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A Search for 'the loving father'

‘At the dawn of individuation a life raft thus appears on the horizon of the ‘oceanic feeling’: the loving father’—Julia Kristeva


A path I took while walking along the coast of Trébeurden, Côtes d'Armor.

Isn’t this what I was getting at in Self-Portrait as Othello? So much of that book was about characterizing the search for the absent father as a diasporic feeling, a diasporic experience. Or at least to suggest that this search for the absent father—which was so often a real, actual search, insofar as slavery decimated the traditional family and alienated male begetters from their progeny—could somehow be seen as emblematic of the diasporic condition. Perhaps Kristeva’s theory provides a way of understanding the trouble with subjecthood and the becoming or non-becoming of a subject in the context of slavery. Individuation being the classic way you become a subject in the European philosophical tradition and the Euro-Western political economy, which is the physical context in which most of our life happens. This rankles with other traditions, of course, but within a Westernized world, it’s what qualifies you to actually exist. So the battle is between existence (along the terms set by the Western, white world, which is one of racism) and oceanic fugitivity (based on the absence of ‘the loving father’). To embrace the ocean as origin is to embrace coming from nowhere, since the ocean is ‘navigable only in its constant autodislocation’, as Fred Moten puts it. ‘The absence of solidity’, he says very helpfully, ‘seems to demand some other ceremony of hailing’. So ego death is both desired refuge and condition of being, both destiny and gesture of resistance/play/ transcendent mobility. Consequently, so much of the terrain I sought to cover had to do with the contradictory impulses towards ego death and mastery/power/empowerment, and the travails of navigating these two poles. Why then should it be hard to understand that my speaker is at once a braggadocious performer and a shapeshifter who tirelessly seeks to dissolve and re-embody as something new, refusing to be sure of his ground?

Thanks to Tasha Pick and her doctoral work on 'oceanic negativity' for inspiring these thoughts.

The warka tree. I could not exit from its spell the entire time I spent in Ethiopia (January 2024).


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