperial body of the master and the prized object of his enjoyment.” If indeed the World or the Human, in the rupture of the Middle Passage, cannot stabilize its systems (libidinal and economic; another treacherous appearance of the and) without the domination of the rupture’s object, without the global, disjunctive amusement in the imposition of its indiscernible, intensified character within which the object (according to its Master) finds delight, then is anti-Blackness not the principal grammar which shapes the drive to decelerate as such and as a consequence delimits a trace that cries out from the Hold of deceleration’s paradigm? In a similar vein, is it better to refurbish jouissance as less a general theory of enjoyment against one's own good but a theory that specifies enjoyment's inextricable link to the operationalized making-voluminous of the Slave? Or perhaps it is the making-voluminous of Nothing that eventually appears as, according to the theatrical volume of the Master, the hunger for the staged, injurious satisfaction Nothing sources from its own Nothingness. As Hartman reminds us, pleasure becomes a productive force in the regulation and production of slaves on the plantation. “In effect,” she writes, “plantation ceremony endeavored to make discipline a pleasure and vice versa.” And so “the slave’s good times were at the same time a performance for the slaveholder.” I remind us that we would be irresponsible readers to assume she is speaking strictly as a historian.

Mine, then, is the predicament of the black suicidal magician whose expertise in vanishing acts makes it difficult to write a convincing enough letter, even for themself, which details why they have indeed vanished for the last time. How does one believe (or invest in) the auto-eulogy for the object whose enforced expertise is in the duplicity of and? Who is coerced into returning to the plantation in the attempt at being its fugitive? Not because the object wills it but precisely because its will has been abducted.

The impossibility, then, of writing in and about our libidinal economy, simultaneously locates its productive impasse or impulse in the incremental severance of eros and thanatos as well as the collective hesitance to even ask: to what object has this indissociability been imputed? I suggest that this incremental move, which doubles as an anxious avoidance, reproduces anti-Blackness. That one eventually finds themselves ineluctably, as Lyotard writes, "bit by bit, [attributing] a particular [composition] to life and the conservation of a particular organized whole [the Human], [and] a particular unbinding or disruption to death [the Negro].” The Slave is not only never afforded the disjunctive pleasure of knowing, bit by bit, if it is alive or dead but is captive to it. It is, once again, denied the pleasure of decelerating the great suffering of this indiscernibility into stable signs that could produce an ontology beyond its captivity to the master’s delight.

This is to say even "anti-Blackness", like “the Slave”, as signifiers (of absences), cannot take us all the way. Although there are many who will not go even this far. With each attempt, we find the fatal preservation of our duplicitous function lingering like ash whose corresponding wildfire is nowhere to be seen. The magician is subordinate to their own imposed duplicity and has found that their access to differentiation has beaten them to It and has written not only a more convincing suicide note but an unavoidable one.

Is there not a comedy, then, in how I remain resolute on the matter of my not mattering? Of being a metonymy for pain, the incandescent and rapid turning of the bar where the Subject's intensities lie, while continuously exercising the fixation of intensities through writing not as a Subject of language but as the object upon which the torture of its displacements is rehearsed. 

I take seriously Lyotard's turn away from the seduction of why and toward the devastation of because. That is to say, we do not ask why the bar slows down, cools off, why "ebbing intensities stabilize themselves into configurations…into voluminous bodies.” We remark instead that the turning of the bar slows into the theatrical volume whose territory is clarified by its discursive dispositif because the totalizing force of anti-Blackness demands it, wills it. That if we not only say but agree that Black death is what the World stabilizes itself upon, then it is also the black noumenon of because that finds itself in the Hold of every voluminous instance. The machinery of Slavery, to import Lyotard’s language one last time, “does not work according to death or to Eros, but according to both…a machine upon which discourse will try to produce a reasonable simulacrum.” To ask why of anti-Blackness leads us nowhere; through the Mandelbrot of suffering, we go. It leads us nowhere but unto the will of because which binds and binds and binds. And only from there can we be honest about the nature of this force, the scale of its appetite, and the capacity of its tongue.

My hand does not tremble in pain while I write, and if it does, it is much less a tremble than a minstrel jig. My hand endlessly spins to the bellow of my captor's voluminous gut, which he tells me, tongue and mouth dripping with blood, has not been fed in days.


The magician wakes up beneath the stage, vertiginous, again. They are trying to remember how they got here exactly. The trap door hangs open above their head, and they laugh hysterically. They cannot remember going home, driving here, parking, rehearsing, or the last time they had something to eat. All they know, from the sound of an applauding crowd, is that their vanishing act was successful and that they would do it again the following night and the night after, per their 'agreement’ with the venue and the simultaneously little or World-making death of disappointment.